Days and Planets in Japanese

This quarantine (it feels weird to even write this) I’ve been dabbling in… learning Japanese. Initially, the plan was to visit Japan in September—plane tickets were bought and some bookings were made, but alas, it wasn’t supposed to be. On the bright side, now I have more time to learn the language for when the time comes to go there for real. A lot of time, judging by how things are going. I’ll probably go into more detail on how I started and how I’m learning the language in a different post, this one I’m hoping to keep short.

So, how did I get to planet names in Japanese? I was reading through the Wikipedia page of Nagisa Ōshima, famed Japanese director of films such as In the Realm of the Senses and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. As I got to the end, turns out that Ōshima-san was quite proficient in English, and he translated some books, including “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”, a book by John Gray. Naturally, I attempted to make connections between the original title and the Japanese one, half expecting the planet names to be loan words in katakana as most of the foreign words are.

Turns out that Venus in Japanese is 金星 (the kanji roughly translate to gold star), and Mars is 火星 (fire star). My first thought was wait, these are the same kanji which are used for weekdays! Friday is 金曜日 and Tuesday is 火曜日 (pay attention to the first kanji of each). This is still a bit on the flipside using the English names for the weekdays. Let’s switch to Romanian, and look up the other planets as well:

Weekday (English) Weekday (Romanian) Weekday (Japanese) Planet name (Japanese) Planet name (English) Kanji rough translation
Monday Luni 曜日 Moon moon / month
Tuesday Marți 曜日 Mars fire
Wednesday Miercuri 曜日 Mercury water
Thursday Joi 曜日 Jupiter tree / wood
Friday Vineri 曜日 Venus gold / metal
Saturday Sâmbătă 曜日 Saturn soil / earth
Sunday Duminică 曜日 Sun sun / day
天王 Uranus heavens + king
海王 Neptune sea + king
冥王 Pluto dark/hell + king

See the similarities? As Romanian uses Romance-inspired names for weekdays, they overlap with the Japanese naming of the planets (this is actually true for most Latin-based languages, see French, Spanish…), while English has some similarities for Saturday (Saturn), Sunday (Sun) and Monday (Moon).

The Japanese naming of the planets comes from Wuxing which originally refers to the five planets visible to the naked eye (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter). Later, when the Japanese switched to using a 7-day week, they derived the weekday names from the planet names using the Romance name of the weekdays (presumably).

For the other planets, they’re probably cross-cultural translations, as Uranus is the Roman god of the sky, Neptune guards the sea and Pluto (now defunct) stands for the underworld.

That’s it. That’s the post.