15 April, 2014

Japanese words that don't translate well

I came across this list the other day, it lists eight Japanese words or phrases with no English equivalent. But I reckon they've left a few useful ones off, so I've made a list too. (Feel free to correct me.)

Osakini (shitsureishimasu) 
Means, "I'm sorry that I have to leave before you." It can be used in all sorts of situations. Knowing phrases like this in Japanese helps make life smoother. In English we don't have a neat phrase that does this, but then again, generally we're not as polite in English-circles as Japanese people.

Sorosoro (shitsureishimasu) 
My dictionary says this means soon, momentarily, before long, any time now. It is a great phrase to use when you are with someone and you need to indicate that you need to leave soon. Again, this is something that is missing from the English vocabulary!

My dictionary gives all these meanings: healthy, robust, vigour, energy, vitality, vim, stamina, spirit, courage, pep. You use this word to enquire about someone's health in a greeting, it can be the next phrase after the "Good morning". I guess, in a question format, it is somewhat equivalent to "How are you?" But it's use is wider than that. Great word that sounds as upbeat as its meaning.

This comes up in my dictionary as lovely, dreamy, beautiful, great, fantastic, superb, cool, capital.  It's a great compliment that doesn't really translate well either.

This useful word has many meanings, including: please go ahead/come in, by all means, here you are (when handing something to someone), here's something for you, no problem (ee dozou), and feel free (like in answering "Can I ask another question?"). And probably a lot of others that I don't know.

Ojama (shimasu)
This means a hinderance, intrusion. It is used in the sense that you may be causing a problem for someone else, getting in the way. You also use it when you've been invited into someone's home. It seems strange in English, but this is what you say as you walk into someone's entrance and take off your shoes (see it here). It's like "I'm sorry to disturb you."

When we first moved to Tokyo I felt like I was an ojama. Wherever I went outside of my house I always seemed to be in someone else's way. At the store, at kindy, on the road/footpath. Even when driving, you can't just park your car anyway, few places have car parks.

Ganbare/ganbatteIt means to persevere, to persist, to keep at it, to hang on, to do one's best, to remain in a place, to stick to one's post, to refuse to budge, to insist. Essentially an encouragement: "You can do it." It can also be used as a request: "Please try" or as a compliment "You put up with that well." You shout it at sports events. It was the phrase commonly written on banners to encourage the tsunami survivors that the rest of Japan was behind them. You can hear it spoke in this very cute clip.

My most negative encounter with this verb is when I came out of surgery after the caesarian birth of our second son. As as they rolled my bed to the ward, the doctor informed me that they hadn't inserted any painkillers in my drip, so once the epidural wore off I was to "Gambarre" for as long as possible. I was not impressed. It remains a bad memory and a story I try not to tell to expectant mums here.

There are others, but I think I've stuck my poor knowledge of Japan out there far enough. Suffice to say, there are some great phrases in Japanese that don't translate well into English. However, if you learn them they can really help to smooth your way in Japanese life. 

Unfortunately people can get the impression that your Japanese is way better than it actually it, but that is just an opportunity to use another great phrase: madamada desu. Meaning "There's still a way to go before it's good."

1 comment:

danrudd said...

I tell people that there are two words in Japanese that you should learn first: Douzo and Doumo.