Learning a new language is always fun, be it for business or leisure. Foreign travelers should try to memorize at least a few basic phrases to use for their trip. Plus, hearing tourists speak the local language always does wonders for the community.
Japanese is considered to be the 9th most spoken language across the globe. Aside from the common translations for “Thank You”, “I'm Sorry”, and “Goodbye”, foreign travelers should also make it a point to understand the meaning and proper usage of the phrase “daijoubu”, which basically means ok.
Understanding the Differences of Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana
Before diving into the etymology and different forms of daijoubu, the Japanese writing system must first be understood. Japan makes use of three different alphabets which each has its own distinct characters and usage.
Kanji serves as the major Japanese language alphabet and consists of over eight thousand Chinese ideograms, which were introduced in the 6th century. Each character represents a certain object, name, or concept and can be combined with kanji to form various phrases.
Hiragana and katakana, which can both be referred to as kanamoji, serve as the syllabic alphabets of the Japanese language which each consist of forty-seven characters. These two forms of kanamoji provide users with a written medium of the Japanese language’s distinct sounds. Some characters from hiragana and katakana share the same appearance and pronunciation.
Given that a kanji character can have multiple meanings and pronunciations, hiragana may be used in conjunction with kanji to indicate the intended idea. In this case, syllabic hiragana characters are placed above kanji characters and are referred to as furigana characters, instead.
The Etymology of Daijoubu & How to Write it in Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana
Daijoubu can be written in kanji, hiragana, and katakana as shown below:
Kanji – 大丈夫
Hiragana – だいじょうぶ
Katakana – ダイジョウブ
As previously mentioned, kanji consists of Chinese ideograms. The phrase daijoubu makes use of three kanji characters 大, 丈, and 夫, which are pronounced as da, zhang, and fu in Chinese, respectively. Interestingly, the literal English translations of these words do not include any of the words in "I am ok." but, instead, mean the following:
大 (da) – literally translates to mean big or great in English.
丈 (zhang) – literally translates to mean man or husband in English.
夫 (fu) – literally translates to mean height, length, or stature in English.
When the Japanese phrase daijoubu was developed using these terms, it was originally used to state if a person was exceptionally healthy, reliable or strong. Over time, its meaning constantly evolved to translate to “alright” or “ok” in English.
The Different Forms of Japanese Speech and Their Effects On The Definition & Meaning of Daijoubu and other Phrases
As if the Japanese language was not already complicated enough with its use of three alphabets, the language also makes use of different honorifics known as keigo, which greatly contributes to the tone and respectfulness of a person’s speech. As such, simple phrases such as daijoubu can be used in various ways depending on the keigo one uses:
Sonkeigo, or “respectful language”, is used when referring to others and implies a great sense of respect for the person being addressed. It is often directed to individuals with powerful positions, customers, or superiors. Overall, this form of keigo features a professional tone.
Other than making use of long, polite expressions, a person can achieve sonkeigo by replacing common nouns or verbs with more respectful forms. Some examples would be replacing suru, which means “do” in English, with nasaru or replacing hanasu, which means “talk”, with ossharu.
Nouns and verbs may also be modified with a polite prefix or suffix for sonkeigo. The common prefix added to verbs to achieve a respectful tone is o-, while some common suffixes include -ni naru and –(r)areru. In this sense, the verb yomu, which means “read” in English, can be politely said as o-yomi ni naru or yomareru.
Kenjogo, or “humble language” also denotes a great sense of respect but is different from sonkeigo through its ability to lower the speaker’s status or standing to properly show humility. This is often used when a person wants to imply assistance or an apology.
Similar to sonkeigo, common nouns and verbs may be replaced with other forms for more effect. For example, suru may be substituted by itasu or morau, which means “receive”, may be substituted by itadaku. Interestingly, these humble verbs are also used in common Japanese phrases such as itadakimasu, which is said prior to drinking or eating something, and itashimashite, which is the Japanese equivalent of “you are welcome”.
