fear; scary; afraid
Kanji 1749

Thank you for visiting this Character Home Page. Below you'll find a synopsis of the essay. If you wish to read the full text, the PDF of the essay is available for purchase to the right.


Learn to talk about cowards, risks, and the politics of fear, as well as horror films and terrifyingly complex kanji! See how both the meanings and yomi of 怖 can provoke anxiety. Understand how 怖 and its near twin 恐 relate to each other. See what it means figuratively to be bitten by a snake and thus to fear a rotten rope. And find out about fears and phobias specific to the Japanese. 

Revision history:

Nov. 10, 2022: p. 11: Changed the definition of 咬む from “to snap and fatally bite” to “to bite” and deleted the subsequent paragraph.

Feb. 17, 2022: 

  • p. 2, Etymology Box: Updated the Henshall etymology and Sears link.
  • p. 7: A link to a Chiebukuro post was dead, so I replaced it with a link to a similar post and explained what the new one says.
  • p. 16: Added a link to the Kanshudo games.

May 8, 2015: Replaced the dead video link in the last line of p. 4.

Mar. 6, 2015: I added "sometimes" to this sentence about おそれ on p. 7: "This common word sometimes has more to do with risk than with fear."

Feb. 20, 2015:

  • Changed this bit of p. 7:
  • 恐れ or 畏れ or 虞 or 怖れ (おそれ: fear; risk; horror; anxiety; concern; uneasiness)
  • There should not be a れ after the 虞, so I removed it. It's an unexpected inconsistency among the おそれ words!

Mar. 28, 2014: Made several changes to p. 7 after writing essay 1167 on 恐 and thinking more deeply about the differences between these closely related kanji.

Mar. 7, 2014: Originally published.


eve's picture
I wrote more about this kanji in the JOK Notebook post "Are You Scared or Scary?":

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