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Is there an equivalent of the Japanese word 'natsukashii' in other languages?

34 Comments
By Scott Wilson, SoraNews24

Learning Japanese is hard for English speakers because it’s such a different language. Everything from difficult pronunciations to using different words to count different thingscan break even the most dedicated language learners.

But arguably the hardest part of learning Japanese is the difference in how ideas are expressed. For example, the English phrase “oh my god!” can be translated into Japanese no less than six different ways, each with its own nuance. And the reverse is true too, with some Japanese words/phrases being hard to translate into English (and other languages) because they don’t have a direct equivalent.

One great example of this is the Japanese word natsukashii (“feeling nostalgic”), which was recently pointed out online by Japanese Twitter user @ijlijl, describing an interaction with someone who spoke German and was learning Japanese. 

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So first things, we should get one thing out of the way: is it possible to express “feeling nostalgic” in English and other languages? Of course. You can say something like: “Oh that takes me back” or “What a nostalgia trip,” but each of those are still different from natuskashii. They’re either more general or too strong for some situations.

My favorite example of natsukashii in Japanese comes from a video game arcade. I was waiting my turn at the Dance Dance Revolution machine (as we all did back in the early 2000s), and two girls were playing together. They were scrolling through the song list, picking a chart to play, when they stopped on a song and listened to the preview music. As soon as it played, they both looked at each other and said, “Natsukashii!” The song was an old classic on DDR, something they probably hadn’t heard in years. Any other English phrase like “I haven’t heard that in forever” wouldn’t quite express the underlying nostalgic pangs of past joys.

Anyway, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s see how Japanese Twitter responded, with many of them discussing other languages too:

“‘Natsukashii’ in German is either ‘nostalgisch’ or ‘wehmütig.’ But they’re old, stiff words that aren’t used much in spoken language. So that’s why the German person probably said they didn’t have a word for it. They’d have to spell it out, saying something like, ‘Do you remember? That was a lot of fun back then.'”

“The Portugese word ‘saudad’ is similar but not quite the same. ‘Natsukashii’ is a tough word to translate.”

“In Indonesian we kind of have a word like ‘natsukashii,’ but it’s not used nearly as often in daily life as in Japan.”

“I’m Thai and we don’t have the Japanese word ‘hokkori’ (“feeling of tired relief after effort/accomplishment”). When I learned it, I realized I’d felt it many times before.”

“I feel like the Japanese word ‘mendokusai’ (“annoying/troublesome”) is pretty unique too.”

“I’m so happy to be born in a country with such rich expression!”

At the end of the day, like all human languages, Japanese has some cool words in it that don’t exist in other languages. And while some of them are cool like natsukashii, some of them can be downright confusing.

Source: Twitter/@ijlijl via My Game News Flash

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

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© SoraNews24

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34 Comments
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You could make this same argument about many (most?) words in Japanese or English/German. Japanese does not share a common base with these languages, so words very regularly do not have a one-to-one meaning, and turns of phrase will be different between languages. I don't think the word natsukashii is so special in this way, but it's a good example of how words don't have a one-to-one meaning.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

 is it possible to express “feeling nostalgic” in English...?

The correct English is to "feel nostalgic about...". The sentiments have to be attached to something, precisely the same way as in Japanese. ".....wo mite natsukashii".

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Every language has words that have no equivalent in other languages. This is the natural consequence of the unique features of a people's history and culture.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Never mind single words!!

i have always wanted to just say “mind your own business!” In Japanese when someone interferes in a heated debate I may be having because I’m a gaijin and the other person isn’t.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Translate Gambarimasu .... It can't be translated into one word because it has emotion behind it. I remember once the NHK translated it for the Olympics as "fighting spirit" haha

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Trying to find a one word translation for words is what gets many Japanese English learners all uptight in the first place and it is usually blamed on the textbook. Now everyone is helping.

There are generally three levels of translation, where there is an exact word, at the lowest level, and an explanation at the top levels. If you live and die by waves or snow, there are usually several specialized words in that area. If not, the culture does not develop a word as it is not needed.

You can find this with every language, so picking up Natsunashi as a sign of some sort of uniqueness is meaningless, but it might help some who are studying Japanese. Certainly not news, however.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

OK, so neither the Germans nor the rest of us have any precise equivalent to natsukashii, a word which goes straight into my limited Japanese vocab so I can wow the locals with it next time I'm in Japan.

