Learning Japanese

Konnichiwa minna-san!

Nope. You did not visit the wrong site, and yes, that was a different language (which means “Hello, everyone!” by the way).

Say konnichiwa to Nihongo*, because for this week, we’ll be having a Japanese class – or at least something close to it.

Oh, in case you were wondering what has gotten into our minds to make us want to study Japanese all of a sudden, the answer is no,    we have not been taking anything we should not be taking. J We have just been anime fans for some time now and we thought it would probably be fun to learn a bit of the language to help us get a clearer picture of what the characters are saying when the English subtitles can’t be bothered to show up, not to mention help us understand what the theme songs that we have been singing along to mean all along.

Now that we’ve got that part clear, let’s start with the lesson and discuss:

Japanese Greetings

There are three basic Japanese greetings. First is “Ohayou gozaimasu” which means “good morning,” “Konnichiwa” which can either translate to “Hello” or “Good afternoon” and “Konbanwa” which means “Good evening.” You can also say “Oyasumi” which means “good night,” if you are about to wrap up your day.

Introducing Yourself

Meeting people for the first time almost always require you to introduce yourself, so if you find yourself in a similar situation, these sentences may come handy for you:

“Konnichiwa, watashi no namae wa (insert your name here) desu”

(Hello, my name is (insert name here) or

“Konnichiwa, watashi wa (insert name here) desu. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.**”

(Hello, I am <insert name here>. Nice to meet you)

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*Nihongo came from “Nihon” which is the native name ofJapanand “go” which means language. It means language of the people ofJapan

** Yoroshiku onegaishimasu can have a number of meanings. Sometimes it’s translated to “Nice to meet you,” sometimes to “Please treat me well” and sometimes to “I’m looking forward to having a good (working) relationship with you. All three are something you might say when meeting new people for the first time, especially people you will eventually be working with.

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Honorifics

Japanese people have a strong social hierarchy system, and this reflects on the way they speak and address the people they interact with. Deviating from the standards you are expected to follow will be considered rude and offensive, so you’ll have to familiarize yourself with them if you don’t want to leave the wrong impression.

A way to start this is by learning Japanese honorifics*. There are plenty of Japanese honorifics for just about every setting; however, a good number of them are rarely used, if not totally obsolete by now, so we’ll be discussing the more common ones here.

First we have “san.” San is like the Japanese counterpart of the English Mr. Ms. or Mrs. It is usually attached to the last name of the person you are addressing if your relationship is strictly limited to business matters.

For example, you have a co-worker named John Smith. Since your interaction with John doesn’t extend beyond the office, you are expected to address him as Smith-sanor Smith John-san (Japanese say their names last name first followed by the given name) Similarly, Jane Doe would be called “Doe-san” or “Doe Jane-san.” Calling either of the two by their first names would be considered too presumptuous, unless John or Jane themselves insist on being called by their first names.

Second is “chan.” Chan is often attached to the first name of a female you are on friendly terms with. This may either apply to a female who is younger than you or a female who is about your age. Say you have a friend named Hitomi, you can call her “Hitomi-chan”. If you have a younger sister named Chiyo, you can call her “Chiyo-chan.” Again, it’s only supposed to be used for people who are close to you. Using it for people who are not will be considered rude.

Next we have “kun.” Kun is used to address males you have a friendly relationship with. It can either be used for someone about the same age as you, or someone younger than you. If you have a friend named Peter Smith, you can either call him “Smith-kun” or “Peter-kun”. You should never use it for someone older than you unless that person is your subordinate. Occasionally, females are also addressed with “kun” if the person addressing them is older or has a higher position/social status than them.

For the fourth one we have “sama.” Sama is used to address people you have utmost respect for, a good example of which is “Kami-sama,” which is how Japanese people address their God. Interestingly, they also address people they extremely idolize (such as actors or singers) or place a great value on (such as customers) with the same honorific.

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*Honorifics are titles usually added to the surname or full name of a person to indicate respect.

