Harry Potter in Chinese, Japanese & Vietnamese Translation


Invisibility Cloak


Simplified Chinese (China) 隐形衣
隐形 yǐnxíng = hide form' = 'invisibility'.
= '(item of) clothing'.
Invisible clothing
Traditional Chinese (Taiwan) 隱形斗篷
Yǐnxíng dǒupeng
隱形 yǐnxíng = 'hide form' = 'invisibility'.
斗篷 dǒupeng = 'cape, cloak'.
Invisible cape
Japanese 透明マント
Tōmei manto
透明 tōmei = 'transparent'.
マント manto = 'cloak, cape' (from French manteau).
Transparent cloak
Vietnamese Áo tàng hình
Áo khoác tàng hình
áo = '(item of) clothing'
áo khoác = 'cloak'.
tàng hình (藏形) = 'hide form' = 'invisibility'.
Invisible clothing
Invisible cloak
(Where a Vietnamese word has been borrowed from Chinese, the original Chinese character is shown in parentheses.)

The Invisibility Cloak belonged to Harry's father and was given to Harry by Dumbledore in Book One. It has appeared many times in all books since. An Invisibility Cloak is a cloak of silvery grey material that, when worn, makes the covered parts of the wearer invisible to the eye. The weave is so fine that an Invisibility Cloak is strange to the touch, like water woven into material. It is one of the Deathly Hallows.


The adjective 'invisible' is based on Latin and means 'not able to be seen' (in+vis+ible). The noun 'invisibility' means 'the state of not being able to be seen'. Juxtaposing 'invisibility' and 'cloak' does not yield an immediately obvious meaning. In fact, the Invisibility Cloak is not actually invisible, otherwise it would just be called the Invisible Cloak. What it does is confer invisibility on the person that wears it. Of course, the cloak itself then also becomes invisible.

For this reason it would be inappropriate to translate 'invisibility as 'unable to be seen', which would infer that the cloak itself is invisible. Standard ways of expressing 'unable to be seen' are:

English Chinese Japanese Vietnamese
'invisible' 看不见 (的) 目に見えない không nình thấy đươc
kànbujiàn (de) me ni mienai  
'cannot see' (+ connecting particle) 'unable to be seen by the eye ( me)' 'not able to be seen'

One way of approaching 'invisibility' is from the viewpoint of stealth or intentional concealment. This is the 'art of invisibility' practised by the ninja of Japan, who had a repertoire of techniques to escape detection. When translated into Chinese, Japanese, or Vietnamese, we find that the 'art of invisibility' doesn't make any reference to 'not being seen'. Instead, all three languages use the concept of 'hiding one's form':

English Chinese Japanese Vietnamese
'art of invisibility' 隐身术, 隐形术 蓑隠れ, 身隠れ Tàng thâm thuật
yǐnshēn-shù, yǐnxíng-shù mino-kakure, mi-kakure (Chinese characters: 藏身術)
'hide body technique, hide form technique' 'cloak hiding, body hiding' 'hide body technique'

These are all techniques to ensure that the practioner is not seen by other people. The ninja does not actually become physically invisible. (Note: In translating the 'arts of invisibility' in Harry Potter, the Japanese translator does not use the traditional word. Instead, she coins the expression 透明術 tōmei-jutsu 'art of transparency' -- see below).

When discussing the 'Invisibility Cloak', another type of invisibility must be considered: that of complete physical invisibility, in which the body becomes transparent (see-through) and thus invisible to the viewer. The classic example of this is the 'Invisible Man', the main character in an old but well-known science-fiction story about a man who takes a potion that can render him invisible. Instead of using tricks and techniques, the invisible man becomes physically invisible to the naked eye. The Invisible Man is normally translated as follows:

Locale Title Meaning Note
China (Mainland) 隐身人
'Conceal-body person' Also 隐形人
China (Taiwan) 隱形人
'Conceal-form person'  
Japan 透明人間
Tōmei Ningen
'Transparent person'  
Vietnam Người vô hình 'No-shape person'
(Vô hình = 無形 wúxíng 'no shape/form')

Vietnamese is the most straightforward, using a standard dictionary translation of 'invisible', vô hình, which has the meaning 'without form'. This appears to reflect the fact that vô hình has become a well-established equivalent for English 'invisible' or French invisible.

On the other hand, both the Chinese and Japanese translations turn to different ways of expressing 'invisibility'.

The Chinese term for 'Invisible Man' retains the concept of 'concealment of form' that we saw above. In other words, the Invisible Man is invisible by virtue of concealing his physical form. In Chinese, the word 隐形 yǐnxíng 'conceal form' is also used in expressions such as 隱形眼鏡 / 隐形眼睛 yǐnxíng yǎnjìng 'concealed glasses' (that is, contact lenses) and 隱形飛機 / 隐形飞机 yǐnxíng fēijī 'stealth plane'.

Japanese uses the term 透明人間 Tōmei Ningen, 'transparent person', which means that you can see right through him. In this concept, the Invisible Man is invisible because he does not block our view of what is behind him.

This brings us to the Invisibility Cloak. Invisibility of the Invisible-Man variety is closest to that conferred by the Invisibility Cloak. Both the Chinese and Japanese translators use terms for 'invisibility' that are similar to the standard translations of 'The Invisible Man'.

  • The Chinese translators both use 隐形 / 隱形 yǐnxíng, 'conceal form'. (The unanimity of translation may not be accidental. The cloak first appears in Book One, in which the Mainland translator cribbed heavily from the previously published Taiwanese version).
  • Japanese uses 透明 tōmei 'transparent' or 'see-through'. The idea, of course, is not that the cloak is transparent, which would make Harry something like the emperor with no clothes, but that the wearer of the cloak becomes completely 'transparent' to the world.
  • The Vietnamese translator does not follow the normal translation of 'invisible man'. Instead, she uses tàng hình, meaning 'conceal form'. Were it written in Chinese characters, this would be 藏形 'hide form'. This is the usual Vietnamese term for the 'arts of invisibility' seen above.

The word 'invisibility' also occurs at the Invisible Book of Invisibility, and indeed, all translators use the same word for 'invisible' at both places.


A cloak is a loose outer garment. It is significant, however, that 'cloak' in English can also mean 'something that conceals', that is, a pretence or disguise.

The Chinese translator uses -yī, a general term for clothing, to translate 'cloak'. This form is used only in combination with other words, e.g., 游泳衣 yóuyǒng-yī 'swimming costume', 毛衣 máo-yī 'sweater/jumper', 睡衣 shuì-yī 'pyjamas', or 雨衣 yǔ-yī 'raincoat'.

The Taiwanese translator uses a more specific term for 'cloak' or 'cape', 斗篷 dǒupeng.

The Japanese translator uses the common word for a 'cloak' or 'cape', which is マント manto, derived from the French word manteau.

The Vietnamese translator switches between áo, a general term for an item of clothing that covers the upper body (from the neck down), and áo khoác, a more specific term for 'cloak'.

What is notable that the Japanese translator avoids the traditional Japanese word for an invisibility cape, 隠れ蓑 kakure-mino, which appears in old Japanese fairy tales. Although 隠れ蓑 kakure-mino may sound like the perfect translation, it has a couple of things going against it. First, the word mino is a very old-fashioned word referring to the kind of straw cape that was worn in olden days. It is not used for modern cloaks or capes, and having Harry wear one would sound totally out of place. Secondly, 隠れ kakure 'hiding' is more likely to be associated with old ninja techniques. For these reasons, the Japanese translator has obviously felt that the Invisible Man forms a better model for translating 'invisibility cloak' than the old word 隠れ蓑 kakure-mino.

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