Japanese Tidbits: 水・湯


I’ve been having these moments where I just want to write something tiny and put it on the blog. Similar to how Seth Godin does his blog, where most posts are tiny with the occasional longer-form post, but not quite so prolifically.

I’ve thought: Maybe Twitter is where I should be going with these thoughts. After all, Twitter is good way to build a following and interact with others. But I’ve not been able to bring myself to do it. And instead of letting these thoughts disappear into the void, I’ll do something about it. At least, until I start tweeting.


My water heater (給湯器) broke last Friday morning while I was taking a shower. Which meant, in the middle of my cold apartment, standing in a cold shower, I now had to take my shower with cold water. It was pretty terrible. Thankfully, it got fixed this morning, and I’m all good.

But the past few days, I’ve been telling my harrowing story of cold showers in the morning to my coworkers and I noticed a little curiosity.

For those who don’t know:

水(みず) means “water”.
湯(ゆ) means “hot water”, usually with an honorific お preceding it.

For years, my use of お湯 was relegated to the onsen and sento, where it simply meant hot bathwater. But actually, and I’m sure this is pretty obvious to many people, お湯 refers to all types of hot water. Drinking water included.

Okay, so far, so good.

When talking to people about my shower experience however, I made it clear that the water coming from my shower was 冷たい水. Apparently the 冷たい(つめたい) was unneeded. Whenever a coworker told the story to another person, it always came back to being 水シャワー. The fact is, the normal state of a shower is with お湯. Therefore, it didn’t need to be mentioned that a shower had cold water. 水シャワー lets people know that it wasn’t hot.

While in English we often add a signifier to water (hot water, lukewarm water, cold water), Japanese splits water between 水 and お湯, with 水 being on the colder end of the spectrum, and お湯 being on the hotter end. People just don’t really say 熱い水.

In conclusion:

水 means “water”, usually cold or room-temperature.
湯 means “hot water”, the kind used in baths and for making tea.

Finally, if you burn yourself in Japanese, exclaiming “痛い!” is a little weird. “熱い!” is the appropriate response.