Japanese Through Pokémon is a column dedicated to exploring the Japanese language through the context of Pokémon. Our goals are two-fold: help our readers gain a more well-rounded understanding of the series by learning about its Japanese roots and also to help people learn more about the Japanese language itself. This is written without any expectation of readers having knowledge about the language and if anything is unclear, let us us know down in the comments!
Tofugu: a blog with lots of articles about Japan which also owns two separate Japanese learning websites
Romy Sensei: Blog that sends out emails with interesting Japanese phrases multiple times as week
Squirtle is known in Japanese as ゼニガメ (ze-ni-ga-me, Zenigame). Not unlike Charmander, Squirtle’s Japanese name is very literal and comes from a reptile commonly found throughout the country: the common pond turtle, zenigame. Curious to see what its namesake looks like? Here’s a picture courtesy of a Japanese blog:
The sort of small turtles are a staple of Japanese pet shops and can sometimes even be found as prizes at festivals (luckily less common today than it used to be). かめ (ka-me) is the Japanese word for turtle and becomes the “がめ” (ga-me) of ゼニガメ through sequential voicing. The kanji for turtle is 亀 and if you look carefully the character does indeed resemble a turtle with its head and tail sticking out of a ‘shell’!
Wartortle, the fearsome warrior turtle, is perhaps almost as ferocious in its Japanese name which is カメール (ka-mee-ru, Kameeru) [note: that’s mee as in meeh remember]. The most likely inspiration for its name is the Japanese word for “to bite” which is 噛める (かめる, ka-me-ru) which has had the second phonetic syllable elongated. This is also probably a play on tail, テール (tee-ru), which is a distinct feature of Wartortle. A third Japanese vocabulary word which can be found is turtle which we just mentioned above. Can you find it? Yup, カメ (ka-me) is right at the beginning of its name!
Blastoise‘s name references its cannons and (questionable) tortoise heritage, but in Japanese it is known as カメックス (ka-me-kku-su, Kamekkusu). There’s no long-winded explanation here, it seems to just be turtle (かめ, ka-me) and MAX (マックス, ma-kku-su) squished together. In fact the romanization of its name is officially Kamex which makes it more easy to see the max-like nature of its moniker.
At the end of a “lesson” we’ll try to highlight the important words. Normally we will write them in kanji with the hiragana, katakana and English syllables in parenthesis (in that order).
亀 (かめ・カメ・ka-me): turtle
噛める (かめる・ka-me-ru): to bite
テール (tee-ru): tail
Sorry for the short lesson today! Mostly motivated to post so you know I’m still dedicated to increasing your Japanese knowledge and cultural understanding! I’m actually moving in Japan right now which is most definitely not the most fun use of my language skills.
Until next time, keep studying!
You may remember the Squirtle Squad from the anime and the iconic black garb they wore while putting out a forest fire that threatened the town they were harassing. That was based off of what ancient Japanese firefighters wore during the Edo period (first image courtesy of an Etsy listing)!
You can read more about the fascinating history of Tokyo’s old firefighters (and why some locals feared them!) in this fascinating article.