One of the best Japanese Kanji dictionary.

Share this page

Kanji for Shadow and Shade – “Kage”

Kanji for Shadow and Shade – “Kage”

In Japanese, “shadow” and “shade” are pronounced in the same sound– 「かげ」“kage.” かげ

However, the Kanji characters used are not the same. 影 means shadow, and 陰 means shade.

But these characters have many other essential meanings that play important roles in the Japanese language. Let’s take a look.

The meanings of the characters

  1. Shadow

    a) Darkness caused by the light prevented by something.
    b) The dark shape that someone or something makes on a surface by blocking the light.

  2. The back of something, or underneath it. Somewhere or something you cannot see.

  3. Figure, shape, or remnant.

  4. Phantom or illusion.

  5. A portrait.

  6. Light. (For example, 月影 means “moonlight.”)

  7. Help.

  8. Reflection on a mirror or water, etc.

  9. Not real. (The word 影武者kagemusha means “body double.”)

  1. shade
     a) The places where the light doesn’t reach.
     b) Places covered by something.
  2. Cover(noun), or to cover(verb).
  3. The sun or the moon going behind the clouds or going down.
  4. The moving of the shade. Therefore, it also means “time.”
  5. Dark.
  6. Become damp, moisten.
  7. Secretly.
  8. Genital organs.
  9. Yin of the principles of “Yin and Yang.” While 陽 (Yō pronounced in Japanese, Yáng pronounced in Chinese) represents things that are ”male, positive, active,” 陰(In in Japanese and Yīn in Chinese) represents things that are “female, negative, or passive.”
  10. To fall silent, to say nothing.
  11. A small building for mourning. (This usage is not used so often in modern Japanese)

The origin of the characters

Words using 影 and 陰

  • 影法師(kagebōshi) かげぼうし: a shadow
  • 影響(ēkyō) えいきょう: influence
  • 撮影(satsuei) さつえい: photography(「撮影する」’satsueisuru’ means “to take a photograph”)
  • 面影(omokage) おもかげ: remnant
  • 投影(tōei) とうえい: a projection, a reflection
  • 幻影(gen’ei) げんえい: phantom
  • 影絵(kage’e) かげえ: a shadow picture, a silhouette
  • 影武者(kagemusha) かげむしゃ: a body double

  • 陰陽(Inyō) いん よう: The principles of Yin and Yang.

    太極図(Taikyokuzu), a symbol of Yin and Yang

    太極図(Taikyokuzu), a symbol of Yin and Yang

    The white part represents「陽」and the black part represents 「陰」.This 太極図 is based on the cosmology that everything is made of the elements of 陰 and 陽.
    This symbol is also used in the South Korean flag.

  • 陰陽師(Onmyōji) おんみょうじ

    陰陽師 are the people that worked as specialists of 陰陽道(Onmyōdō) おんみょうどう. 陰陽道 is a cosmology to explain the natural phenomenon and people’s luck based on Yin-Yang and 五行(Gogyō) ごぎょう.

    五行 is a cosmology from ancient China considering that everything consists of five elements, such as木(tree), 火(fire), 土(earth), 金(metal), and 水(water).陰陽師 were civil servants during the 律令時代(Ritsuryō Period) from the late seventh century to the tenth century. After that period, they were not civil servants anymore, but they prayed and performed incantations for people.

    陰陽師 often appears as a hero that solves strangeness and wards off evils in Japanese comics.

    Image by: Onmyouji Vol.2 ©Reiko Okano, HAKUSENSHA

  • 山陰地方(San’in chihō) 山陰地方  (⇔山陽地方 Sanyō chihō) 山陽地方

    山陰地方(San’in chihō) is the name of a region.「地方」(chihō) means “region” in Japanese. The region in the south of San’in chihō is called 山陽地方(Sanyō chihō).

    Actually, these names are based on the usage of the characters of 「陰」and「陽」in Chinese. 「陰」 has a meaning of “the north side of the mountain,” and 「陽」 has a meaning of “the south side of the mountain.” There are mountains called 中国山地 (Chūgoku Sanchi, Chūgoku Mountains) between the two regions.
    Therefore, the names of the two mean “the region on the north side of the 中国山地” and “the region on the south side of the 中国山地.”

  • 陰鬱(in’utsu) 陰鬱: gloomy, feel depressed
  • 陰気(inki) 陰気: gloomy, melancholy
  • 陰湿(inshitsu) 陰湿:
    i)damp and shady
    ii)torment a person in a sly, underhand manner
  • 陰性(insei) 陰性: negative when tested⇔陽性(yōsei): positive when tested
  • 陰謀(inbō) 陰謀: a plot, an intrigue, a conspiracy
  • 陰口(kageguchi) かげぐち: backbiting, to speak ill of a person behind his or her back

Kanji compound of 影 and 陰

「陰影」(In’ei) is a noun for “shade and shadow.” When drawing a picture,「陰影をつける」(in’ei o tsukeru) 陰影をつける means “to shade.”

犬の絵に陰影をつける人(Inu no e ni in’ei o tsukeru hito), a person shading a dog’s picture

Proverbs and sayings using 影 and 陰

  • 影も形もない(kage mo katachi mo nai) 影も形もない: nowhere to be seen
  • 影を落とす(kage o otosu) 影を落とす: to cast a shadow over (on) something
  • 影が薄い(kage ga usui) 影が薄い: to look emaciated, or does not has much of a presence
  • 見る影もない(miru kage mo nai) 見る影もない: be a shadow of his or her former self
  • 噂をすれば影がさす(uwasa o sureba kage ga sasu) 噂をすれば影がさす:” Sooner named sooner come.”
    Other similar phrases in English:
    “The devil is never nearer than when we are talking of him.”
    “Speak of the devil, and he will appear.”
    “Speak of the wolf, and you will see his tail.”

  • 陰で操る(kage de ayatsuru) 陰で操る 陰で糸を引く(kage de ito o hiku) 陰で糸を引く: to pull strings from behind.
  • 陰になり ひなたになって(kage ni nari hinata ni natte) 影になり ひなたになって: to help someone openly and secretly
  • 光陰矢の如し(kōin ya no gotoshi) 光陰矢の如し: Time flies like an arrow.

Comparison with Japanese and English – How people talk about dark things

「影」and「陰」are not characters that merely suggests places the light cannot reach. Especially「陰」is often used with a negative nuance.

How about in English? In the English dictionary, negative meanings rather appear on the headword of “shadow.” According to the LONGMAN Dictionary of Contemporary English (Fourth edition with writing assistant 2005), there is a meaning of “bad effect/influence.”

[singular] the bad effect or influence that something has, which makes other things seem less enjoyable, attractive, or impressive:

in/under the shadow of sth For years, people had been living under the shadow of communism. | cast a shadow over/on sth (=make something seem less enjoyable, attractive, or impressive) The events of September 11th cast a shadow over the celebrations.

(p.1629, published by Pearson Education Limited and Kirihara Shoten as its selling agency in Japan)

There are other phrases like self” (this phrase exists in Japanese too as「見る影もない」! ) or “afraid/frightened/scared etc. of your own shadow.”

In contrast, there are no negative meanings found in the headword of “shade.”

Words concerning shadow and shade are profound

As the English proverb says, “Life is not all beer and skittles.” Maybe that is why there are so many words and phrases including shadow and shades with negative nuances. But that may be the exciting point of learning a language, learning how the people have tried to express the dark side of life.

Share this link via

Or copy link