Take care in Japanese when using ‘sewa’ or you could offend

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

Neko no sewa o dō shiyō kana? (What should I do about taking care of my cat?)

Situation 1: Ms. Gray is on the phone with friend Ms. Harada.

グレイ: 私、夏休みにちょっと帰国するんだけど、一緒に来ない?

原田: あ、行きたい。だけど、ネコの世話をどうしようかな?

Gurei: Watashi, natsu-yasumi ni chotto kikoku suru-n dakedo, issho ni konai?

Harada: A, ikitai. Dakedo, neko no sewa o dō shiyō kana?

Gray: I’m going to return home for the summer vacation. Why don’t you come along?

Harada: Oh, I’d love to. But what should I do about my cat?

Today we will introduce some uses of the noun 世話 (せわ, care) and related expressions. 世話 is a noun that refers to care for those who cannot or have difficulty taking care of themselves, like an animal, child or a sick person. It is used in the pattern 世話をする. Often, the polite prefix o is added, forming お世話. Example: お 年寄(としよ)りのお世話は大変(たいへん)ですが、感謝(かんしゃ)して もらえると幸(しあわ)せな気持(きも)ちになります。 (Caring for the elderly is tough work, but when they thank us, we feel happy.)

Situation 2: Yuta, a high school student, has come to stay at the home of his uncle, Mr. Okubo, as he plans to attend a seminar in Tokyo during his summer vacation.

勇太: 今日からお世話になります。どうぞよろしくお願いします。

大久保夫人: 勇太くん、遠慮しないで、ここを自分の家だと思ってね。

Yuta: Kyō kara o-sewa ni narimasu. Dōzo yoroshiku o-negai shimasu.

Ōkubo-fujin: Yūta-kun, enryo shinai de, koko o jibun no ie da to omotte ne.

Yuta: Thank you for agreeing to look after me. I’m very grateful.

Mrs. Okubo: Yuta, don’t hesitate to ask if you want anything. Please think of this as your house.

お世話になります (literally, “I may trouble you”) is a pattern of greeting used by someone who is going to stay with another family, like Yuta in Situation 2. When it comes to leaving, he would say お世話になりました (literally, “Thank you for taking good care of me”). The same expressions would be used in an office when leaving an old section and starting a new one. However, note that 大(おお)きなお世話 is an expression of the speaker’s bad feeling, meaning they don’t appreciate the kindness, e.g.: そんなにけんかばかりするなら別(わか)れたほうがいいだなんて、大きなお世話だ。 (It’s disgusting that he advised me to divorce because my wife and I fight so much.)

Bonus Dialogue: During a break, Ms. Shiba asks colleague Mr. Tian about his summer vacation plans.

ティエン: 森(もり)さんのご家族(かぞく)と一緒(いっしょ)に旅行(りょこう)する予定(よてい)です。お孫(まご)さんが小(ちい)さいので、遠(とお)くは行(い)けませんので、近(ちか)い所(ところ)になると思(おも)いますが。

芝: 森さんって、昔(むかし)ティエンさんが下宿(げしゅく) していらしたお宅(たく)の大家(おおや)さんでしたよね?

ティエン: ええ、交換学生(こうかんがくせい)として日本(にほん)に来(き)てお世話(せわ)になったのが始(はじ)まりで、その後(ご)も来日(らいにち)すると下宿(げしゅく)させてもらって…、ぼくにとっては、日本のお母(かあ)さんみたいな人(ひと)です。すごく世話好(ず)きで、最近(さいきん)は遊(あそ)びに行く度(たび)にお見合(みあ)いを勧(すす)められて困(こま)ります。

芝: そういえばティエンさん、森さんのお宅にいらしてばかりで、デートのお話(はなし)とか、あんまり聞(き)きませんね。いい人がいたら紹介(しょうかい)してほしい という友達(ともだち)がいるんですけど、いかがですか?

ティエン: ああ、芝(しば)さんまで、おせっかいおばさんみたいなこと、言(い)わないでくださいよ。

芝:: ウフフ…、「大きなお世話」って言いたいんじゃないですか?

Tian: I’m going traveling with Mrs. Mori and her family. Her grandchild is small so we can’t travel very far. It’ll probably be somewhere close by.

Shiba: Mrs. Mori was the landlady at the house you stayed at before, wasn’t she?

Tian: Yeah, I first met her when I came to Japan as an exchange student and stayed at hers. After that, whenever I came to Japan, I stayed with her. She’s like my Japanese mother. She loves taking care of people, but recently I’m worried that whenever I visit, she always wants to introduce a girl to me.

Shiba: You often visit Mrs. Mori and I don’t hear much about dates, but it reminds me: I have a friend who wants me to introduce her to a guy. How about it?

Tian: Oh, you too? Please don’t act like some busybody who fusses over others all the time.

Shiba: Ha ha! What you really want to say is “Mind your own business,” right?