Part of the Weebing 101 Series
There are a good number of words/phrases in Japanese that don’t necessarily translate over well into English, so here’s a bunch that are very common that will help you get a grasp on what’s REALLY being said.
Itadakimasu – Literally it means “I humbly receive,” but it is almost exclusively used at the start of a meal and its parallels in English would be things like “Thanks for the food,” “let’s eat!” “bon appetit!” etc. To begin eating without saying Itadakimasu is considered rude, as it doesn’t show gratitude to all those involved in making the meal happen, from those who prepared it, to the farmers and Mother Earth who grew it, etc.
Gochisousama-deshita – Literally translates as “It was a great deal of work,” said in reference to the meal. This is said after finishing eating, and again, expresses gratitude to those involved. It could be translated as “Thanks for the meal, it was a feast.” Again, this is not just “proper etiquette” it’s What. You. Say.
Leaving and Returning Home
Leaving – Ittekimasu, Itterasshai, and Otsukare
When someone is about to leave somewhere, typically the home or office, they will say Ittekimasu. The closest literal translation would be along the lines of “I’ll go and I’ll come back,” but a more natural translation would be “see you later.” After the leaving person says Ittekimasu, the remaining people at home or the office would then reply with Itterasshai, which similarly would literally translate to “please go and come back.” Again, a more natural translation would be “see you later,” “take care,” or “have a good day.”
Ittekimasu is not just a simple goodbye, but rather implies that you will return to the place you are leaving. As such, the reply Itterashai means that those still there await your return.
When leaving a workplace environment, it’s common to say Otsukare short for Otsukaresama deshita, which literally translated means “you’re tired.” The way it’s used, however, is shown to acknowledge the hard work of colleagues. It’s used both as the initiation and response, and is most often translated as “thank you for your hard work.”
Returning – Tadaima and Okaeri
Upon returning home, one says Tadaima to announce that they have returned, at which point those already in the home would reply Okaeri. Tadaima literally translates as “right now,” but in this specific context is a condensed version of Tadaima Kaerimashita which means “I came home right now.” Okaeri is a shortened version of the more polite, though still commonly used Okaerinasai which means “welcome home,” or “welcome back.”
These phrases express the feelings of “I have safely come back” and “You’ve finally returned, welcome back.”
Again, these are the Things. You. Say.
Me and You
English is pretty dang simple (more so now than 300 years ago) in pronouns referring to oneself and another in the 2nd person. “I,” and “me,” and then “you.” Japanese has a good slew of versions, each with their own context for these.
The standard “taught in introductory Japanese class” version for “I” is often Watashi. This is the most neutral, formal, professional way for adults to refer to themselves. If you want to have a more humble version, Watakushi is an option, though this is generally for things like job interviews, or specific customer service scenarios. Next is Boku which is a more mild and casual way for boys and men to refer to themselves. Then there’s Atashi, sometimes pronounced “Hatashi,” or “hatash,” which is a lighter, cutesy way for girls and younger women to refer to themselves. “Watakushi” can also be used in the same way Atashi, etc. are. Lastly there’s Ore which is the most common way that adult men refer to themselves outside of business / professional settings. It implies a rougher, masculine vibe. In anime/manga at least, it isn’t uncommon for Tomboyish girls to use “Boku.”
Bonus note: It isn’t uncommon to hear people refer to themselves in the third person (by their own name). While in English it makes us immediately think of Elmo, it’s sometimes done to emphasize that you aren’t making yourself the subject of the conversation. It can also come across as girlish or juvenile, depending on the use.
The textbook version that’s neutral and used commonly in formal / professional settings is Anata, though it’s more often used by women than men. For its usage, you’ll often see this get translated as “dear.” The casual, neutral version that you’ll see often is Kimi used by both men and women. The most casual, impolite version mostly used by men is Omae and depending on your relationship is either okay or very rude to use. It’s mostly reserved for close friends or younger siblings. Another very casual, bordering on impolite version is “Anta” but is mostly used by women, sometimes in a scolding tone. The final version you’ll basically only see in Manga/Anime because it’s a very angry and hateful way to say You is Temee, which is most often translated as “You bastard.”
And you’re good to go! Well, at least you’ll have a better understanding for why certain phrases will seem odd or out of place when watching anime or reading manga. I might do a follow-up bonus round of more Japanese that will be interesting and somewhat helpful in a separate post, but the above are the ones that I found myself looking up first after multiple instances of “I’ve heard that phrase, but it’s been used in a bunch of different ways,” or “but I thought the Japanese word for ___ was ___?”