和訳が英文の下にあります。ルビ付けの途中です。/ The Japanese translation is on the bottom of this page. Ruby is under construction.

How are “Hushigi” and “Nazo” Different?

An image of a mysterious railroad crossing.
A photo offered by Mr. Utage Hamami [Click to enlarge]
  1. “Hushigi” and “nazo”, the two words meaning “mysterious”
  2. “Hushigi” means inexplicable
  3. “Nazo” is something to solve
  4. The etymology of “nazo”
  5. Let’s play a “nazo-nazo” game

1. “Hushigi” and “nazo”, the two words meaning “mysterious”

There are lot of people who know and like the words “hushigi*” (mysterious, mystery) and “nazo” (mystery), because they hear these words in playing Japanese games featuring exciting stories and mysteries.  

*Note: Some books spell this word “fushigi” but we spell “hushigi” since this is closer to the actual pronunciation. 

“Hushigi-na” is a Na-adjective, and means mysterious, strange, miraculous, marvelous, etc. “Hushigi” alone can be used as a noun meaning a mystery. On the other hand, “nazo” is a noun and is translated as a mystery or a puzzle.

In short, they both mean “mystery”, and actually, in conversation you can often say “Hushigi dane!” or “Nazo dane!” interchangeably to mean “How mysterious!”.

For instance, to translate “It was a closed room, and it was a mystery to anyone how the criminal could have escaped,” you can say either of the following: 

Example 1: Sore wa misshitsu de, hannin ga dasshutsu dekita koto wa dare ni tottemo fushigi datta.

Example 2: Sore wa misshitsu de, hannin ga dasshutsu dekita koto wa dare ni tottemo nazo datta.

If you ask me, however, the second one sounds more natural.

What is the difference we feel between them? We will discuss that in this post.

2. “Hushigi” means inexplicable

The first one, “hushigi(-na)” means inexplicable.

Originally, it was a Buddhist term and “hukashigi (Na-Adjective)”. It means that the power and the deed of Buddha and Bodhisatva are beyond our thoughts and understanding. 

Now, in everyday life when we say “hushigi” about something, it seems inexplicable and strange to us, takes us by surprise and yet fascinates us. See the following examples:

Example 3: Doraemon (a cat-shaped robot and a title character of a famous Japanese comic book and animation series) no poketto wa hushigi-na poketto desu (Doraemon’s pocket is a magic pocket). 

As you may know, Draemon produces a lot of wonderful, helpful things from his pocket and saves Nobita, his friend, from various difficult situations. Nobita is a timid boy of ten.

An image of two mugs which us ab example of “mystery”
Photo 1 When we warm them up in the microwave, the right one is too hot to hold even after the same amount of time of heating. [Click to enlarge]

Example 4: (See Photo 1) Koohii o denshi-renji de atatameta toki, migi no magu-kappu no totte wa atsukute motemasenga, hidari no kappu no totte wa atsuku naranai. Hushigi desu ne! (When you warm up coffee in a microwave oven, the handle of the right mug gets too hot to hold with a bare hand, but the one on the left mug doesn’t get hot. It’s interesting!)

This feeling of “not knowing why” is subjective and felt only by the speaker. A more knowledge-able person, such as a pottery artisan or a chemist in this case, may be able to explain it to us.

Example 5: “Hushigi no kuni no Arisu” (“Alice in Wonderland”, Photo 2)

An illustration from Alice in Wonderland
Photo 2 Alice and Queen of Harts [Click to enlarge] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/ef/De_Alice% 27s_Abenteuer_im_Wunderland_Carroll_pic_29.jpg/1024px-De_Alice%27s_Abenteuer_im_Wunderland_Carroll_pic_29.jpg

Numerous impossible things happen in this story, with some characters not even very amiable, but it’s very enjoyable. And the use of “hushigi” as a noun in “hushigi no kuni” is an excellent translation for “a land where many wonders happen”. 

Example 6: Ano hito wa hushigi-na hito desu ne! (He/she is an unusual person. I don’t really understand him/her!) 

