The interesting origin of the Japanese word ”くるま” (kuruma)

By | April 1, 2016

(Disclaimer: this was an April fool’s joke.)

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!

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9 thoughts on “The interesting origin of the Japanese word ”くるま” (kuruma)

  1. Konim96

    I would really like to know what’s the source of this information. I checked a Japanese site that discusses etymology and on it, it says that “kuru” is an onomatopoeia which refers to “turning”, and “ma” is considered to come from the kanji 輪 (wa in reading) which means ring. The word was even used for rickshaws and carts before cars even came to be.


    1. Konim96

      Ok, nevermind that last post. I see that it was an april fools joke. Also, even though it really is my fault for not checking your other post, I do have to say that this page is the first one that pops up when one searches for “kuruma etymology” and I am not sure how smart it is to keep this post up since it can lead to a lot of misinformed people.

      1. Viv

        Had Konim96 not seen it was an April fool’s joke I would have believed this. Please take this down or include a disclaimer! Many people are being misinformed.

        1. locksleyu Post author

          If you click on the second part of the article I mention it was an april-fools joke.

          However I’ve added a disclaimer at the beginning of this one just to avoid confusion.

      2. locksleyu Post author

        Thanks for the comment. I’ve added a disclaimer at the beginning of this article to avoid confusion.

  2. swan

    Sorry, but can the disclaimer be included in the title? It’s too small I didn’t even see it.
    This page is one if the top results when you google search “kuruma meaning”. Had I not read the comments, I would have been fooled all my life!
    (it does make the word easier to remember though)

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Hello, sorry for the trouble. It was on the first line of the post and in italics, so I thought it would be clear. I just bolded it now so I think nobody will miss it anymore (:


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