Lately I’ve been making posts on words which I’ve heard in everyday conversation with Japanese native speakers, and in this post I’d like to highlight one more: “kasabaru”. It’s written in hiragana as かさばる but can also be written in kanji as 嵩張る. However, I hear this word more often than see it in writing.
One time I recently heard this word was when I had taken a few presents from a bag, but then found it to be a challenge to squeeze everything back in. The word “kasabaru” was used to describe these items.
I’ve seen the word described in a dictionary as “bulky”, and while I think it is a pretty close fit, “bulky” is a word that, while I have a good intuitive feeling of, I can’t describe too well. So let’s turn to one dictionary’s definition of かさばる to try and get a better feel for this word:
- Volume that is out of proportion for (the object’s) weight
This definition is also a bit cryptic, though it does sort of fit with the packages in question. They were relatively light but took up a lot of space.
This page describes the word in terms of “扱いにくさ感”, which is roughly translated as “a sense of being difficult to handle”. I think this is good way to understand “kasabaru”, for example think of a large, long pillow that is light but hard to carry in a single hand. Interestingly, that page talks about the word in the context of souvenirs, which is pretty close to the above situation where I heard the word used, so perhaps this word is commonly used in such scenarios. The link also uses the expression “takes up too much space”, which is consistent with the idea of “volume” as discussed above.
In case you are curious about where the word comes from, you may have noticed it is comprised of two parts: “kasa” and “baru”. The former is a word that means “bulk” or “quantity”, though I have never seen it used on its own. The second word comes from “haru”（張る) and has a variety of meanings including “stretch”, “expand”, and “fill”. If you put these concepts together I think the result fits with the above explanations.
A related word is “gasabaru” (がさばる）which appears to be a variant of “kasabaru” that is part of certain regional dialects, including Tokushima prefecture. It seems it has a stronger meaning that “kasabaru”. (see this link for details)
As for the word’s usage, though it is technically a verb, in practice it can be used like an adjective, placed before the word it is describing:
- そんなかさばる物をあげたくない (sonnna kasabaru mono wo agetakunai)
- I don’t want to give him/her something bulky like that.