It’s my favorite time of year, the season of the sakura, when thousands of cherry trees will bloom, making Japan the most beautiful place on Earth. For the next ten days people will gather under the cherry trees and contemplate the fleeting beauty of the sakura while drinking beer or sake with friends or co-workers in a tradition dating back to the Nara Period. (Flower viewing is first mentioned in a collection of poems dating to 759 A.D.) The season of the sakura is more than just the end of winter, it’s the season of sayonara, as students graduate, saying goodbye to their school friends and shedding many tears, preparing for the next stage in their lives. I’ll be celebrating the arrival of spring with a Starbucks Sakura Latte!
It takes a lot of effort to learn Japanese, and one side-effect of spending many hours studying it can be developing an attachment to certain words or phrases, some of which come to affect the mind a little. Here are 10 favorite Japanese words, either from myself or suggested by J-List’s Facebook page and Twitter feed followers.
- 一生懸命 issho-kenmei, a word that means to work as hard as possible or to do one’s all, and in a work-focused place like Japan you encounter this term almost daily. I’ve always tried to embrace it and use it to motivate myself, either in the daily grind of running J-List, while hitting the gym, etc.
- 前向きに maemuki-ni. It just means “forward-facing” but has many positive connotations of facing the future. During a negative and cynical point in my life I had an ex-girlfriend tell me I should be more positive and make maemuki-ni my personal slogan, and I largely have.
- ソフトクリーム soft cream. What the Japanese call soft-serve ice cream. It’s so random and cute.
- お疲れ様でした o-tsukare-sama deshita, the phrase you say to your coworkers at the end of the day, roughly meaning “thank you for your hard work today.”
- Some kanji are so visual, they’re fun to learn. The character for rain is 雨 ame which looks like rain seen through a window. A mountain pass is 峠 touge, literally a picture of a mountain next to the characters for “up” and “down.” The word for “bumpy and uneven” is 凸凹 dekoboko, kanji which are bumpy and uneven.
- 修羅場 shuraba, meaning “scene of bloodshed.” Literally, or used to refer to the scene of a big argument. I like the balance of the characters.
- 親子丼 oyako-don, meaning “parent-and-child rice bowl,” is basically teriyaki chicken with scrambled eggs and onions served over rice. Such a cruel dish!
- 人々 hibo-bito is the kanji for “person” repeated, thus meaning “people.” It’s kind of goofy but satisfying to say.
- 色 iro means color, so naturally doubling with 色々 iro-iro means…”various, differing.” Quite a useful word.
- しょうがない sho ga nai, meaning “it can’t be helped” or if you like, “I wish I could do something about that, but I can’t, so I’m going to let go of these feelings of frustration and regret and do my best to live my life without them.” It’s the official mantra of the Japanese people, and one reason they appear to have such a harmonious society to us.
So, what’s your favorite Japanese word or phrase?
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