10 Cultural Facts About Japanese Food

10 Cultural Facts About Japanese Food

Who doesn’t like Japanese food? Known as washoku (和食) in Japanese, it’s one of the most popular traditional cuisines in the world! There’s no doubt you’ll see a Japanese restaurant in a city near you, if not in your city. Isn’t that proof enough that Japanese cuisine is the bomb?

But what is it that makes Japanese food so delicious and popular? There are actually a few cultural facts about Japanese cuisine that might have something to do with it. In this article, we list out 10 cultural facts about Japanese food. One or two of them might be the main reason why washoku is so delicious! The only way you can find out is if you keep reading!

1. Japanese cuisine prioritises simplicity

The best thing, in my opinion, about Japanese food is that the cuisine is often simple because of the cultural fact of prioritising simplicity. This factor applies to all parts of Japanese life, and that includes its cuisine. 

A lot of their high-end courses include small items of fresh ingredients, made with simple flavours. That’s one of the top priorities of chefs: finding the best quality ingredients so that they can do as little work to the food itself as possible. This, in their perspective, brings out the flavours and umami (うまみ) of the ingredients the best. Umami is an extremely important factor when it comes to Japanese cuisine: it’s the rich flavour profile characteristics of Japanese cuisine.

Because of this perspective, the way food is cooked includes searing, boiling, minimal seasoning and even eating the ingredients raw. That’s why they have sushi! Oftentimes you find that the umami is enhanced with bonito flakes, soy sauce, miso, seaweed and bonito broth. Seasonings include pickles, citrus and wasabi.

2. Seasonality is also key

One of the most important cultural facts about Japanese cuisine is that they take seasonality very seriously, and it’s incorporated in the dishes. The four seasons bring out a ton of opportunities for Japanese chefs to select ingredients and curate the perfect seasonal dish. 

For example, strawberry is often associated with spring because of the sakura (桜) season; eel is popular in summer because it’s in-season for it; sweet potatoes and chestnuts are for fall; apples and radishes are big in winter. These are just a few ingredients in a long list of them for each season.

But the ingredients aren’t the only thing important in seasonality. Seasonal dishes created are made to suit the occasion of the season. As we mentioned before, strawberries are popular because people celebrate cherry blossoms during this time. Because locals are enthusiastic about seasonal changes, the foods have to suit these celebrations too. 

3. Japanese cuisine is one of the three national food traditions that is recognised by the UN

Some of us may not know this, but traditional Japanese cuisine is one of the three national food traditions that’s recognised by the United Nation. UNESCO added washoku into its Intangible Cultural Heritage list, to bring significance that the preservation of the way of eating is crucial to the survival of the traditional culture. 

4. Matching dishware to food

Some may not put much thought into the kind of dishware when eating at a restaurant. Heck, sometimes we don’t put in much thought when we cook at home either. But the Japanese are extremely particular about their dishware. They would match the dishes based on colours, patterns and shapes. Seasonality is also an important factor.

If you go to a more formal restaurant, they often use antique ceramics and lacquerware. Don’t be surprised if the server tells you about the food as well as the dishware. You never know if the bowl you’re eating your ramen from is a handmade, hand-painted ceramic from centuries ago!

5. Japanese food has a lot of vegetables, but is not fully vegetarian

One Japanese cultural fact about food that most people often get confused with is that washoku is not fully vegetation. Sure, there are a lot of vegetables in Japanese cuisine. In fact, Japanese cuisine has a much higher ratio of plant-based foods than in the US, but that’s not the point.

A lot of the time, Japanese food is cooked in fish broth or served with bonito flakes sprinkled on them. I once tried to ask a Mexican restaurant in Japan if their shrimp tacos were okay for pescatarians, but they said that the oil they used was not suitable as it contains meat fat. So those with strict diets, this is quite important to take note of.

6. There are a lot of rules and etiquette to Japanese cuisine

A super important cultural fact of Japan that is closely related to their food is etiquette. There are a lot of rules and etiquette when it comes to eating Japanese cuisine. To list out all of them would require a whole other article, but we actually touched base on them in our Season 1 Episode 11 episode “Picture of Politeness”: click here to listen! Alternatively, you can read our recap article on the episode. 

To name a few important ones, chopsticks have certain rules – you can’t play around with them or stick them up in your rice bowl; slurping is considered polite instead of rude; you can’t walk while eating on the streets in Japan.

7. Local ingredients are massively featured in Japan’s various cities 

On top of seasonal ingredients, Japanese people pride themselves on local, regional ingredients to create their dishes. Depending on the city or prefecture you’re in, you’re going to get a lot of the same ingredients that they provide. For example, Miyagi prefecture is proud of edamame (枝豆), which are immature soybeans, and you’ll get them in everything from appetisers to desserts.

8. Tea is a form of art in Japan

If you don’t know what a Japanese tea ceremony is, read our article on it first! This practice is one of the highest forms of art in Japan. Yes, tea is considered a form of art in the country! There are even schools that teach you the right ways of preparing tea, and everything that comes with it. Our article has a more in-depth explanation and insight into this art form.

9. There’s a way to pour sake

This is a cultural fact that I didn’t know until I experienced it myself: there’s a way to pour sake! It’s said that restaurants will pour sake until it overflows into the saucer as a way to welcome their guests. This symbolises gratitude and abundance. To prepare you for this cultural act, here’s a video that you can watch that does exactly that:

10. Raw foods is common

This last one isn’t an uncommon Japanese food cultural fact: raw foods are so common in Japan. As we mentioned before, this has to do with the simplistic nature of Japanese culture, as well as the umami concept. So brace yourselves for a whole lot of sushi and the like!

What’s the best Japanese food fact? 

So, which one out of the ten Japanese food cultural facts is the best, in your opinion? Which one are you surprised by the most? Japanese food, just like the culture it’s from, has abundant to give, and both of them are things you have to experience yourself to grasp the uniqueness fully!

Basic Japanese Grammar: I Try… (みたい)

Basic Japanese Grammar: I Try… (みたい)

As the new year comes around, some of us have the habit of making New Year’s resolutions. Who’s with me? What is your New Year’s resolution? Are there any new things you want to try? It’s the best time of the year to come up with a list of new things you want to try – whether it’s new and exciting activities or the ones you missed out on completely in 2020. Why not have that list written down in Japanese as well? 

In our Season 3 Episode 2 of the Nihongo Master Podcast, we broke down step-by-step the grammar of how to say “to try” in Japanese. And this article is a recap of what we discussed in that episode. But don’t worry, you get just enough information to fully grasp the grammar. Of course, if you want to be more comfortable with its usage, our episode has a few roleplaying scenarios exemplifying this new grammar.

Grammar Point

I thought the best way to understand this grammar point is by relating it to myself. So let’s say, my New Year’s resolution is to try a new sport. I also want to try cooking Japanese food.