Kenjogo can also be achieved through the use of certain prefixes or additional verbs such as o- and shimasu. Common phrases that make use of these terms include “o mochi shimasu”, which is a humble way of offering to carry something and comes from the root word motsu (carry), “o matase shimashita”, which is a humble apology for being late and comes from the root word mataseru (make wait), and “o negai shimasu”, which is a humble way of asking for help and comes from the root word negau (hope or request for).
Teineigo, or “polite language”, is considered to be the most basic of all keigo forms and is commonly used by the Japanese community for their day-to-day activities. Sentences spoken in this tone often end with the words desu or masu. The prefixes o- and go- may also be used when referring to neutral objects.
Linguistically, sonkeigo and kenjogo are considered to be referent forms of keigo and are used when talking about someone or something, while teineigo serves as an addressee form of keigo used when talking to someone.
The sonkeigo, kenjogo, and teineigo forms for common Japanese words are listed below in the following format: English meaning – ROOT WORD | sonkeigo form | kenjogo form | teineigo form
Ask – KIKU or TAZUNERU | Not Applicable | ukagau | kikimasu / tazunemasu
Be – ARU or IRU | Not Applicable | gozaimasu / oru | arimasu / imasu
Come or go – KURU or IKU | irissharu / o-ide ni naru | ukagau / mairu | kimasu / ikimasu
Die – SHINU | nakunari ni naru | Not Applicable | shinimasu
Do – SURU | nasaru | itasu | shimasu
Eat or drink – TABERU or NOMU | meshi-agaru | itadaku | tabemasu / nomimasu
Give – YARU | Not Applicable | sashiageru | agemasu
Know – SHIRU | go-zonji | zonji ageru | shirimasu
Meet – AU | o-ai ni naru | o-me ni kakaru | aimasu
Put on – KIRU | omeshi ni naru | Not Applicable | kimasu
Receive – MORAU | Not Applicable | itadaku / chodai suru | moraimasu
Say – IU | ossharu | moshi-ageru / mosu | iimasu
See or watch – MIRU | go-ran ni naru | haiken suru | mimasu
Sleep – NERU | o-yasumi ni naru | Not Applicable | nemasu
Visit – TAZUNERU | Not Apllicable | ukagau | tazunemasu
When it comes to the phrase “daijoubu”, the Japanese language becomes even more fascinating as this saying actually has an ambiguous meaning that depends on the listener’s own question or interpretation.
For example, at a shopping mall, when a customer is asked if he would like a shopping bag, he can reply with daijoubu as a way of saying “no, thanks”. However, if he asks for something from the sales clerk and is given the reply daijoubu, the phrase would mean something like “yes, I can get that for you.”
Although daijoubu may also be used with other attachments or suffixes to denote clearer statements, it often serves as a form of polite language on its own. As a rule of thumb, the body language of the speaker can be used to indicate what he means by daijoubu.
Daijoubu Desu Ka – Is It Ok / Are You Ok
When offering help, asking for permission, or asking the well-being of another individual, the phrase “daijoubu desu ka” can be used on its own or in conjunction with lengthier statements. Some scenarios where tourists can use this phrase include seeing a person with heavy luggage, making sure that a person it not hurt, or asking to sit next to a person.
Daijoubu Ka – Are You Ok
“Daijoubu ka” is one of the most common phrases a person can use to ask another individual if he is ok or alright. It actually serves as a very casual form of the phrase “daijoubu desu ka”. The phrase may be a bit wrong in terms of grammar but is accepted by the Japanese community, nonetheless.
Daijoubu Desu / Daijoubu Dayo – I Am Ok
In response to “daijoubu desu ka”, a person may answer with the phrase “daijoubu desu” to state that it or he is ok. For a more casual tone, the phrase “daijoubu dayo” may be used, instead. “Daijoubu” also serves as an acceptable, casual response.
