In the earlier stages of learning Japanese, words seem to mash together into long indecipherable strings. But once the learner’s listening skills develop, it becomes easier to pick out recurring words and phrases.
Sometimes it’s easy to identify these words as nouns or verbs from the context of the conversation, but sometimes the the word seems to match no particular learnt pattern, and even manages to elude evade understanding through context.
One such word is ‘toriaezu’ (とりあえず or 取り敢えず with the seldom-used characters). It’s meaning, as you have probably guessed by now, is quite dependent on the situation.
I’ve broken it down into 4 different scenarios, each with a slightly different nuance.
1) The Beginning
This will probably be the one you hear first. It’s most clearly demonstrated by that classic (and immensely valuable phrase):
Let’s start with a beer!
Very simply, in this context とりあえず is used to note the start of something, with the anticipation of more things to come (more drinks!).
In a more formal situation:
とりあえず資料の準備をしましょう。（とりあえず しりょうの じゅんびを しましょう）
Let’s get the documents ready first.
Again, with the nuance of there beginning things to come, but using a particular item to start the process.
2) The Unhesitating
I’ll call him right now!
In this example it’s important to imagine the person in a hurry. Something needs to be done and it needs to be done now! Here とりあえず is a substitute for ‘right now’. There’s no time to deliberate over how or why, it just needs to be done – immediately!
3) The Undecided
とりあえずこの予定で行きましょう。（とりあえず このよていで いきましょう）
Let’s go with this plan for the time being.
This is the most common usage in casual to semi-formal situations. Often in a meeting where various solutions have been considered and no single one has emerged as the clear winner. とりあえず steps in to solve the problem. It’s a tentative decision without thinking through all of the extra details to the final result. Not that this is always a good thing however! Not thinking things through can lead to a big mess, but sometimes it’s unavoidable in order to move things forward.
4) The Sloppy
とりあえずケーキを作りました。（とりあえず ケーキを つくりました）
I gave making the cake a shot.
This is the general ‘young person’ usage of today. As you can see, it’s not particularly positive in its nuance. It’s used to convey a very loose and relaxed attitude or attempt at doing something.
It has the air of not thinking something through completely before attempting the task, and so it can be quite a dangerous word to use in an office environment, especially since saying とりあえず can become something of a filler word and bad habit!
Compare it with:
I made a cake.
The latter has the nuance of simply making a cake. The former, that the person didn’t really try very hard when making the cake. There’s an expectation here that they will probably need to do it again, because not much effort went into making it!
So those are the 4 general uses of the word とりあえず that you are likely to encounter. As a general rule then, とりあえず is acting in the ‘here and now’ and not fully considering the future or final result. Best avoided in business situations. Use it carefully!