You can find island heaven in the southernmost part of Japan. Okinawa is where locals escape the city life of the mainland and foreign tourists go for a taste of paradise.
The sun, sand and sea aren’t the only things that make the island so great. Okinawa has its own unique language that makes the heart of its culture. And surprisingly, it’s not your average Japanese! No matter how good your Nihongo is, you’re going to struggle a bit with the Okinawan language. Let’s get you started with a few essential Okinawan words and phrases. Here’s a list of them to get you through day-to-day interactions and a few unique ones!
We know that in Japanese, to say “welcome”, it’s “youkoso” (ようこそ). While the Okinawans can still understand that, they have a different way of greeting. In Okinawan language, it’s “mensore” (めんそーれー). It’s similar to how we use “aloha”. If you are lucky enough to visit Okinawa, you’ll be hearing a lot of this. The locals say this to welcome tourists to their islands.
If you want to greet an Okinawan, say “haisai” (はいさい). This can mean “good day”, “good morning” or “good afternoon”. It’s used as a universal greeting for all day round. It’s kind of like “konnichiwa” (こんにちは).
The feminine version to this is “haitai” (はいたい). It has a more polite and softer tone to the greeting.
Ganjuu yami? (頑丈やみ)
Another greeting in the Okinawan language is “ganjuu yami?” (頑丈やみ?) This can be translated as “how are you?” This is the informal way of this greeting. If you want to greet someone formally, you change it to “ganjuu yaibiimi?” (頑丈やいびーみ?)
This next one is one I like personally. To say “long time no see” or “it’s been a while”, say “nageesayaa” (長ーさやー). It’s kind of like the equivalent of the Japanese “hisashiburi” (久しぶり).
There are a few ways to say this. The rest aren’t as common, but here’s a list of them: Wuganduu saibiitan (拝ん遠さいびーたん) Wuganduu sanu (拝ん遠さぬ) Wuganduusa (拝ん遠ーさ) Wugandii saibiiyaa (拝ん遠さいびーやー) Miiduu sanyaa (見ー遠さんやー) Miiduu saibiinyaa (見ー遠さいびーんやー)
Hajimiti wuganabira (初みてぃ拝なびら)
When you meet a new Okinawan person and want to say “please to meet you”, you can say this phrase. “Hajimiti wagunabira” (初みてぃ拝なびら) is kind of like the Japanese “hajimemashite” (初めまして). If you look closely, it kind of sounds the same. They both use the same kanji in the beginning.
This next one is important. If you did something wrong and want to apologise, say “wassaibiin” (悪さいびーん). This is how you say “sorry” in the Okinawan language. You can definitely say “sumimasen” (すみません) or “gomennasai” (ごめんなさい), but how about trying this new phrase? It might be even more sincere if it’s in their own language.
We have “cheers”, “salute” and “kanpai” (乾杯), and so many more worldwide. In Okinawa, you say “karii” (かりー) when raising a glass and toasting. Don’t forget to do this before taking a swig of your refreshing, cold Orion beer!
Nifee Debiru (御拝でーびーる)
Now, how do you thank someone in Okinawa? Sure, you can say “thank you” or “arigatou” (ありがとう). But in Okinawan language, it’s “niffee debiru” (御拝でーびーる). It’s how you show appreciation to someone. Sometimes, they phrase is followed by “ippee”. It’s like the extension of “very much” to make “thank you very much”.
Some say that back in the 60s, thanking someone was “nihee debiru” instead. Okinawan language is ever-evolving.
“Wakayabiran” (分かやびらん) is useful because it means “I don’t understand”. When I was in Okinawa, I sometimes couldn’t understand what they were saying. So, I used this phrase a lot! It’s similar to “wakarimasen” (分かりません). They’re even using the same kanji!
Kwachii sabitan (くぁちいさびたん)
After a meal, you’d want to show your appreciation for the delicious meal. In Japanese, you’d say “gochisousamadeshita” (ご馳走様でした). In the Okinawan language, it’s “kwachii sabitan”. They’ll be even more convinced you loved the food now that you express it in their language!
Okinawan people are known as uchinanchu. This describes those who are born in Okinawa as Okinawan natives. Some said the name came from the word “Okinawa” itself. “Okinawa” became “okina”, which then changed into “uchina”.
Okinawan people refer to themselves as uchinanchu. They refer to people from mainland Japan as “naichi”.
