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Why I miss giving & receiving the phrase おつかれさまです

If you move to Japan to work, one of the first phrases you’ll surely memorize is おつかれさまです, or otsukaresamadesu. This phrase doesn’t have a direct translation, but when given at work it tends to mean, “You must be tired. I recognize and appreciate your hard work.” The acknowledgement is not only given from supervisors to their employees, but from one coworker to another when their work is finished, or even if they happen to bump into one another on the street (even if they haven’t necessarily been working that day!). Employees will also say otsukaresamadesu as they do their first kanpai, or cheers, at a work gathering or party.

Otsukaresamadesu can be used in other situations, too. For example, if my friend comes over and tells me a story about his/her work, I can give him/her an otsukare~~. I still often say it to Chad after he tells me about his workday. The phrase can also be used for customers when they’ve been waiting in line or after they’ve taken a long train or bus ride. I always felt like I should say otsukaresamadesu back to the employee/driver of the train or bus, because in America we usually say, “Thank you for waiting,” but that thank you doesn’t really extend to appreciating the work of waiting patiently or feeling tired after a long trip, and–after all–the employee/driver is the one who is at work!

I really miss giving and receiving this phrase for two reasons. Firstly, I noticed that so far working in the states, it is rare for anyone to thank you to each other, especially at the end of the workday. Even before I moved to Japan, I would always say thank you to everyone before leaving work, and–at the very least!–say goodbye. I know it’s not absolutely necessary, but I think it’s polite and encouraging. Secondly, it creates a sense of camaraderie. I always felt a sense of belonging at the end of the day when coworkers and I would exchange an otsukaresama, as if we were not only conveying the basic sense of the phrase, but also implying an underlying feeling of, “We’re all in this together.”

Well, anyway, it’s off to work I go. Wherever you are, and whatever work you find yourself doing, otsukaresamadesu! Have a good one 🙂

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