Is origin of Arigatou Portuguese?

February 18, 2014 Juju Kurihara 7 Comments



The other day, a Brazilian friend sent me a link, which talks about the influence of Portuguese language in Japanese. In our history, the very first European who came to Japan was a Portuguese man, Francisco Zeimoto in 1543. He arrived at a small island of Japan, Tanegashima (種子島). This was not only the first contact with Europeans but also the first contact to guns. From this point, Samurai battles changed from sword to guns, unfortunately. 


With the arrival of Mr.Zeimoto, Japanese people were introduced to many interesting things such as soap, buttons, hat or raincoat. Since these thing didn´t exist before, Japanese people adopted the words from Portuguese. Long time ago soap was called shabon (シャボン), came from sabão. Raincoat in Japanese is kappa (合羽) and in Portuguese capa. In Japanese, bread is pan (パン) and in Portuguese is pão. You can see the list of words from HERE. There are some words that I personally think they might´ve come from Spanish rather than Portuguese but both cases, they are a few of Europeans who came to Japan during a long time. Important thing is, In the mid 15th century, Japan discovered Europe and many new things that are now deeply a part of Japanese people´s life.


Then it provoked my curiosity. In Japanese, thank you is arigatou (ありがとう) and in Portuguese obrigado. They sound very similar. It makes you think, Does Arigatou have its origin from Portuguese?


C´mon! Do you really think Japanese people didn´t have any word for thank you before Portuguese? Japanese are known to be polite, saying too much thank you and sorry. Arigatou existed way before the Portuguese. 


The origin of Arigatou is the word "Arigatai (有り難い)". Ari or aru (有る) is to be or exist in Japanese and gatai means difficult or hard to do. Original meaning of arigatai was "something rare" or "valuable because it´s unusual".

In the book, "The Pillow Book", which was written in the mid Heian period (平安時代, 794-1192) you can see the word, "Arigatakimono". But in this case the meaning is rather "hard to be in this world" than rare. And the author, Seisho Nagon (清少納言) wanted to say, "it´s hard to live". 



In the middle age, the word Arigatou started to be used more Buddhist concept ; you receive something invaluable by the Buddha such as a mercy and you are thankful. This way of use settled commonly in the modern Japan and until now. 

Overall, Arigatou came from obrigado was just a popular belief. But this thing always makes me wonder how these two completely different languages sound so similar and have the same meanings despite the fact that both words are purely their original languages. Does it happen to your language too?     



More about Japanese language


Onomatopoeia with Mado Michio

Onomatopoeia with Taro Gomi

Kazoe uta



Shiju Kata/Goju Kata

Japanese family name, Tanaka



  1. PEDROCARVALHO 3 years Reply

    Don’t burst my bubble!!
    Arigato is from Portuguese in my Japan !!

  2. Marco G. 7 years Reply

    “There are some words that I personally think they might´ve come from Spanish rather than Portuguese”
    Japan was not a common trading destination for Spaniards. It was the portuguese and english, the most common europeans to be found in Japan. So I believe they had little influence in the japanese idiom.

    As a portuguese, I can also tell you that portuguese and spanish languages share similar origins. Indeed, what we call as “archaic portuguese” was very very similar to spanish. “Archaic portuguese” was the language that portuguese spoke at that time, so it might be confusing but they are portuguese words. Hence, I speak both portuguese and spanish.

    • J ferreira 3 years

      Spanish is a derivative of Galician Portuguese. So even Spanish words are of Portuguese origin which is why the two languages are 90% alike.

  3. John 7 years Reply

    Japanese “tooi” (far away) is similar to Lithuanian “tooli” (far away). Perhaps a coincidence? Then Japanese “kanda” (bites) is similar to Lithuanian “kanda” (bites). Perhaps another coincidence? And I know a few more.

  4. A very interesting article.

    As many people know, Japanese is a language that allows for a vast use of foreign words, known as Gairaigo, and is written using the Katakana (カタカナ) alphabet.

    There are many words in Japanese that have come into the Japanese language, and had become part of the language(as is written in this article), and even new works that are treated as gairaigo, that actually have no connection to foreign language (and are often mistaken as foreign words).

    For example “Zubon” (pants). This is often attributed to being from a foreign language, however it was derived from tho onomatopoeia of the sound, when a person puts on a pair of pants: the sound made, when sliding your legs through the legs of the pants.

    As for words that have come into the Japanese language for foreign words- The drink “Lamune” comes from the English “lemonade”, and the bottle that its sold in, is based on the old glass bottles used in Europe and its colonies, to carry the Lemonade.

    There are people who strongly believe that the Hakata slang “batten” comes from the English “but then”, due to its similar use.

  5. Antoon 8 years Reply

    I have always wondered about a possible connection between Japanese ‘otemba’ = tomboy, a boyish girl and Dutch ‘ontembaar’ = cannot be made tame, like a tiger cannot be tamed into a house pet. What do you think?

    • juju.kurihara 8 years

      Thank you for your comment, Antoon.

      There is a similar word between Dutch and Japanese? That´s interesting! I know Holland was one of the three countries who could have a contact with Japan during the closing period but never imagined we have a common word. I´m curious now.

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