To try…

If you want to say that you’re going to try something out, the Japanese grammar for it is extremely simple and clear cut: it’s basically the te-form of any verb, and add “~miru” (みる) to it at the end. And you’re done. Super simple, right?

Sentence ending with verb (in its te-form) + みる

Let’s take a look at an example: “My New Year’s resolution is to try a new sport.” The word for resolution in Japanese is houfu (豊富), New Year’s, is shinnen (新年), new is atarashii (新しい), and sports as a verb is spōtsu wo suru (スポーツをする). Then add “miru”. Now that we have all the words, let’s put it together: 私の新年の抱負は新しいスポーツをしてみる(watashi no shinnen no houfu ha atarashii supōtsu wo shite miru). 

Let’s change this sentence into Japanese:  “I will try to eat other country’s cuisine.” Here are the pieces: other is hoka (他), country is kuni (国), cuisine is ryōri (料理) and eat is taberu (食べる). Let’s put it all together: 他の国の料理を食べてみる (Hoka no kuni no ryōri wo tabete miru).

Want to try…

I’m going to throw in another grammar language that I pretty much use all the time. I like to try new things, so I would always say “I want to try…” 

We basically want to combine our newly learnt grammar point with the way to say “want to”, and that’s to add ~tai (たい). You can learn how to do that in our Season 2 Episode 10, or its article recap. “Miru” (みる) is a ru-verb, so its stem form is just “mi” (み). When we combine them both, we get mitai (みたい). 

Sentence ending with verb (in its te-form) + みたい

So to say “I want to try cooking Japanese food”, we have to put together the words: Japanese food is nihonshoku (日本食) or washoku (和食), cooking, in this context, is tsukuru (作る), and our new grammar: 日本食を作ってみたい (Nihonshoku wo tsukutte mitai).

Vocab Recap

We always have a vocab recap in our episodes. So here’s a list of the new words we used in that episode: 

Houfu (豊富) — resolution or ambition

Shinnen (新年) — new year

Atarashii (新しい) — new

spōtsu (スポーツ) — sports

Ryōri (料理) — cuisine

Hoka (他) — other

Kuni (国) — country

Taberu (食べる) — to eat

Nihonshoku (日本食) or washoku (和食) — Japanese food

Tsukuru (作る) — to make, but we can also use it as in the context of cooking 

Kotoshi (今年) — this year

Takusan (たくさん) — a lot 

Yasai (野菜) — vegetables

Rikujoubu (陸上部) — track and field 

saisho (最初) — first

Kenkou (健康) — healthy

Zenbu (全部) — all

Gōkaku suru (合格する) — to pass a test 

Nibanme (二番目) — second

Shumi (趣味) — hobby

Egaku (描く) — to paint

Muzukashii (難しい) — difficult 

Tanoshii (楽しい) — fun

Houkago (放課後) — after school 

Kaimono (買い物) — shopping 

Itsumo (いつも) — always

Onaji (同じ) — same

Chigau (違う) — to be wrong, but also can mean different 

Betsu (別) — other

Oishii (美味しい) — delicious

Chikaku (近く) — near

Osusume (おすすめ) — recommendation 

Takusan (たくさん) — a lot

Iro iro (色々) — various

Maa maa (まあまあ) — not good, not bad 

Omoshiroi (面白い) — interesting

What do you want to try?

Now you can go off and write that New Year’s resolution list in Japanese, too! Or just to express trying out new things, which is something I definitely recommend — new year or not. Be sure to check out the original episode for the full version of this content.

Our Study Saturday language series of the podcast is formatted just like our online learning system, so give that series a listen, and if you like it, subscribe to our program! I promise you won’t regret it!

The Etiquette of Japanese Gift-Giving and what to give!

The Etiquette of Japanese Gift-Giving and what to give!

The practice of gift-giving is one that’s very prominent in Japanese culture. I mean, who doesn’t like getting gifts? If I could get presents besides my birthday, I most definitely wouldn’t be opposed to the idea.

However, for the Japanese, it is more than just casually giving someone a souvenir from a recent trip or a present for an occasion. It’s an act of appreciation, a show of respect and a presentation of gratitude. This art of gift-giving dates back to the Edo period, a healthy practice that lives to this day in respect to the original intentions of the various types of gifts.

So what are the various types of gifts? In our Season 3 Episode 3 of the Nihongo Master Podcast, we looked into the various types of gifts, along with a brief history of the practice as well as gift-giving etiquette to prepare you for when you do find yourself in the situation of having to give a gift in Japan.

While this article is a recap of the episode, it gives you a good amount of information to understand this practice as well. So read on to find out more!

Types of Gifts & Its History

I can only count on one hand the occasions in a year in which I receive gifts: birthday, Christmas, and a once-in-a-lifetime wedding event. Besides the standard suspects, which are also included in the whole practice of it all, Japan’s gift-giving culture has other occasions where you give gifts. And depending on the occasion, you might need to get a different type of gift.

East Asia has a long and important tradition of gift-giving. Japan is one of them. The Japanese do not take gift-giving lightly, like many other traditions in their culture. It’s a serious act that strengthens relationships and maintains ties with one another – whether it’s a personal friend or a business partner. It can also be a way to show fondness for others.

Let’s take a look at the types of gifts:

Omiyage

Omiyage (お土産) is a type of gift that one brings back from a trip, and most of the time it’s edible products like local snacks, Japanese sweets or alcohol. While having edibles as omiyage is more common, some do instead bring back a local handicraft that’s significant to the place they visited. The difference between omiyage and souvenir is that, generally, a souvenir can refer to a takeaway from a country whether it’s for others or yourself; an omiyage is something you solely buy for others.

Omiyage isn’t a recent practice – this act of gift-giving purchases from trips dates back to the Edo period of the 17th to 19th century. Back then, travelling wasn’t as accessible as it is now. A bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto is roughly USD200, but back in the day, this distance of travel was equivalent to today’s USD3,000!

Back in the day, this trip was usually a pilgrimage rather than a holiday. For those who were lucky enough to go on this adventure, they brought back a takeaway from their destination for those who had chipped in for the travel cost of sending them off on their merry way.

Edibles weren’t the first viable option for omiyage in those days – I mean, food preservation wasn’t all too common. By the time the traveller returned home, all their wagashi would’ve turned bad. So instead, omiyage came in forms of charms and rice wine cups as they were believed to bring blessings.

Nowadays, omiyage comes in bright boxes with individually wrapped snacks in them. Travelling to a certain area and bringing back a prized delicacy from there is kind of like sharing the experience with them. 

Temiyage

The next type of gift is the temiyage (手土産). This one’s not a gift you give when you go travelling, but rather a gift with a purpose. The kanji for temiyage and omiyage are pretty similar – the only difference is that temiyage has the kanji for “hand” in it. 

Temiyage is common to give when you’re visiting someone or a family – if you’re visiting someone’s home, it’s a sign of thanks. Generally, this type of gift conveys your thankfulness for something the person has done for you, or will do for you.

