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Handy Japanese: A Few Key Phrases

Japanese is a pretty tough language to learn. Three different types of characters, consisting of 50 hiragana, 50 katakana, and over 2000 common kanji—with so much to start out with, sometimes it can be tricky to build up on the vocabulary aspect of the language.

But fear no more; I have chosen three Japanese words that are used extremely frequently upon native speakers, all of which can be applied to a vast variety of situations. By mastering even one of these handy words, you will be able to impress your fellow Japanese natives because of how native-ish you sound.

Let’s take a look.

いしだひでヲ on Ashinari

Otsukare-sama desu (お疲れ様です)

Informal: Otsukare

Commonly used situations: Business, Among friends

Example situation: When saying good-bye after a long day of work. “I should get going now. Otsukare-sama desu.”

The literal meaning of “otsukare-sama desu” is, “you look tired”. It is used to express a feeling of appreciation towards someone who has worked hard, hence its frequent use in businesses among coworkers.

However, this phrase has been used so much, that its use has gone beyond its simple meaning. Among Japanese natives, it is often used as a way to say good-bye, or even as a decorative word used in the beginning of a conversation (often on the phone, or even in e-mail) to show that you care for the other.

Slipping in a little “otsukare-sama desu” instead of “sayonara” will make you sound more like a natural Japanese speaker. (Many native Japanese do not use “sayonara” nowadays — it is quite old-fashioned, and its usage is almost limited to classroom situations.)

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Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu (よろしくお願いします)

Informal: Yoroshiku

Commonly used situations: Everywhere, especially business.

Example situations: Asking someone a favor; the finishing line of an e-mail; introducing yourself to someone.

  • “My name is John. Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu.”
  • “Can you get me a cup of coffee? Yoroshiku.”

Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu literally means “please do (insert something here) to a reasonable extent”, and it is often used when asking someone a favor. However, whatever you are asking them to do can be omitted from your sentence, and it will be dependent on the listener’s interpretation. Therefore, the phrase has an infinite potential, and is used almost everywhere among natives.

As in the example above, when using the phrase with a self-introduction, it can be roughly interpreted as “please treat me amiably to a reasonable extent”. While “yoroshiku onegaishimasu” is a handy phrase to keep in your vocabulary list, because it can be used in so many ways in so many different situations, it’s not easy to master it as natives do. Listen carefully and observe how it is used.

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Doumo (どうも)

Commonly used scenes: Friendly talks

  • “Doumo konnichiwa!” (Why, hello!)
  • “Doumo arigato-gozaimasu.” (Thank you very much)

“Doumo” is a handy word that can be used as either “hello” or “thank you”. When formally used, it will go in front of greeting words (like “konnichiwa” or “konbanwa”) and “arigato-gozaimasu” (meaning “thank you”), serving as an emphasis. In an informal situation, it can be used alone to hold a slightly lighter feeling. Either way, a thoughtful “doumo” is perfect in expressing your friendly, heart-warming soul.

An advanced way to use it is to put it in front of “sumimasen” (“sorry” or “excuse me”). It combines the nuance of “thank you” and “sorry”, showing the modest nature of the Japanese. For example, if somebody picks up and returns a cell phone that you have dropped, saying “doumo sumimasen” would mean something like “I’m sorry I made you work for me, but I really appreciate your kindness”.

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