Could speaking Japanese expand your range of feelings?

Learning Japanese is hard for English speakers because it’s such a different language. Everything from difficult pronunciations to using different words to count different things can break even the most dedicated language learners.

But arguably the hardest part of learning Japanese is the difference in how ideas are expressed. For example, the English phrase “oh my god!” can be translated into Japanese no less than six different ways, each with its own nuance. And the reverse is true too, with some Japanese words/phrases being hard to translate into English (and other languages) because they don’t have a direct equivalent.

One great example of this is the Japanese word natsukashii (“feeling nostalgic”), which was recently pointed out online by Japanese Twitter user @ijlijl.

They described their interaction with someone who
spoke German and was learning Japanese. (Translation below)

“I’ve heard that there’s no word for ‘natukashii‘ in German. A German person told me that when they first learned the word, they were overjoyed by the fact that they finally had a name for this feeling that they’d felt before.”

So first things, we should get one thing out of the way: is it possible to express “feeling nostalgic” in English and other languages? Of course. You can say something like: “Oh that takes me back” or “What a nostalgia trip,” but each of those are still different from natuskashii. They’re either more general or too strong for some situations.

My favorite example of natsukashii in Japanese comes from a video game arcade. I was waiting my turn at the Dance Dance Revolution machine (as we all did back in the early 2000s), and two girls were playing together. They were scrolling through the song list, picking a chart to play, when they stopped on a song and listened to the preview music. As soon as it played, they both looked at each other and said, “Natsukashii!” The song was an old classic on DDR, something they probably hadn’t heard in years. Any other English phrase like “I haven’t heard that in forever” wouldn’t quite express the underlying nostalgic pangs of past joys.

And nowadays just looking at a DDR machine is enough to get me
to sigh and say “natsukashii” to the wind, while looking wistfully away.

Anyway, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s see how Japanese Twitter responded, with many of them discussing other languages too:

‘Natsukashii’ in German is either ‘nostalgisch’ or ‘wehmütig.’ But they’re old, stiff words that aren’t used much in spoken language. So that’s why the German person probably said they didn’t have a word for it. They’d have to spell it out, saying something like, ‘Do you remember? That was a lot of fun back then.'”

“The Portugese word ‘saudad’ is similar but not quite the same. ‘Natsukashii’ is a tough word to translate.”

“In Indonesian we kind of have a word like ‘natsukashii,’ but it’s not used nearly as often in daily life as in Japan.”

“I’m Thai and we don’t have the Japanese word ‘hokkori’ (“feeling of tired relief after effort/accomplishment”). When I learned it, I realized I’d felt it many times before.”

“I feel like the Japanese word ‘mendokusai’ (“annoying/troublesome”) is pretty unique too.”

“I’m so happy to be born in a country with such rich expression!”

At the end of the day, like all human languages, Japanese has some cool words in it that don’t exist in other languages. And while some of them are cool like natsukashii, some of them can be downright confusing.

Source: Twitter/@ijlijl via My Game News Flash
Top image: Pakutaso