If it’s the latter, you can even add this commonly used phrase when giving it: osewa ni nari masu (お世話になるます). It loosely translates to “thank you and I feel obligated to you for burdening you.” You can use this phrase, as well as give a temiyage, to a new boss, a new landlord, movers or your homestay host if you’re travelling. It’s pretty similar to the Western culture of house gift, where you bring the host of the house a gift when you’re invited over.

Okaeshi

The third and final type of gift is the okaeshi (お返し) gift. This word translates to “return something”. This is a type of gift you give in return as a way of saying thanks. Okaeshi gifts can go back and forth for….forever, actually, unless one puts a stop to it.

The rule to an okaeshi gift is that it has to be about half of the value of the original present. So if you got a gift that’s generally valued at $100, the okaeshi gift you give back should be about $50. If you’re stuck on what to get, alcohol is your safest bet.

While you can give okaeshi gifts any time of the year, there are two specific seasons every year specially for gift-giving: ochugen (お中元) and oseibo (お歳暮). Ochugen is set mid-year in summer, starting from the first of July to the fifteenth. Oseibo is set at the end of the year. During these two seasons, Japanese people make their rounds of giving gifts to family, friends and people who they want to show their appreciation to.

Etiquette

Just like other aspects of Japanese culture, there’s a proper way to go about the art of gift-giving in Japan. Gift-giving requires proper etiquette – it’s serious business here in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Firstly, whenever you’re giving as well as receiving gifts, always use both your hands as a sign of

respect. This is similar to giving and receiving name cards.

Secondly, when you are given a gift, reject it twice before finally accepting it. This is just customary. Similarly, if you’re giving one, prepare to be rejected twice and don’t take it personally.

Oh, when you do get a gift, do not open it in public.

The next etiquette is, when you’re giving one, try to give it when there’s no one else around, out of courtesy. In a business setting, or any setting, gifts are given after rather than before the encounter. If you give it before, you’re kind of implying that you’re rushing the other party.

If you’re wondering if the presentation of the gift matters, yes it does, but to a certain extent. Ribbons, bows and wrapping paper are often used, but you could also use a furoshiki (風呂敷), which is a traditional wrapping cloth. Additionally, keep in mind the colours you pick when you wrap the gift – the safest bets are pastels. Bright and flashy colours can be interpreted in negative ways – especially red, as it’s associated with funerals, and sexuality.

Vocab Recap

We always have a vocab recap in our episodes, so here’s a list of the new words we used in that episode:

Omiyage (お土産) – a takeaway, usually edible, from a trip 

Wagashi (和菓子) – Japanese sweets

Sake (酒) – alcohol

Shinkansen (新幹線) – bullet train

Meibutsu (名物) – specialty from a certain area 

Temiyage (手土産) – a type of gift to show thanks 

Okaeshi (お返し) – a gift to return a gift

meishi (名詞) – namecard

furoshiki (風呂敷) – wrapping cloth

iro (色) – colour

Ochugen (お中元) – the first gift-giving season in the middle of summer

Oseibo (お歳暮) – the second gift-giving season at the end of the year

Which gift will you give?

It’s quite praiseworthy how seriously the Japanese take gift-giving, and how much thought is put into this practice. Now that you know the various types of gifts and the ways to go about it, will you take up this practice?

Remember to check the full episode out on the Nihongo Master Podcast page!

Basic Japanese: Adjectives

Basic Japanese: Adjectives

Adjectives are important in language learning. They are used to describe things and express how you feel about something. It’s like saxing “the shoes are beautiful” or “the meal was expensive”

In Japanese, adjectives are classified into two categories: i-adjectives and na-adjectives. How they’re classified is based on the ending of the adjective. Depending on the type of adjective it is, you conjugate it differently. Conjugation is a huge part of Japanese language and grammar.

But don’t worry, all adjectives fall in either one of these two categories. We’ll look at conjugating into negative, past and past negative tenses. Once you have gotten the hang of these conjugations, you’ll be a pro in Japanese adjectives. 

I-Adjectives

I-adjectives refer to adjectives that end with the い hiragana. Here are some examples of the i-adjective:

Good – いい (ii)

Cheap –安い (yasui)

Big – 大きい (ookii)

New – 新しい (atarashii)

Fun –  楽しい (tanoshii)

Interesting – 面白い (omoshiroi)

If you notice, they all end with the same hiragana い. Almost all i-adjectives conjugate the same, except for one: いい (good) changes its first syllable to よい to other tenses.

One thing to note is that i-adjectives cannot have the auxiliary verb added. For example, you cannot say it as “これは大きい”, but instead say it as “これは大きい”. 

Past Tense

Changing an i-adjective to its past tense is pretty simple. All you have to do is change the ending い to かった. 

(I-adjective without い) + かった

Here are some examples of the conjugation:

Is Expensive – 高い (takai) 

Was expensive – 高かった (takakatta)

Is cheap – 安い (yasui)

Was cheap – 安かった (yasukatta)

Is big – 大きい (ookii) 

Was big – 大きかった (ookikatta)

Interesting – 面白い (omoshiroi) 

Was interesting – 面白かった (omoshirokatta)

The only exception is いい (ii) , which changes to よかった (yokatta).

Negation

To make an i-adjective its negation, you have to change the ending い to く. Then, you add nai (ない), which is the negation of the word “aru” (ある, to exist). 

(I-adjective without い) + く + ない

For example, let’s use the word “expensive (高い)” and change it to its negation.

Not expensive =  高 + く + ない = 高くない

Here are some other conjugations to the negative form of an adjective:

Cheap – 安い (yasui) 

Not cheap – 安くない (yasukunai)

Big – 大きい (ookii) 

Not big – 大きくない (ookinunai)

Interesting – 面白い (omoshiroi) 

Not interesting – 面白くない (omoshirokunai)

Negative Past Tense

If you want a negative past tense, you first negate the word, then change it to its past tense. The formats is:

Negative i-adjective (without い) + かった

For example, let’s change “expensive” to its past negative.

Was not expensive = 高 + く + な (ない without the い) + かった = 高くなかった

Here are some other examples:

Cheap – 安い (yasui) 

Was not cheap – 安くなかった (yasukunakatta)

Big – 大きい (ookii) 

Was not big – 大きくなかった (ookinunakatta)

Interesting – 面白い (omoshiroi) 

Was not interesting – 面白くなかった (omoshirokunakatta)

Polite Conjugation

To make the adjective polite, you add desu (です) after the i-adjective, regardless of tense.

I-adjective + です

Here’s an example in various tenses:

Present: Cheap – 安いです (yasui desu) 

Past: Was cheap – 安かったです (yasukatta desu)

Negative: Not cheap – 安くないです (yasukunai desu)

Past Negative: Was not cheap – 安くなかったです (yasukunakatta desu)

Alternatively, you can change the negative form and past negative form into a different way of polite form. 

