15 Japanese expressions related to health

んで後初めて健康の価値を知る (yande nochi hajimete kenkou no kachi wo shiru). This phrase means “you don’t know the value of good health until you lose it”, something you should always keep in mind, no matter how old or young you are. Health is a constant in the Japanese mindset, from their food to their (sometimes quite frankly crazy) exercise fads. Since today is World Health Day, I’d like to share fifteen Japanese expressions related to health, sickness and all that exists in between!

健康第一 (kenkou dai-ichi): Health first

This yojijukugo, or four character idiom, means that one should always put your health above everything else.

健康状態 (kenkou joutai): The condition of one’s health

You’ll very often be asked about your kenkou joutai in Japan–sometimes, even in work interviews. It pays to be healthy in Japan!

健康そのもの (kenkou sono mono): The very image of health

When you’re 健康そのもの, it means your health status is enviable–therefore, you’re the very image of health.

健康に良い (kenkou ni ii): Good for one’s health

You’ll find this phrase packed up with several different topics, such as exercise and various types of Japanese food. Did you know Japanese picked vegetables are very 健康に良い?

健康ノイローゼ (kenkou noirooze): Health neurosis or obsession

Okay, let’s explore the dark side of caring for one’s health: when you’re absolutely obsessed, you’re probably suffering from 健康ノイローゼ.

不健康(な)(fukenkou [na]): Unhealthy

A -na class adjective. As you can imagine, there are some words in Japanese for which you can make an antonym just by adding the prefix fu- (不), which essentially means “anti-“, or “un-“. This is one of them: you turn “health” into “lack of health” by adding 不.

元気一杯 (genki ippai): Brimming with health, full of vitality

A particularly flattering expression when you’re older, as children are generally expected to be full of energy, while adults… not so much.

病気がち (byouki-gachi): [to be] sickly

Unfortunately, some people just don’t seem to catch a break–instead, they catch every sickness on the book. These people can be described as byouki-gachi.

病気にかかる (byouki ni kakaru): to contract an illness

This one is very self explanatory. A little note of interest: in this expression, you will almost always find “kakaru” written in hiragana. Although it is an homophone with a lot of other verbs (with with it shares a pronunciation), the reason why kakaru is in hiragana here is because its kanji (罹る) is an extremely rare and difficult one that usually not even natives remember well.

お見舞い (omimai): Japanese custom of visiting someone in hospital

Another interesting fact: in spite of being one of the healthiest populations in the world, the Japanese spend in average two to three times as much time in a hospital as the rest of the world, per incident. This explains why the お見舞い custom exists–people feel lonely in hospitals, and it’s nice to visit them. By the way, here are some do’s and don’t’s in お見舞い.

体に障る (karada ni sawaru): bad for the body/health

The contrary of 健康に良い. You can use this expression for both things and behaviors that you think are bad to one’s health (such as smoking).

体調不良 (taichou furyou): [to be] in bad health

Although the more exact meaning of this phrase is to be in bad health, it can be used to express, in a general manner, that you’re just not feeling well right now.

体を壊す (karada wo kowasu): lit.: to break one’s body

This one sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? It’s used when you’ve done something that has seriously affected your health. Incidentally, you can also use the verb 壊す (kowasu, to break) in conjunction with the お腹 (onaka, stomach), as お腹を壊す, quite literally “breaking your stomach”, means something you ate didn’t agree with you.

病は気から (yamai wa ki kara): sickness and health start with the mind

A fancy way of saying “your attitude can make or break your health”.

And since we’re in a roll, here’s a bonus 16th expression…

身が持たない (mi ga motanai): [the body] can’t take much anymore

One hears this phrase a lot in Japanese high stress environments and workplaces. More than physical health specifically, this expression refers to the fact that stress or unexpected conditions can slowly chip away at one’s resistance.

So that’s our 15 (no, wait, 16) Japanese phrases related to health. What did you think? Is there anything you would have added to list? If there is, add it to the comments!


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