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Is there an English equivalent of komorebi (木漏れ日), which means the sunshine filtering through the leaves of a tree (or trees)?

It is made up of three kanji and the hiragana particle れ. The first kanji 木 means ‘tree’ (or ‘trees‘), the second one 漏 refers to ‘escape’ and the last one 日 is ‘light‘ or ‘sun‘.

Komorebi can also be seen as a light curtain which is more visible after the rain because of the reflecting light from the water vapor:

A picture of sunlight rays in a forest, made visible by ambient humidity
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Forest-sun_01.JPG

It is also mentioned as the interplay between the light and the leaves which is observed especially on the ground. Additionally, there is a rare phenomenon when the light of the crescent sun during a partial solar eclipse is dappled on the ground in crescent shapes (which is circular normally):

Image of the light of the sun during a partial eclipse dappled on the ground in crescent shapes
Source: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/125678645821705633/

Sunray and sunbeam come to mind but they are too general. Of course, the word is the result of Japanese culture and aesthetics influenced by the nature. But there might be a colloquial usage or scientific term regarding the phenomena related to komorebi.

4
  • 1
    John Denver would say Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy ...
    – bib
    Jun 27, 2014 at 2:44
  • I have seen 'Chiaroscuro' used to describe natural scenes Jun 27, 2014 at 6:50
  • @aitchnyu, "chiaroscuro" refers to strong contrast between light and shadow.
    – wordsmythe
    Jul 11, 2014 at 18:11
  • Questions about both jayus and Komorebi? Are you working your way through this list? Jul 13, 2014 at 12:06

10 Answers 10

22

Though not exactly the same, crepuscular rays (also known as god rays) come close to what you are asking for.

a streak of light that seems to radiate from the sun shortly before or after sunset when sunlight shines through a break in the clouds or a notch in the horizon line and illuminates atmospheric haze or dust particles

It's often used as a special effect in games.

Assassins Creed 4 PC

Wikipedia includes a list of alternative names, some of which are more idiomatic than the latin derived crepuscular:

  • Backstays of the sun – a nautical term, from the fact that backstays that brace the mast of a sailing ship converge in a similar way
  • Cloud breaks
  • Jacob's Ladder
  • Ropes of Maui – (originally. taura a Maui) from the Maori tale of Maui Potiki restraining the sun with ropes to make the days longer
  • Shafts of light
  • Sun drawing water – from the ancient Greek belief that sunbeams drew water into the sky (an early description of evaporation)
  • Sunbeams
  • Sunburst
  • Volumetric lighting (used by the computer graphics industry)
  • God rays (used by the computer graphics industry)
  • Fingers of God

(Some links and references in the article.)

As you mention, a singular shaft of light, whether separated from the rest of the sunlight by clouds, annulus (man-made or natural) or through the canopy of a forest is more properly called a sunbeam (Merriam-Webster).

a ray of sunlight

As Andrew Leach mentions and fully explains in his answer, there is precedent for calling this a sheaf or sheafs (or sheaves).

6.
a. Physics and Math. A bundle of rays, lines, etc. all passing through a given point.

But this has two drawbacks with regards to your question.

  1. It is a fairly technical definition and not commonly understood in every day English.
  2. You would still have to specify what makes up the sheaf; it cannot be used as a single word in the sense you want.

Incorrect

Walking through the forest, I was awestruck by the beauty of a sheaf.

Correct

Walking through the forest, I was awestruck by a beautiful sheaf of sunlight.

There does not appear to be an exact word for sunlight filtered specifically through foliage.

6
  • Your idea is more like some type of scattering. I think it's different from the image. These photons are concentrated. Jun 27, 2014 at 7:58
  • 1
    It actually isn't scattering. It's just a perspective effect. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crepuscular_rays
    – Eejin
    Jun 27, 2014 at 8:55
  • That image is of a sheaf. Crepuscular actually means of twilight, and the image doesn't look like twilight.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jun 27, 2014 at 8:59
  • I think this is very close. It is a general term which is usually associated with clouds though, so its not specific to trees. But maybe, this is the closest we can get.
    – ermanen
    Jun 27, 2014 at 20:03
  • 1
    @Andrew: The name comes from twilight because of the frequent appearances during crepuscular hours but it doesn't only apply to that time only. It has bunch of other names as well. "Sheaf" is a good answer also.
    – ermanen
    Jun 27, 2014 at 20:12
16

There is a phrase dappled sunlight (or dappled light) that refers to the phenomenon.

Dappled means

marked with small spots or patches contrasting with the background

There are a number of images referred to as dappled sunlight here

2
  • This is partially correct which I partially mentioned in the question also. Of course, "dappled sunlight" is an explanatory phrase for the effect on the surface. But it would be nice to find an answer that covers all aspects.
    – ermanen
    Jun 27, 2014 at 19:57
  • 2
    Languages that create words by combining concepts have the potential for more poetic single terms (Japanese, Chinese, German). English compound words are usually more mundane than evocative, and rarely go beyond two concepts.
    – bib
    Jun 27, 2014 at 20:31
6

Is there a specific, single word in English that means precisely that?

No.

