Ironically, number-one pick is something many foreigners in Japan hate hearing too.

A lot of people who move to Japan to teach English also end up becoming students of the Japanese language as part of the process. That’s because while it’s possible to teach at Japan’s English conversation schools without high-level Japanese language skills (due to foreigner-taught classes, by design, generally being conducted in English only), when it comes time to communicate with coworkers, or with anyone outside of the workplace, even a little bit of Japanese language proficiency goes a long way.

But what Japanese language phrases are foreign English teachers’ favorites? To investigate, Nova Language Company, which manages the Nova and Gaba English conversation school groups, conducted a survey, asking that question to 287 of its foreign teaching staff.

The third-most common response, with 12 votes, was “Daijoubu desu.” On the surface, this doesn’t seem a phrase that’s particularly unique to Japanese, since daijoubu just means “OK” or “all right,” and desu, within this context, works like the verb “to be.” But daijoubu desu won votes because of how flexible it is, thanks to a quirk of the Japanese language that allows you to omit saying the subject of a sentence. Because of that, daijoubu desu can mean “I’m OK,” if someone just asked if you’re struggling with some sort of dilemma. It can mean “It’s OK” (as in “don’t worry about it”) if someone just apologized for enlisting you to help them with a problem of their own, and it can mean “That’s OK” (i.e. “no thank you”) if you’re politely turning down someone’s offer, whether it’s someone offering to help you with a work project or a convenience store clerk checking if you need a pair of disposable chopsticks with your bento boxed lunch.

Coming in at number two, with 13 votes, was “Otsukaresama desu,” which is a phrase we’ve been recommending for years. Unlike daijoubu desu, otsukaresama desu does reflect a unique Japanese cultural attitude. Translated directly, it means “You’re honorably tired,” and it’s used to recognize and show appreciation for the efforts someone has made in some sort of unselfish, admirable endeavor. It’s especially common in Japanese offices, where you’ll hear otsukare-sama desu when someone wraps up a project or submits their finished portion of the work to the next person down the line in the process. Otsukaresama desu is also the customary way to say goodbye to coworkers as you clock out at the end of the day, as a way to say “Thanks for working so hard today.”

And at the top of the list, with 22 votes, was shou ga nai, which translates to “It can’t be helped” or “There’s nothing we can do about it.” The survey participants who picked shou ga nai see it as a useful phrase, and an occasionally worthwhile way of thinking. “It’s a lovely phrase that lets you express that the situation isn’t something you can remedy with your capabilities,” said one shou ga nai fan, while another went so far as to say “Once you learn the philosophy of shou ga nai, you’ll feel a weight lifted from your shoulders.”

Ironically, shou ga nai also frequently shows up on lists of phrases that aggravate newcomers to Japan, who sometimes don’t think a situation is really as beyond altering as the person saying this fatalistic expression presents it as. But as anyone who’s a veteran of teaching English in Japan can tell you, no matter how blessed you are with understanding managers, helpful coworkers, or earnest students, you’ll eventually have to deal with at least one illogical assignment, flaky colleague, or lazy pupil, so, provided the stakes aren’t so high, shrugging your shoulders and murmuring “Shou ga nai” in Japanese is probably a better reaction than screaming profanities in English.

Source: PR Times via Yorozoo via Livedoor News via Otakomu
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso (1, 2)
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Follow Casey on Twitter, where he tried to make regular use of the phrase “Yoyuu, yoyuu” in his teaching days.