Foreigners ask, What’s ”otsukaresama”?


Hello, this is TORA.

Now then, “otsukaresama” is one of those expressions that we use so often in our daily lives that we take it for granted, right? Actually, this expression seems to be exclusive to Japan.

Have you ever been asked by a foreigner, “What’s ‘otsukaresama’”?


The meaning of otsukaresama

Thinking about our daily lives, we say “otsukaresama” to colleagues we walk past at work, and when we leave for the day we say “osaki ni shitsureishimasu”, right? We also nod and say “otsukaresama” to security guards and cleaning ladies.

This small form of everyday communication is also used as an opening in work emails, among other things.

Thinking about how often “otsukaresama” is used, I realize what a convenient expression it is.
It can be used in any situation, such as when greeting people, or at an afternoon or closing assembly, or at the beginning of meetings.

It seems that what was conventionally an expression of appreciation has seeped into our modern culture as a form of greeting.
If we were to replace it with English, would it be something like this?


In English?

When a lesson or work has finished, people say “see you tomorrow” or “good job”.
A Filipino English conversation teacher who I know says “see you tomorrow” and “have a good day and good dinner”.This is something like “otsukaresama”.
I have heard that some foreigners who work in Japan find it strange when they are told they are tired when they are not particularly so.

There are Japanese expressions whose equivalent can be found in English, but this one remains ambiguous.

“Otsukaresama”? But I’m not tired…
“Otsukaresama” is used even outside work. “Otsukaresama” is used when we pass by people. And there are even more situations than this.

So, with such a multitude of meanings, perhaps it stands to reason that it can’t be translated into English. Personally, I think expressions like “see you tomorrow” will suffice.

There are also those very rare Japanese people who, upon hearing “otsukaresama”, worry that they look tired, or actually find themselves feeling more fatigued.

In summary

How about you? Having read this article, don’t you feel that “otsukaresama” is a wonderful expression with a great depth of meaning? It allows us to acknowledge and express our appreciation to others for their efforts and hard work. I hope you will give your heartfelt “otsukaresama” to many more people in the future. Incidentally, it is rude to say “gokurosama” to someone of seniority such as a boss or a teacher!
Japanese is so difficult, isn’t it?

That’s all for today.
Otsukaresama deshita