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Newcomers’ traits: ‘sunao’ and ‘otonashi’

by and

Special To The Japan Times

Kotoshi-wa sunao-de, akarui kanji-no hito-ga ōi-yo. (We have lots of honest, cheerful-looking fresh recruits this year.)

Situation 1: Mr. Sere and his friend Mr. Sato are chatting.

佐藤: 今年は、セレくんの会社の新入社員、どう?

セレ: そうだな、今年は素直で、明るい感じの人が多いよ。

Satō: Kotoshi-wa, Sere-kun-no kaisha-no shinnyū-shain, dō?

Sere: Sō-da-na, kotoshi-wa sunao-de, akarui kanji-no hito-ga ōi-yo.

Sato: How are the new recruits at your firm this year?

Sere: Well, in this year’s bunch there’s a lot of honest, cheerful-looking people.

Today we’ll introduce two adjectives — 素直(すなお)な and おとなしい — that show the nature of a person or animal. The na-adjective 素直な has a positive image, and expresses that someone’s character or attitude is neither twisted nor confrontational. 素直な can be translated as “gentle,” “mild” or “obedient,” but there is no exact English word that matches it in terms of its generally positive meaning. Example: ひなこは素直な性格(せいかく)です (Hinako is honest and good-natured). 素直な is often used in the adverbial form 素直(すなお)に to show the attitude of someone who accepts the facts or expresses their feelings frankly. Example: あの映画(えいが)には素直に感動(かんどう)したよ (That movie genuinely moved me). 素直な can also be used to describe how things — such as 字(じ, letters), 文章 (ぶんしょう, writing) or 髪 (かみ hair) — are not unusual. Example: 健太(けんた)は素直な字(じ)を書(か)く (Kenta’s handwriting is very natural).

Situation 2: At a park, little Mariko sees a woman with a big dog.

まり子: わあ、大きいね。さわってもいい?

女の人: だいじょうぶよ。この子はおとなしいから、なでても平気よ。

Mariko: Wā, ōkii-ne. Sawatte-mo ii?

Onna-no hito: Daijōbu-yo. Kono-ko-wa otonashii-kara, nadete-mo heiki-yo.

Mariko: Wow, it’s so big! Is it OK to touch him?

Woman: Sure. He’s calm so you can pet him, no problem.

おとなしい means “quiet,” “mild,” “meek,” “obedient” or “tame,” and shows the nature or attitude of a person or animal. Example: お客(きゃく)さまがいらっしゃるんだから、おとなしくしていなさい (You have to behave because we’re having guests over). When おとなしい describes an adult, it can convey negative connotations that he/she is not independent, lacks drive or isn’t assertive (see Bonus Dialogue below). おとなしい can also be used to describe a color or design that is not showy, as in おとなしい色 (いろ)の服(ふく) (clothes in conservative colors).

Bonus Dialogue: Ms. Gray and colleagues Mr. Mita and Ms. Tamachi reflect back on their days as new employees.

グレイ: 田町(たまち)さんは今(いま)ではこんなに強(つよ)いけど、会社(かいしゃ)に入(はい)ったころはおとなしかったね。

田町: あのころは緊張(きんちょう)していたのよ。

三田: こんなおとなしそうな人(ひと)といっしょにやっていけるか、心配(しんぱい)しちゃった。

グレイ: 三田(みた)さんは、まじめな新人(しんじん)っていうイメージだった。先輩(せんぱい)の言(い)うことを素直(すなお)によく聞(き)いていたよね。

三田: うん。でも、前(まえ)に言(い)われたことを何度 (なんど)も聞いて叱(しか)られたな。

グレイ: でも、素直に謝(あやま)っていたじゃない。それは いいことだよ。素直じゃない新人は、やりにくいよね。

田町: おとなしいだけで、やる気(き)が感(かん)じられない新人も困(こま)るけど。

グレイ: まあ、それは周(まわ)りがどう育(そだ)てていくかにかかっているね。

三田: グレイさん、田町さん、よろしくね。

Gray: You’re so tough now, Ms. Tamachi, but you were rather quiet when we joined the company.

Tamachi: Well, I was nervous back then.

Mita: I wasn’t sure if I could work with someone so meek.

Gray: You, Ms. Mita, gave off an image of an earnest newcomer, listening obediently to your seniors.

Mita: Yeah, but I was told off for repeatedly asking about stuff I’d already been told.

Gray: But, you apologized honestly. That’s good. It’s not easy working with newcomers who aren’t gentle or frank.

Tamachi: Obedient newbies without drive can be a problem.

Gray: Well, that depends on how others nurture them.

Mita: I’ll leave that in your hands, Ms. Gray, Ms. Tamachi.