There are various Japanese expressions that are difficult for foreigners to understand. These expressions cannot easily be translated into English because they are used in multiple ways and also because they can be used in various situations which are unique to Japanese culture. There are many other useful expressions, but the following four expressions were chosen based on their versatility.
This can be used when you are meeting someone. Some translate this as “Nice to meet you”, but the feeling behind this expression would be something like “please be kind to me” (even though we wouldn’t say this when meeting someone). It is used after introducing yourself.
When speaking to someone that is your superior (your boss or elder etc.) it is also acceptable to show politeness by saying “宜しくお願い致します” (よろしくおねがいいたします). In a very casual situation “よろしく” is also acceptable. “よろしくおねがいします” is not only used when meeting someone but can also be used when you are requesting something or asking someone to do something for you. When used in this manner it is closer to something like “please help me; please do whatever you can for me; please do it for me”.
This expression is often used in many situations by Japanese people. I have heard some people literally translate it as “you must be tired” (because “tsukare” means tiredness or fatigue). Actually the “O” in o-tsukare is honorific and Sama is a very polite form of san which closest equivalent is something like Mr., Mrs, and Miss. Even though we wouldn’t say this in English, when put together its literal translation is something like “honorable tired person”, or “honorable fatigued person”.
It is used to thank people for their hard work or after work, to mean something like “thanks for working hard”. It is also commonly used in sports towards another teammate after a sporting event or practice. The more casual “お疲れ様” (おつかれさま) or more polite お疲れ様でした（おつかれさまでした）are also alternatives which are used).
This expression can be roughly translated as “sorry”, “excuse me”, or “thanks”. It is one of the most common expressions heard by Japanese people and can be used in many situations. It can be used most often to get someone’s attention, such as when you get a server’s attention in a restaurant, or getting someone’s attention when they unknowingly dropped something.
(Excuse me, you stepped in dog poop)
(Yeah I know, I’m going to buy a lottery ticket today)
It can also be used as an expression of gratitude or apologetic in nature when someone goes out of their way to do something for you, or if you caused someone a minor inconvenience.
This is an expression that can be used in a wide variety of ways. It can be used to decline someone’s offer.
(shall I heat up this rice ball for you?)
(No , it’s ok).
Alternatively the more polite いいえ、“けっこうです” can be used as well. Nowadays younger people also use “大丈夫” in a similar way to decline someone’s offer.
It can be used to ask if something is ok by adding the particle “ka” at the end of the sentence (when asking for pemission).
(You can drink this beer)
(Is that okay? Thank you)
A more common structure when asking for permission is changing the verb into the “te-form”
(Is it ok if I kill that ninja？)
As seen above it can similarly be used to give permission by switching the interrogative particle “ka” with the particle “yo” which serves an exclamatory function.
It can alternatively be used to show agreement or to get agreement with another person.
(I’m thinking about buying this dress but what do you think?)
(Yeah I think it looks good. Isn’t it a bit small? Are you going to try it on?)
(No, it’s a present for my girlfriend!)
In this example the “です” was taken out due to it being a casual situation between friends.
You will find that these four Japanese expressions will come up repeatedly in various situations in daily conversation (as well as many others not included in the article). I have provided rough translations for some of the expression above for people to use as a reference but it is best not to always try to directly translate all Japanese expressions into English. It is easy to get caught up into the habit of translating everything into our own language.
However, the best way to understand the real meaning and correct usage of certain expressions is to listen for the types of situations that native speakers use it, and then practice using them on your own.
Just as you can’t learn how to swim without getting wet, you can’t improve your Japanese ability unless you actually practice. Get out there and try to speak as much as possible!