I always enjoy researching word origins of Japanese words, since you usually learn a little of history, culture, and it often helps you remember that word or its meanings.
In this post I’d like to talk about the origin of the word “くるま” (kuruma) which means “car”, and is typically written in Kanji as “車”. While this Kanji is one of the more visual and easy-to-remember ones out there, “kuruma” actually has an pretty surprisingly story behind it.
”くるま” derives from the words “くる” and “ま”, where “くる” is the verb “to come (来る)” and “ま” is “devil or demon（魔)”, commonly seen in words like 悪魔 (“akuma”, devil). It is said that this comes from the fact automobiles moved such at fast speeds, and at night their headlights had a likeness to an evil face, therefore making them a “来る魔” or “coming devil”.
Of course the Japanese people would go on to master these fast “beasts” and be the home of the top selling motor company “Toyota”, but the name stuck. Writing the word “来る魔” quickly faded, however, and was replaced by the pictographic “車” or simply in Hiragana as “くるま”, though in old documents and such you can sometimes see it written as “来る魔”.
I have some other interesting stories related to this word, but I’ll save those for my next post, so stay tuned!