Language | WELL SAID

Old, past it, over the hill: expressing aging and old stuff in Japanese

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Special To The Japan Times

Sentakuki-ga daibu furuku-natchatta-kara, kaikaeyō-kana. (Our washing machine is quite old now, so I’m thinking of getting a new one.)

Situation 1: Ms. Shiba is using her washing machine at home.

妻:  洗濯機が大分古くなっちゃったから、買い替えようかな。

夫: いいけど、次のボーナスにしようね。

Tsuma: Sentakuki-ga daibu furuku-natchatta-kara, kaikaeyō-kana.

Otto: Ii-kedo, tsugi-no bōnasu-ni shiyō-ne.

Wife: Our washing machine is quite old now, so I’m thinking of getting a new one.

Husband: OK, but let’s wait for the next bonus.

Today we will introduce some Japanese words and phrases that are expressed as “old” in English. When something is old, it is generally called 古(ふる)い, as in Situation 1. 古い is not only used for things but also for careers, traditions or customs, as in この店(みせ)で一番(いちばん)古(ふる)いのは山田(やまだ)さんだ (The one who’s been working at this shop the longest is Mr. Yamada.) To express that something is old with a negative nuance, 古くさい (literally, “smelling old) is used, as in: 社長(しゃちょう)の考(かんが)え方(かた)は古くさい (The president’s way of thinking is outdated). Examples of compound words with 古 include 古着(ふるぎ, used clothes), 古株 (ふるかぶ, a veteran staff member), 中古車 (ちゅうこしゃ, a used car) and 使(つか)い古す (to use until it gets old).

Situation 2: Section Chief Mr. Okubo has pain in his lower back.

大久保:  年は取りたくないものだな。昨日ちょっと息子のサッカーの相手をしただけで、腰痛なんて。

グレイ:  いやだ、課長、ほんとのお年寄りみたいなこと、言わないでくださいよ。

Ōkubo: Toshi-wa toritaku-nai mono-da-na. Kinō chotto musuko-no sakkā-no aite-o shita-dake-de, yōtsū-nante.

Gurei: Iya-da, kachō, honto-no o-toshiyori-mitaina koto, iwanai-de-kudasai-yo.

Okubo: I don’t want to get old. My lower back aches only after just playing soccer with my son yesterday.

Gray: Too bad, boss, but please, you should stop saying the kind of stuff a real old man would say.

An old person is described as お年寄(としよ)り in conversation. When talking about yourself or your own family, or speaking about someone without respect, お is omitted. 老人 (ろうじん, an old person or people) is a stiffer, more bookish term, and 老人ホーム is a compound noun meaning an elderly care home. When talking about old people generally, mainly in writing or in serious discussions, 高齢者(こうれいしゃ) is used. “Getting old/older” is 歳/年(とし)を取(と)る. “Older” is 年上(としうえ), and it is used like this: 兄(あに)は私(わたし)より3つ年上だ (My brother is three years older [than I am]). 年長(ねんちょう) is its more formal synonym.

Bonus Dialogue: Mrs. Okubo talks with her mother on the phone.

大久保夫人: 一夜干(いちやぼ)しをたくさんもらったんだけど、明日(あした)、少(すこ)し届(とど)けに行(い)ってもいい?

母: 明日から鬼怒川(きぬがわ)温泉(おんせん)に一泊(いっぱく)旅 行(りょこう)だから、三日(みっか)後(ご)に来(き)てちょうだい。

大久保夫人: それじゃあ、魚(さかな)が古(ふる)くなって、おいしくなくなっちゃう。またダンス旅行なの?

母: 「また」って、1年(いちねん)にたった3回(さんかい)ぐらいよ。

大久保夫人: だけど、ダンスパーティーは毎日(まいにち)のように 行っているでしょ?

母: 最近(さいきん)はあんまり。だって、社交(しゃこう)ダンスのパーティーは年(とし)寄(よ)りばかりなんだもの。

大久保夫人: お母さんだって、けっこう年寄りだと思(おも)うけど。

母: 私(わたし)は若(わか)く見(み)えるし、ダンスもけっこう上手(じょうず)だから、もてるのよ。そうだ、あなたも年取(と)ってもてたかったら、今(いま)からダンスを始(はじ)めるといいわよ。

大久保夫人: 年取ってからもてても、しょうがないわよ。だけど、 結婚(けっこん)前(まえ)には、もっともててみたかったな。

Mrs. Okubo: [A friend] sent me lots of lightly dried fish. Shall I bring some over tomorrow?

Mother: Please come in three days, as I’m going on an overnight trip to Kinugawa.

Mrs. Okubo: If I do that, the fish will get old and won’t be tasty. Are you going on a dance trip again?

Mother: You say “again,” but I only do it three times a year or so.

Mrs. Okubo: But you go to dance parties almost every day, right?

Mother: Not recently, as there tend to be only old people there.

Mrs. Okubo: You’re no spring chicken yourself, Mom.

Mother: I look young and I’m a pretty hot dancer, so I’m popular with the old guys. If you want to be popular when you get old, you’d best start learning dance now.

Mrs. Okubo: It’s no use being popular once you’re old. But I wish I’d been more popular with the guys before marriage.

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