Language | WELL SAID

There’s quite a lot you can do in Japanese with ‘nakanaka’

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

Nakanaka kanshinna ko desu ne. (She’s such a good girl.)

Situation 1: At home, Takako tells her parents about a classmate.

たか子: しずちゃんは、お母さんが入院しちゃったから、 毎日家族の晩御飯を作っているんだって。

父: ふーん、なかなか感心な子じゃないか。

母: たか子も、少しは家の手伝いをしないとね。

Takako: Shizu-chan wa, okāsan ga nyūin shichatta kara, mainichi kazoku no bangohan o tsukutte iru-n datte.

Chichi: Fūn, nakanaka kanshinna ko ja nai ka.

Haha: Takako mo sukoshi wa ie no tetsudai o shinai to ne.

Takako: Shizu makes her family dinner every day because her mother is in hospital.

Father: Wow, she’s such a good girl, isn’t she?

Mother: Takako, you should help a bit around the house too, you know?

Today we will introduce some uses of the word なかなか (quite). Since it is an adverb, it modifies an adjective or verb X, with なかなかX expressing that the degree of X is beyond the speaker’s expectations. This expression is used to evaluate things, as the father does in Situation 1. Because of that, children do not usually use the term. Examples: それは、なかなかデリケートな 問題(もんだい)だから、慎重(しんちょう)に考(かんが)えたほうがいいよ。 (That’s quite a delicate matter, so you should really think it over.); 新入社員(しんにゅうしゃいん)は、なかなかがんばっている じゃないか。 (The new recruits look like they’re doing their best.). It can modify a noun, too, in the form of なかなかの, which indicates a good evaluation. Examples: 彼(かれ)はなかなかの人物(じんぶつ)だ。 (He is such a great person.); あのコックは、なかなかの腕前 (うでまえ)だと評判(ひょうばん)だ。 (That cook is famous for his skills.)

Situation 2: Mr. Mita comes back to the office at 2 p.m. and finds Ms. Gray opening her lunch box.

三田: あれっ、今頃お昼なの?

グレイ: 次から次へと仕事が降ってきて、なかなか食べる時間がなかったの。

Mita: Are’, imagoro o-hiru nano?

Gray: Tsugi kara tsugi e to shigoto ga futte-kite, nakanaka taberu jikan ga nakatta-no.

Mita: Oh, are you having lunch now?

Gray: Jobs kept coming at me one after the other, so I didn’t have time to eat.

なかなか goes with the negative form of a verb Xない to express that X cannot be realized easily or that X requires a lot of effort to realize, as in Ms. Gray’s sentence in Situation 2. Examples: 郵便局 (ゆうびんきょく)がなかなか見(み)つからなくて、30分(ぷん)も歩(ある)き回(まわ)ってしまった。 (I could not find the post office [despite my efforts] and walked around for something like 30 minutes.)

Bonus Dialogue: Section chief Okubo and department head Yamani are talking.

大久保: 部長(ぶちょう)、大川(おおかわ)商事(しょうじ)からの共同(きょうどう)プロジェクトの申(もう)し入(い)れ、どうなっているのでしょうか。

ヤマニ: 今、上層部(じょうそうぶ)で検討中(けんとうちゅう)です。大川商事とは古(ふる)いおつきあいなので、 私(わたし)としては、できるだけ受(う)けたいとは 思(おも)うのですが、上層部がなかなかOKしてくれなくて…。

大久保: 上層部は反対(はんたい)なのですか?

ヤマニ: プロジェクトの内容(ないよう)に新(あたら)しさを 感(かん)じないということのようです。確(たし)かに、大川商事は老舗(しにせ)のプライドがありますから、あまり新奇(しんき)なことはやりませんが…。そのかわり、リスクは少(すく)ないはずです。

大久保: 伝統的(でんとうてき)なやり方(かた)と、新しいやり方、それはなかなか難(むずか)しい問題ですね。

ヤマニ: ええ。これは、昔(むかし)から繰(く)り返(かえ)されてきた、永遠(えいえん)の課題(かだい)です。

Okubo: Boss, what’s the status of the request for a joint project from the Okawa Shoji Co.?

Yamani: It is being considered by top management now. Since we have an long relationship with Okawa Shoji, I would like to accept their proposals whenever possible, but the higher-ups are reluctant to give the OK.

Okubo: Are they against the joint project?

Yamani: It seems that they don’t feel there’s anything new in the details of the project. Certainly, Okawa Shoji doesn’t really do new things, since it takes pride in being a long-established company. But on the other hand, the risk should be low.

Okubo: Traditional ways vs. new ways of doing things — it must be quite a difficult problem to deal with.

Yamani: Yeah. It’s one of those eternal problems that just keeps on cropping up.