Then there’s also “sensei”. Sensei is commonly used to address a teacher, professor or instructor, but is also used to address someone considered to have great authority such as a lawyer or a doctor. Say for example, you have a teacher called Mr. John Smith. If you are in Japan, you would be calling him “Smith-sensei.”

Same thing with a lawyer named Adam Jones. If you are an English speaker, you would be calling him Atty. Jones, but if you are in Japan, you would be calling him “Jones-sensei.”

Another example is “Senpai.” Senpai is used in social settings where the members of a group have varying social status, usually due to age differences. Senpai roughly translates to senior.

Let’s say you are studying in school and your neighbor John Smith is on his second year while you are on your first. That will make John your senior so you will have to call him Smith-senpai. Same goes for offices. If your officemate Adam Jones is older than you, you will have to call him Jones-senpai. There are occasional exceptions, though, such as when someone younger than you joined a certain group first. Even if you are technically older than him/her, you’ll still have to call him/her senpaibecause he or she has been in the organization longer than you have been.

And those are the honorifics you will usually need. You can omit them and stick to the person’s name if you are talking with someone you’re really close to such as a childhood friend or a younger sibling, but make sure you don’t do the same with other people unless they personally insist on it.

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Basic words and phrases

Now that you know how to greet and address people, we’ll move on to basic words and phrases that you can use in daily conversations. Here are some:

Hai. It means “yes”. This can be negated by saying “Iie” which means no. There’s also Arigatou gozaimasu which means “thank you” to which the appropriate response would be “dou itashimashite” which means ‘you’re welcome.”

If you accidentally bumped into someone, you can say “gomen nasai” which is a polite way to say “sorry.” Additionally, you can also ask the person “daijobou desu ka” which means “are you alright.” If they said “daijobou desu” then that means they “are okay.”

If you are walking down the street and you have a feeling that you are starting to get lost, you can approach someone and say “sumimasen” which can either mean “I’m sorry but…” or “excuse me” or you can also say “chotto matte kudasai which means “just a minute/moment please.” If you want to lend a sense of urgency to your request, you can probably say “dareka tasukete onegai” which means “someone help me please.”

Well, that’s only if you find yourself in a not-so-pleasant situation. For ordinary days, you may find sentences like “Ogenki desu ka” which means “how are you” and“genki desu” which means “I’m fine,” handy. You can also use kiite kurete arigatou gozaimasu (?) which means “thank you for asking” or “mou ichido onegaishimasu” which means “can you please repeat that.” If they oblige and you’re done with your business, you can bid them goodbye by saying “jaa, mata ne”which means “see you” or “mata ashita” which means see you tomorrow. Alternatively, you can also say “sayonara” which means goodbye, although it is usually used when you are going to be away for a long period of time and not when you’re going to see someone again soon.

And that’s it for our short Japanese lesson. We’ve also provided a little recap of what we discussed below for your reference.

Jaa! ^_^

Greetings Translation Honorifics Translation
Ohayou gozaimasu Good morning -san Mr./Mrs./Ms.
Konnichiwa Hello/Good afternoon -chan/-kun Female/Male same age or younger
Konbanwa Good evening -sama someone of great importance
Oyasumi Good night -senpai senior
-sensei Teacher/lawyer/doctor
Basic Phrases Translation BasicWords/Phrases Translation
Watashi no namae wa (name) desu My name is (name) Kiite kurete arigatou gozaimasu Thank you for asking
Watashi wa (name) desu I am (name) Mou ichido onegaishimasu Can you please repeat that
Yoroshiku onegaishimasu Nice to meet you/ Pls. treat me well Arigatou gozaimasu Thank You
Ogenki desu kaGenki desu How are youI am fine Hai/Iie Yes/No
Daijobou desu kaDaijobou desu Are you alrightI am alright SayonaraMata ne/Mata ashita GoodbyeSee you/See you tomorrow
Gomen nasai I’m sorry Minna Everyone
Chotto matte kudasai Just  a moment please Sumimasen Sorry/Excuse me
Dareka tasukete onegai Someone help me please Kudasai/Onegai Please
Dou itashimashite You’re welcome