Japanese Language,  Madrehood,  Multiculturalism,  Spanish Language

Yesterday may have been the end of Hispanic Heritage Month, but we’re just a few weeks shy of El Día de Muertos or the Day of the Dead.

This year marks my second time intentionally celebrating the Mexican tradition with my mixed family.

When my father passed away, there was not much talk of him after attending the funeral and going through some grief counseling.

I’m sincerely grateful that celebrating El Día de Muertos has given me a way to not only mourn members of my family who have passed away, but to share memories of those loved ones with my son.

What is Día de Muertos? How Do You Celebrate Día de Muertos?

El Día de Muertos is a tradition that welcomes the return of the spirits of the deceased. It’s not Halloween but a cultural tradition that is honored in Mexico and throughout several regions of Latin America.

In 2003, UNESCO declared the holiday an intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

Día de Muertos is actually not just un día but several days spanning from October 31st to November 2nd, which encompass All Saints Day, The Day of Little Angels, and All Souls Day.

Families prepare altars either in their homes or at graveyards. These are usually decorated with symbolic and personal items. There’s also plenty of great, traditional Mexican food.

What do the Altars Represent for El Día de Muertos?


Altars have offerings to the dead who come to visit from the afterlife. Much thought and care go into building an altar because you think about what your loved one enjoyed when they were in the land of the living.

Believe it or not, there’s a similar summer holiday in Japan known as O-bon (お盆), which is held in August.

During O-bon festivals, families visit the graves of their ancestors and pay their respects. There are dances and feasts too.

But the vibrant atmosphere of a Día de Muertos festival is not like the somber one of O-bon.

Even if you don’t celebrate these holidays, we can all agree that loss is something that humans experience. I hope this post will give you insight into a different way that a culture can mourn.

Here’s some simple vocabulary for you to discuss Día de Muertos the next time you bring it up to a Spanish or Japanese language speaker!

** Ion gone play that rōmaji mess. If you’re on your cell, get a kanji dictionary. If you’re on a laptop, get rikai-kun for Chrome and rikaichamp for Firefox.**

General Terms for Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Spanish and Japanese

1. Death La Muerte | 死(し)

La vida y la muerte.


Translation: Life and death.

2. Soul La Alma|魂 (たましい)

Las almas van por sus ofrendas.


Translation: The souls come for their offerings.

3. Spirit El Espíritu| 霊 (れい)

Venerar a los espíritus.


Translation: To honor the spirits.

4. The Deceased Los Difuntos|死者・故人 (ししゃ・こじん)

Se celebra Día de Todos Los Santos el primero de Noviembre y Día de Los Difuntos el dos de Noviembre.


Translation: All Saints Day is celebrated on November 1st and November 2nd is All Souls Day.

Note: All Souls Day is also be called 万霊節(ばんれいせつ)in Japanese.

5. Angels Los Angeles|天使(てんし)

El Día de Los Angelitos es una tradición para los niños pequeños.


Translation: The Day of Little Angels is a traditional holiday for small children.

6. Wreath La Corona | 花輪(はなわ)

La corona decora el altar.


Translation: A wreath decorates the altar.

7. Arch El Arco | 門(もん)

El arco representa la entrada al mundo de los muertos.


Translation: The arch represents the entrance to the world of the dead.

8. Marigold Cempasúchil (Cempazuchitl o Zempasúchil) | マリーゴールド

Los cempasúchiles dirigen en camino las almas.


Translation: Marigolds guide the spirits.

9. Crucifix La Cruz | 十字架

La cruz quita las penas de las almas.


Translation: The cross frees spirits from their troubles.

Elements of Día de Muertos Altars in Spanish and Japanese

10. Altars Los Altares | 祭壇(さいだん)・供物台(くもつだい)

Los niveles de los altares representan las divisiones del cielo y la tierra. El cielo, la tierra, y el inframundo. 


Translation: The altars represent the divisions between heaven and earth.

Note: There can be different levels of altars and what they represent can differ too.  

11. Little Sugar Skulls Calaveritas de Azúcar | 砂糖菓子ドクロ(さとうがしのどくろ)

Las calaveritas de azúcar representan la muerte.


Translation: Sugar skulls represent death.

12. Grave La Tumba | お墓(おはか)

Las decoraciones de las tumbas son brillantes y coloridas.


Translation: The decorations on graves are bright and colorful.

Note: It’s funny how Oaxaca (オアハカ), a city in Mexico known for its lavish Day of the Dead celebrations, sounds like お墓 a little.