When someone is described as “henna hito (a strange person)” or called “hen-chan (Little Weird  Fellow/Girl)” for being not ordinary or behaving differently from others, it doesn’t mean very good.

However, calling someone “hushigi-na hito (puzzling, interesting person)” or “hushigi-chan (Little Puzzling Girl)”, is OK; it sounds like their non-conventional character is rather amusing and acceptable.   

Example 7: Chiisai toki, hushigi-na purezento o moratta koto ga arimasu. (When I was small, I got a mysterious present.)

Suppose you received a birthday present sent from someone unknown when you were small. You opened it and found what you had wanted. You were pleased.

Even thirty years later, you still don’t know who the sender was; it could have been a distant relative, some mistake or some spiritual force. You will keep it as a mysterious, pleasant memory.

3. “Nazo” is something to solve

On the other hand, “nazo” is a mystery that no one knows the reason for or truth about and that you want to solve it or find it out. 

Sometimes “nazo” is about a “good” thing, sometimes “bad”. For example, it may be something “exciting and un-understandable” like in a mystery novel or a game, or an unknown wondrous mechanism of nature.

Or it may be something “bad and un-understandable” such as in a murder case in a closed room, or an unknown use of a huge amount of public money or a cause of an accident.

That’s why, between Examples 1 and 2 at the beginning of this post, 2 feels more natural. In other words, the use of “nazo” urges us to read on and find out how it was done.

4. The etymology of “nazo”

There is an interesting etymology about “nazo”. 

“Nazo” or “nanzo” meant “What is it (nan-zo)”? in the olden days. 

So, “nazo”, “nanzo” or “nazo-nazo (What is it? What is it?)” was the expression used when giving a riddle, and then it came to mean the game of exchanging riddles itself. 

Today, the meaning of “nazo” has changed even further; it’s “a mystery” although it somehow retains the feeling of the original idea of “what you want to find an answer for or to solve.” 

Also, a different Chinese character is used for the word now; it used to be “何ぞ (nazo)” and it has changed to “謎 (nazo)” along the way. This makes it a little harder for us to guess the connection between the present meaning of “nazo” and the past one.

5. Let’s play a “nazo-nazo” game

Nonetheless, we still say “nazo-nazo” for the game of exchanging riddles.

The word is found in Makura-no-sooshi which was written at the end of the 10th Century, but we no longer remember the original meaning (“What is it? What is it?”).

Lastly, here is one of today’s children’s “nazo-nazo”s for you:

Example 10: Tooru toki ni wa shimatte, tooranai toki ni aite-iru mono, naani? (What is the thing which closes when it passes and which opens when it doesn’t pass?) 

Clue: Photos 3

An image of a railroad crossing seen from inside a train
Mr. Fukushima took this photo when he was on a train in Sapporo [Click to enlarge]
Answer: “humi-kiri” (railroad crossing with the moving bars) or “shadanki” (the bars at the railroad crossing). Humikiri is always with the bars in Japan, so if you answer with it, it’s OK. However, just yesterday, in South Carolina, we saw a lot of small railroad crossings without the bars!)

[End of the English Post]


  1. 「不思議」も「謎」もmysteriousの意味
  2. 「不思議」は説明しがたいこと
  3. 「謎」は、解き明かすもの
  4. 「なぞなぞ」で遊ぼう



「不思議」(ナ形容詞としても、名詞としても使われます)も「謎」(名詞)も「ミステリー(mystery)」「ミステリアス (mysterious)」などと訳されます。





2. 「不思議」は説明しがたいこと

「不思議 (な)」は、説明がつかないという意味です。



例3: ドラえもんのポケットは、不思議なポケットです。


例4: (写真1参照)コーヒーを電子レンジで温めた時、右のマグカップの取っ手は熱くて持てませんが、左のカップの取っ手は、熱くならない。不思議ですね。







例7: 小さい時、不思議なプレゼントをもらったことがあります。








4. 「なぞ」の語源






5. 「なぞなぞ」で遊ぼう



例10: 通るときには閉まって、通らないときに開いているもの、なあに?



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