Cool Word – 幸い

Japanese, like all languages, is all about figuring out secret codes. How to use language to communicate information, effect change, and create action.

One of the pieces of code that has been useful for me recently is 幸いです (saiwai desu).

This phrase is used when making requests, a particularly fraught moment for Japanese.

It is most commonly preceded by いただければ (itadakereba), いただけましたら (itadakemashitara), or いただけますと (itadakemasu to) – a veritable catalog of conditional potential forms of いただきます (itadakimasu, to receive, humbly). So, in effect, it means “If I can have you do X, I will be 幸い.”

The best and simplest definition of 幸い I’ve seen online is from Yahoo Chiebukuro (surprise!):


It literally means, “If you could do that for me, I would be happy.” It also has elements of “desirable,” “grateful,” and “convenient” wrapped up it in.

So it means “I would appreciate it if you could X.”

The reason I call it “secret code” is that there’s a sense wrapped up in the language itself that, yes, what I’m asking is reasonable and you will undertake it for me. It’s making a request without making a command, without even asking a question. Just by stating that one would be pleased. This is an especially potent combination with an airbag phrase.

I guess this is true with English as well, come to think of it. You can even flower up the English to something like “It would please me greatly if you could X” to match 幸いに存じます (saiwai ni zonjimasu), a keigo alternative, although the Japanese lacks any sarcasm.

It’s difficult to find any raw examples with a web search because there are so many Japanese websites explaining grammatical usage these days, so I recommend checking out a Twitter search to see how the term is being used. A bunch of them out there.

Causative Requests (Update)

Time for some serious old school How to Japonese now that Murakami madness is over.

Causative tense is not the easiest to get used to. Once you’ve mastered it, though, it’s really flexible. A couple of things to note before we get to today’s little trick:

– It’s important to remember that causative tense can just as easily mean “let/allow someone to do X” as it can “make someone do X.”

– In my very first set of posts, I introduced the 敬語 form 〜させていただきます. Basically this is just a fancy way to say 〜する. You can turn it into a formal request easily enough by saying 〜させていただけませんか or 〜させていただけませんでしょうか.

And now for today’s trick. There’s also a cool way to use the causative tense as an informal request. Normal requests take the form 〜してもいい or 〜していい, which literally means “Is it okay if I X?” Make that more normal English and you get “May I X?”

If you use the causative straight up – 〜させて – with a little rising intonation on the end, you can say, “Lemme do X.” You can make it even more casual by saying 〜さして, which is a slurred version and slightly easier to say. I remember hearing one of the English teachers I worked with use this. Whenever he was looking at papers or worksheets that the students were holding he would say, ちょっと見さして. “Let me take a look.” 見る is a fairly controversial case, apparently, but I think this works with most verbs. ちょっと食べさせて is an especially good one that will earn you some freebies from friends.


As requested, a version for linguists:

Standard causative is ~saseru. The perfective tense of this is ~saseta. The imperative form is ~sasete, which is often slurred to ~sashite (or ~sasite depending on the romanization you use). This is a great form for informal requests. You can change miru to misasete, or taberu to tabesasete if you want someone to “let you” take a look at something or have a taste of something. Important here to remember the flexibility of the causative tense.

Bonus update thought:

I think using させて・さして (sasete/sashite) on its own must always imply that the speaker wants to be let/made to do the action. If you’re trying to get someone to make or let someone else, then you probably need to use させてあげて・さしてあげて (sasete agete / sashite agete)? Hmm…when I think about it, させてあげてd (sasete agete) feels like it would always be “let” rather than “make.”

Future Help

A short follow up to last week’s post on 助かりました. The present tense of this verb is also incredibly useful. The key is to remember that the present tense (助かる or 助かります) is the same thing as the future tense. That let’s you form patterns like this: 〜していただければ、助かります.

~ is any verb (not necessarily a する verb; the して just stands in for all verbs in the example) that you are having done for you. The subject of the ~ is another person. You, the speaker, are the subject of いただければ, which is the conditional tense (?) of いただく.

Looking at it literally we have, “If I could receive you doing ~, I will be helped (in the future).” In normal English, “I would really appreciate it if you could ~.”

A couple examples:

I would really appreciate it if you could wake me up at 8.

It would be great if you could turn it in at some point today.

It would help everyone if you could read in a loud voice. (Threw a 皆 up there to vary the subject a bit.)

You can even use an energetic 助かります! right after you’ve made a request to soften said request. (Effective when combined with a frowny face.) Kind of a reverse airbag expression.

In the future once you’ve been assisted, you can then say 助かりました!

Underrated Phrase – お願いします

Students of Japanese whine about keigo more than any other part of the language. I wonder if they realize that they use it on a daily basis. お願いします is another one of those ultimate “get used to it” phrases, and it is keigo of the humble variety.

The pattern is pretty easy to remember: お + verb stem + します. The only other thing to remember is that you ONLY USE IT FOR VERBS WHERE YOU YOURSELF ARE THE SUBJECT. A few examples: お返しします (I humbly return something to someone), お断りします (I humbly refuse), お持ちします (I humbly carry something), お借りします (I humbly borrow something).

While お願いします is a form of keigo, it has other more important uses than purely just as a humble request. It is, as we say in English about “please,” the “magic word.” It’s almost more important than please in English – it’s please and thank you all wrapped into one.

This is purely theoretical, but I’m willing to bet that people in the States would be more offended by people not saying “thank you” than by people not saying “please.” I’m equally willing to bet that people in Japan are more offended by a lack of お願いします rather than a lack of ありがとう.