ないです = ありません

なかったです = ありませんでした

Here are some examples: 

Negative: 

Not cheap – 安くないです (yasukunai desu) = 安くありません (yasuku arimasen)

Past Negative: 

Was not cheap – 安くなかったです (yasukunakatta desu) = 安くありませんでした (yasuku arimasen deshita)

Na-Adjectives

Na-adjectives are adjectives that end with な. It’s easier to look at it as those that don’t end with い. Here are some examples of na-adjectives:

Quiet – 静か (shizuka)

Like  – 好き (suki)

Convenient – 便利 (benri)

Good at – 上手 (jouzu)

However, there are some exceptions to the rule. For example, the word “beautiful’ (綺麗, きれい), “hate” (嫌い, きらい) and “grateful” (幸い, さいわい) all end with い, but they are actually na-adjectives.

Unlike i-adjectives, the auxiliary verb is supposed to be added to na-adjectives, but casually can be omitted. For example, to say “it’s quiet”, you say it with a “da” at the end: “静か” (shizuka da).

Past Tense & Polite Past Tense

Because na-adjectives take on the auxiliary verb, it’s easier for the conjugation. This is similar to noun conjugations where you just add “datta” (だった) or “deshita” (でした) for its past tense.

Na-adjective + だった (informal) / でした (formal)

Here are some examples:

Is quiet – 静か (shizuka)

Was quiet – 静かだった (shizuka datta) / 静かでした (shizuka deshita)

Like  – 好き (suki)

Liked – 好きだった (suki datta) / 好きでした (suki deshita)

Convenient – 便利 (benri)

Was convenient – 便利だった (benri datta) / 便利でした (benri deshita)

Is good at – 上手 (jouzu)

Was good at – 上手だった (jouzu datta) / 上手でした (jouzu deshita)

Negation & Polite Negation

Similarly to the past tense, it’s pretty simple to conjugate to its negation, past negation, and polite negation. They conjugat similarly to nouns.

Let’s look at negation first. You add “de ha nai” (ではない) or “de ha arimasen” )ではありません: 

Na-adjective + ではない (informal) / ではありません (formal)

Here’s an example:

Quiet – 静か (shizuka)

Not quiet – 静かではない (shizuka de ha nai) / 静かではありません (shizuka de ha arimasen)

Past Negation & Polite Past Negation

For the past negation, you add “de ha na katta” (ではなかった) or “de ha arimasen deshita” (ではありませんでした) to the adjective:

Na-adjective + ではなかった (informal) / ではありませんでした (formal)

Here’s an example: 

Quiet – 静か (shizuka)

Not quiet – 静かではなかった (shizuka de ha na katta) / 静かではありませんでした (shizuka de ha arimasen deshita)

Conjugate Adjectives Like A Pro!

And that’s a comprehensive guide to basic adjectives and it’s conjugations into various tenses! If you like this kind of article, you should check out our Nihongo Master Podcast as we have a language series, Study Saturday, where we break down Japanese grammar similar to this one! 

Basic Japanese Grammar: I Think… (と思う)

Basic Japanese Grammar: I Think… (と思う)

Our Nihongo Master Podcast has a language series called Study Saturday, where a Japanese grammar point is introduced in a fun, easy, and bite-sized way. In Season 2 Episode 8, we looked at how to express our opinions with the phrase “I think”.

This grammar point is part of basic Japanese and is used pretty frequently in everyday conversation. It makes your sentence a bit less serious as well. The best part about this grammar point is that it’s so easy to learn! There’s only one phrase in Japanese that is used to express your opinion. 

In the podcast episode, not only did we discuss a bit about the grammar point, but we also had a few roleplaying scenarios using the new grammar to get listeners accustomed to it. The roleplaying scenarios are not in this recap, so you’ve got to tune in to listen! 

Grammar Point

Expressing opinions is crucial in any language. In Japanese, it’s also used to make the tone of the sentence lighter. The grammar to use to say this is pretty simple: you basically just add “to omou” (と思う) or “to omoimasu” (と思います) for the polite form, to the end of any sentence. And viola, that’s it! 

Quick and easy, right?

と思う for i-adjectives and verbs

Let’s have an example. Say you saw someone and thought he was cool: “I thought he was cool”. “Cool” in Japanese is kakkoii (かっこいい). We could say “kakkoii to omou” (かっこいいと思う), but that translates to “I think he is cool”. To make it so it means “I thought he was cool”, we have to change the grammar point we just learned to the past tense. “to omou” ends with an u, so it conjugates to “to omotta” (と思った) for the casual form. For the polite form, simply change the “masu” (ます) to past tense to get “to omoimashita” (と思いました). 

Now put it all together and we get: “kare ha kakkoii to omotta”(彼はかっこいいと思った). For the polite form, it’s “kare ha kakkoii to omoimashita” (彼はかっこいいと思いました). 

Kakkoii is an i-adjective, so there’s no change whatsoever when attaching the grammar phrase at the end. It’s the same when the word that comes before the phrase is a verb, like the sentence “I think we went to a cafe”. “Went” in Japanese is “itta” (行った), the past tense of the word “iku” (行く). All you have to do is have all the pieces and just add the grammar at the end: “kafe ni itta to omou” (カフェに行ったと思う). For the polite form, it’s “kafe ni itta to omoimasu” (カフェに行ったと思います).

だと思う for na-adjectives and nouns

The time you do need to add something on is when the word before is either a noun or a na- adjective. In the sentence “He thought I was beautiful”, the word that comes right before the grammar phrase is “beautiful”, and that’s the na-adjective “kireina” (綺麗な) in Japanese. We can’t say “kireina to omou”, but instead we take the na out and switch it to da, the casual form of desu: “kare ha watashi ga kirei da to omotta” (彼は私が綺麗だと思った). For the polite form, it’s “kare ha watashi ga kirei da to omoimashita” (彼は私が綺麗だと思いました). Remember, that sentence was in the past tense.

Let’s have an example for a noun. Since there is no “na” to switch out, we just add da in between the noun and “to omou”. For example, if you want to say “I think he’s Japanese”, you can say it as “kare ha nihonjin da to omou” (彼は日本人だと思う). The polite form of the sentence is “kare ha nihonjin da to omoimasu” (彼は日本人だと思います).

Negation

In the case where you want to have a na-adjective or a noun in the negative form, like “I think he’s not Japanese” or “I think she’s not beautiful”, their negative form “janai” (じゃない) then acts like an i- adjective, so you don’t need to have a “da” in between: “nihonjin janai to omou” (日本人じゃないと思う), “kirei janai to omou” (綺麗じゃないと思う).

One last thing: if you want to say “i don’t think”, all you have to do is say the negation of “to omou”, which is “to omowanai” (と思わない) or “to omoimasen” (と思いません). So let’s switch “I think he’s not Japanese” to “I don’t think he’s Japanese” — we take the noun as it is and add the negation of the grammar to make, “nihonjin da to omowanai” (日本人だと思わない), or the polite form “nihonjin da to omoimasen” (日本人だと思いません).

