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  • Juju Kurihara

Is origin of Arigatou Portuguese?

Updated: May 10, 2023


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?

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