Word of the Week: 染める

It’s time for Word of the Week again! Last week we looked at a Japanese word or phrase beginning with ‘se’ (せ), and focussed on the words せーへん & せやな (seehen & seyana), which are Kansai dialect. This week I’m looking for a word or phrase beginning with ‘so’ (そ). A big thank you to those who joined in with suggestions this week:

lovelycomplex22 suggested ‘someru’ (染める / そめる), ‘to dye’; Japan Australia  suggested ‘soro soro’ (そろそろ), ‘sooner or later’ or ‘slowly’;  and ‘sore o kudasai’ (それをください), ‘I’ll take that one’ or ‘can I have that?’; Zooming Japan suggested ‘sotsugyou suru’ (卒業する / そつぎょうする),  ‘to graduate; and ‘sokusoku’ (そくそく), ‘keenly’ or heartily’; and locksleyu suggested ‘sonchou’ (尊重 / そんちょう), ‘respect’ or ‘esteem’.

There were some great ideas this week and in the end I decided to write about…



‘Someru’ (染める / そめる) is a verb meaning ‘to dye’ or ‘to colour’. I heard this word for the first time this week during my Japanese class and, although it might not seem like an interesting enough word to write a whole post about, I thought I’d give it a go after it was also suggested for this week’s post.

The word came up in conversation during my class because we were talking about dying hair. At various times it has been popular in Japan for women (and sometimes men) to dye their naturally black hair brown (although I’ve heard that this isn’t the current mainstream trend). Many university students experiment with hair dye and it’s only when they’re going through the strict job hunting process that they dye it back to black again.

So popular has this trend been that there is actually a word for it – chapatsu (茶髪/ちゃぱつ) – which literally means ‘tea colour’.

Singer Ayumi Hamasaki with brown hair

Singer Ayumi Hamasaki with brown hair

(Image: Google images)

According to this article the chapatsu trend really took hold in the 1990s, and at that time students were even expelled for daring to dye their hair. Comparing this to my own school days it seems quite strict. When I was at school we were allowed to dye our hair a colour that was deemed to be natural, but unnatural colours were not allowed. Therefore, black to brown would have been fine at my school in the UK.

It was believed that dying one’s hair was a rebellious act and disrespectful towards Japanese heritage and tradition. Personally, I don’t think there was that much meaning in it – I think it was just fashion and youthful rebellion.

When I was teaching I did notice from time to time that some of my students had dyed hair, but black was still by far the norm. Personally I love natural Japanese hair and wish I could have thick, straight black hair like that. But the grass is always greener, isn’t it? Having dyed my own hair every colour under the sun I can’t criticise anyone else for dying their hair!

So, through learning ‘someru’ (染める) we’ve also learnt ‘chapatsu’ (茶髪), and I’ll finish by introducing one more phrase: ‘purin atama’ (プリン頭 / プリンあたま). ‘Purin atama’ means ‘pudding head’, and it’s a phrase used when someone who has previously dyed their hair brown now has dark roots showing. Literally, their head looks like a Japanese custard pudding (mmm… プリン。。。)

Pudding head

Not quite what I meant…

(Image source)

Finally, if you would like to hear ‘someru’ in a sentence, click here to listen to the sentence ‘kanojo wa kami o chairo ni someteiru’ (彼女は髪を茶色に染めている), which means ‘she dyed her hair brown’.

Readers – have you ever dyed your hair? Would you like to? What do you think of the ‘chapatsu’ trend? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Next week’s post will be about a word or phrase beginning with ‘ta’ (た), so please leave your suggestions below. The word can be a verb, adjective or expression, but no nouns please! For example, ‘taberu’ (たべる) meaning ‘to eat’ would be acceptable, but ‘takoyaki’ (たこやき), the food, would not. I look forward to reading your ideas! (*^_^)v

Word of the Week 2014

2 thoughts on “Word of the Week: 染める

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