Vocab Recap

As always, let’s have a quick vocab recap to wrap it up: 

Kakkoii (かっこいい) — cool

Kireina (綺麗な) — beautiful or pretty

Isha (医者) — doctor

Shokugyō (職業) — occupation

Gaka (画家) — painter

Machigainai (間違いない) — undoubtedly or no doubt 

Ginkõ (銀行) — bank

Hataraiteiru (働いている) — to be working 

Kaku (書く) — to write or draw

Shou ga nai (しょうがない) — it can’t be helped 

Muzukashii (難しい) — difficult

Mirai (未来) — future

Hiraku (開く) — to open 

Sasuga (さすが) — as expected 

Hazukashii (恥ずかしい) — shy 

Shinyū (親友) — best friend 

Kareshi (彼氏) — boyfriend 

Urayamashii (羨ましい) — jealous 

Zettai (絶対) — definitely

Conclusion

And that’s the recap of this episode of Study Saturday, and that means you might already be an expert at expressing your opinions in Japanese. I, for one, have a lot of opinions on a lot of things, so rest assured I’ve been using this every day — if not every hour. Since this article is a recap, head over to the original episode to listen to the full thing now!

If you’re interested in similar bite-sized grammar pointers, head over to the Nihongo Master Podcast for more. The Study Saturday language series comes out every Saturday with a new grammar point with examples and role playing scenarios. Click here for your fill of basic Japanese grammar! 

How to Learn Japanese the Fast & Easy Way!

How to Learn Japanese the Fast & Easy Way!

If you want to learn Japanese, you’ve come to the right place! We at Nihongo Master are dedicated to providing you with the best Japanese language learning content on all our various media platforms. Learning a new language is tough, and most of us would want to find ways to do it quickly.

While I personally feel like there are no shortcuts to learning a new language, there are tips and tricks that can help you to learn faster and easier. Of course, these all depend on the individual and what one’s study method is. But generally, if you stick to these 7 tips, you might be able to skip a bit of time out of your language learning journey.

1. Don’t skip the writing systems

The first one I think is the most important tip of all is: do not skip the writing systems. In Japanese, there are three writing systems: hiragana, katakana and kanji. Each of them are used for their own purposes and knowing all three of them is essential if you want to reach a good level of fluency.

Hiragana and katakana are pretty easy to pick up. You can master them casually in a week. They are the Japanese alphabet that represents a syllable. 

As for kanji, they are Chinese characters that are used in Japanese writing. I’d say there are around 2,000 essential kanji characters that you would need to take time to learn. One way to learn kanji is through vocabulary. When you learn new words, look at what the kanji characters for them are. Most conversational words use essential kanji characters. Have yourself be exposed to kanji characters on a daily basis. The more you see them, the more you’re able to recognise them.

Skip the stroke order for now. I would recommend foregoing this unless you’re doing it for school. If you’re here for the fast fluency, you can afford to not know the order of the strokes. 

2. Use language learning hacks

As I mentioned earlier, different people have different styles of learning. Depending on your style, pick up language learning hacks to help you learn Japanese faster and easier. 

One of the most popular methods of learning Japanese fast is using a spaced repetition system (SRS). This is often the use of flash cards. There’s a 80/30 rule that says you get 80% of your results from 20% of your efforts. So you focus on 20% of the language you use most to yield 80% of your speaking abilities. 

Another way is by using mnemonics. A lot of people find this language learning hack pretty useful. When you have mnemonic devices linked to Japanese language learning, you’ll be able to retain them in your brain faster and easier. 

And while some people often binge study, it may not help all. Some people actually study and retain knowledge better when studying in small chunks of time. This helps you to focus and not push yourself too much. Whatever you learn in that 15 minutes a day, be sure to repeat them and lock them in memory. This will definitely help you to learn Japanese faster.

And last but not least, consistency is key. You’ve got to be a bit responsible for your language learning journey. Stay committed, keep studying regularly, and you’ll be able to reach your language goals as early as 90 days! 

3. Think and explain in Japanese

One of the most important ways to improve your Japanese language skills is by training your brain to think in that foreign language. For this one, you would have to really put in the effort to do this, especially if you’re not already bilingual. 

By doing this technique, you’re going to be able to lock those new words and grammar into your brain even faster. Reading the meaning to a word or an explanation to a grammar point won’t guarantee that you can recall it when you need it. When you actively use these words and grammar, you’ll be able to store them in your brain easier!

The easiest way to start doing this is by reacting in Japanese. If you see a cute dog coming your way, you might start to think in English “it’s cute”. Try to think in Japanese: “あの犬は可愛い” (“that dog is cute”). 

You can also practice this technique by describing your surroundings. You don’t have to do that all the time. You can even do it on your way home from school or work. Describe the area around you. What do you see? What are the people doing? What’s the weather like? 

This last way of practicing this technique is one that I often do, and that’s translating my own conversations. After having a conversation with someone, try to translate that conversation into Japanese at your own pace. Say you ordered something in a restaurant. How would you do that in Japanese?

4. Find language exchange partners early

The best part about the previous technique is that you don’t have to be afraid of making mistakes with someone else. However, that doesn’t give you the opportunity to learn from your mistakes. On top of that, you will also start to fear speaking in Japanese. Trust me, I was at that stage once too. 

So, to do that, you should definitely find a language exchange partner early on so you can start using your language skills ASAP.

There are so many ways you can find one. Sometimes, in your city or country, there’s a community of Japanese language learners like yourself. This is the best way to find one. Otherwise, go online and on apps like italki or HelloTalk. These are also great platforms to learn from others just like you! 

5. Immerse yourself in Japanese 

A lot of people say immersion is key. It’s pretty true, but you don’t have to be in Japan to be fully immersed. You can also just surround yourself with the language, through various means that you can control. One of the easiest ways is to constantly play Japanese media like games, TV shows, movies and anime (in Japanese language, of course).

I personally used to listen to Japanese podcasts as well to expose myself to the Japanese language. This method is also a way of passive learning, which kids use to learn when they’re younger and developing. 

If you have a Japanese town in your city, that’s perfect! You can find Japanese speakers around you to practice with in real life too! All these exposure will definitely help you to learn Japanese faster and easier!

6. Practice your Japanese speaking skills

I cannot emphasise this enough, but definitely work on your speaking skills from early on. Learning a language from a textbook and actually using the skill in real life is so so different. You realise there are so many other challenges that you face when you start speaking. You might not be able to recall what you learned, you realise you have a fear of speaking to overcome. Anything can happen. 

Whether it’s practicing in front of the mirror or with a language exchange partner or friend, start early! As soon as you learn your first grammar point, I suggest going straight into practicing your speaking skills!

