The Truth About Marie Kondo's Signature Catchphrase

The words "spark" and "joy" may have been a part of the English language for many years now, but no one has used them together in the way Marie Kondo has. The Japanese "Queen of Declutter" won fans around the world when she entered people's homes during her Netflix show to ask them about the sheer volume of stuff they owned, and whether the items "sparked joy."


Kondo's Japanese upbringing and cleaning methods are closely tied to Shintoism, especially the part where she invites people to tap items in order to wake them, "Just like the gentle shake we use to wake someone up, we can stimulate our belongings by physically moving them, exposing them to fresh air and making them 'conscious,'" she says in her book (via Bustle). So we all just assumed "sparking joy" was the translation for a Japanese or Shinto concept.

'Spark joy' is inspired by the Japanese word 'tokimeku'

Turns out we were half right. "Spark joy" is as close to the Japanese term "tokimeku" as translator Cathy Hirano could get when she was working on Kondo's original book: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Hirano says "tokimeku" one way to say "your heart beats," the way that it might do when you are excited about something (via Southern Living).


Apartment Therapy says that while Hirano was working on the book, she actually needed to check in with several Japanese speakers to make sure the word was used in the proper way. While they had told Hirano they wouldn't normally use the word in that way, they could understand how Kondo made use of the expression "tokimeku" when she talked about her home.

How 'spark joy' stood out

Hirano says she came up with several versions for "tokimeku" including "Does this bring you joy? Does this give you joy? Does this inspire joy? Does this give you pleasure? Does it give you a thrill?" And the version that won was "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. 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," Hirano says. So Hirano also made use of her other translations in her book, but it was "spark joy" that stood out, and it became the title for Kondo's second book.