Basic Japanese : “Arigatou” – “Thank you” in Japanese
There are several ways of saying “Thank you” in Japanese.
In this post, I am going to explain the most common phrase for “Thank you”.
Arigatou (gozai masu / mashita)
The phrase was derived from “Arigatashi”, which literally means “difficult to be”.
The Kanji in “ari” means “there is” or “be (there)”, and another in “gatashi” is “difficult”.
Altogether, “arigatashi” means “rare” or “(unusual and) precious”.
In the old times, it also meant “unbearable (to be)”.
The phrase “Arigatou” is rather casual to say to somebody you are not very close.
It is better to say “Arigatou gozai masu (or mashita)”.
Its pronunciation is “Ali” and French “gateau”.
Difference between “masu” and “mashita”
My English speaking colleague asked me what differs between “Arigatou gozai masu” and “Arigatou gozai mashita“.
“Mashita” is a past tense of “masu”, and generally “mashita” is used when you thank about something which has been done already (or which you feel it’s done).
If you are not sure which tense you should use to say “Thank you” in Japanese, use “masu” for something which has not been done or just been done.
“Mashita” for something which was done some time ago.
Having said this, I guess that just “Arigatou” or “Thank you” in English (with smile and maybe vow) is fine in the most cases.
Japanese people should be able to see that you are grateful whether you say in English or casual Japanese.
[Examples for “masu” and “mashita”]
When somebody gives you a gift now, you will say “Arigatou gozai masu“, not “mashita”.
If you appreciate something which you were given a few days ago, you will say “Arigatou gozai mashita“.
If you are told on the phone or in mail that your (not-so-close) friend sent a gift for you, and it hasn’t reached you yet, you will answer “Arigatou gozai masu“.
You can’t use “mashita” because you haven’t received it yet, so the action of giving and receiving the gift hasn’t finished.
After you received it, you can say “Arigatou gozai mashita“.
Or, it’s possible to say “Arigatou gozai masu” with other past-tense sentences like “Todoki mashita” (It reached me), to express that you still appreciate about the gift as much as you did when you received it (or heard about it on the phone).
However, if you have already received it when your friend phones you, you will say “Arigatou gozai masu” probably with other sentences like “Todoite imasu.” (“It has arrived”)
It’s more natural to use the present tense, because this case is almost the same as that you receive the gift on the spot from your friend, so the “giving and receiving” has just finished.
Some say “Arigatou” was derived from a Portuguese word “Obrigado” meaning “Thank you”.
It is true that both phrases sound similar, but “Arigatou” was used much before the first visit by Portuguese people to Japan.
So, I’m afraid this theory is completely nonsense.
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