2014年8月3日日曜日

Sorry and Excuse me / gomen and sumimasen

The hot summer has begun. Even though the heat is unpleasant, the arrival of summer is always exciting. Complicated, isn’t it?

Today, I will study the differences between “Sorry” and “Excuse me” and the Japanese equivalents “gomennasai” and “sumimasen”. It seems that everybody knows these expressions, but there might be some things about them that you don’t know.
According to Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, “sorry” has three definitions. I will list them and add Japanese translations to each English sentence.
1. feeling sadness or regret
I am sorry to say that I won't be able to accept the job. (sono shigoto o hikiukerarenai no wa zannen des.)
I am sorry to hear of your father's death. (okuyami moushi agemas.)
When you say "I am sorry to say that" or "I am sorry to hear that”, you should use “zannen des”. Also, since “zannen des” is, by itself, not quite sufficient to express your sadness at someone’s passing, “okuyami moushi agemas” would be a good phrase to add.

2. full of shame and regret, apologetic
If you say you are sorry, we will forget the incident. (anata ga gomen to ittara,/ayamattara, watashitachi wa kono ken o wasuremasho.)
Aren't you sorry for what you have done? (jibun ga yatta koto o warui to omowanai no?)
Saying “gomennasai” or “sumimasen” is an act of apologizing. For the second example, you should use “warui to omou” rather than “gomen” because the sentence only refers to feeling apologetic, not actually apologizing.

3. used to express mild regret, disagreement or refusal
Can you lend me a pound? No, I am sorry I can't. (1pound kahiste kureru?  gomen/ warui kedo, kasenai.)
I am sorry I am late. (okurete gomen/ sumimaen.)
When you convey your refusal or disagreement with “I am sorry but…”, it is natural to start with “warui kedo”. It is okay to simply use “gomen(nasai)” or “sumimasen” for the second sentence, but don’t forget to use the te-form of the verb (before “gomen” and “sumimasen”) if you also state your reason for apologizing.

Next, here is the definition of “Excuse me”:
used as an apology when one interrupts, disagrees, disapproves or has to behave impolitely
Excuse me, is anybody sitting here? (sumimasen, koko ni dareka suwatteimas ka?)
Excuse me, can I get past? (sumimasen, toottemo ii des ka?)

“Sumimasen” is a very useful phrase because you can use it for both “I am sorry” and “Excuse me” and it can also be used for expressing feelings of gratitude. However, it can’t be used for the first definition of “sorry” and does not always fit with the second and third ones either. Thus, it is important to remember the situations in which it is appropriate and sentence patterns as well.


2014年6月26日木曜日

A study of “yasumi”

It is June now and I think that many of you are planning your summer vacation. How long will your summer vacation be? That depends on the type of work you do, your company, and your country, right? As you know, people often point out that Japanese summer vacations are short. This is due to our national character, company rules, and also people’s personal points of view, but I think that Japanese people are satisfied with shorter vacations compared to people from other countries. Of course, we are not happy if we can’t take any vacation time at all, though.

Not only are Japanese summer holidays short, but it is also well known that Japanese office workers don’t take paid holidays very often. They feel guilty when they take holidays despite having a pile of work to do or despite their colleagues continuing to work busily. When everyone feels this way, it becomes more difficult to take days off.

I often discuss this topic with non-Japanese people working in Japan and, the other day, one student told me, “There is only one word for ‘yasumi’ in Japanese. On the other hand, there are many such words in English, such as vacation, holiday, day off, leave and break.” This is certainly true.

According to the dictionary:

yasumu: to pause your work or activity and relax physically and mentally (“yasumi” is its noun form)

If you break apart the kanji for “yasumi” (), on the left side stands for a person and  on the right side represents a tree. The person is leaning against the tree to relax his or her body.

Here are the definitions of the English words.

Vacation/holiday: period of time away from everyday work, used especially for travel, recreation and rest
Leave: permission given to an employee to be absent from work for a special reason
Break: interval especially between periods of work

When you look at them all side by side like this, you can see that the word “yasumi” can stand in for all of the English words. Indeed, both one-hour breaks and one-week summer holidays are, ultimately, time to relax away from work and are essentially the same to the Japanese.

Of course, it is possible to divide “yasumi” into different words in Japanese, too. For example, national holidays are “shukujitsu,” paid holidays are “yukyu kyuka,” and short breaks are called “kyukei.” However, they are all just various types of “yasumi” and can each be replaced by the word “yasumi.” Also, the phrase “oyasumi nasai,” which we always say before going to bed, tells you to finish the day’s activities and go to sleep, so sleeping is yet another example of “yasumi”.

The definition of “yasumi” is simple yet broad. A mere five-minute-break could be considered a “yasumi.” Therefore, when a “yasumi” lasts for two weeks, we might feel that it is too long and that is why we usually end up having a short summer vacation. What do you think about this conclusion?