Living in Japan

Saying so long to sayonara

Isn’t it about time that we moved on from sayonara?

さよなら (goodbye) is probably the first word that most foreign people learn in Japanese. Even people who have never visited these isles are familiar with the expression. However, when people stay for a long time in Japan, they are often surprised to discover that they seldom hear it actually being used.

Sayonara is not simply goodbye

Although Sayonara has become known as a single word, it was originally a combination of two separate words: sayou (like that) and nara (if). Putting these together and we get the original meaning of sayonara: ‘if it has to be like that.’

This highlights some of the uses of sayonara. While it can be used as goodbye (any teacher who has stayed until the end of school will often hear this). It can also be used to say goodbye and farewell to something that won’t be encountered again for a long time.

As sayonara has a slightly formal sound to most Japanese, it is often used ironically to mean farewell and good riddance. For example, you might say sayonara to a disliked worker or a terrible job, and here its implication is that you hope it will be a long time before you encounter its ilk again is understood.

The more casual: また

One of the friendly alternatives to sayonara is simply また (later). This has the benefit of sounding like you’ll see each other soon, which adds a more informal sound to it. Because また by itself often has a slightly cold sound, it is often joined with ね, which softens it to make またね. This form is especially popular with women.

Because また often implies that the meeting will be soon, you can add the time period on the end and this allows the speaker to say exactly what when they intend to meet the listener again. また来週らいしゅう, for example, is used for someone you’ll see in a week, また明日あした if you will see them tomorrow. Or you can make things really open by simply saying something like また今度こんど (see you next time) or またいつか (see you again sometime).

また is fantastically flexible as it can be added to verbs to make an open-ended invitation. For example, you might say またあそぼう (let’s have fun again sometime) at the end of a fun time with your friends. Similarly, you might say またべよう (mata tabeyou; let’s eat again sometime) after a delicious meal with someone.

Special situations

In some situations there are specific ways to say goodbye. One of the most common ones is when visiting someone who has been sick. In such situations, you will often say お大事だいじに, which is a polite way to say ‘get well soon.’

Similarly, if someone has some kind of risk, even if the ‘risk’ is something no more scary than taking a trip, it is often changed to けて (take care) instead.

Apologizing to say goodbye.

One of the fascinating points about the Japanese language is that Japanese people have a tendency to apologize when they say goodbye. On telephone calls, for example, it is common to hear people finish the call by saying 失礼しつれいします or its more formal form 失礼しつれいいたします. Considering that 失礼しつれい roughly means ‘forgive my rudeness,’ this is definitely a difference between Japan and other countries!

失礼しつれいします also appears when people are leaving work in the form おさきに失礼しつれいします. Again, this shows a fascinating aspect of the Japanese culture as the first part of this is おさきに (before you); therefore, the rough meaning is that leaving before the listener is rude! If, however, the other person is leaving first, it is often more common to say goodbye by saying おつかさまです (the honored tired person). This shows that you are aware of their work and how much effort it must have taken.

Goodbye for now

One of the key things is, as always, to listen to how things are said and done in the area that you live in as there are regional and group variations too. Similarly, you may hear one of many different さよなら being used with small local variations such as さいなら, さえなら and さいなあ being heard.

So またね to all our readers and we’ll see you on the next Jobs in Japan article.

After his 6 month stay got extended to 6 years, Matthew decided just to stay. As well as writing about his beloved Kansai, he spends hours in the middle of nowhere looking for wildlife and searching for the parts of the city most people ignore.

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