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Japanese words you should know

There are some words that you’ll hear Japanese people say constantly. If you live in Japan, you’ll know that Japanese is a very terse language and there are some full sentences that can be expressed in a couple of syllables in Japanese. While this can be difficult to adjust to, it also means that you can achieve some basic level of communication with a few words. Here’s a list of some of the most common ones:

日本人にほんじんが  よく  使つかう  ことばのなかには、シンプルで  みじかい  ことばが  あります。

しかし、その  シンプルな  ことばには、いろいろな  意味いみが  められています。


Ganbatte. 「頑張がんばって」

Often translated to “do your best”, you’ll hear this word constantly. The feelings ganbatte conveys are varied and expressed in different ways in English, such as “do whatever you can”, “good luck”, “hang in there”, “go you!”, or just “do it”. Whether the task at hand is within your control or not, and whether a good result can be expected or not, ganbatte is a blanket statement that is applied to everything. This is a reflection on Japanese society, as effort is often as important as results. While “good luck” is passive, ganbatte expects something of the other. If something doesn’t go as expected, we can use this next word!

日本にほんでは、努力どりょくは  結果けっかと  おなじくらい  大切たいせつであることが  おおいです。だから、これは  日本にほん社会しゃかいを  反映はんえいしています。

幸運こううん」は  受動じゅどうてきですが、「ganbatte」は  ぎゃくです。ほかの  ひとが  期待きたいどおりに  うごかないときは、この  ことばが  使つかわれます。

Shouganai / Shikataganai

Shouganai/Shikataganai. 「しょうが  ない  /  仕方しかたが  ない」

You could literally translate these to “it can’t be helped”, or more naturally “it is what it is”. While we do say this now and then, the phrase is extremely common in Japan. Ganbatte expects you to put an effort into it, while shouganai expresses resignation, no matter how hard you tried. It is more often used outside of the work space though. It is often bad manners to complain in Japan, so shouganai is a good substitute!

たすけられない」、または  もっと  自然しぜんに「原因げんいんが  なにか  あるかもしれない」と  翻訳ほんやくすることが  できます。

この  フレーズは  日本にっぽんでは  とても  よく  きます。

努力どりょくは  みとめるけど、できなかったね」というような  かんじです。

日本にほんで  ほかの  ひとに  文句もんくを  うの  わるい  マナーなので、「shouganai」は  文句もんくの  わりに  使つかわれているかも  しれません。


Otsukare. 「おつかれ」

This, when translated literally, means “you are tired”. It may seem strange to tout being tired as a positive, but the Japanese language is often very literal and the actual meaning is much more complex. Otsukare is actually a greeting meaning something akin to “good job today”. It is used when saying goodbye to coworkers, or meeting friends for a drink after work. While in English there are plenty of ways to bid goodbye to someone, this is essentially the way Japanese workers do it every day.

これは、文字通もじどおりに  いかえすると「あなたは  つかれている」という  意味いみです。

日本にほんの  実際じっさいの  意味いみは  もっと  複雑ふくざつです。「Otsukare」は「今日きょう、いい  仕事しごとしたね」に  た  あいさつです。

仲間なかまに  わかれを  ったり、仕事しごとあとに、 会社かいしゃの 先輩せんぱいや 同僚どうりょう 、友達ともだちと  おさけを  みに  ったりするときに  使つかわれます。

英語えいごでは  ひとに  わかれを  表現ひょうげんする  方法ほうほうは  たくさん  ありますが、これは  日本にほんの 会社かいしゃで  わかれを  表現ひょうげんする  方法ほうほうです。


Itadakimasu. 「いただきます」

You should say this every time before you start eating, it can be rude not to do so. It literally means “I will receive” (again, Japanese tends to be very literal!) but it’s used more like “bon appétit”. You’ll often here people merrily saying in restaurants, and some people do it even when they’re alone.

食事しょくじの  まえに  う  ことばで、マナーです。

「bonappétit」のように  使つかわれています。

レストランや  カフェで  みなで  同時どうじに  ったり、一人ひとりときにも  う  ひとも  います。



Hi, I’m Sergio.
I’m from Spain, lived in the UK for seven years and came to Japan in 2012.
I majored in journalism in London and have been teaching English in Tokyo.
I like traveling, cycling, photography, movies, and spending time with friends.
I wrote articles about life in Japan as a foreigner and anything that I might find interesting.
My email is ” sergio.dom.jpn@gmail.com “, by all means contact me about anything!

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Making the most out of night life in Japan
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When working in Japan, be aware of unexpected pitfalls (Part 2)


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