In order to speak Japanese you obviously need to learn a lot of Japanese words and meanings. Naturally you begin with learning common Japanese words and then get into words or phrases. Most Japanese greetings and set expressions are quite complex and not basic at all. This is often a problem for students as they feel so overwhelmed with only a few Japanese expressions that they develop a mindset that Japanese is extremely difficult. The problem is students don’t often learn words. I mean they don’t spend time to consider the deep meaning and cultural aspects of Japanese words. There a lot of ways to learn words such as using Japanese language software, books or audio programs. The best way to learn new words is to spend time speaking to Japanese.
When living in Japan for a long time as I have there are moments when you discover the real meanings of certain words. They are usually moments of serendipity where you experience Japan - the culture of Japan and what you happen to be doing at that time seem to meet at the perfect moment and then you realize you have made a discovery. This when I feel I am really learning Japanese. One word that I had always found odd and confusing was “Okagesama-de”. You may know this word to mean “Thanks to you”.
It is one of the most common Japanese phrases, but it is almost always misunderstood by Japanese-speaking foreigners who hear and use it. Japanese routinely use the expression when someone asks them how they are, asks about the health and welfare of a family member; or ask how their business is going, and so on.. Not understanding the true meaning of Okagaesama-de, many foreigners take it personally, presuming that the Japanese, out of politeness and their automatic response to formailites, are actually thanking them. I once often thought this. In fact, I thought it was yet another stupid and meaningless Japanese expression from a socially challenged people.
As with many Japanese words, the misunderstanding arises in the translation of the word. Instead of meaning “thanks to you” in a personal sense, the expression actually means “as luck would have it” or “thank heavens” (in a Buddhist sort of a way). The word is a vestige of the Buddhist concept of fate in the lives of people. It is way of implying that the relationships and life have been properly nurtured and are thriving, and that all is right in the word.
You , as a student or Japanese-speaking foreigner can gain valuable points by using okagasama-de appropriately when to responding to Japanese friends and business contacts. Use this word correctly at the right and people will be impressed. It subtly notes that you are speaking on their cultural wavelength, and gives a warm, positive feeling to your response.
As Japanese don’t do small talk you can impress Japanese and start speaking Japanese with just a small number of Japanese words, phrases and set expressions under your belt. However, understanding the deeper meanings of certain Japanese words may take several months or even years. Culture plays a very important part in the Japanese language right down to simple phrases and words. Learning about Japanese culture is as important as builing your vocabulary or learning the stroke order of Kanji. The more Japanese culture you know the more important Japanese words you will discover.