365 Days of Japanese Day #13

Japanese Woodblock Print 'Rain at Miekawa, Soshu', first half of the 20th century, by 'Hasui'

The cryptic image from yesterday’s entry was a mobility walker with a basket on it.

What does that have to do with Japanese?

Yesterday I shared the following phrase:

お手伝いしましょうか
“otetsudai shimashou ka”
Can I help you?

I used this phrase mostly with my neighbour when I lived in Japan.

She was a very old lady and had a mobility walker like the one pictured. Generally I would park my bike next to it and sometimes I worried I was obstructing access to her walker. Also, often during typhoon season the walker would get blown over. When I noticed this I would be sure to set it upright again and readjust the rain cover on it.

When I would say “otetsudai shimashou ka” to my neighbour she would almost always say she was fine but I think a couple of times I was able to help her carry groceries up to her apartment.

Japanese is a language with a lot of subtlety to politeness levels and it is actually very difficult to know what you can politely say to someone who is so much your senior.

Generally I would just do a big bow, perhaps with an:

おはようございます
“ohayōgozaimasu”
Good morning!

But I did want to be able to say more.

At some point I decided I could probably get away with saying things even if the politeness level wasn’t quite perfect so I would expand what I said with the following phrases:

寒いね
“samui ne”
It’s cold, isn’t it!

暑いね
“atsui ne”
It’s hot, isn’t it!

Where I lived in Toyohashi the summer really was hot and the winter was quite cold, so these weren’t quite as mundane comments as they may seem!

The image for today’s entry is a Japanese woodblock print: “Rain at Miekawa, Soshu” by the artist “Hasui” from the first half of 20th Century. As usual, it is a clue as to what I am going to talk about tomorrow!

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3 Comments

  1. Good appropriate use of kenjōgo (humble respect language) in your dealings with your neighbour – might be worth you doing a post on in its own right (since in those three words you used two techniques to add politeness!)

    But did you know that ohayō gozaimasu is itself an example of a specific honorific grammar which has been fossilised in a few phrases? The only times you normally see it these days is in the set expressions ohayō, arigatō, and omedetō + gozaimasu (from hayai, arigatai, and medetai, respectively), but you could use it with other adjectives.

    But if you did, you’d sound comically over-formal and like a little old lady. So your neighbour, upon seeing you picking up her walker, might have commented お強う御座いますね otsuyō gozaimasu ne ‘my, aren’t you strong’ rather than the usual 強いですね tsuyoi desu ne.

    Likewise, when you were talking about the weather and wanted to rectify your worries about the politeness level by going way too far, then the hyper-formal
    お寒う御座いますね osamō gozaimasu ne! is far more entertaining than 寒いね.

    All this should be imagined in comic granny voice to get the full effect, but this grammar point is also used in part in maiko/geisha speech as demonstrated at the beginning of this video (thank you Kyoto prefectural govt!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9del-17Kv4

    いい ー> よろしい ー> よろしゅう (ii -> yoroshii -> yoroshū)

    Liked by 1 person

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