In Japanese there are lots of set phrases, I don’t mean like set phrases in English such as “take a bath” or “make a promise”. I mean that in certain situations people always say the same thing. I guess they are a kind of tradition.
There are examples everywhere, when it is time to eat a meal people will say いただきます (itadakimasu) and upon finishing will utter ごちそうさまでした (gochisousama deshita). The translations for these expressions are hard to pin down, if you do it literally they are “I humbly receive” and “It was a feast” respectively but that does not make too much sense in English.
Usually when I come across them on TV shows they are translated to “Let’s eat” and “Thanks for the food”. I’m not sure if this sums up their meaning exactly (especially with the first) but it’s close enough for me, especially as they aren’t really any English equivalents, unless you count saying Grace.
Such phrases are also used when leaving or entering the home. When someone leaves to nip to the shops or go to work they will say いってきます (ittekimasu) and whoever is left says いってらっしゃい (itterasshai). When returning to the house people will say ただいま (tadaima), which is responded with a おかえりなさい (okaerinasai) by the people within.
Again when you translate the phrases literally they some a bit strange. The Leaving the House Set become “I’ll go and come back” and “Please go and come back”, while the Returning Set are “Just now” and “You have returned”.
Like with the eating phrases there are no set expressions that the English say in these situations, so you have to be a bit creative when translating them properly. I guess it is best to go for “I’m off” / “Have a good time” when going and “I’m back” / “Welcome home” when returning.
The reason that I am telling you about these now is that living in my flat in Japan, with two friends, I have never had any compulsion to say these things. And why should I? I’m English after all, as are they (kinda), and we should pride ourselves on being able to come up with suitable different greetings depending on the situation.
However now that I’m spending a month on holiday, staying with my family in both England and Colombia, I’ve suddenly found myself saying these things when leaving and entering the home. In a family environment it just feels right for me to say them. To tell you the truth it is freaking me out a bit. No one else in my family knows any Japanese, I think my Dad knows “Arigatou” but I’m not actually sure he knows what it means, so it is a bit weird that I have the desire to say them.
It is strange that this piece of Japanese culture, one that I’m not overly familiar with as I don’t live in Japanese family homes very often, has seeped into me. I wonder if I will continue to say it once I’m back in Japan and also what other Japanese mannerisms have flowed into me, just waiting for their moment to surface.