Language | WELL SAID

The good, the bad and the ‘by all means’ of ‘zehi’ in Japanese

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

(Kono purojekuto o AB-sha to teikei suru koto no zehi ni tsuite …) Regarding the pros and cons of tying up with AB Co. on this project …

Situation 1: Toward the end of a meeting, the chairman says:

議長: それでは、このプロジェクトをAB社と提携することの是非について、この辺で決を採りたいと思います。

Gichō: Sore de wa, kono purojekuto o AB-sha to teikei suru koto no zehi ni tsuite, kono hen de ketsu o toritai to omoimasu.

Chairman: So, at this point I’d like to take a decision on the pros and cons of tying up with AB Co. on this project.

Today, let’s look at 是非(ぜひ), which is made up of 是(ぜ), meaning “correctness,” “justice” or “rightness,” and 非(ひ), meaning the opposite. So, 是非 is a noun meaning “what’s good and/or bad,” as in 是非を論(ろん)じる (to discuss the rights and wrongs of) or here: 物事(ものごと)の是非もわからないようでは、大人(おとな)とはいえない。 (A person who doesn’t know the difference between right or wrong can’t be considered an adult.). Note that this usage sounds quite bookish. 是非とも and 是非に (literally, “whether it is all right or not”), where the noun plus particle function as an adverb, are more formal ways of using 是非 than in Situation 2.

Situation 2: Mrs. Takeda calls her neighbor Mrs. Okubo to invite her to her daughter’s kindergarten’s event.

竹田: 明日、幼稚園でバザーをするの。時間があったら、ぜひ来てね。手づくりのバッグをたくさん作ったの。

大久保: ありがとう。ぜひぜひ!まり子も一緒につれて行く。

Takeda: Ashita, yōchien de bazā o suru no. Jikan ga attara, zehi kite ne. Tezukuri no baggu o takusan tsukutta no.

Ōkubo: Arigatō. Zehi zehi! Mariko mo issho ni tsurete-iku.

Takeda: We are having a bazaar at the kindergarten tomorrow. If you have time, come and join us. I made lots of handmade bags.

Okubo: Thank you. By all means (I’ll come)! I’ll bring Mariko.

是非 is also used as an adverb when inviting others, to emphasize that they are welcome, as Mrs. Takeda does in Situation 2, or for the other party to express a desire to accept the invitation. In this usage, it is usually written in hiragana. This usage is more common than that in Situation 1. It can be repeated for emphasis, as Mrs. Okubo does. Example: その仕事(しごと)、ぜひ私(わたし)に やらせてください。(Please, by all means, let me do that work.)

Bonus Dialogue: Two young colleagues who graduated from the same university are talking.

セレ: 大学(だいがく)のとき同(おな)じゼミだった赤井(あかい)さん、覚(おぼ)えてる?

三田: うーん、よくわからないけど。その人(ひと)がどうしたの?

セレ: 昨日(きのう)、偶然(ぐうぜん)会(あ)ったんだ。大学(だいがく)時代(じだい)から、司法(しほう)試験(しけん) をめざして勉強(べんきょう)していて、卒業(そつぎょう) 後(ご)も弁護士(べんごし)事務所(じむしょ)の手伝 (てつだ)いをしながら試験勉強していたんだって。 でも、3回(さんかい)落(お)ちたから、あきらめて就職(しゅうしょく)したいんだって。

三田: あっ、思(おも)い出(だ)した! 付(つ)き合(あ)いの悪(わる)い、暗(くら)い感(かん)じの子(こ)だった!

セレ: それが、すごく明(あか)るくてすてきな女性(じょせい)になっていて、初(はじ)めは赤井さんだと気(き)づかなかったくらい。これからは、ぜひきちんとした生活(せいかつ)がしたいから、うちの会社(かいしゃ)に入(はい)れないか、って聞(き)かれた。

三田: へえ、そうなんだ! そんなすてきな人には、ぜひぜひ、うちの会社に入ってもらいたいものだ。セレくん、ぼくたち、赤井さんにぜひ協力(きょうりょく)してあげようよ。

セレ: 三田くんなら、きっとそう言(い)うと思ったよ。

Sere: Do you remember Ms. Akai, who took the same seminar as us at university?

Mita: Well, not really. What about her?

Sere: I bumped into her yesterday. Since college, she’s been cramming for the bar exam. Even after graduating, she kept studying while working in a law office. But after failing three times, she gave up and now wants a job.

Mita: Oh, I remember! That girl was kind of a morose type and not sociable.

Sere: But now she’s a cheerful, charming lady. I didn’t even recognize her at first. She said she wants a stable life from now on. So, she asked if she could join our company.

Mita: Oh, is that so? I’d certainly like such an excellent person to join our firm. Let’s both support her.

Sere: Knowing you, Mita, I thought you’d say that.