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🌏 Region(s): Honshu (Standard)





  1. Bag; handbag; satchel


No cognates in southern Kyushu or Ryukyuan exist, suggesting a borrowing into mainland Japanese. Origin debated.

  • Most works assume it to be from Chinese 【夾板・夹板】 (cf. Mandarin jiābǎn; Cantonese gaap3 baan2; Min Nan kiap-pán), variously meaning "planks of wood pressed up on each side of something", "boards (placed on both sides of something)", "sideboards", "sides (e.g. of a ship)" and "splint", and historically also meaning "chest" as well as "(foreign) vessel". The expected modern Japanese reflex would be キャバン kyaban. The meaning of "chest" is also attested in the Min Nan word 【夾槾】, recorded in 1832 with the reading kap pān "box, trunk". The meaning of "bag" or "portmanteau" is first recorded in Min Nan in 1873 as kha-báng "handbag, briefcase" and is also attested in Korean as 가방 gabang "bag"; it seems likely that the semantic shift from "chest" → "portmanteau" → "bag" happened in Japanese and was then borrowed into these languages.
  • Other works remark its similarity to the Dutch word kabas "bag".

In both Chinese and Japanese, the character【鞄】 historically referred to leatherwork (esp. of soft leather bags) or a leather craftsman, and later came to refer more specifically to small leather boxes or leather bags. The character can ultimately be broken down into two parts: 【革】 "leather" and 【包・苞】 "bag". The pronunciation カバン kaban in Japanese is considered ateji and is first attested as a reading of 【鞄】 around 1875.

Historical attestations:

  • English and Chinese dictionary, Volume 1 (1847), by Walter Henry Medhurst, records the Chinese meaning of 夾板 keě pàn as "chest" (as opposed to sides, boards or vessel). A Dictionary of the Chinese Language, Volume 1 (1865), by Robert Morrison, similarly records "夾板 Këă pan, double-sided boards of a chest or box".
  • Chinese-English Dictionary of the Vernacular Or Spoken Language of Amoy (1873), by Carstairs Douglas and Thomas Barclay, records "*báng – kha-báng, a hand-bag; a portmanteau (imit. of Japanese word)".
  • Shōgaku kanwa jiten (1875), by Haga (Kōtarō), records "カバン 鞄" and "トランク 旅行用のカバン".
  • A Japanese-English and English-Japanese Dictionary (1886), by James Curtis Hepburn, records "portmanteau... kawabukuro, kawabunko, kaban".
  • A New and Practical Vocabulary and Conversations of the English, French, German and Japanese Languages (1889), by Sho Nemoto, records "I have two trunks... Watakushi wa futatsu kaban wo motte imasu".
  • An Unabridged Japanese-English Dictionary (1896), by Frank Brinkley et al., records "kaban, カバン, 鞄, n. A trunk" and "kakuhō, かくはう, 革包, n. A leather bag, a trunk. Syn. KABAN".
  • A Handbook for Travellers in Japan (1899), by John Murray (Firm) et. al., records "bag (hand-), kaban" and "portmanteau, kaban".
  • English-Japanese conversation dictionary (1900), by Arthur Rose-Innes, records "valise... kaban", "handbag... te-kaban" and "you may put the trunk down here... koko ye kaban wo o oki nasai".
  • The Spoken Language of Japan (1901), by Kuroda Takuma, records "valise, kaban" and "hand-bag, te-kaban".
  • Hossfeld's Japanese Grammar (1914), by Henry J. Weintz, records "portmanteau, kaban" and "handbag, te-kaban".


  • In Notes and Queries on China and Japan, Volume 3 (1869) (p. 75), edited by N. B. Dennys, a reader asks about the origin of the word chia-pan "foreign vessel", noting that in the local [Chinese] dialect it's pronounced kapan, and asks if it bears any connection to the Malay word kapal "vessel". The responder provides the characters 【夾板】 for this word and suggests a semantic shift in Chinese from "wall sided" to "vessel" owing to the fact that the sides of ships resemble the boards of a box.
  • In The Chinese Repository, Volume 1 (1833) (p. 128), by Elijah Coleman Bridgman and Samuel Wells Williams, the term kea-pan "ships, European vessels" is mentioned with a footnote adding "This term is probably derived from the Malay word Kapan, a vessel, through the Fuhkeën sailors."
  • Words of similar shape and meaning are attested in south-eastern Asian languages. Compare Thai กระเป๋า grà-bpǎo "bag", Lao ກະເປົາ ka pao "bag", and Khmer កប៉ៅ kɑpaw "bag" or កាប៉ៅ kaapaw. All assumed to be from Middle Chinese, cf. 包 *pˠau.


Often written in Katakana as カバン kaban.


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