Japan Today

'Iketara iku:' A simple Japanese phrase that people in Tokyo and Osaka take completely differently

By Casey Baseel, RocketNews24

Japanese can be a very vague language. That’s partly because of the mechanics of the language itself, but also because Japanese society takes great pains to avoid being overly blunt and causing unintended offense.

As such, a lot of communication relies on the listener’s ability to read between the lines and decipher what the speaker is actually saying. Surprisingly, this system generally works pretty smoothly, but any message that leaves elements of itself open to interpretation has the potential to cause misunderstanding, as a recent survey suggests that people from Tokyo and Osaka take practically opposite meaning from the same exact phrase: "Iketara iku."

First, let’s look at what "iketara iku" literally means. "Iku" is Japanese for “go.” All Japanese verbs end in a “-u,” and changing that to “-etara” adds the meaning to “if I can,” so the "iketara iku" means “I’ll go if I can go,” or, more naturally, “I’ll be there if I can make it.”

But if someone gives you this non-committal response to an invitation, can you count on him actually showing up? People in Kanto, the east Japan region that includes Tokyo, seem to think you can. Japanese TV talk show Chichin Puipui surveyed people in Kanto about the phrase "iketara iku," and 80 percent of respondents said that they’d take those words to mean the person is probably going to be present at the event in question.

However, Chichin Puipui got very different results when performing the survey in Japan’s central Kansai region, of which Osaka is a part. Only 10 percent of the people in Kansai said that "iketara iku" would have them expecting the speaker to make an appearance. In other words, most of them would be ready to write you off if they said “Let’s go get some drinks on Saturday!” and you said “Iketara iku.”

It’s worth pointing out, though, that neither group took "iketara iku" as an ironclad declaration either way, which is exactly the intention of such an indefinite choice of words. Still, if you’ve told a friend in Osaka "iketara iku," and your schedule does in fact clear up enough that you can make it, it might be nice to call ahead and let the host know you’re now certain that you’ll be there.

Source: Buzzmag

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Kansai and Kanto prove again that they are each distinct regions when it comes to food -- Japanese readers rave about new book illustrating differences between Kanto and Kansai regions -- Nine reasons why Japanese men hesitate to say “I love you”

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Think I'll side with the Kansai ppl on this one.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I'm not speaking in behalf of foreigners, but as one myself, "iketara iku" would feel on the negative side. I would understand it as "I'll try my best but don't expect me".

After years of living here I should have been able to adapt with this, but sadly I'm completely the opposite and continue being blunt and straightforward when speaking to everybody. Except I guess to people I truly care about. LOL!

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Yep. "let's do lunch"

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Japanese can be a very vague language. That’s partly because of the mechanics of the language itself, but also because Japanese society takes great pains to avoid being overly blunt and causing unintended offense.

Wait, what does this thing have to do with Japan?

If someone says "I will go if I can." or "I would go if i could." in Japan or elsewhere, he means he is uncertain. What is so specific about Japan on this topic?

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Yup, I agree with those surveyed in Osaka. "I'll go if I can" really doesn't sound like you're committed to going. If you were, you wouldn't let anything short of a medical/family emergency get in the way. "I'll be there" is what you would say. "I'll go if I can" sounds more like a polite way of saying "I'll go if I can be bothered and if I have nothing better to do." If that's your attitude, I won't be expecting you. Well, look at it this way: if you do show up after all, it'll be a pleasant surprise. If not, there's no disappointment since you weren't expected. It's a win-win.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

"That's what she said."

2 ( +2 / -0 )

English speakers will of course side with Kansai because the connotation is the same. It is strange that Kanto would take this as an affirmative.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The language itself is not vague, but the people who use it are. Endless frustrations,disappointments,and ill will are caused by tatemae, which is basically just lying.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Maybe someone can confirm or otherwise, but I have the impression that the 'tara' form of conditionals is used much more widely in Kansai than Kanto, and is easier to interpret as a clear "if" in Kansai.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Have to think along with the Kansai folks. As I find out more about that area, kind of wished I lived down there as they seem a bit more in tune with Westerners and also seem more down to earth.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Living in Kansai for three decades, I would say 90 percent he/she is not coming.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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