Colours are one of the first things you are taught when learning a second language such as Japanese. The Japanese colours are easy to learn and teach when considering the vast amount of resources available out there to help you! A number of Japanese colours share a similar pronunciation as English as a few shades never had names in Japanese until relatively recently when English became taught in mainstream, schools around Japan. A simple example would be pink (pinku) and orange (oranji).
The Japanese word for colour is iro (色). One thing that may confuse a English speaker is that some colours change when they are used as an adjective.
What I like to do when teaching Japanese colours is teach the Japanese version of the rainbow song. I put together a Japanese graphic useful for teaching this song in Japanese below.
Colours practice game
A fantastic game I found to help practice the colours in japanese is this game built by Nihongo o Narau. First you press one of the three buttons at the bottom, kanji, kana or romaji (I usually use romaji for young students), then press ‘start’. You then have 30 seconds to read the colour word that pops up in whatever text you chose, and press the correct colour button. A perfect score would be 11/11. The game produces some fun sounds.
More advanced colours
For those of you seeking a bigger challenge than the above colours of the rainbow, the table below shares a few new colours and information on more exotic colours like light blue and green.
pinku / momo iro
ピンク / 桃色
ピンク / ももいろ
nezumi iro / hai iro
ねずみ色 / 灰色
ねずみいろ / はいいろ
What colour is it?
Nani iro desu ka.
Momo iro literally means ‘peach color’ as in the color of the fruit, but the color this refers to in Japanese is not peach, but pink.
Green fruits and vegetables (for example green apples) are refered to as ao (blue) not midori iro(green). Ao also means ‘young’ or ‘unripe.’
The green light on a traffic signal is not called midori iro (green), but ao (blue).
Japanese children tend to say that tigers are yellow and black, not orange and black.
The term for ‘black and white’ is shirokuro (white and black).