So, uchinanchu is the people. The Okinawan language is then ”uchinaaguchi”. Uchinaaguchi compromises words and phrases used during the Ryukyu Kingdom. There are influences of various types of dialect including Yaeyama and Miyako dialects.
Back in the day, uchinaaguchi had the name of “hogan” instead, to refer to the Okinawan language.
This next phrase has the meaning of “don’t worry, it’ll be alright”. Nankurunaisa (なんくるないさ) symbolises the relaxed vibes of Okinawan people. The phrase has a heavier connotation than that. It’s not really used in daily conversation as much as “daijoubu” (大丈夫).
It’s a way of expressing optimism and it was part of the phrase “makuto soke nankurunaisa”. That phrase has the same meaning as the English proverb “Man proposes, God disposes”. If someone does their best and is done right, then something will come of it.
To describe something beautiful and gorgeous, you can say it as “churasan” (美さん). It’s a word often used in Okinawa. You can see many things described with the adjective “chura”. For example, “chura sandal” is the name of a type of sandal that fused the words “churasan” and “sandal”.
It uses the same kanji as “utsukushii” (美しい).
Last but not least, we have “deeji” (でーじ). This word is like the word “very”. It’s used the same way as “meccha” (めっちゃ) and “totemo” (とても).
You can one-up your game by using “shini”. It’s a step above “deeji”. It’s like saying “extremely”.
With these essential Okinawan words and phrases, you’ve already got your foot in the door. The only way is up from here. Now, when you go to Okinawa, you can start to practice using these words with the Okinawan natives!
In our second episode of Nihongo Master podcast, we looked at Japanese festivals — one for each season, introducing the background, practices, and traditions; and talking about some of the key festival language.
Japan’s festivals follow nature, an essential part of Japanese traditions. There’s always something going on every month – whether it’s a wild, dancing celebration, or a time of paying sombre respects.
Let’s have a look at what we covered in EP2 of NM podcast!
Obon (お盆) is a summer festival that takes place from August 13th to August 16th every year. This Japanese summer festival is all about family — reflecting on one’s family roots while welcoming back the ancestors’ spirits to the world of the living. Obon is a little like Halloween — plenty of old Japanese ghost stories are set during this time of year.
There are a total of 4 days of the festival:
The first day is the practice of mukaebi (迎え火), lighting welcoming fires on the doorstep to guide the returning spirits home on the first day of the festival. There’s also the custom of visiting family graves known as ohakamairi (お墓参り). Some families would also decorate the altars with offerings like flowers, fruits and sweets.
The second and third days are for kuyo (供養) — a tradition of holding a memorial service for the dead. Following that, families have a traditional lunch together called the shōjin ryōri (精進料理), a fully vegetarian cuisine developed in the temples of Japan.
The fourth and final day concludes the Obon festival with okuribi (送り火), a ceremonial bonfire to see off the spirits — takes place. Sometimes, there might even be bon-odori (盆踊り) dances to go along with it. You’ll also often see floating paper lanterns with messages attached to them by the river.
Autumn Festival: Tsukimi (月見)
For the autumn festival, we have tsukimi (月見): “moon viewing”. It’s a traditional ceremony to express gratitude as well as pray for a successful seasonal harvest. Some believe that this Japanese festival dates as far back as the Nara period of 710 to 794 AD. Initially, Tsukimi was a moon-viewing party for the aristocratic elite. Now, during this autumn festival, some people visit shrines and burn incense, as well as make food offerings of their harvest to Shinto gods.
Decorations are quite important for tsukimi, and the most common one is decorating a vase with susuki (ススキ, pampas grass) because it is believed to protect the area from evil and acts as an offering to the moon god.
While dango (団子, white dumplings) are often used for decoration as well it’s not only for that purpose — it’s custom to eat them during this festive season. There’s a special type of dango during tsukimi, and that’s tsukimi dango (月見団子).
If you’ve heard of the “Man on the Moon”, the Japanese’s tale is slightly different — they say the pattern of the moon’s craters look like an image of a rabbit pounding rice into mochi (もち) rice cake paste with a mallet. I told the full myth of it during the podcast — give it a listen if you’re interested!
Winter Festival: Shougatsu (正月)
Our winter festival is something we all celebrate our own various ways, but the Japanese call it shougatsu (正月), the Japanese New Year festival. The festivities start well before the first of January and run through January 7th or even January 15th for some regions! Most companies and businesses are usually closed from December 29th till January 4th.
