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24 Japanese words without translation

This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)

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24 Japanese words without translation

In today’s post, we bring you 24 Japanese words without translation. Sometimes, to understand Japanese, it is not enough to translate its expressions into English, but knowing Japanese culture is essential to understand the use of these expressions and their exact meaning.
The most curious thing about these  kimari monku  (set phrases whose translation cannot be done word by word and that require a response from the listener) is not that they have no translation into Spanish, or that similar expressions are not even used in the same situations. Most striking is that they reveal many details of Japanese culture, social norm and personal relationships in Japan.

The Japanese

Japanese reflects in its vocabulary the hardworking culture of its people, from the military  Kyoikumama  (a mother who mercilessly pressures her children to achieve academic achievement) to  Gaman , the determination to face obstacles in life, to persist in the face of challenges that they seem insurmountable.

But the strangest psycho-labor term that the Japanese have is none of the above, it is  karoshi , a sadly fashionable word in the country that refers to death from work stress.

There are words without equivalent in most of the known languages, as in this post of 24 words in Japanese without translation, concepts that due to their greater use or due to language evolution have resulted in small linguistic oddities. Jewels made into words.

Lets start!

Yoroshiku onegaishimasu

It is one of the most difficult expressions to explain, as it is used in many different contexts. We can hear it when two people have just met.

Another context in which this expression is used is when we send greetings to someone through another person.

As it does not have an exact translation into Spanish (or probably any language) it is very difficult to know when to use this expression. More than a meaning, what it expresses is a feeling, the beginning of a type of emotional relationship between two or more people. You cannot tell a person who is not going to do anything for you or you for them.

Bakku-shan

A beautiful woman … as long as you look at her from behind.

Aware

The melancholic happiness of a brief and fleeting moment of transcendent beauty.

Tsundoku

The act of leaving a book you just bought unread, and putting it down with other books you haven’t finished reading.

Itadakimasu

The word itadakimasu is related to the Buddhist principle of respecting all living beings. Before meals, itadakimasu is said to give thanks to the plants and animals that gave their lives for the food that you are going to consume. He also thanks all the people who have participated in the food preparation process. It means “I humbly receive . 

Komorebi

Komorebi refers to sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees.

Gomen kudasai

Literally “Excuse me please.” However, its real use is not to beg anyone’s forgiveness, but to ask if someone is home.

Otsukaresama desu

“Thanks for the work”, “It was hard for us!”, “What a long day!” they are just Spanish translations that don’t even come close to the real meaning.

It is not enough to attribute this expression to thanking one’s work because, what happens if we change context and instead of being in an office we are with friends? When they say goodbye, before each one goes their own way, it is usually said with a small inclination.

In Spanish there are no appropriate words that serve to define what it really transmits.

We are faced with an expression that indicates that the person who uses it knows the state in which the listener is, generally tired, and in turn expresses gratitude towards the action carried out.

Gokurosama

Its use is very similar to “otsukaresama desu” except that it is only used in work environments and, most importantly, it can ONLY be said by a superior to his subordinates. It cannot even be said between people who occupy the same hierarchical position.

Kogarashi

Kogarashi is the cold wind that lets us know of the arrival of winter.

Age-otori 

Looking worse after a haircut.

Honno kimochi desu

Used when we offer someone something (usually money) or return a favor in the form of a gift. The curious thing about this expression is the romantic meaning it hides: “what I give you is nothing compared to what you deserve.”

Osewa ni narimasu

It is one of the expressions that best reflects the importance of social relations in Japan. It literally means “I am in your charge . ” In Japan it is very common to use this expression when we enter a company or university club.

Ojama shimasu

The following expression can perfectly occur in the situation immediately after  “gomen kudasai”.  Once the door of the house has been opened and we are invited to enter, the most correct thing would be to say this expression , which literally means “I am going to cause a nuisance.” In Spanish we would use something like “with permission.”

Mono no aware

It is a basic concept of the Japanese arts, which is usually translated as empathy or sensitivity . It refers to the ability to be surprised or moved, to feel a certain melancholy or sadness at the ephemeral, at life and love. An example that we all know is the passion of the Japanese for hanami, the appreciation of the blossoming of cherry trees.

Kyoikumama 

A mother who ruthlessly pressures her children for academic achievement.

Shinrin-yoku

Shinrin-yoku (“forest bath”) is to go into the forest where everything is quiet and calm to relax.

Yūgen

Yūgen is a knowledge of the universe that evokes emotional feelings that are inexplicably deep and too mysterious for words.

Shoganai

The literal meaning of Shoganai is “that cannot be helped” , however, it does not hint at despair or discouragement. It means accepting that something is out of your control. Encourage people to realize that it was not their fault and to move on without remorse.

Kintsugi / Kintsukuroi

Kintsukuroi is the art of ceramic repair by joining the pieces with gold or silver and understanding that the piece is more beautiful because it has been broken.

Wabi-sabi

Wabi-sabi refers to a way of life that is focused on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and peacefully accepting the natural cycle of growth and decline.

Gokigenyou

It is very very formal, it is a way of saying hello and saying goodbye. That is, the same word is used for both interactions.

Yabai

We can use it when we witness something negative or something positive . How do we differentiate when it has positive or negative denotation? For the context and above all for the intonation. In Spanish we would use expressions such as “joder” or “madre mía”, but neither exactly fits the meaning or its translation.

Gaman

A concept that knowing it means the reason why it comes from Japan and its culture: “endure something apparently unbearable with patience and dignity” , a word that could be translated as perseverance. This word is of Zen-Buddhist origin.

We can also find the meaning of Gaman:

Every spring, Japanese families wave flags shaped like a carp, a fish that swims against the current and symbolizes for them the spirit of gaman: the determination to face obstacles in life, to persist in trying with patience and dignity, even facing those challenges that seem insurmountable.

Don’t forget: “Learning another language not only reveals how other societies think and feel, their experiences and values ​​and how they express themselves; it also provides a cultural mirror in which to see our own society more clearly ”.

Do not forget to share if you liked it and it is also very important to review the available calls if you are thinking of obtaining an official diploma. Until the next post! 🙂

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