jinrikshas - The Gist of Japan (1897), by the Reverend R. B. Peery

jinrikishas, from The Gist of Japan (1897), by the Reverend R. B. Peery



The English noun rickshaw is a shortening of the Japanese jinrikisha, which seems to have first appeared in English in A Ramble Round the World, 1871 (1874), the translation by Mary Elizabeth Herbert (1822-1911) of Promenade autour du monde, 1871 (1873), written in French by the Austrian diplomat Joseph Alexander von Hübner (1811-92):

The jinrikisha only came into fashion a year or two ago; but there are already more than 20,000 in Yedo. It is a kind of carriage on two wheels, prettily lacquered, covered with a white hood, and drawn by a man. Its inventor has made his fortune. The word means, “a carriage moved by human strength.”(1) A coolie goes at a little trot, and makes three or four miles an hour. If you wish to make use of one of these carriages, and you want to avoid coming into contact with this useful being, who combines the functions of coachman and horse, keep tight on your seat and draw your legs and feet well under you. Prepare yourself also for various little incidents which happen very frequently: a wheel which comes off; the seat which sinks down; the head, which remains hanging on the front of a shop.

(1) jin, man; riki, strength; sha, a corruption of the English word car.

Original French text:

Le jinrikisha n’existe que depuis un ou deux ans, et il y en a déjà plus de vingt mille dans Yedo. C’est un véhicule à deux roues, bien laqué, couvert d’une capote blanche et tiré par un homme. Son inventeur a fait fortune. Le nom veut dire voiture mue par la force d’homme.(1) Le kouli va au petit trot et fait trois à quatre milles à l’heure. Si vous en faites usage, et que vous vouliez éviter le contact avec cet être utile qui réunit les fonctions de cocher et de cheval, tenez-vous sur votre séant, et retirez à vous vos genoux et vos pieds. Armez-vous aussi contre les petits incidents très fréquents : une roue qui part, le siège qui s’enfonce, la capote qui reste suspendue à une devanture de boutique.

(1) jin, homme ; riki, force ; sha est la corruption du mot anglais car.


The French name for the rickshaw is le pousse-pousse, from the verb pousser, to push. For example, the French translation of The Phantom ’Rickshaw (1888), a short story by the British writer Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), is Le Pousse-Pousse fantômeThe word was thus defined in 1895:

En Extrême-Orient, petite voiture pour une personne poussée ou tirée par un coureur indigène
(In the Far East, small one-person carriage pushed or pulled by an indigenous runner).


The shortened English form rickshaw is first recorded in Revised and Enlarged Edition of Exercises in the Yokohama Dialect (1879), a humorous Yokohama Pidgin phrase-book by the “Bishop of Homoco”, believed to be the pseudonym of either Hoffman Atkinson or John Grigor:

When we’re rich, we ride in ‘rickshaws’
But when we’re poor they call us ‘chickshaws.

(chickshaw: a Japanese swearword.)


Japanese also uses a shortened form, rikisha, attested in 1909, which was probably formed after English. In A Journal from Japan: a daily record of life as seen by a scientist, published in 1910, the British paleobotanist Marie C. Stopes (1880-1958) wrote on 11th September 1907 that when she arrived at Matsushima station, she “took a kuruma”; she explained in a note:

The native name for the mail-car-like hand-carriage I called a rickshaw at first. It is only in Yokohama and such Europeanised places that the word rickshaw is understood.


In several languages, the names are from English; for example:
- Italian: ricsciò (also ricsiò, risciò, ricsò)
- Portuguese: riquexó
- German: Rikscha
- Swedish: riksha
- Romanian: ricşă (from English and/or German).



from Revised and Enlarged Edition of Exercises in the Yokohama Dialect (1879)

Revised and Enlarged Edition of Exercises in the Yokohama Dialect (1879)

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