But if the word for “goodbye” is dying, how do we say goodbye to it?
If you were to ask people who have never studied Japanese before to name some Japanese words they know, chances are there’s a few that would come up again and again: sushi, samurai, ninja, konnichiwa, and of course, sayonara – “goodbye.”
After all, you can’t say “sayonara, suckers!” without sayonara, right? But as it turns out, we may end up being the suckers here.
According to a recent survey conducted by Japan’s livedoor NEWS, the average Japanese person doesn’t use the word “sayonara” at all. They asked 30 people of a variety of ages and genders if they used the word, and the results don’t look good for “goodbye” word.
Twenty-one of the 30 people — 70 percent — said they “don’t use it” or “don’t use it all.” And when narrowed down to the younger crowd, 20- to 30-year-olds only, 11 out of 14, or 80 percent, said the same. The sampling size may not be the largest, admittedly, but chances are similar percentages would carry over into the population at large.
Here are some reasons for why people seem to be saying “goodbye” to sayonara:
“I don’t like ‘sayonara’ because it makes our meeting feel like the end.”
“Saying ‘sayonara’ makes it seem like we won’t meet again, so I don’t use it. It feels like a cold word.”
“At work or with family and friends, I always just say ‘see you later’ instead.”
“Sayonara” definitely has an air of finality to it. Just like most English speakers don’t say “farewell” unless it’s truly the end, most Japanese people would feel a little strange saying “sayonara” if they were just going to see the same person again tomorrow.
But then that brings up another question: if you’re not going to say goodbye to someone with “sayonara,” what do you say instead?
Luckily, Japanese is a veritable buffet when it comes to different ways of saying hello, goodbye, and everything in between. Here are just a few samples of all the different tasty expressions you can use to part ways with someone without sounding like a samurai departing for some distant land:
Ja ne. (See ya)
Mata ne/kondo/ashita/raishuu. (See you later/next time/tomorrow/next week)
Shitsurei shimasu. (I’m sorry for having been rude – on ending a phone call, leaving work, etc.)
Osaki ni shitsurei shimasu. (I’m sorry for rudely leaving before you [at work])
Otsukaresama desu. (You must be tired, thank you for your work.)
Gokigenyou. (Fare thee well – if you want to sound fancy)
Bai bai. (If you want to sound cute or like a JK)
So the next time you’re out with Japanese-speaking people, what will you do? Will you help resuscitate the dying “sayonara?” Or will you let it die its linguistic death and enjoy the rainbow of other “goodbye” flavors? Make your choice soon, before it’s too late to say “farewell!”