Beyond ‘Kirei’: 5 Phrases to Help You Use Japanese Like a Boss this Spring
By Teni Wada
On March 14, 2018
Spring is officially upon us — at least according to the traditional Japanese calendar. In fact, kicking off the months’ long celebration of natural beauty are the frosty February blooms of ume, or Japanese plum blossoms. However, it’s hanami, or the viewing of sakura (cherry blossoms), that is undoubtedly the season’s main event. Not to be forgotten, however, are are the vibrant gardens of azaleas, irises and hydrangeas as well as the fragrant wisteria and roses.
While a rose by any other name other name may smell as sweet, when it comes to describing the beauty of blooms in Japanese, you might want to have a few new words on hand while revelling among them. Saying, “花（はな）がきれい” (“Hana ga kirei,” or “The flowers look so pretty”) can get awfully monotonous when you’re out on a stroll or sprawled out on a blue tarp with friends.
A few tweaks can help you use words probably already in your vocabulary to express the beauty and wonder of spring in Japan. Practice these phrases at hanami gatherings with friends and watch your Japanese flower!
1. 美（うつく）しい (utsukushii) or beautiful
The fluttering rush of cherry blossom petals floating down in a gust of wind is perhaps the epitome of spring in Japan. The word utsukushii (beautiful) uses the kanji for beauty (美) and suggests a gentle, subdued aesthetic. What could be more beautiful than a romantic stroll underneath a soft pink tunnel of cherry trees in blossom?
How to use it: 涙（なみだ）が出（で）るほど美しい (namida ga deruhodo utsukushii) or “So beautiful I could cry!” Prince may not have been referring to the beauty of Japan’s unofficial national flower when he sang “When Doves Cry,” but there’s something about those pink petals swaying in the wind that can bring on the waterworks.
2. 感動（かんどう）する(kandou suru) or “to be impressed”
The kanji for the term kandou, meaning “deeply moved or touched,” consists of the characters for “feeling” and “movement.” When the breathtaking beauty of Mother Nature is simply too much to express in words, a heartfelt kandou suru is the best way to show your sincerest appreciation. Given how the spring social calendar in Japan revolves around Cherry blossom viewing, you’re led to believe that it’s one of the most moving events you’ll ever experience. Dainty pink cherry blossoms eloquently capture the fleetingness of life and inspire us to live each day to the fullest. Don’t worry if you shed a tear or two; you can always blame it on hay fever.
How to use it: 感動する！ (kandou suru) “I’m impressed!” There was a time when Japanese learners were taught that “wa” is a feminine sentence ending particle. But, use it at the end of a sentence to solidify your conviction: Spring in Japan is awesome.
3. 素（す）晴（ば）らしい (subarashii) or splendid
Imagine endless rows of cherry blossom trees perfectly enclosing the Imperial Palace. Temple grounds accented by vibrant blue and purple dew-covered hydrangeas. An immaculately manicured carpet of tiny pink and white shibazakura sprawled underneath a clear blue sky. What do these springtime wanderlust destinations all have in common? They are all simply splendid additions to any Japan traveler’s bucket list!
How to use it: 本（ほん）当（とう）にすばらしい ! (Hontou ni subarashii) “It’s so amazing, I can’t bear it!” For those IRL, “OMG, I can’t even” times that compel you to put down your camera and actually be in the moment with nature.
4. 素（す）敵（てき） (suteki) or wonderful
No need to beat around the bush — short and succinct, suteki (wonderful) gets straight to the point. From grand scale tulip gardens to expansive Japanese gardens, your neighborhood park and everything in between, this is an incredibly versatile word that describes nature’s springtime delights.
How to use it: 自然って（しぜん）素敵だねー (Shizen tte suteki da ne.) “Nature is lit!” Indeed it is. Enough said.
5. 可（か）愛（わ）い (kawaii) or lovely
Can’t get enough of cute and innocent flowers? Visit any confectionary shop here in the spring and you’re bound to see delicate, handmade treats that look as if they’ve been freshly picked out of a garden. Bring a few cherry blossom-themed sweets and drinks with sakura on the packaging for your hanami gathering and see which one receives more cries of “Kawaii!”
How to use it: まぁまぁ可愛いじゃん (Maa maa kawaii jan) or “I guess it’s cute.” For those who aren’t a fan of all things kawaii but don’t want to be a mood-killer either when everyone is Instagramming their snacks and all you want to do is eat.
All set to enjoy the spring in Japan? Be sure to bring a camera, warm clothes, snacks, drinks and your blue tarp, of course. Remember to dispose of your trash accordingly and most of all — enjoy!
[Our resident urban linguists Mayu Yokouchi and Saaya Iijima contributed to this article.]
Do you have any go-to Japanese phrases that you bust out this time of year with your friends? Let us know in the comments!