However the Germans have given us schadenfreude, a word (and a concept) that just keeps on giving as we go through life.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

I was happy to find out that there is almost a direct translation for "get off your(/my) fat ass": 重い腰を上げる (omoikoshi wo ageru). Its pretty much word-for-word and that makes it somewhat satisfying.

maybeperhapsyes - what about 余計なお世話だバカヤロウ (yokeina osewada, bakayaro)... Maybe the bakayaro part isnt necessary unless you really want them to butt out (and disappear)

5 ( +5 / -0 )

These kind of articles grate, bad enough the last decade Japan has become awash in oh "look at Japan this/that" written by locals, now we foreigners in on the propaganda LOL!!!

10 ( +12 / -2 )

Another example of how Japan is so unique - as this example surely could not be replicated with any other pair of languages. ....Nihon sugoooi.

Sarcasm off.

11 ( +14 / -3 )

Alot of nonsense in this article. Japanese has much less vocabulary and a simple grammatical structure compared to French, English etc. The only difficult part is rote memorization of thousands of kanji.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Imo there are thousands of words in all languages which are 'untranslatable' (that's the beauty of learning a new language, culture etc).

"Saudade' for example is now used -as it is- by many non-Portuguese speakers as they/we know we probably don't have any word that expresses nostalgia/melancholia/sadness perhaps regrets or hope etc.

Is 'natsukashii' a slightly more positive word or can it also be used to express melancholic feelings?

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Maybe... Is there a way to say "That insults my intelligence" in Japanese? I've never found an equivalent phrase...

7 ( +7 / -0 )

"Saudade' for example is now used -as it is- by many non-Portuguese speakers 

Interesting word. I have always thought that Lisbon has a fair bit of wabi-sabi in it's decayed grandeur.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Saudade is at its most expressive in fado music, imo.

It occurred to me when I read these posts that the best enka music also has saudade, in spades. So there's a bit of cross-cultural communication, right there.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

“using different words to count different things”

Oh gosh, that’s so terrible and hard to learn. Almost as bad as having to say herd for a bunch of cows, but flock for a bunch of birds, or maybe even gaggle if they’re geese. Or slices of bread, but sheets of paper and slabs of clay or ham, and pieces of pie./sarcasm

6 ( +6 / -0 )

There are myriad ways to say natsukashii in English, each with its own nuance, from "blast from the past" and "good times" to the simple "I remember that," "that was a great..." or even "I loved/used to love that..." The last example is, I think, the most common way to express it in natural spoken English. I dispute that ideas and feelings cannot be expressed across cultures or languages. That's (mostly) BS.

To use take the writer's example: "I used to love that song"

There's your underlying pangs of joy.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

I'm Japanese, and I don't know how to express the word "Kitsui." It doesn't mean "tight" in English. When you face or come across some difficulties, you can say "Kitsui." It's something like that it is difficult for me to finish lots of this task all at once by myself.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Natsukashii's English equivalent is "Nostalgic", in German is "nostalgisch". In both languages, there are a lot of variation and situations in which this word is used. It has the same function, and it delivers the same idea as "Natsukashii". It is not unique to the Japanese language at all.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

It doesn't mean "tight" in English.

...kitsui... = I'm in a tight spot right now. Both mean exactly the same thing. Do not confuse the Japanese tendency to complete cut a phrase down to one word and rely on the context for delivering the meaning, with the complete lack of equivalent in other languages. Usually you can find the perfect equivalents, if you understand the background context in Japanese.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

Poor English Speaker, “Kitsui." It's something like that it is difficult for me to finish lots of this task all at once by myself.”

I agree with ebisen’s “tight spot” and would add another version: “tough spot”

or the one that probably comes most naturally to me: in a bind. In a situation like you mentioned, I might say, for instance to my boss: “That puts me in a bind, I really need some help with this task. Can you assign another person to help me?” Or to a family member, friend, co-worker: “ I’m really in a bind. The boss has assigned me more work than I can do myself and I really need help.”

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I agree with the other posters that one-to-one approaches for words are generally doomed.

