Some untranslatable Japanese phrases

Three frequently used but untranslatable Japanese phrases - “Yoroshiku-Onegai-Shimasu”, “Ganbatte!” and “Otsukare-sama”

Pura Vida! - A phrase difficult to translate

“Pura Vida” is a phrase used quite frequently in Costa Rica.

“Pura” is for pure and Vida life. It does not look difficult to know about them.

However, most articles tell more than that to people in Costa Rica.

According to Wikipedia, the phrase has multiple meanings, including greetings, farewells, gratitude, and sympathy.

Also, this article explains in detail in what contexts people in Costa Rica use this phrase.

This phrase is kind of untranslatable.

If you are learning Spanish, all you have to do is to forget the translation and get used to using this in your daily life.

Are there these kinds of words and phrases in your primary language?

When I hear “Pura Vida”, it reminds me of some Japanese words that also thought to be untranslatable.

Untranslatable Japanese phrases

I piked three very frequently used but untranslatable Japanese phrases and explain how they are used.


When you talk with Japanese people in business, there isn’t a single day you would not hear this phrase! The literal translation for each chunk is like below.

As you hear/As agreed
asking a favor
A prefix for polite expression

From the above, the literal translation is “Please kindly do as I asked and agreed upon.”

Japanese people do use this phrase when asking a favor. However, depending on the context, it is used differently.

For example, when you meet a person for the first time, you may hear them speak to you, “Yoroshiku Onegai Shimas.” In this case, the phrase means “Nice to meet you.”

The other example is that when you play, for example, a baseball game, you also hear two teams say this phrase to each other right before the game.


“Ganbatte,” “Ganbare,” or “Ganbatte-Kudasai” for more politeness, are also untranslatable phrases.

The infinitive form of this word, Ganbaru (頑張る), means “doing one’s best.” or “trying hard.”

This phrase is often used to encourage a person facing a challenge, like “Good Luck,” in a variety of situations, including sports matches and challenging projects in a job.

This phrase also expresses an acknowledgment of the challenge and sympathy for the difficult moment to ease people from stress and anxiety.


This phrase is also a simple word, but difficult to understand how it is used.

The phrase can be broken down like below.


Suffix for politeness
Fatigue/Being tired
Honorific suffix

This phrase is used to appreciate someone’s hard work, especially after completion.

More casually, this phrase is used when returning home from work, like “See you tomorrow/next week.” The phrase also expresses gratitude for hard work in this context.


There must be so many words that we cannot translate easily.

These words and phrases tell us how rich and complex communications can be and the ways of them can be different to each other.