The traditions of Shougatsu are a combination of expressing gratitude for the past year and wishes for health and prosperity for the upcoming year. Many people travel back to their hometowns to spend time with family and loved ones.
The most important practice of Shougatsu is hatsumode — it refers to the first shrine or temple visit of the year to pray for good luck. The prayer involves providing an offering — coins are tossed into offertory boxes. Then, visitors can draw a fortune paper.
On January 2nd, the Imperial Palace is opened to the public — one out of two days in the year — to pay respects to Japan’s royal household as well as to hear the Emperor addressing the crowd of well-wishers.
Spring Festival: Hanami (花見)
Last but not least, our final Japanese festival is the spring festival, hanami (花見), which translates to “flower viewing”. Instead of appreciating the moon, this spring matsuri is all about appreciating the blooming cherry blossoms.
It only became a huge festivity when Emperor Saga and the Imperial Court started throwing picnics and parties especially for flower-viewing in the Heian period. initially, sakura (桜) )were used to predict the harvest cycles for that year. Throughout time, it became to represent so much more — but I won’t spill it here; you’d have to listen to the podcast to know more!
Sakura season isn’t a set period of time every year — it constantly changes and also depends on the exact location in Japan. Hanami is a much-awaited festival, so much that there are forecasts for it — predictions for the blooming are covered on the national news!
The Japanese people set down their mats under the blooming sakura and chat the afternoon away while appreciating the beauty of the flowers.
In episode 2, we dropped quite a bit of vocab in it. I mean, we did go through 4 major traditional festivals, so it’s kind of a given. Here are the words we used, for listeners who’d want a visual list:
That concludes our summary of 4 seasonally-inspired, historically-rich, culturally-significant Japanese festivals which show the breadth of the culture here. They show how the Japanese respect nature, how they view life and death, and how close to their hearts they hold the age-old tradition of getting very, fantastically, stupendously drunk.
If you want to know exactly what I’m talking about, what are you waiting for? Pop on your phone, open up Spotify or Apple Podcast and search “Nihongo Master” to listen to our podcast series!
Don’t lie — you love drama (ドラマ). I mean, everyone loves one specific drama at some point in their lives. For me personally, I’m into every kind of drama, so best believe that Japanese drama is one of them. In fact, Japanese drama was the reason I got into learning Japanese in the first place!
When I was starting out, there were a few Japanese words that struck out — especially the ones that you don’t really learn from the textbooks. These keywords stuck with me, because not only are they repetitive but they are also used pretty often in casual, daily conversations.
Which brings me to writing this very article: to spread the love of these essential Japanese drama keywords — you can thank me later.
1. Mattaku (まったく)
The first one is something you’ll hear being said both on its own or in a sentence. Those two cases have different meanings.
If “mattaku” (まったく) is being used as an exclamation or reaction, it has the nuance of a mild curse — kind of like when you say “jeez” under your breath at something your friend said. It’s used the exact same way; let’s say your friend and you agreed to meet at a certain time but she ended up being late, with a load of excuses to boot. Of course, your natural reaction would be shaking your head and letting out a small sigh — “mattaku” fits perfectly with all of that.
Another way of using “mattaku” is to emphasize something. If you want to say someone is not only wrong, but they’re completely wrong, then add “mattaku” before the verb: “mattaku machigatte iru yo!” (まったく間違っているよ！)
2. Mou ii (もういい)
This one also has two ways of using it — one a positive way, the other a negative or neutral way. The first way of using “mou ii” (もういい) is when you’re telling or describing something that is of sufficient level or suitable. For example, if your friend is pouring a cup of water for you and it’s about to reach the level you prefer, simply say “mou ii yo” (もういいよ) to her.
Another way to use this phrase is when you’ve had enough of something — kind of like saying “that’s enough” or “forget it”. Say your sister is annoying you with her whining and you just want to be done with it; use this remark “mou ii” to shut her up. I would do it to my sister, if only she speaks Japanese too.
3. Bikkurishita (びっくりした)
There’s no direct comparison to an English phrase for this one, but “bikkuri shita” (びっくりした) is used when you’re surprised or shocked by something. I guess in English we would have a reaction phrase like “oh my god!” or something of the like — maybe in Japanese, one would scream too.
