Japanese word focus: 感想 (kansou)

By | July 22, 2019

This time I’d like to focus on the word “kansou”, which can be written in kanji as 感想, or occasionally in hiragana as かんそう. The pitch rises on the second letter and stays high, potentially raising the pitch of whatever word follows it (note: this is for Tokyo dialect, pronunciation may differ in other dialects).

This word is made up of two kanji that have the following primary meanings:

  • 感: feelings
  • 想: thoughts or feelings

Given the above, it’s not a big surprise that the meaning of this word is related to one’s thoughts or feelings. But there is a little more of a specific nuance to it.

The word 感想 is most frequently used to refer to what a person thinks or feels about something, often an experience or a thing. In particular, it is used often for things like books and movies, though it can be applied to pretty much anything.

Dictionaries list this word as meaning “(one’s) impression” or “(one’s) opinion”, and while these are close equivalents I don’t think you would always use these words when saying the equivalent things in English.

Let’s look an example sentence:

  • 本を読み終わったら感想を聞かせてね (hon wo yomiowattara kansou kikasete ne)
  • When you finish reading the book let me know what you think.

“Opinion” doesn’t seem like a perfect fit here, and “impression” could fit but is a little stiff. So I feel that “what you think” is a good translation and a good way to understand the meaning of the Japanese sentence.

By the way, the verb 聞かせる here seems like it is a form of the verb 聞く that means “to make listen to”, but it’s best understood here as meaning “to tell” or “to convey”.

A good word to know is 感想文 (kansoubun), which is a report, essay, or paper written about some work, often a book or similar. You can think of this like a book report (though it can be about something different, depending on the context).

  • 学校で感想文を書かせられた. (gakkou de kansoubun wo kakaserareta).
  • In school we were made to write a book report.

In case you are curious, 書かせられた is the causative passive verb form of 書く (to write).

If you want to talk about impressions about a certain thing, you can use the following forms:

  • Xの感想 (X no kansou)
  • Xに対する感想 (X ni taisuru kansou)
  • Xに関する感想 (X ni kansuru kansou)

The first of these is more informal, but more vague because it can mean “the impression about X” or “the impression held by person X”. The latter two are a little more formal but better specify “the impression about X”.

Remember that words are generally omitted in Japanese where they can be inferred from context, so often you see just 感想 by itself, like in the first example sentence in this article.

In situations where a little more politeness is warranted, you can use the form ご感想 (gokansou), but お感想 is not correct. You will often see the word ご感想 in phrases on websites (or other places) where the reader’s or listener’s opinion (comment, questions, etc.) is being asked. For example,

  • ご感想をお聞かせください (gokansou wo okikase kudasai)
  • Please let us know what you think.

This Japanese sentence actually has a total of three polite aspects to it: the “go” prefix, the “o” prefix (making a special polite verb form), and the word “kudasai”. The English translation above doesn’t really capture the level of politeness, though it may be possible to adjust things to try and capture that better.

By the way, there are other words that mean “thoughts” (考え)or feelings (気持ち), but these words are often used in a more general sense and I haven’t heard them frequently used to refer to an impression about a book or movie.

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