Language | WELL SAID

Know your spicy from your sweet in Japanese with 'karai' and 'amai'

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

Ban-gohan wa karai Indo-karē ni shimashita.

I made spicy Indian curry for dinner.

Situation 1: Mr. Okubo comes home one hot evening.

夫: ただいま! 残暑が厳しいなあ。こう暑いと食欲が 出ないよ。

妻: おかえりなさい! そう思って、晩御飯は辛いインド・カレーにしたのよ。

Otto: Tadaima! Zansho ga kibishii nā. Kō atsui to shokuyoku ga denai yo.

Tsuma: Okaerinasai! Sō omotte, ban-gohan wa karai Indo-karē ni shita noyo.

Husband: I’m back! This lingering summer heat is tough. It’s so hot that I don’t have much of an appetite.

Wife: Welcome back! I thought about that, so I made spicy Indian curry for dinner.

Today we will introduce the meanings and uses of 辛(から)い (spicy) and 甘(あま)い (sweet), two i-adjectives that relate to taste. 辛い is used to point out when something is spicy or hot, like Indian curry, pepper, mustard, chili, etc. Curry roux sold in supermarkets is ranked by hotness, with the mildest being 甘口(あまくち, mild or sweet), followed by 中辛(ちゅうから, medium-spicy ) and 大辛(おおから, very hot), with 激辛(げきから, extremely hot) being the hottest. 辛い is sometimes used to mean “salty,” as in:

煮物(にもの)はどちらかというと、甘いより辛いほうが好(す)きだ。 (When it comes to cooked vegetables, I like them salty rather than sweet.)

But usually for this meaning, 塩(しお)辛い is used, the colloquial form of which is しょっぱい. When 甘口 and 辛口 are used for alcohol, they mean “mild” and “dry,” respectively, as you’ll see in the Bonus Dialogue.

Situation 2: Mr. & Mrs. Okubo are at home, having a late dinner. The wife complains about their young daughter, Mariko.

妻: まり子ったら、今日は遊んでばかりで、宿題もし ないで寝ちゃったのよ。

夫: まあ、いいじゃないか。子どもはのびのびと遊んでいるのが一番だ。

妻: あなたは、まり子には甘いんだから!

Tsuma: Mariko-ttara, kyō wa asonde bakari de, shukudai mo shinai de netchatta no yo.

Otto: Mā, ii ja-nai ka. Kodomo wa nobinobi to asonde-iru no ga ichiban da.

Tsuma: Anata wa, Mariko ni wa amai-n dakara.

Wife: Mariko just played today and went to sleep without even doing her homework.

Husband: Oh, that’s all right, isn’t it? It’s best if children play freely.

Wife: You are too soft on Mariko!

甘い and 辛い are also used in the abstract sense. For example, Mrs. Okubo uses 甘い to suggest that the father is too sweet to his daughter, letting her do whatever she wants. Both terms can also go in front of 採点(さいてん, grading) and 基準(きじゅん, criteria) to evaluate them. 甘い考(かんが)え (thinking) is used when suggesting that someone’s way of thinking is overly optimistic.

Bonus Dialogue: After in-house training at the office, two young colleagues wind down at a pub.

セレ: ああ、やっぱり「越乃寒梅(こしのかんばい)」は美味(うま)いなあ。日本酒(にほんしゅ)は辛口がいいよ。

三田: セレくん、日本酒の味(あじ)もわかるんだね。くやしいから、ぼくは少(すこ)しワインでも勉強(べんきょう)しようかなあ。

セレ: ところで、今日(きょう)の研修(けんしゅう)の講演 (こうえん)、どう思(おも)った?

三田: うーん、日本の経済(けいざい)状況(じょうきょう)と、それに対(たい)する経済界(けいざいかい)の対応(たいおう)に対して、ずいぶん辛口なこと言(い)っていたなあ。

セレ: 三田(みた)くんも、そう思う? ぼくも、ちょっと厳(きび)しすぎると思ったよ。

三田: もちろん、これからどんどん少子化(しょうしか)が進(すす)むわけだから、甘く考(かんが)えるべきじゃないことは分(わ)かる。だけど、じゃあ、どうしたら、ということを言ってくれなかった。

セレ: あっ、分かった! 若手(わかて)一人(ひとり)一人が真剣(しんけん)に対策(たいさく)を考えろ…と、それが研修の目的(もくてき)だよ、きっと。

三田: そうか! ぼくもワインの勉強より、日本経済について勉強するほうが先(さき)だな。

Sere: Ah, no doubt about it, Koshi no Kanbai is delicious. As far as Japanese sake is concerned, dry is the best.

Mita: Sere, you even know about the taste of sake? How irritating. I think I’ll have to learn more about wine — at least a bit.

Sere: By the way, what did you think of the lecture at today’s training?

Mita: Well, the lecturer was saying a lot of harsh things about the economic situation in Japan and the response from within the business world to it.

Sere: Ah, you thought so too, did you, Mita? I also felt his criticisms were too strong.

Mita: Of course, as the birthrate continues to decline, I understand that we can’t be too optimistic. But he didn’t tell us what to do about that.

Sere: Oh, I get it now! He meant that each of us should think about the measures to take — that must have been the purpose of the training, for sure.

Mita: I see! Maybe I should learn more about the Japanese economy instead of about wine.