The interesting one a lot of Japanese words relating to emotions like natsukashii is that they are socially programmed. People on Japanese tv will say natsukashii when they hear a pop tune that is only two or three years old. Two or three years ago is not long enough for the English concept of nostalgia to apply. Arguably a Japanese person has to be "sugoku natsukashii" to be nostalgic in English. "Natsukashii" on its own is just a throwaway socially conditioned response to seeing something from the past, the recent past included.

In Japan, food can be "futsu ni oishii" (lit. "ordinarily delicious"). Which means oishii might possibly just mean "all right/quite good" and not mean "delicious" like everyone says it does. To equal "delicious/really great/etc." it probably needs extra verbal or non verbal emphasis.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

the one that probably comes most naturally to me: in a bind.

I've always liked 'in a pickle', although I don't actually ever remember using it. "I lost my rent money and now I'm in a bit of a pickle"

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Another example of how Japan is so unique - as this example surely could not be replicated with any other pair of languages. ....Nihon sugoooi.

Yes. This stuff is a little irritating.

I was once told Japanese is more difficult to learn than other languages because Japan has regional accents.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Strangerland,

In a pickle, yes! Thanks for reminding us of that one. I actually used to use that and like it. But it’s been a while since I’ve had an opportunity to use it with anyone who wouldn’t require an explanation, so it had slipped my mind.

In any case, I have no idea why anyone would expect languages to have exact equivalents, or even to think a lack of such makes learning a language difficult. There are always plenty of workarounds that do the job well enough. But you do have to put in the time and effort to learn as much vocabulary and grammar as possible. And good listening and observation skills (what do the natives say in various situations?) go a long, long way.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I’ve always liked 'in a pickle'

I like the similar idea of being ‘snookered’ although I just checked it has another meaning in US English.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

maybeperhapsies

urusai - tends to work with the mother in-law. Other situations where I am feeling a little more polite, ‘kankeinai desu yo’ tends to work for me.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

In Japan, food can be "futsu ni oishii" (lit. "ordinarily delicious"). Which means oishii might possibly just mean "all right/quite good" and not mean "delicious" like everyone says it does. To equal "delicious/really great/etc." it probably needs extra verbal or non verbal emphasis.

Yes, I've always told people that oishii is best translated as That was really good/nice or That was a lovely meal. I think translating it as delicious comes from a mistaken effort to copy the specificity of the use of oishii, in Japanese, in food and drink related situations, but the idea is just that it was good. Quite apart from the fact that you don't go around saying delicious anywhere near as much as oishii is used.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The english translation is "bittersweet" memory.

In french : nostalgie.

It is a good memory that we can sometimes miss.

But it is true we don't have a lot of words about the past.

°

NCM

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

I never get the fixation some people have on individual words in one language that don't have direct single-word analogues in other languages but which can be expressed in an expression or phrase. There's nothing special in language about saying something with one word as opposed to a few. These little minor linguistic differences don't really say much about the culture groups that speak the languages in question. What's more interesting is when pragmatic purposes differ from language to language. Expressions like 'itadakimasu' or 'yoroshiku' can with work be translated to English language equivalents, but they will never feel right to an English speaker because the purposes they are generally used for don't have total analogues in Anglophone culture. These are the areas where comparative linguistics gets interesting, not making a lot of hay about Inuits having a single word for "powdery snow" when in English we have to use two.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

read this article on the original website last week and thought it was ridiculous, based on a few random Twitter users. So glad it made it over to JT so we can all roast it

4 ( +4 / -0 )

The english translation is "bittersweet" memory.

No, bittersweet and nostalgia are not the same things. Bittersweet is something that ended up good, but with something not good along with it. Nostalgia is a positive memory of something that was good.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

The article has "in other languages," but they missed the winner: Greek. The word is νοσταλγώ /nostalGHO/ which meant - originally - "I turn my head back toward home." It is the root of the word "nostaligia." Greeks use it to refer to something that a person has left in the past, like a traveler thinking about the home he/she left behind. And, much like "natsukashii," it is almost exclusively used when thinking about something positive.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I would also mention that in a conversation in English, the concept of “natsukashi” could be conveyed without any one word or term. If someone mentions “peach pie” and I respond with a rapt, semi-swooning expression on my face, “Oh, peach pie! My grandma used to make one every other day in peach season.”, it’s privably safe to say the other person will understand I’m waxing nostalgic about my grandma and those delicious pies.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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