7. Don’t be afraid to fail

And last but not least, don’t be afraid to fail. In fact, if you don’t fail at some point, you’re not human! All of us are learning. Even natives have things they need to learn. Failing is actually part of your Japanese language learning journey, so don’t avoid it. Instead, embrace it!

Learn Japanese Fast & Easy!

I hope that with these 7 techniques, you’ll be able to learn Japanese fast and easy! One of the best ways you can learn Japanese grammar points and new useful vocabulary words is by tuning in to our Nihongo Master Podcast! We have a language series in the podcast that breaks down grammar points just like our online learning system, and have roleplaying scenarios using the new grammar point. Hey, that’s the 8th technique to learning Japanese fast and easy!

How to Say “Do You Know” in Japanese — わかる and 知っている

How to Say “Do You Know” in Japanese — わかる and 知っている

(NM Podcast Recap! S2E6)

One of the most commonly used phrases in any language is “do you know…?” This phrase is without a doubt an essential one for not only daily conversations but also at work. Remember asking your friend if they knew of a specific person, or your colleague if they knew how to use the copy machine? 

The question is: do you know how to ask “do you know” in Japanese?

If you don’t, then you should tune in to our podcast’s language series, Study Saturday. In our Season 2 Episode 6, we looked at two ways on how to say this phrase in Japanese! 

In the podcast episode, we broke down the grammar points and looked at the proper usage with a few role playing scenarios and useful vocabulary words. This article is a recap of the grammar and vocabulary we used — while you get the gist and general idea of the grammar in this article, we highly recommend tuning in to the episode for exemplary usage!

Grammar Point

Compared to English grammar, where “do you know” is at the start of the sentence, the Japanese grammar for that attaches itself to the end, just like most other

grammar points. In Japanese, the sentence structure is basically the opposite of English.

Shitteiru (知っている)

So for this one, we have “shitteiru” (知っている) or “shitteimasu” (知っています) to mean “to know”. The phrase comes from the word “shiru” (知る), which means “to find out” or “to get to know”. I won’t confuse you with the details, but long story short the difference is that “shiru” is an action, while “shitteiru” is a state, and the former is rarely used.

So in question form, we have it as “shitteiru” (知っている) or “shitteimasuka” (知っていますか). For example, “do you know John?” Can be translated in Japanese as “Jon wo shitteiru?” (ジョンを知っている?) or “Jon wo shitteimasuka?” (ジョンを知っていますか?) We use the particle “wo” (を) for this grammar most of the time.

A を 知っていますか?

A wo shitteimasuka?

If you know, you reply as: shitteiru (知っている) or shitteimasu (知っています)

If you don’t, you reply as: shiranai (知らない) or shirimasen (知りません)

Another way to use this phrase is like this question: “do you know where he lives?”. For this type of sentence, it’s said a different way — that’s because we’re connecting two parts into a sentence:

1. ”Where he lives” = “kare ga doko ni sundeiru” (彼がどこに住んでいる)

We replace the wo (を) particle which we would usually use, with ga (が)

To attach the two sentences together, we have to use the question particle which is ka (か). Then the second part:

2. ”Do you know” = “shitteiru” (知っている)

Put it all together, and you get: “kare ga doko ni sundeiru ka shitteiru” (彼がどこに住んでいるか知っている?) “kare ga doko ni sundeiru ka shitteimasuka?” (彼がどこに住んでいるか知っていますか?)

Here’s another example: “do you know if he’s going to the party tonight?” 

In Japanese, it’s: “konban no pātī ni iku dou ka shitteiru?” (今晩のパーティーに行くどうか知っている?)

BONUS:

Sometimes, you can use shitta (知った) in specific situations. For example, “dou yatte shitta?” (どうやって知った?) This means “how did you know?”.

There’s also a common saying, that is: “hajimete shitta” (初めて知った) to mean “that’s the first I’ve heard”.

Wakaru (分かる)

It’s quite common to confuse shitteiru with wakaru (分かる) or wakarimasu (分かります) for the polite form. The clearest way of explaining the difference is that, “shitteiru” as a question implies that you don’t expect the person to know, and as an answer implies that you already knew. “Wakaru” as a question has a nuance of

“do you remember/understand”, implying that the person should already know because it was brought up before, and as an answer implies that you remember/understand.

If you want to ask someone if they know Japanese, you usually would say “nihongo wakaru?” (日本語分かる?) or “nihongo wakarimasuka?” (日本語分かりますか?). This means “do you understand Japanese?” 

If you ask it as “nihongo shitteiru?” (日本語知っている?) or “nihongo shitteimasuka?” (日本語知っていますか?), it’s kind of like saying “have you heard of the Japanese

language?” 

If you do know Japanese — and understand it — reply with a “wakaru” or “wakarimasu”. If you don’t know, a simple “wakaranai” (分からない) or “wakarimasen” (分かりません) does the trick.

Vocab Recap

At the end of our Study Saturday episodes, we have a quick vocab recap of the words we used in the episode. Here’s a list for reference:

Doko (どこ) — where

Sundeiru (住んでいる) — to be living, it comes from the root form “sumu” — to live

Konban (今晩) — tonight

Dou ka (どうか) — …or not

Saigo (最後) — last

Atta (会った) — met. The root word is “au”, to mean “to meet”

Otetsudai wo suru (お手伝いをする) — the polite version of “tetsudau” to mean “to help”

Honjitsu (本日つ) — a polite version of saying “today”

Hatarakasete (働かせて) — the root form is “hataraku” to mean “to work”

Tsukai kata (使い方) — how to use. 

Tsukau (使う)  —to use

Kata (方) — way of

Fūni (風に) — this way

Yaru (やる) — to do

Tonari (隣) — next to

Aiteiru (空いている) — to be open, coming from the word “aku” which means “to open”

Conclusion

Now you have the general gist of how to say “do you know” and “i know” in Japanese! You’ll be surprised at how often you’ll be using it day to day. As mentioned before, this is just a recap and summary of what we discussed about in our language series episode. Check out the full episode over at Nihongo Master Podcast

Basic Japanese Words and Phrases for Holiday Celebrations!

Basic Japanese Words and Phrases for Holiday Celebrations!

Holidays are just around the corner. Who’s excited? I know I am! But the holidays shouldn’t stop us from keeping up with our Japanese language learning journey. So instead, we should incorporate some holiday into it! 

Do you know any Japanese words and phrases for the holiday celebrations? If not, you’ve come to the right place! Just like in English, there are certain words and phrases we use to wish people for the holidays and to describe the holiday season. It may not always be in the first few chapters of your Japanese textbook, but we’ve compiled the top 10 words and phrases you can use for this upcoming festive season! 

Keep reading to find out!

