Japanese101: Part 1 Introduction(s)

I’ve recently been using an app called “HiNative” wherein you may ask and answer questions on the app about certain countries and languages – the list of languages is pretty great! I can’t recommend it enough, if you’re confused about something, you can get the answer from a native speaker, and if they don’t know how to explain it, there will be a non-native speaker who has asked the same question to himself before who’ll be able to answer it in a simple way.

This leads onto Japanese101 (and maybe other languages in the future): I really enjoyed teaching others and answering their questions about languages and thought I would try and explain some basics of languages on my blog too!

Japanese 1

First of all, if you’ve read my post Writing Systems – What got me hooked on languages then you’ll know that Japanese uses several alphabets (not technically alphabets but for simplicity, this is how I’ll refer to them). Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji (I’m an advocate of the Oxford Comma). These three writing systems in their own system are: Hiragana ひらがな, Katakana カタカナ, and Kanji 漢字. If you can read any of these, that’s great! If not, they’re really simple to learn and I recommend it, using rōmaji (ローマ字 Katakana and Kanji, meaning Roman writing) can be a hindrance. However, I will use rōmaji (the Hepburn method I believe), Hiragana and Kanji when required so it will be open to all levels.

Greetings

  • Hello – konnichiwa こんにちは (Sometimes 今日は)
  • Goodbye – sayounara さようなら
  • Good morning – ohayou gozaimasu おはよう(ございます)
  • Good evening – konbanwa こんばんは
  • Good night –  oyasumi-nasai おやすみ(なさい)
  • How are you – o- genki desu ka? おげんき(お元気)ですか。
  • Thank you (very much) – arigatou (gozaimasu) ありがとうございます
  • Yes – Hai はい
  • No – iie いいえ

These are all in polite form, you can miss of the gozaimasu(ございます) and the nasai(なさい) if you’re not speaking with people older than you and are seen as socially equal, although not with strangers. These are the basics for greeting people in Japanese.

First Meeting

When you first meet a stranger, the beginning of the conversation is always the same hajimemashite, はじめまして, (初めまして) which is the equivalent of “Nice to meet you” or “How do you do”. Then often comes the introduction of your name, there are several ways for you to do this, the basic is:

  • watashi no namae wa [NAME] desu, わたしのなまえは「NAME]です, 私の名前は「NAME」です。
    -This type of introduction can seem a little foreign as it is taught abroad but not really used in Japan
    —-“watashi no” means “my”, so “watashi no namae” means “my name”, this is because “watashi” means “I”, then “no” is a particle used for possession, but I’ll get into details of that later
  • [NAME] desu, 「NAME」です
    -This is the most basic way of introducing yourself but is a valid way
  • [NAME] to iimasu,「NAME」といいます、「NAME]と言います
    -This is more alone the lines of “I am called…” and is formal
  • [NAME] to moushimasu, 「NAME」ともうします、「NAME」と申します
    -This is the most polite way of introducing yourself to a stranger in Japan, and is the way I would recommend.

Then comes the wonder phrase in Japanese: there are levels of formality with it, the full phrase is douzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu どうぞよろしくおねがいいします、どうぞよろしくお願いいたします。
If you want to be super polite, you use the entire phrase, then to someone higher than you, you use yoroshiku onegaishimasu, to an equal, douzo yoroshiku, then to someone lower than you yoroshiku. This word has many applications within Japanese formalities but at the moment we will use it in introductions, but its literal translation would be along the lines of “please do good things for me”.

Grammar
Then you might want to ask for the person with whom you are speaking’s name. To do this, you need to first learn this structure:

  • A wa B desu,    AはBです

This means “A is B”. To ask a question in Japanese, you make a statement, the one you want to know, then put “ka” か, at the end of the sentence. So to ask what someone’s name is, you’d say: Your name is what “ka”. Or in Japanese:

  • o-namae wa nan desu ka、おなまえ は なん ですか、お名前は何ですか。

Notice the “o” this time in front of “namae”, which as we saw in “watashi no namae”, means name; now we know that A wa B desu structure, we know how “watashi no namae wa [NAME] desu” is a literal translation. Back to the “o”; “o” is used in front of words in certain circumstances to make the sentence more polite, for example o-genki literally means “health” but in a polite way, the response to “o-genki desu ka” is “genki desu” or “I am healthy”. Often the “o” prefix is used in order to talk about something of someone else, ie someone else’s name, their job, their country, though sometimes it is for politeness ie o-cha (tea), o-yu (hot water) etc.

An example dialogue of the meeting between two people, Mr Tanaka and Mr Yamada:
Romaji
Tanaka: Hajimemashite.
Yamada: Hajimemashite.
Tanaka: Tanaka to moushimasu. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu. O-namae wa?
Yamada: Tanaka-san, konnichwa. Yamada to iimasu.
Tanaka: Yamada-san, o-genki desu ka?
Yamada: Hai, genki desu. Arigatou gozaimasu

Translation

Tanaka: Nice to meet you.
Yamada: Nice to meet you too.
Tanaka: My name is Mr Tanaka. Pleased to meet you. What is your name?
Yamada: Hello, Mr Tanaka. I am Mr Yamada.
Tanaka: Are you well, Mr Yamada.
Yamada: Yes, I’m good, thank you.

Hiragana:
たなか:はじめまして。
やまだ:はじめまして。
たなか:たなか と もうします。よろしくおねがいします。おなまえ は?
やまだ:たなかさん、こんにちは。やまだ と いいます。
たなか:やまださん、おげんきですか?
やまだ:はい、げんきです。ありがとうございます。

Kanji
田中:初めまして。
山田:初めまして。
田中:田中と申します。よろしくお願いします。お名前は?
山田:田中さん、こんにちは。山田と言います。
田中:山田さん、お元気ですか?
山田:はい、げんきです。ありがとうございます。

New things from this: In English we often say “Hello, [NAME]”, whereas it is often reversed in Japanese. There is often a contraction for asking someone’s name, to just o-namae wa? This is the common way of asking for someone’s name. Finally, polite suffixes are used in Japanese, this is the “san” above, I will cover these suffixes in the next entry of Japanese101.

Hopefully this has been insightful and enjoyable, let me know! Thanks,
Cameron (カメロン)

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