But the difference lies after the reaction; in English, it’s not really that common to say out the obvious like, “you scared me” or “I was surprised”, but in Japanese, it’s almost always natural to say “bikkuri shita” right after. While it does translate to “I was surprised”, it’s more of a matter-of-fact saying rather than letting the other person know what has happened.
4. Jaa ne / mata ne (じゃあね / またね)
There’s more than one way to say goodbye in English — bye, see you, later, etc. So, it’s only fair that there’s also more than one way to say goodbye in Japanese. Two of the most common ones you’ll hear in Japanese drama are “jaa ne” (じゃあね) and “mata ne” (またね).
I mean, you could say “bai bai” (バイバイ) like the katakana version of a “bye bye”, but “jaa ne” and “mata ne” is kind of cooler, I’d say. It’s like “see you later!” — more casual and natural, less…structured?
5. Dame (ダメ)
One word you’ll hear quite often in dramas is “dame” (ダメ). The translation’s pretty simple: no. Well, it doesn’t exactly translate to “no” but it gives off a similar nuance. It’s kind of like saying something’s a no-go, or it’s not good, or you can’t do that.
If you’re trying to walk down a prohibited path, expect a “dame dame!” from people around you. In my personal opinion, “dame” carries such a strict vibe that if I hear it, I feel like I’m being reprimanded — but it’s just my sensitive self talking, it’s not really like that!
6. Yabai (やばい)
This one is where it can get quite confusing — the older generation has a different definition from the youngins, but both are correct.
See, yabai (やばい) actually means “horrible” or “bad”, so the expression “yabai” implies that the thing you’re referring to is not good at all. That is how the older generation looks at this word — they’re not wrong, in fact, they’re technically right.
In the modern generation however, and also when used in dramas, the meaning is completely opposite. When someone exclaims “yabai”, more often than not, it implies that something is so cool! Kind of like when we say something is “the shit” — it’s not shit, it’s so good that it’s the shit.
7. Urusai (うるさい)
Need a phrase that can be a direct or indirect way to tell someone to shut up? “Urusai” (うるさい) is your guy — it translates to “noisy”, but you can use it to tell someone that they’re too noisy they need to tone it down.
If your friend is shouting too loudly in an izakaya while you’re having a few drinks, just say to him “urusai!” to be extremely direct that he needs to be quieter. If a group of people next to you is making a huge ruckus and you just want to say “they’re noisy”, “urusai” also works for that without actually telling them they are.
8. Ossu (オッス)
You know how you can say bye a few different ways? You can say hello a few different ways too — in fact, if you want to know more ways of saying hello and bye, there are other articles where I’ve listed down the top ways to do so!
Anyway, the one you’ll hear among friends in dramas is “ossu” (オッス). It’s basically “hey” in the most casual way possible. Keep in mind that it’s actually a greeting used by the guys due to its more masculine tone. I’ve never used it myself, but I’ve heard my male friends using them — it sounds cool.
9. Saitei (最低)
Some Japanese dramas are a little more dramatic than others, so you’ll hear them saying “you’re the best” and “you’re the worst” quite often. Even though in English it has quite a heavy tone to it, I guess it’s as bad in Japanese. “Saitei” (最低), which means “the worst” is mentioned quite a few times in the dramas I’ve watched.
So if someone did something horrible to you and it made you upset, I guess you could throw out “saitei” to them — I personally don’t recommend doing it, but it’s great to know especially when it’s always in the dramas.
10. Mukatsuku (ムカつく)
Our last drama keyword is another slang word, and it’s more often used among the younger generation and adults — not so much the oldies. While “mukatsuku” (ムカつく) has the meaning of “irritating” or “annoyed”, when someone tells you this, it’s basically implying that you’re annoying to that person — so I hope no one has said this to you before!
From the dramas that I’ve watched, “mukatsuku” is usually said under the breath, not so much face-to-face. I reckon you could still tell someone they’re irritating you with this phrase — just make sure it’s not your superior!
And that concludes the top 10 essential Japanese drama keywords that I personally have noticed popping up more than a few times in all of the dramas I’ve watched. All of them are extremely casual and sometimes some of them can be considered rude, so use it sparingly — or not at all if you’re too afraid to offend anyone. Regardless, it’s great to know them and make your drama time a lot more meaningful, literally!