Almost every day, learners hear a lot of really useful Japanese being used in introductions and greetings. After living in Japan for a while, it is easy to become so accustomed to listening to these phrases that we don’t even think about their construction. Gaijinpot presents a guide to 5 common Japanese phrases that you probably use every day, how they are used and some ways that we can use these forms to expand our Japanese knowledge.
(お)久しぶり is a Japanese word that has the same meaning as ‘long time, no see’ in English. While it is a set phrase, both of the elements that make up the word are useful in other sentences. 久しい has a meaning of ‘a long time’ and ぶり functions similarly to the word ‘since’ in the English language.
You can say (お)久しぶり another way by using 久しい a little differently. In the similar sentence 久しく会ってない, the emphasis of the sentence is changed and its meaning is ‘I haven’t met you for a long time’.
Similarly, ぶり can be used in a similar way in the sentence 7年ぶりに帰省します (‘I came back home for the first time in 7 years’).
ぶり is also often used to talk about rare occurrences. With the increasingly hot summers that Japan has been experiencing, learners will often hear people say things about how this is the hottest summer in half a century (50年ぶりの暑い夏だ).
When you go for lunch at your office, it is common to tell your co-workers that you will leave by saying ‘休憩行ってきます’ (I’m going for a break). In Japanese it is quite common to use both 行く (go) and きます (come back) when talking about a break.
This rule also applies to the standard reply which is usually 行ってらっしゃい (Go and come back). In this case a different verb (らっしゃる) is usually used for ‘come back’ as this word has a more respectful image.
In both of these Japanese sentences, it is easy to miss the Japanese word for a break, 休憩 which is very useful in a lot of sentences.
For example, if you have been working really hard, you may want to suggest a quick break to grab a cup of tea: ちょっとお茶でも飲んで休憩しましょうか (Shall we take a quick break to drink some tea).
Similarly, if you’ve been working a student really hard, you may want to suggest a short break by saying 10分休憩しようか? (Shall we take a 10 minute break?)
おやすみなさい is the Japanese equivalent of ‘goodnight/ sleep well’ and most learners will hear it when they turn in for the night. Interestingly, the ～なさい-ending is often used to make orders, so the meaning is could be understood as ordering someone to rest!
A similar use of this grammar point is お帰りなさい which is a common way to welcome someone home after a busy day. The meaning of お帰りなさい is literally ‘please do come back’. It is most often used as a reply to someone saying ただいま (I’m home) when they open the door to their house.
Of course, you can drop the お and make this grammar point a lot more direct. This grammar point is especially useful for teachers. If you have lazy students, you can yell 置きなさい (Wake up!) if they are sleeping in class or 勉強しなさい (Study!) to compel the slackers to take their education a bit more seriously!
頂きます and ごちそうさまでした
頂きます is a common phrase used before eating something. Japanese polite words are hard to translate into English, however this word is used to mean that you ‘receive something humbly’.
In the Japanese world, the speaker should always be aware of their status relative to other people and with 頂きます, the speaker is humbling him/herself before the person who did them the service of cooking or providing the food. People working fulltime at elementary schools or kindergartens will likely hear this every day before the kids start to eat their lunch.
Luckily, 頂きます is useful in any situation where you receive something from someone such as ケーキを頂きます (I receive this cake). Another useful use of 頂きます is for when you suddenly change your mind about what you want. For example, if you change your mind about having a coffee and want to ask for tea instead, you might say コーヒーをやめてお茶を頂きます (Cut the coffee. Could I have a tea instead?).
Another phrase that is associated with eating is ごちそうさまでした. ごちそう in this sentence literally means ‘a feast’. You will still sometimes hear people use this to comment on all the delicious food someone has prepared: すごいごちそうですね (Wow! What a feast!)
After a hard day’s work, you will often hear おさきに失礼します. おさきに失礼します is a fascinating example of the Japanese attitude to work as it literally translates as ‘forgive me for leaving first’. The standard reply is お疲れ様です which describes the person leaving as being ‘honorably tired’.
The 先 (さき) in this sentence is a useful grammar point. さき appears in any sentence where you want to say someone does something first. A simple example is when you are in an elevator with multiple people and you want to tell them that you will hold the doors open for them. A simple お先にどうぞ (Please go first) will do this job for you. Similarly, if you ever experience that awkward moment where you and your co-worker continually start speaking at the same time, you can say 先に話してください (Please speak before me).
One of the fascinating things about Japanese is that, within phrases and greetings that Japanese learners hear every day, a lot of really useful Japanese phrases and vocabulary points are hidden. By taking common Japanese phrases and looking at how they are constructed as well as how they are commonly used, learners can make their language study a lot more efficient.