In a NewScientist interview, linguist Annie Mollard-Desfour claims that, to a Japanese person, the brightness of a colour is more important than its hue and that the Japanese language has a large number of words for white, "from the dullest to the most brilliant".
I'm afraid that despite spending ten years in Japan I had never noticed any of this, so I put it to my Japanese wife. She was as perplexed as me. We had a look in the Kenkyusha New English-Japanese Dictionary, 5th ed., and could find only a single translation for the colour white, well 2 actually: the adjective 白い and the noun 白. Oh, there were words like クリーム(cream) and compounds like 雪白 (snow white), and even metaphorical uses meaning pure, snowy, Caucasian and what have you, but only one word for the colour white.
This, of course, brings to mind the great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax and the endless snowclones that people love to rehearse in exoticising a language or a people.
Yet, since Mollard-Desfour is a linguist and a lexicographer, I'm sure she's not simply making this stuff up. I, therefore, sent a letter to NewScientist requesting clarification. I look forward to seeing the examples or citations that my wife and I must have overlooked.
[See the follow up here]