Word of the Week: お疲れ様です

It’s time for Word of the Week again! Last week we looked at a Japanese word or phrase beginning with ‘e’ (え), and focussed on the phrase ええじゃないか (ee ja nai ka), meaning ‘what the hell!’, ‘who cares?’ or ‘why not?’. This week I’m looking for a word or phrase beginning with ‘o’ (お). A big thank you to those who joined in with suggestions this week:

pnwcyclist suggested ‘okagesamade’ (御陰様で), meaning ‘thanks to you’ or ‘thanks for asking’ as a positive response to a questions; Japan Australia suggested ‘ohayou gozaimasu’ (おはようございます), meaning ‘good morning’; ‘otsukaresama desu’ (お疲れ様です), said at the end of a working day or after something particularly difficult; ‘osakini shitsureishimasu’ (お先に失礼します), meaning ‘I’m sorry for leaving (work) before you’; ‘oyasumi nasai’ (おやすみなさい), ‘good night’; and ‘oishii’ (美味しい), ‘delicious’; and UK Seikatsu suggested ‘ookini’ (おおきに), a typical way of saying ‘thank you’ in Kyoto; ‘okaerinasai’ (おかえりなさい), ‘welcome home/back’; ‘okanjo onegaishimasu’ (お勘定お願いします), a way to ask for the bill; ‘osewani-narimasu/-natteorimasu’ (お世話になります/なっております), a typical first line in a business email to show an appreciation for the relationship; ‘Oni wa soto, Fuku wa uchi’ (鬼は外、福は内); the Setsubun bean throwing chant meaning ‘Out with the demons. In with good fortune’; and ‘omachidousama’ (おまちどうさま), said at restaurants and meaning ‘sorry to have kept you waiting’.

There were some really fantastic suggestions this week, and I wish I had time to write about more than one topic (or that I could stretch ‘o’ out over a few weeks, as there is just so much to say!). But, in the end, I have chosen one topic to write about…


(otsukaresama desu)

When I came back to the UK after living in Japan there were a few phrases that really stuck with me, and お疲れ様です (おつかれさまです / otsukaresama desu) was one of them. I said it every single day in Japan, and it had become so engrained in what I did that I couldn’t imagine not having a word or phrase in English that filled the gap, but there simply isn’t one. I think ‘otsukaresama desu’ is actually one of the hardest phrases to translate because the whole feeling of the phrase is so uniquely Japanese.

Instead of trying to translate the phrase, I’d rather give some examples of when it is used. In Japan, everyone says ‘otsukaresama desu’ to each other at the end of the working day, at the end of meetings, even after teaching a lesson. It can be said after an especially difficult task has been completed, or simply when a job is done. Colleagues can say it to one another, and subordinates can say it to managers, and vice versa, often with a little bow.

If I were to translate the phrase, I suppose I would say it means ‘thank you for your hard work’, but really it means so much more than that, and it is a phrase which is completely a part of how Japanese society functions. I guess the literal translation would be more like ‘you are a tired, hard-working person’, but that doesn’t really sound right either. In English, it would almost sound condescending to say to a colleague at the end of the day “Well done! You must be exhausted!”, but in a sense that is what ‘otsukaresama desu’ does. When I found myself working for an ordinary company in London after living in Japan I was at a complete loss for what to say at the end of the day, and all I could think was ‘otsukaresama desu’. I’m so much happier now I work in a company where almost everyone around me understands Japanese culture, and many of us say ‘otsukaresama desu’ to each other at the end of the day.

I wonder if such a useful and succinct phrase exists in other languages?


“Otsukaresama deshita”

(Image source)


Next week’s post will be about a word or phrase beginning with ‘ka’ (か), so please leave your suggestions below. The word can be a verb, adjective or expression, but no nouns please! For example, ‘kawaii’ (かわいい) meaning ‘cute’ would be acceptable, but ‘Kanazawa’ (金沢), the place, would not. I look forward to reading your ideas! (*^_^)v

Word of the Week 2014

12 thoughts on “Word of the Week: お疲れ様です

  1. Thanks for using my suggestion! It is such a useful phrase that like you I use it several times a day here in Japan. A few suggestions for next week are:

    Kantan na (簡単な) Easy
    Kawaii (可愛い) Cute
    Kakko ii (かっこいい) Cool
    Kashikomarismashita (かしこまりました) I see/understand
    Kanpai (乾杯) Cheers
    Katta (勝った) Win


  2. IS this the right thing to say Otsukaresama desu after you get a massage from someone in Japan? Because its thanking them for their hard work instead of just Arigatou Gozaimashita? Otsukaresama Desu would be even a more polite and kind way to thank the business owner?


    • I guess you could say it to someone after getting a massage, but I’ve never thought of using it in that way. It’s more likely, I think, that you would just say ‘arigato gozaimasu/mashita’.


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