Understanding Japan (1): people’s common expressions

By Eddy Montilla.


When you talk using your mother tongue, words sound so natural that you don’t think too much about them. By using a second language, it is quite the opposite: Some terms come flooding back to you. Today, I try to explain Japanese culture and Japanese people’s personality through the most common expressions that you can hear in this country.

     Kawaii! (Cute!): You can hear this word everywhere in Japan. It’s so popular that even foreigners get accustomed to using it quickly. Japanese people have in general a great sense of beauty. They have the ability to find art and beauty in things that in the eyes of other people would probably go unnoticed. It is frequently said that in Japan people are somehow laconic, but they can become very expressive when it comes to talking about cute things and that’s why you can hear so many times Kawaii, kawaii!!

     Oishii! (Delicious!): In Japan, people eat almost everything that is set in front of them, from foods that they cultivate to those that can be found in the sea or forest in their natural state. People’s concept about food in many countries is different from the Japanese’s. For example, instead of thinking that this flower or plant is not edible, many people in that nation think that it might be part of their dinner tonight. That explains why they have a vast array of food. For many elderly people, to have preferences about food (I eat this, but I don’t eat that) means bad education. My only concern is that children don’t have the opportunity to discover by themselves what is good according to their own judgment because mothers feed them not only with Japanese food, but with persuasive words when they are eating: “Oishii?” “Oishii”

     Kowai! (I am scared!): Japan is one of countries with the lowest crime rate in the world. People don’t have firearms and the level of violence is very low. However, it seems that in life, even good things bring mishaps too. For example, people who in the past worked and acted like “samurais” are today afraid of harmless insects or of seeing a foreigner walking on the street.

     Tooi! (It’s far!) And Omoi! (It’s heavy!): The country has the world’s most reliable train system. The Shinkansen (bullet train) is very fast, clean and efficient and like any other train, they are the almost always are on time. Japan is also famous for its efficient cars and technology. These factors exert a strong influence on Japanese people’s lifestyle, especially on the new generation of Japanese young people who seem to look for a life excessively comfortable. Because of that, anything is “omoi” (heavy) and any place is “tooi” (far)

     TAIHEN! (It’s very hard!): This expression can be seen from two different angles. On the one hand, it is a reflection of how Japanese people tend to see even trifling things as problems. Many situations in which they say “taihen” are imaginary worries for people in other countries. This idea is important to find reasons that explain why the level of depression and suicide is so high in this oriental country. On the other hand, “taihen (hard)” could be also interpreted as a way to avoid the worst.

     GANBATTE! (Work hard!): In my opinion, this is the best word to describe the Japanese heart and manner of thinking. Here, people’s ideas usualy revolve around achieving goals, and the best way to do that is working hard. So, Ganbatte!!

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