4
  • 3
    This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post.
    – Chenmunka
    Jul 11, 2014 at 18:50
  • 3
    The question was "is there an English equivalent." The answer to that question is "no."
    – wordsmythe
    Jul 11, 2014 at 20:25
  • I tend to agree (which means I'm 99% certain there isn't, but there are a lot of words even Churchill didn't know. Some born after he died.) But I'd put 'No' as a comment, as you almost certainly aren't 100% sure yourself. Jul 11, 2014 at 22:41
  • 3
    +1 I came across this bbc.com/culture/story/20140703-eleven-untranslatable-words the third word in the slides is komorebi.
    – Frank
    Jul 12, 2014 at 6:37
3

“Sunshine filtering through leaves” is perfectly good English, and seems to be the only exact English equivalent for the phrase you quote.

5
  • 1
    These two phenomena are distinct and yet related. There doesn't seem to be any equivalent word/phrase that covers both. Describing it this way seems to be the best way to communicate this in English.
    – KnightHawk
    Jul 11, 2014 at 17:48
  • Well, of course but this defeats the purpose.
    – ermanen
    Jul 11, 2014 at 18:07
  • What exactly is your purpose? I thought you were asking about the correct English translation of this word.
    – fdb
    Jul 11, 2014 at 18:08
  • I already mentioned that phrase as a translation and I'm aware of it. Finding a single word equivalent is the purpose but I asked for terminologies or colloquial usages also. There were already good answers before I opened a bounty and I will probably choose one of them but I tried my chance one more time with a bounty.
    – ermanen
    Jul 11, 2014 at 18:15
  • 2
    This is essentially the dictionary definition. For reference, here are similar definitions from seven Japanese-English dictionaries: "(a ray of) sunshine filtering through the branches of trees" (研究社新和英大辞典) "sunshine filtering through the leaves (of trees) (ジーニアス和英辞典) "rays of sunlight filtering down through the trees overhead" (オーレックス和英辞典) "sunbeams [the sun] streaming through the leaves of trees" (プログレッシブ和英中辞典) "sunlight filtering [sifting] down through the trees" (研究社新和英中辞典) "dappled sunlight; sunlight filtering through the trees" (ウィズダム和英辞典) "sunlight filtering through trees" (JMDICT)
    – user28567
    Jul 11, 2014 at 20:48
1
+50

Are creative solutions allowed?

Treelight

Given the numerous times I've come across 木漏れ日 in Japanese, I also have often wondered if there isn't a word/phrase in English, existing or inventive, that could capture the aesthetics of the word (the natural imagery from komorebi is just so strong).

Treelight is what I've currently settled on as a usable evocative equivalent for your first sense of komorebi. Tree is explicit, as is 木, and the word mimics sunlight, so there's an indirect association with sun.

And I am hardly the first to have felt a want for such an expression and arrived at such a word! The following are taken from Google Books:

I love putting words together like "wheels of rainlight," "treelight."

Together you continued along the path—but already, already in the lacework of treelight you saw your error.

The dew-dappled treelight glowed down upon him.

The trees with treelight made him think of the need for magic ...

The sky is a gap in the river where the treelight clears ...

... her arms are glossed & speckled oval by treelight ...

... camouflage helmets dappling into treelight ...

... at the pied treelight that tickles the miracle of her skin ...

I think it works quite nicely:

森の奥深く、木漏れ日が彩る

Treelight dapples with color, the forest deep.

3
  • To be honest, I thought about this word but never did a research about it. I thought I was just making up a word. But you have enough evidence to make this word be considered. So it was worth to open a bounty, great answer. I will consider definitely.
    – ermanen
    Jul 11, 2014 at 20:20
  • Also, you don't have to ask "are creative solutions allowed?". This word has a usage.
    – ermanen
    Jul 11, 2014 at 20:20
  • Indeed. It was just to point out that treelight is, as you said, a made-up word (at least for now). I don't think it's in common usage at all, but I do think the hinting at sunlight streaming through trees is so intuitive that most natives would readily accept it in context. Jul 11, 2014 at 20:36
1

There is no single word, but the conjunction of "shafts" and "light" and "trees" is the usual evocative usage. I cannot imagine anyone understanding the use of "sheaf" in this context.

1

Perhaps the best English equivalent is in the famous Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas' "Fern Hill", with the verse 'Down the rivers of the windfall light'.

1

A shivelight is a sliver or splinter of light

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  • Hello, Blobrana, and welcome to English Language & Usage. Although shivelight is an intriguing-looking word, it doesn't appear in the first dictionary I checked (Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary). To help readers who likewise can't find an entry for shivelight, please consider providing a definition for it from a suitable reference work. Thanks!
    – Sven Yargs
    Jun 7, 2015 at 0:17
  • 1
    'Grogie' on alphaDictionary says that they 'discovered this near-obsolete word', but this is hardly authoritative. There are few relevant Google hits. Passle has: 'When Gerard Manley Hopkins didn’t have a word for a natural phenomenon, he would simply – wonderfully – make one up: shivelight, for “the lances of sunshine that pierce the canopy of a wood”'. Jun 7, 2015 at 13:41
0

You can use "light shining/gleaming through the trees" if you want the term to sound more natural.

0

There is a name for the rays of light falling from the sky, especially with water vapors in the air. The scientific term for those rays of light is called the Tyndall Effect (http://chemwiki.ucdavis.edu/Physical_Chemistry/Physical_Properties_of_Matter/Solutions_and_Mixtures/Colloid/Tyndall_Effect)

1
  • The Tyndall effect doesn't fit for the dappling effect sought by the question. It refers to scattering on a microscopic level.
    – Chenmunka
    Jun 7, 2015 at 17:43

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