願う (ねがう) means to hope or request. I’m confident that it should always be used following a request to someone equal or above you, and it’s worth tacking on to all requests so you don’t end up looking like an asshole. Like a please or a thank you, it softens whatever request you made and shows that you you truly appreciate the effort that they, in this case, will go through. You can add a よろしく on to the front to reemphasize the request (by drawing it out through additional syllables, which always means “more polite” in Japanese). In the case of people on an equal level you can opt for  よろしく on it’s own; I have a feeling that the Japanese teacher of English I worked with used this with his students as a sort of joke when he handed them assignments. (よろしくね *cruel laughter*)

In conclusion, よろしくお願いします is often grossly misunderstood by beginner/intermediate students, including myself long ago; while it is part of the self-introduction routine here, it’s more important when asking someone to do something for you. Once you understand its role there, you are more likely to understand what it means during a self-introduction.

Take it (for me)


I steadfastly refused to believe that phrase existed for a long time. I’m not sure why. I think there was a barrier somewhere in my head blocking the logic connection. Getting used to it helped remove that barrier, and now I’m cool.

取る (とる) is often used with “take” verb patterns. Take vacation, take time, etc. So I think that prevented me from realizing that while it does mean take something (in this case, whatever object you are pointing at / put before it with を), but it also means “and give it to me.” Altogether it means “pass.” It’s one of those patterns you learn your first year in class, but for some reason I never got used to it until now. Maybe it has something to do with sharing a small apartment between a large number of people – it’s easier to pass things than to forever shuffle around すみませんing.

With friends you can say the casual 〜を取って, but make sure to add the ください at the office or with people significantly older than you.

I logged this entry under passive. Get it?

号外 – 七夕


Today is the alternate date for the Tanabata (七夕)  Festival, so I thought I’d talk briefly about the grammatical pattern you see hanging from bamboo around this time – 〜ますように. It’s an interesting phrase to me, partially because, perhaps as an English speaker, it seems like an incomplete sentence. It means “(I hope / I wish) that X happens / comes true.” For example,

(I hope) I can get good grades.

(I hope) that my Japanese gets better.

I did a quick google search for “七夕 ますように” and came up with a bunch of interesting results, including this page full of wishes.

I put the “I hope” in parenthesis because it is only implied in the Japanese. The actual phrase is only a dependent clause. They had a small Tanabata presentation at one of my elementary schools a month ago, and a bunch of kids had to stand up and tell everyone their wishes. Some of the kids were so uncomfortable with the ending of this sentence grammatically that they stuttered a little です onto the end of their phrase. (サッカーが上手にできますように...です。)

Hope everyone’s wishes come true.


Airbag Expressions

It’s easy to lose focus during language classes, especially once you’ve reached that level where the class is conducted exclusively in the target language. If you don’t maintain your concentration consistently, you’ll start to miss words here and there, the meaning of what the teacher is saying will start to fray, and eventually you’ll find yourself gazing out the window, wondering exactly why it is that airplanes don’t sink like stones.

My senior year Japanese professor was great at keeping everyone’s attention. She rotated between a variety of topics, even literature, and knew that to keep everyone’s attention it helps to be silly. I’ll never forget the way she played up her love for Yon-sama or the way she used to laugh whenever we said something silly. (On a quick, somewhat-related side note, nothing more effectively disarms and simultaneously entrances Japanese elementary school students than an English teacher who doesn’t care about looking or sounding like an idiot.)

One of the topics that she taught was “Airbag Expressions” (エアバッグ表現). This may be the single most useful thing I ever learned in a Japanese class.

Let me let that sink in…


She had a theory that requesting something of a Japanese person was the equivalent of a head-on collision; without deploying a proper linguistic buffer – the airbag – the Japanese person may be shocked beyond recovery, and it is unlikely you will ever get what you want.

She taught us a number of incredibly useful phrases that help warn Japanese people that you are about to ask for something and other ways to lighten the actual request itself. The two that I use most frequently are: 恐縮(きょうしゅく)ですが and (もし)ご迷惑(めいわく)でなければ、

恐縮 is a difficult word to translate into one word in English, so let’s look at the kanji themselves. 恐 means fear or awe, and 縮 means shrink, so when the speaker uses it, imagine him literally afraid of what he is going to ask for, shrinking away from the requestee. One of the nicest translation in English is “It’s terrible of me, but…” or “It’s terribly selfish of me, but…”

(There’s definitely an element of brushing away selfishness with the term; it’s often used as a response to heaps of praise: 「おめでとう!大変上手にできました」“Congratulations! You did a fantastic job” 「恐縮です」 “It was nothing.”)

So you could use it like so:



(Although, maybe borrowing a stapler is not exactly weighty enough to call for a 恐縮.)

(もし)ご迷惑でなければ is a conditional clause. もし is not necessary, but it does help emphasize the fact that what you are about to say is conditional, and it reinforces the –ば. なければ seems confusing at first, but it’s just like あれば, really.

あれば = if something is/does X
なければ = if something is not/does not X

So, ご迷惑でなければ means, “If it isn’t a bother/trouble/problem…”

You can use this in almost identical situations as 恐縮, and you can even use them alongside each other:

“It’s terribly selfish of me to ask, but if it isn’t too much trouble, do you think you could write a recommendation for me?”

These are powerful expressions and should only be used for the most noble of purposes. Save them for a time when you need to make an extremely difficult request, one that might otherwise be denied. I am guilty of throwing these around too freely and have been trying to expand my set of エアバッグ表現 so that I have a larger selection to choose from. (「悪いですが、」, I choose you!)