Daijoubu Desu Yo – Do Not Worry / No Problem
For those who really want to imply that everything is alright or that there is nothing to worry about, using the phrase “daijoubu desu yo” may be more suited for the situation. It may also be used as a response to an apology.
Daijoubu Ja Nai / Daijoubu Ja Arimasen – I Am Not Okay
Although the go-to response of people is “I am ok”, as not to cause others any trouble, it is also useful to know how to say “I am not ok” in the local language, just in case. For a casual tone, the phrase “daijoubu ja nai” may be used, while the phrase “daijoubu ja arimasen” may be used for more formal settings.
Other Useful Japanese Words & Phrases for Tourists
Learning the Japanese language is not an easy task and may take more than a year of practice to be fluent in it. Aside from daijoubu, other Japanese words or phrases that tourists might find useful for various situations throughout their trip include:
- Yes - hai
- No - iie
- Please – onegai shimasu
- Thank you - arigato
- Thank you very much – domo arigato
- You are welcome – doo itashimashite
- Excuse me - sumimasen
- I am sorry – gomen nasai
- Food - tabemono
- Drink or beverage - nomimono
- Water – o-mizu
- Ticket - kippu
- Toilet or comfort room - toire
- Big - ohkii
- Small – chiisai
General Phrases and Questions
- A little – sukoshi
- A lot – takusan
- Japan/Tokyo is great – Nihon/Tokyo ga daisuki
- I don’t understand – wakarimasen
- Please speak slowly – yukkuri hanashite kudasai
- Please repeat what you said – moo ichido onegai shimasu
- Can you help me? – tetsudatte itadakemasu ka?
- Do you have Wi-Fi? – Wi-Fi arimasuka?Where? – doko?
- Where is the public phone? – koko ni kooshuudenwa ga arimasu ka?
- Where is the subway station? – chikatetsu wa doko desu ka?
- Where is the train station? – eki wa doko desu ka?
- Where is the bathroom? – ofuro wa doko desu ka?
- Where are the taxis? – takushii wa doko desu ka?
- Where are the buses? Basu wa doko desu ka?
- Where is the exit? – deguchi wa doko desu ka?
At A Restaurant
- It is delicious - oishii
- I am hungry - onaka ga suite imasu
- I am full - onaka ga ippai desu
- I would like to try this dish - kore o tabete mitai desu
- I am allergic to (name of food) - (name of food) arerugii ga arimasu
- Thank you for the meal - gochisousama deshita
- Can I have a menu, please? - menyuu, onegai dekimasu ka?
- Are there any rooms / tables / seats available? – aiteiru heya wa arimasu ka?
- Do you have an English menu? – eigo no menyu wa arimasu ka?
- How much is it? – ikura desu ka?
- Is the tip included? – chippu wa fukumarete imasu ka?
Meeting or Greeting People
- Good morning - ohayo gozaimasu
- Good evening - konbawa
- Goodbye – sayonara
- Hello – konnichiwa
- Bye – ja ne
- See you - Jaa mata
- Fine – genki desu
- Let us speak in Japanese - nihongo de hanashimashou
- It is a pleasure to meet you. – yoroshiku onegaishimasu
- Can you understand English? – eigo wa wakarimasu ka?
- How are you? – genki desu ka?
- What is your name? – anatano namae wa nan desu ka?
Keeping in Touch
- I will write letters to you - tegami kakimasu yo
- I will send you an email / will call you when I arrive - tsuitara meeru shimasu / denwa shimasu
- I will come back soon - mata sugu ni kimasu yo
- Please come and visit me - kite kudasai ne
- Can you give me your email address? - meado o oshiete moraemasu ka?
1 – ichi
2 – ni
3 – san
4 – shi
5 – go
6 – roku
7 – nana
8 – hachi
9 – kyu
10 – ju
20 – ni-ju
50 – go-ju
100 – hyaku
200 – ni-hyaku
500 – go-hyaku
1,000 – sen
10,000 – ichi-man