Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Learning to Say Goodbye さよならの伝え方

This article was first published in English in the magazine "5": Designing Media Ecology (6th issue, December 2016 INFO), and appears here with permission.  The Japanese, translated by Takako Matsui, is published here for the first time. My gratitude to Sarah Lushia for her editing and advice, as well as to the editors of "5" for their corrections and the opportunity to write this article.

本記事は、雑誌『5: Designing Media Ecology』6号(『5』編集室、2016年12月発行)に掲載された英語原稿と、その日本語訳です(翻訳・松井貴子)。日本語訳はこれが初出となります。

It has been an honor to serve as a Bird’s Eye View guest columnist for the past two years, but as they say “all good things must come to an end.” Since learning this would be my last column, I have been reflecting on the words we use when parting both in English and Japanese.
2年間にわたってこの「Bird’s Eye View」に寄稿するという光栄に浴してきた。けれど、どんな良いことにも終わりはある。今回が最終回だと決まってから、僕は日本語と英語の別れの表現について考えていた。

In Japan, people tend to opt for parting phrases such as: “Jya, mata ne,” (see you again) or “Rai shu ne,” (see you next week) which feel quite friendly and imply a future meeting. In more formal situations, one might say shitsureitashimashita (please forgive my intrusion), domo arigatou gozaimashita (thank you so much), or something as simple as oyasuminasai (goodnight). But despite the word sayonara being widely known abroad as the Japanese word for “goodbye,” even by those who have not seriously studied the language, it is actually a word seldom heard in Japan.

If one is not careful when using sayonara, it can make the parting feel cool, or depending on the situation and tone of voice, it could even sound quite final with the implication being that the separation will be forever. And while there are times in life one must say a final “goodbye,” perhaps following a fight between two lovers, in most social situations one would not wish to leave friends or colleagues with such an ominous feeling.

Such subtleties in using newly learned words and phrases are often overlooked in beginner-level language courses, which is perhaps why I never liked studying Japanese with textbooks. Wanting to learn not just vocabulary but also how to use the words in more complex social situations, I prefer instead to share a meal or go for a drive with friends. Interactions such as these provide opportunities to learn the words and phrases native speakers really use, like what they actually say when parting.

Admittedly my uneasiness with how and when to say sayonara did not begin in Japanese… it began with how to say “goodbye” in English. Growing up, my family moved a lot. I attended nine schools from kindergarten to 12th grade, including four high schools in three different states. While this may have given me the ability to make friends quickly, it also forced me to part with them as well. After a while, the pain of saying “goodbye” was something I did everything I could to avoid, preferring instead to quietly fade out. When I knew it would be the last time to see a particularly close friend, I would leave with an upbeat “see you later!” leading my friend to believe there would be at least one more chance to say “goodbye,” although I knew there was not. Having to hear or say “goodbye” had simply become too difficult for me.
しかし、いつ、どうやって「サヨナラ」を告げるかという問題は、僕にとっては日本語の学習とともに始まったのではなかった。そもそもそれは、僕には英語の問題でもあった。僕の家族はとても引越しが多く、僕は幼稚園から12年生の間に9つの学校に通い、ハイスクールだけで4つ、それも3つの州にまたがっていた。おかげですぐに友だちをつくるという能力を 育んだのかもしれないが、そこには常に友だちとの別れがあった。やがて僕は、「goodbye」の語を口にすることが耐えがたく、それを言うくらいならだまっていなくなるほうがましだと思うようになった。とくに仲のいい友だちに対しては、僕は別れの瀬戸際にも明るく「じゃ、またあとで!」と言ってその場を離れた。相手はまたあとで「goodbye」の語を交わす機会があるのだと思ったろう。もちろん、その機会はなかった。だれかと「goodbye」を交わし合うことは、僕にはただつらすぎるものになっていた。

My inability to say “goodbye” was something I was forced to come to terms with the last time I saw my mother alive. She was sick, and I was visiting her for Christmas. At the end of our visit, I stopped to see her one last time on my way to the airport before flying home to Tokyo. I leaned down and hugged her while she was lying in her bed, and although I knew it would most likely be the last time I ever saw my mother alive, I uttered, “see you soon.” She looked up at me and as if to correct me, replied “talk to you soon.” My mother knew we would not see each other again, and she was not going to allow that to remain unacknowledged. But still, neither of us used the word “goodbye.”

Thinking about my inability to say “goodbye,” I began to question if it was really true the word sayonara is rarely used in Japanese or, perhaps, if I was subconsciously inventing a cultural observation that provided me a convenient excuse not to use a word that already made me feel uncomfortable. I decided to ask Arakawa-san, my first teacher of Japanese when I moved to Japan many years ago.

Arakawa-san told me that while it was something that had never occurred to her before, she believed it was true and that even she herself rarely used sayonara. In fact, the only time in recent memory she had uttered the word was at a funeral for a friend; in offering she had said, arigatou (thank you) followed by sayonara (goodbye). Arakawa-san told me that she sometimes even says sayonara with a feeling of thanks to her possessions when they are no longer of use and must be discarded. When she told me this, I was reminded of the temples that assist with the disposal of auspicious objects such as seasonal decorations, dolls and even sewing needles, as it is felt these things cannot simply be unceremoniously thrown away.

Cautioning me against thinking of sayonara as a bad word, Arakawa-san said she believes it has a beautiful hibiki (ring) to it. As an example, she told me about a recent poetry reading she had been to where sayonara had been used in a poem to communicate many complex feelings, like giving thanks and bidding farewell to the cherry blossom season.

So sayonara does not merely signal the end to something, but it can also be used to mark a transition and give gratitude. While I may still be learning to say “goodbye,” I realize now that there are situations in life where no other word can express one’s feelings in quite the same way as the word sayonara.


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