1. Omedetou (おめでとう)

The first one has definitely got to be omedetou (おめでとう). You can say this for a lot of different things. It’s so versatile. This word actually translates to “congratulations”, but it’s also used in the Japanese way to say “happy new year”, and that’s “akemashite omedetou” (あけましておめでとう). It actually comes from the word “akeru” (開ける) to mean “to open”, so you’re kind of welcoming the opening of the new year. 

You can also say “akeome” (あけおめ) with your friends. This is a casual and slangy way to say it.

You can also attach “omedetou” to other types of holidays like Hanukkah: Hanu-ka omedetou” (ハヌーカおめでとう). Or even Kwanzaa: “Kuwanza omedetou” (クワンザおめでとう).

2. Yoi Otoshi Wo (良いお年を)

One of my favourite phrases to say when the New Year approaches is “yoi otoshi wo” (良いお年を). This translates to “have a happy New Year” and it’s a very common phrase used by Japanese people.

Bear in mind that this phrase is used before the clock strikes midnight on January 1st. When you want to wish someone a happy new year after that, use the phrase before this.

3. Yasumi (休み)

The next basic Japanese word great for the holidays is yasumi (休み). That’s because this word translates to “holiday” or “off day”. You can say to someone to enjoy their holidays by saying “yasumi tanoshinde” (楽しんで). Although it’s perfect for the holiday celebrations, this word can also be used all year round to talk about days you’re not working or school holidays, too. 

4. Mata rainen (また来年)

I find this next phrase pretty cute, because it’s a bit quirky and pretty similar to English. Usually, you’d say to someone “see you later”, but when it’s the new year period, I like to say “see you next year” as a quirky saying. I bet a lot of people do, too.

In Japanese, that’s “mata rainen” (また来年). “Mata” (また) actually means “again” but in colloquial Japanese, you can also just say “mata” to mean “later” or “see you”. “Mata ashita” (また明日) means “see you tomorrow”.

5. Kyuuka (休暇)

While we already have the word for holiday before, this is another basic Japanese word for “holiday”: “kyuuka” (休暇). This is a more formal version than “yasumi” but it’s often combined with other words like “Christmas holidays” or “summer holidays”.

“Christmas holidays” is “kurisumasu kyuuka” (クリスマス休暇) and “summer holiday” is “kaki kyuuka” (夏季休暇).

6. Tanoshinde (楽しんで)

This next basic Japanese phrase for the holidays is “tanoshinde” (楽しんで), which means “have fun”. You can attach this to another word to make sentences like “have a fun Christmas party”, or you can just say it on its own.

“Have a fun Christmas party” is “kurisumasu pa-ti wo tanoshinde!” (クリスマスパーティを楽しんで!) .

7. Oshougatsu (お正月)

The next basic Japanese word you should know for the holidays is “oshougatsu”, which translates to “Japanese New Year”. This is a more common word to describe the first of January, but there’s also another word: ganjitsu (元日). While both are acceptable to use, the first one is more popular.

8. Purezento (プレゼント)

If you’ve mastered your katakana, you already know what this word means: presents! Purezento (プレゼント) is the katakana form of the English word “present”, and what’s the holidays without a gift or two, am I right? 

9. Meri Kurisumasu (メリークリスマス)

We have a few ways to talk about the holidays and New Years, but not so much on how to say “Merry Christmas”. It’s pretty simple, which is why I saved it for the last few. “Merry Christmas” is just the katakana form: meri kurisumasu (メリークリスマス).

10. Shinnen ga yoi toshi de arimasu you ni (新年が良い年でありますように)

This is a pretty long one, but also a good basic Japanese phrase to learn for the holidays. You’re wishing someone the best wishes for the next year. Kind of like the shorter phrase above “yoi otoshi wo”. However, this is a more formal and genuine wish.

You can also use parts of this phrase to say other things like “I hope you have a good day”. Just use the “de arimasu you ni” and attach it to another wish like “a good day”, which is “yoi hi” (良い日): “yoi hi de arimasu you ni” (良い日でありますように). Just attach this phrase to any good wish you want to give!

Have a happy holiday season! 

And that wraps up the top 10 basic Japanese words and phrases for the holiday celebrations. I hope you learn them just in time for the festive season. They’re super easy and super useful. Try it out with your family and friends! Have a wonderful holiday season, everyone! よいお年を!

10 Best Polite Words to Have Handy in Japanese

10 Best Polite Words to Have Handy in Japanese

Learning a new language can be tough. While the Japanese language is a beautiful one, it can be difficult to pick up in the beginning. But what you should take note of even before learning the language is that it’s a polite language. There are so many aspects of the Japanese language that are based on politeness.

To get you started, here are the top 10 polite words in Japanese that will definitely come in handy – regardless of whether you’re just starting out or you’re travelling to Japan soon. This is one of the best ways to learn Japanese fast and easy!

1. Sumimasen (すみません)

This word is one that’s super commonly used. “Sumimasen” (すみません) has a few different meanings and can use in a few different situations. Check out our podcast episode, Season 1 Episode 1, for a full rundown of how to use this phrase. 

In summary, you can use this phrase to apologise for inconveniencing someone, kind of like “pardon me”. You can also use this phrase to say “excuse me” – for example, you’re getting off the train and there are people blocking your way. Say “sumimasen” to let them know you need to get through.

2. Gomennasai (ごめんなさい)

Another polite word to have handy is “gomennasai” (ごめんなさい). When you learn Japanese, this is one of the first things you’ll learn. Gomennasai translates to “I’m sorry” and it’s used as an apology. It’s similar to the first one, but this word can’t be used to say “excuse me”. Our Season 1 Episode 1 podcast episode also talks about this phrase!

3. Onegaishimasu (お願いします)

Also part of our Season 1 Episode 1 podcast episode is “onegaishimasu” (お願いします). This phrase can also be used in a lot of situations. It essentially means “please” when asking for help. 

For example, the konbini (コンビニ) cashier might ask you if you want to heat up your food. You reply with “hai onegaishimasu” (はい、お願いします) to mean “yes please”. For more examples and situations, check our podcast episode!

4. Otsukaresama (お疲れ様)

The next word is “otsukaresama” (お疲れ様). I like this word a lot, because it has such a heartwarming tone. This word can translate to “thanks for all your hard work” and is often said to other coworkers after work or groups of people/friends after an event. You can use the longer form “otsukaresama deshita” (お疲れ様でした) or even cut it short with people who you are familiar with, to “otsukare” (お疲れ)

5. Itadakimasu (いただきます)

If you’ve watched anime (アニメ) before, you would probably have heard this phrase. Before eating a meal, you should say “itadakimasu” (いただきます) which can be translated to “thank you for the meal” or “I’m digging in!” Either way, it’s showing appreciation for the meal presented to you.

6. Gochisou sama deshita (ご馳走様でした)

After your amazing meal, don’t forget to show appreciation too. To do so, say “gochisou sama deshita” (ご馳走様でした) which is also saying “thank you for the meal”. Note that this phrase can only be used after a meal, and the previous word is used only before a meal. Don’t mix them up! This is a good pair of Japanese words to learn fast and easy! 

7. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu (よろしくお願いします)

I’m sure you recognised half of this phrase – see, you’re already learning Japanese! “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu” (よろしくお願いします) can have a few different translations. Oftentimes, this phrase is used after a greeting with someone new. In this case, it’s translated to “nice to meet you” or “please take care of me” or even “I look forward to working with you”.

Sometimes, you can use this when requesting someone to do something for you. In that case, this translates to “please fulfill my request”. You’ll see it quite often at the end of emails.

I would say the best English equivalent would be something like “thank you in advance”. It’s commonly used in formal situations. You can also cut it short to “yoroshiku” (よろしく), but it then becomes quite informal.

8. Shitsurei shimasu (失礼します)

Another common polite word or phrase in Japanese that you should learn is “shitsurei shimasu” (失礼します). This translates to “pardon my rudeness” most of the time. You can say this when you’re interrupting a conversation or basically anything. If you are walking through a group of people and they’re talking, you can say this as you walk through them.

You can use this phrase in the past tense too, to make “shitsurei shimashita” (失礼しました). This is often said after the ‘rude act’, and it somewhat translates to “sorry for being rude earlier”. It’s a pretty handy Japanese word to know and have, I think.

9.  Ojama shimasu (お邪魔します)

Another phrase similar to the one before is “ojama shimasu” (お邪魔します). This one translates more to “I’m going to get in your way” or “I will disturb you”. Most of the time, this is used when you’re entering someone’s house. In my opinion, it sounds slightly harsher – or at least, the ‘act of rudeness’ is slightly harsher.

10. Ki wo tsukete kudasai (気をつけてください)

Last but not least, a polite word or phrase to have handy in Japanese is “ki wo tsukete kudasai” (気をつけてください). I personally have this as a personal favourite, because it shows so much kindness and warmth. This translates to “please take care”, and can be said to anyone. 

When I get my food delivered by a delivery man, I often say this phrase to them. When parting ways with friends, we often say this to each other.I It’s just a nice sendoff for anyone.

Conclusion 

And that wraps up our list of polite Japanese words and phrases to have in handy. This list is a fun and easy way to learn Japanese fast, because everything on this list is used almost on a daily basis! There are so many polite words in the Japanese language, but knowing this is a good start. Good luck! 

How to Be Polite in Japanese?

How to Be Polite in Japanese?

One of the first few things we notice about the Japanese language when we start learning is that there are various levels of politeness. In fact, the basic Japanese that we all learn at the start is in fact one of the polite speech styles!

But that doesn’t mean that it’s the most polite. Politeness is a huge factor in Japanese culture and manners. Depending on who you talk to and what social situation you’re in, you adjust your polite speech style to accommodate it. How, you might ask?

You’ve come to the right place. Everything you need to know about the level of politeness, what affects it and how to be polite in basic Japanese is just a scroll away!

What affects politeness?

There are a few things that affect the way you speak to another person in terms of politeness. While it’s important in English as well, it’s even more important in the Japanese language.

First of all, how familiar you are with another person affects this politeness level. When you’re more familiar with another, you tend to speak more casually. For example, you speak in informal terms with family and close friends. Sometimes, slang is introduced in informal situations. With people you aren’t close to and strangers, you’re more on formal terms. 

This goes into the second factor, and that is social hierarchy. This is extremely significant in Japanese culture. Where you stand in that social ladder affects your level of politeness. Here’s a basic breakdown of rank:

Higher rank: Teacher, employer, guest, customer, senior in terms of age

Lower rank: Student, employee, host, salesman, junior in terms of age

The combination of familiarity and social hierarchy basically determines the level of politeness in speech. 

Levels of politeness in the Japanese language 

Let’s take a look at the levels of politeness in the Japanese language. In the English language, politeness is often achievable through the words and phrases used, and tone. Sometimes, even in business situations, you might not even need to be all that polite. In the Japanese language, politeness is crucial. 

In basic Japanese, politeness is achieved through its grammar primarily. While the words and tone used are also important, grammar is the ultimate way of achieving various levels of politeness. And how many levels are there?

Teineigo (丁寧語)

Teineigo (丁寧語) literally means “polite language”. When we first learn Japanese, this is the form we learn, and sometimes it’s referred to as “formal” speech. It’s the default form when two strangers talk to each other. This is also used when speaking to someone higher in rank.

In teineigo, you use the polite copula “desu” (です) at the end of nouns and adjectives, and the polite verb suffix “-masu” (〜ます).  You often don’t cut out anything in the sentence and use full sentences when speaking. Prefixes such as “o” (お) and “go” (ご) are also used.

Keigo (敬語)

When we get into a deeper understanding of the language, we learn that there are special forms for politeness in the Japanese language, and that’s known as keigo (敬語). This is a step up above teineigo and is an umbrella term that covers humble and honorific forms of speech.

Now that might be a whole lot to process, but let’s break that down. Keigo is used when talking to people significantly above you in rank by either exalting the superior or by humbling yourself. The basics of keigo when it comes to politeness is passiveness and indirectness. 

One form of keigo is the sonkeigo (尊敬語), also known as the honorific language. This is used when talking to a superior and exalting them and their actions. If you talk to your boss or teacher and are referring to them and their actions, the honorific form is used. We teach how to use this form in our Nihongo Master podcast in our Nihongo Master Podcast Season 6 Episode 6!

Another form of keigo is the kenjougo (謙譲語). This is the humble language. As you can tell, it’s a form of humble speech. When you talk to a superior but you’re referring to yourself, you use the humble form. We teach how to use this form in our Nihongo Master Podcast Season 6 Episode 9!

Honorifics in polite speech

One of the most important things to note is the usage of honorifics in polite speech. That’s the basics of politeness in the Japanese language.

The simplest way to add a touch of politeness to your speech is by adding a “san” (さん) to someone’s name. It’s like the equivalent of “Mr” or “Mrs” in the English language. This is the most basic honorific that you’ll learn in Japanese.

Sometimes, you can refer to one as “sama” (様). For example, when a staff member approaches a customer, they would refer to them as “okyakusama” (お客様) as the utmost level of politeness.

Different positions in Japanese society can have various honorifics. A teacher has “sensei” (先生) attached to their name, like Tanaka-sensei.

You’re always starting off with referring to someone with “San” until you’re told otherwise. Often times, your friends would tell you to drop the honorific, and maybe change to the more familial honorifics like “chan” (ちゃん) or “kun” (くん). However, with your superiors, continue using it unless told otherwise!

Add a dash of politeness to your Japanese!

We now know that there are more than a few ways to be polite in your Japanese speech. And this all depends on how familiar you are with the other party, and where in the social hierarchy you both rank. It never hurts to be polite, so add a little bit of politeness in your speech! Check out our other blog posts and also our podcast to learn Japanese the fun and easy way!