13. Paper cut-outs El Papel Picado | 切り紙(きりがみ)

El papel picado es un símbolo del aire y los muertos.


Translation: Paper cut-outs are a symbol of air and the dead.

14. Candles Las Velas/Las Veladoras | ろうそく

Las velas son símbolos del fuego que brillan en el camino de los muertos.


Translation: Candles represent the fire that lights the path of the dead.

15. Water El Agua | お水(おみず)

El agua es para curar la sed del alma.


Translation: Water cures a soul’s thirst.

16. Portrait/Photo El Retrato/La Foto | 遺影(いえい)・写真(しゃしん)

El retrato del difunto.


Translation: Portrait of ancestors who have passed away.

17. Incense El incienso | お香(おこう)

El incienso es un símbolo del camino de los muertos.


Translation: Incense is a symbol of the path of the dead.

18. Copal: Copal | コーパル

Quemar copal (una resina).


Translation: To light copal (a tree sap).

Psst, sorry to interrupt!
Since you’ve scrolled this far…

Maybe you’d like to get serious about learning a language? 

Offerings for the Día de Muertos in Spanish and Japanese

19. Bread of the Dead
El Pan de Muertos |パンで死者

El pan de la muerte representa la osamenta.


Translation: The bread of the dead represents bones.

20. Sesame Seeds El Anjoljolí | 胡麻(ごま)

El Ajonjolí son las lágrimas de las almas que no pueden descansar.


Translation: Sesame seeds represent the tears of the souls that cannot rest.

21. Tamales Los Tamales | タマーレス

Los tamales son alimentos preparados con masa de maíz y carne cocida envuelta en hojas de plátano y cocido al vapor.


Translation: Tamales are food that’s prepared in corn flour and meat, wrapped in a banana leaf, and steamed.

22. Mole Mole | モーレ

Mole es un guiso tradicional de México.


Translation: Mole is a traditional Mexican stew.

23. Candied Pumpkin La Calabaza de Techa |砂糖シロップ漬けのゆでカボチャ

La calabaza de techa es dulce.


Translation: Candied pumpkin is sweet.

24. Atole Atole |アトーレ

Atole es una bebida de maíz.


Translation: Atole is a corn-based drink.

25. Salt La Sal | お塩(おしお)

La sal purifica las almas.


Translation: Salt purifies spirits.

26. Tequila La Tequila/El Licor |お酒(おさけ)

Las almas beben tequila.


Translation: The souls drink tequila.

BONUS: Nice-to-Know Verbs in Spanish and Japanese for Describing Día de Muertos

27. Place Colocar | 置く(おく)

Colocar el altar en la casa.


Translation: To put up an altar in one’s home.

28. Scatter Regar | 散らす

Regar los pétalos de cempasúchiles.


Translation: To scatter the petals of marigold flowers.

29. Visit Visitar | 参る (まいる)

Las familias visitan las tumbas de los ancestros.


Translation: Families visit the graves of their ancestors.

30. Grieve Llorar la muerte de | 弔う(とむらう)

Llorar la muerte de seres queridos.


Translation: To mourn loved ones.

Now that you have all this wonderful vocabulary, how should you go about using and reviewing?

Create your own DIY Day of Dead the Altar.

I’d also highly recommend watching Pixar’s Coco—with or without subtitles.

I’m going to be watching the Japanese dub. It has the title localized as 

Remember me 


Since I love learning new words through songs, I’m going to make a goal to learn the lyrics!

Wouldn’t it be nice to make language goals that someone could hold you accountable for? And what about a neat 90-day planner that has you track your progress? 

When you get a copy of Melanintro to Languages, you get your own customizable planner!

Plus you’ll get access to my new private Facebook group, Morenita Mommies! I believe in creating a safe space for BIPOC language learners to share their language learning goals and get access to a walk-through on how to use your planner to make yourself multilingual and stay on top of your languages.

¡Hasta la proxima!

Trilingual copywriter and translator raising her biracial baby trilingual.


  • K E Garland

    My mother died when I was 16. Like you, I think it would’ve been beneficial to have some type of continued ceremony/tradition.

    Also, my sister keeps an altar in her home, right off the living room <3

    • Errol De Jesus

      That’s wonderful that she keeps an altar! I had to take ours down because the baby kept climbing it lol

      Losing a parent is hard and talking about it is too. But our loved ones live in our memories of them. They deserve to be honored in my opinion. Thank you for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *