The Story Behind Marie Kondo’s Signature Phrase, “Spark Joy”
The translation from Japanese isn’t exactly literal, it turns out.
“Spark joy” is a phrase that’s been on everybody’s lips since Tidying Up hit Netflix earlier this month. In just a few short weeks, home organizing guru Marie Kondo has given Americans more than a reason to clean out our closets, it's given us a mantra for simplifying our lives.
And boy is it fun to say.
It’s been said that this two-word catchphrase is the English translation of the Japanese word "tokimeku," which Kondo uses in her show as well as her best-selling book. But as Apartment Therapy recently pointed out, that might not be entirely correct.
As it turns out, “spark joy” isn’t a literal translation of "tokimeku.” According to Kenkyusha's Japanese-English Dictionary, "tokimeku” has two definitions, neither of which include the words spark or joy:
- enjoy [be in] great prosperity; be prosperous; prosper; flourish; thrive; have one's day; be powerful; be influential; be in power.
- throb; palpitate; pulsate; pulse; beat fast.
So how is it that Kondo came to be associated with “spark joy?” That answer, Apartment Therapy discovered, lies with professional translator Cathy Hirano who translated Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, from Japanese to English.
Hirano explained that "tokimeku" is another way of saying "your heart beats"—whether it’s in anticipation or when you have a crush on somebody. She told Apartment Therapy that when she was working on translating Kondo’s book, she spoke with various Japanese speakers about what they thought "tokimeku" means in terms of a home. With their help, Hirano began looking for an English equivalent. She came up with a few options, including “Does it speak to your heart?” and “Does this give you pleasure?” and eventually settled on “Does this spark joy?”
"The one that really spoke to me after reading her book was 'spark joy' because it's got that element of sudden flutter in your heart, or that feeling of inspiration if you're anticipating something," Hirano explained to Apartment Therapy. "It was very powerful for me, but I knew I did not want to use that all the time, because in English if you use a powerful phrase too often it then becomes mind-numbing."
Marie Iida, who translates for Kondo in Tidying Up, said she thinks the phrase is perfect for helping clients understand that they should be thinking about how certain objects make them feel.
"I think the point is that it's such a personal experience for you, and I think that ties in very strongly with what Marie actually has you do when you're going through her method," Iida told Apartment Therapy. "It's an intangible feeling, and it's hard to express it into words. I would like to think that's why Cathy chose the word 'joy,' to really help us understand what Marie was trying to get us to experience."