Language | WELL SAID

Living and working — choosing the right verb in Japanese

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

Uganda ni hitori de sunde-imasu.

She lives on her own in Uganda.

Situation 1: At home, Mr. and Mrs. Okubo are talking.

妻: 山下さんのお嬢さん、ウガンダの会社に就職して、今一人でウガンダに住んでいるんですって。

夫: へえ! いったいどんなふうに暮らしているんだろう?

Tsuma: Yamashita-san no ojō-san, Uganda no kaisha ni shūshoku shite, ima hitori de Uganda ni sunde-iru-n desu-tte.

Otto: Hē! Ittai donna fū ni kurashite-iru-n darō?

Wife: Mr. Yamashita’s daughter got a job at a Ugandan company and lives on her own in Uganda now, I heard.

Husband: Wow! I wonder just what kind of life she’s living.

Today we will introduce the differences between the meanings and uses of the verbs 住(す)む and 暮(く)らす and some related expressions. Both Xに住む and Xで暮らす mean “to live in place X.” But these two verbs go with different particles — に and で, respectively. As you probably know, に is used with verbs describing the state of affairs, as in:

めがねはテーブルの上(うえ)にある。 (The glasses are on the table.)

Meanwhile, で is used with verbs of action, as here:

カラオケで歌(うた)を歌った。 (I sang songs at karaoke.)

So, 住む is a state-of-affairs verb that shows where a person is living, as in ウガンダに住んでいる in Situation 1. On the other hand, 暮らす is an action verb that implies not only where the person lives but also how they live, as in:

楽(たの)しく (happily)/ひとりで (alone)/元気(げんき)に (energetically) 暮らしている。

Situation 2: Mr. Nakano, Mr. Sere’s junior during their university days, has just joined the same company. He comes to greet his college senior.

中野: 中途入社で、今日からこちらに勤めることになりました。よろしくお願いします。

セレ: そうか、よかったね。バリバリ働いてくれよ。

Nakano: Chūto-nyūsha de, kyō kara kochira ni tsutomeru koto ni narimashita. Yoroshiku o-negai-shimasu.

Sere: Sō ka, yokatta ne. Baribari hataraite-kure yo.

Nakano: I joined the company today as a mid-career hire. I look forward to working with you.

Cere: Really? That’s great! Please give it your best.

Similarly, the 勤(つと)める in X(company)に勤める in Situation 2 is a state-of-affairs verb that explains a person is a member of company X. On the other hand, the 働(はたら)く in X(place/company)で働く can communicate not only what company someone works for but also how the person works, as in Mr. Sere’s バリバリ働く (to work energetically) in Situation 2, or as in:

一生懸命(いっしょうけんめい, hard)/のんびり(in a relaxed way)働く。

Bonus Dialogue: Mr. and Mrs. Okubo are looking at photos they took on their trip abroad to an island a few weeks ago.

妻: 老後(ろうご)は、こんな島(しま)に住むのもいいなあ。 景色(けしき)はきれいだし、島の人々(ひとびと)の 暮らしも楽しそうだし。

夫: みんな、一度(いちど)はそんなふうに考(かんが)えるらしいよ。

妻: 中(なか)には本当(ほんとう)にそうした日本人(にほん じん)もいるのかしら?

夫: うん。だけど、何年(なんねん)か経(た)つと、「やっぱり 日本がいい」って、帰国(きこく)してしまうらしい。

妻: あら、どうして?

夫: 定年(ていねん)退職(たいしょく)してから突然(とつぜん)この島に住むから無理(むり)があるんだ。まず、言葉(ことば)ができないと、コミュニティーには入(はい)れない。それに、いくら年金(ねんきん)生活(せいかつ) だといっても、少(すこ)しは働(はたら)いたほうが おもしろいし。だから、まだ会社(かいしゃ)に勤めているうちから、この国(くに)の言葉や文化(ぶんか)や習慣(しゅうかん)を勉強(べんきょう)しておかないと。

妻: 勉強ねえ…。一生(いっしょう)逃(に)げられないものなのねえ。

夫: おいおい、何だか光男(みつお)みたいなことを言(い)わないでくれよ。

Wife: It could be nice to live on an island like this after retirement. The scenery is beautiful and people seem to enjoy their lives here.

Husband: Everyone seems to think like that at some point.

Wife: Are there Japanese people who actually follow through and do it?

Husband: Sure there are. But after a matter of years, they return home, saying, “At the end of the day, it’s Japan for me.”

Wife: What? But why?

Husband: To just suddenly live on this island after reaching retirement age and stopping work is impossible. First, if you can’t speak the local language, you can’t become part of the community. What’s more, even if you’re living a pensioner lifestyle, it’s more interesting to work a little at the same time. So, from the time you’re still working for a company, you need to study the country’s language, culture and customs.

Wife: Ah, studying — we can’t escape from studying our whole lives.

Husband: Hey, now you’re sounding like (our son) Mitsuo! Stop it!