Lesson 5: Making conversation

By 7th February 2009 August 27th, 2013 Uncategorized

APART from the fun you’re having sliding down the mountain and eating up a storm – the highlights of your holiday in Niseko are likely to be the interactions you have with the locals. Why not make them even more memorable by trying out some of these phrases? Also, if you’re here for the season, today’s lesson has some essential language to help you in your mission to make friends – or special friends …

1. Hajimemashite – Nice to meet you.

When you meet someone for the first time, say: Hajimemashite. Depending on the situation and the degree of formality required, you could do some kind of semi-bow or bow when saying this. If you meet someone in a bar in Hirafu a bow-type nod is usually enough.

2. Onamae wa? – What’s your name?

Normally people will introduce themselves, but if they don’t, you can ask them: Onamae wa? After they say their name, you can repeat it back to them to make sure you’ve heard right, adding san to the end. Just remember, san is only for adding to other people’s names, you’ll sound foolish if you add it to your own name. Say your name by itself, or add desu. Bob desu (My name is Bob). After you’ve exchanged names, say: Yoroshiku onegaishimasu. This doesn’t have an English equivalent, think of it as: nice to meet you, part two.

3. Doko kara kitano? – Where are you from?

If you’re a Caucasian in Niseko, don’t be surprised if people skip this question and ask: Oosutorariya jin? (Are you Australian?) If you ask a Japanese person where they’re from and they answer Japan, ask them: Nihon no doko? (Whereabouts in Japan?)

4. Nan sai? – How old are you?

In Japanese conversation, it’s common to ask how old people are – partly to figure out what kind of grammar you can get away with. If you don’t want to reveal your age you can say: Naisho (It’s a secret) or Yada, iitaku nai! Hazukashii! (I don’t want to tell you! It’s embarrassing.) Or, if you’re obviously middle-aged, you can turn it into a joke by saying: Hatachi (I’m twenty). They’ll probably laugh and say: Uso! (You’re lying!) If you ask someone their age, they might say: Nan sai ni mieru? (How old do I look?) The easiest way out of this nasty trap is to say: Wakaranai (I don’t know).

5. Nihon wa hajimete? – Is this your first time in Japan?

Early on in the conversation, they’ll probably want to know if it’s your first time here: Nihon wa hajimete? If it is, say: Hai (Yes). If not: Iie, ni/san/yon/go kai me (No, it’s my second/third/fourth/fifth time). Other common questions are: Dono gurai iru no? (How long are you here for?) and Doko de tomatteru no? (Where are you staying?)

6. Shigoto wa nani? – What do you do?

This is not always a brilliant question in Japanese conversation, since people will often give you a very vague answer, like: Sarariman desu (I work in an office). If you’re really interested, you’ll have to ask something more specific, like: Dou iu kaisha? (What kind of company is it?) When you’re ready to move on to the next topic, just say: Ah, sou nan da? (Oh, really?) If a fellow resident/seasonal worker finds out you’re in Niseko for the season, they’ll probably ask: Doko de hataraiteru no? (Where are you working?), followed by: X chan shitteru? (Do you know X chan?)

7. Nihongo jyozu! – Your Japanese is excellent!

If you attempt to say a few words in Japanese, but you clearly aren’t proficient in the language, someone is likely to clap their hands excitedly and exclaim: Nihongo jyozu! (Wow, your Japanese is excellent!) This may seem strange, but don’t worry, they’re probably not taking the piss, they’re just trying to be nice and encouraging. You can respond by smiling shyly, shaking your head regretfully and saying something like: Iie mada mada desu (No, I’ve still got a long way to go). Or you could buck the trend and see what happens if you confidently say: Hai, tensai desukara (Yes, because I’m a genius).

8. Nani gata? – What’s your blood type?

If someone suddenly asks you what your blood type is – Nani gata? – don’t be alarmed, it’s not because they’re a doctor getting ready to administer a blood transfusion. It’s just small talk, like asking someone what their star sign is. If you don’t know, just pick one of the following: O, A, B or AB. If someone you ask turns out to have the same blood type as you, you should look surprised and overjoyed and say: Honto?! Watashi mo! (Really?! Me too!)

9. Karaoke suki? – Do you like karaoke?

If someone starts asking you if you like various things, they could be trying to segue into giving or eliciting an invitation. So, if you’re on the market for someone to help keep you warm during the cold Niseko nights, be sure to respond enthusiastically! Karaoke suki? (Do you like karaoke?) Daisuki! (I love it!) Jya kondo isshyo ni ikou ka? (Let’s go together sometime.) Zehi! (That sounds great!) This is the perfect lead-in to exchanging keitai (cell phone) numbers, or meado (email address).

10. Syashin issyo ni toru? – Shall we take a photo together?

Now that you know each other’s name, blood type and email address – the only thing missing is a photo! Suggest taking a photo with someone: Syashin issyo ni toru? If someone asks you, say: Ii yo! (Sure!) If you’re the person with the camera, say: Cheezu! (Cheese!) Then wait for them to say: Mou ikkai! (Please take another one). And if you’re in the photo, don’t forget the gesture – in Japan you could get arrested for not making a peace sign in a photo!

Pronunciation guide: Since this magazine can’t talk, your best bet is to find a Japanese person and ask them to say the words and repeat after them. Then buy them a beer

studio tdes produces a daily online English language show, based in Kutchan: www.thedailyenglishshow.com