If you spend time learning Japanese (or any other language for that matter), you will soon realize that there are some words or phrases that don’t translate well into English. Of course, there are many Japanese words that have already been adopted into English because of this, such as “karaoke,” “ninja,” and “emoji.” To my knowledge, however, the following have not been officially adopted, but, for their uniqueness and lack of a satisfying English translation, I wish they would.
“Otsukare” literally translates to “tired” with an honorific “o.” More common translations are “Thanks for your hard work” or “Good job”. It is used in so many different situations – from the close of a soccer club practice to congratulating someone on their retirement. For the latter, you would most definitely use the more polite version, “otsukare sama deshita”(お疲れ様でした). So much feeling is conveyed in this simple phrase, and it can be used to recognize someone’s efforts even if they weren’t fully successful in them. For example, by using this phrase, you can simply convey a heartfelt meaning to someone even if they lost a game or didn`t succeed in getting a new client. It can also be used as a celebratory toast after completing something!
This phrase is said before eating a meal. It is a way of showing thanks, not only to the people who made the meal, but all those involved in the process, such as the farmers involved in growing the crops, and even the food sources themselves. This is part of the reason why I love this word so much. Even though it’s short, there’s a lot of meaning behind it. It’s not as long as most prayers, but it’s more respectful than saying something like “Let’s dig in!”
This word embodies a sense of loss or regret over waste. It is strongly associated with the idea of sustainability and not wasting nor misusing natural resources. However, it could also be used in a broader sense, such as with talent. For example, someone may use “mottainai” to describe a situation of someone being trapped in a job where their skills and talents aren’t used. It is said that this word has origins in Buddhist philosophy, but that it is also tied with Shintoism and the belief that objects have sacred value.
This one noncommittal word can say a lot. It literally translates to “delicate, subtle, or sensitive.” It can be a polite way to say that something is not quite right or a little off. It could also be used as a “no comment” answer to something that is very sensitive or tricky to talk about. “What do you think of so-and-so?” “Bimyo.” You can really amuse and impress your Japanese friends once you get the gist of using this word.
Most of you have probably come across this phrase (or will come across this phrase) the first day you study Japanese. This phrase literally translates to “favorably, please” and is very useful for introductions. However, it can be used for so much more as well. Your boss can use it when they hand you a new project to complete, in a similar way to “I’m counting on you” in English. When a friend picks you up, you can say the less formal “yoroshiku” to them as you enter their car. It’s a very versatile phrase that can be used in many different situations.
This word is also one of the first taught to beginners learning Japanese. It can be translated to “well” or “energetic” and is commonly used as a translation for the “How are you?” “I am fine.” combination (“O-genki desu ka?” “Genki desu.”). I would actually argue that it has already found its way into the English language, or at least among English speakers in Japan. I recall many times where I’ve used this word in the middle of an English sentence, even while speaking with people who don’t study Japanese, and have them not bat a lash. For example, I can talk about a “very genki class of students” or tell someone “you look genki today!”
I adore the Japanese phrases above so much because of their versatility, simplicity, and depth of meaning. They’re also really fun to say! What do you think? Do you know of any other Japanese words or phrases you think should be adopted to English?