Language | WELL SAID

Know the circumstances of using 'shidai'

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

Koto no shidai o kuwashiku setsumei shinasai. (Explain the circumstances in detail.)

Situation 1: Mr. Mita comes back to office and reports that the contract with the AB Company was turned down and he apologizes his boss, Mr. Okubo.

三田: 申し訳ありません…。

大久保: 一体どうしてこんなことになったのか、事の次第を詳しく説明しなさい。

Mita: Mōshiwake arimasen …

Ōkubo: Ittai dōshite konna koto ni natta no ka, koto no shidai o kuwashiku setsumei shinasai.

Mita: I apologize …

Okubo: How in the heck did this happen? Explain the circumstances in detail.

The word 次第 (しだい) as a noun means circumstances, process and so on. In Situation 1, Mr. Okubo uses 次第 to express that he doesn’t just want to know the reason that something happened, but the circumstances that led to it. (Also in the conversation, when 一体 [いったい] is used at the beginning of the interrogative it has the nuance of “What the heck” or “How in the world.”) In Situation 2, Mr. Okubo’s 事(こと, fact)と次第によっては changes to become an idomatic expression that means “depending on the circumstances.”

Situation 2: Continued from Situation 1. After listening to Mr. Mita’s explanation, Mr. Okubo responds.

大久保: そうか、大体わかった。事と次第によっては、専務に話を通さなければならない。早速報告書を作成してくれ。それができ次第、部長に報告に行く。

三田: はい、承知いたしました。

Ōkubo: Sōka, daitai wakatta. Koto to shidai ni-yotte-wa, senmu ni hanashi o tōsanakereba naranai. Sassoku hōkokusho o sakusei shite-kure. Sore ga deki-shidai, buchō ni hōkoku ni iku.

Mita: Hai, shōchi itashimashita.

Okubo: OK, I generally understand (what you’re saying). Depending on the circumstances, I’ll have to talk to the senior managing director. Create a report (on this) at once. As soon as it’s done, I will report it to the section chief.

Mita: Yes, I understand.

When 次第 is attached to a verb in its masu-stem form (that’s the masu form without ます attached), as in Mr. Okubo’s でき次第, the X次第 pattern means “soon after X”:

定員(ていいん)になり次第、しめきります。 (It will be closed soon after we reach capacity.)

Nouns (X) can be used with 次第 and the X次第 pattern indicates that something is dependent on X:

世(よ)の中(なか)なんて、金(かね)次第でどうにでもなる。(What a world, everything depends on money.)

In the Bonus Dialogue you’ll spot 次第に, which is an adverb that means “gradually,” but is really only used to express a change in circumstances in formal conversation or in written Japanese.

Bonus Dialogue: Department Head Ms. Yamani and Section Chief Mr. Okubo are talking with each other at the office.

大久保: 最近(さいきん)、新製品(しんせいひん)の売(う)れ行(ゆ)きがだんだん鈍(にぶ)っているのが気(き)になります。

ヤマニ: まあ、今(いま)は、物(もの)を売るばかりの時代(じだい)ではありませんからね。売れるかどうかは、時代のニーズ次第ですよ。

大久保: なるほど。とはいえ、電化(でんか)製品(せいひん)などと違(ちが)って、うちの製品はまだまだ将来性(しょうらいせい)がありますよね。アンチエイジングのサプリとか…。

ヤマニ: ええ。それと、サプリなどを開発(かいはつ)・販売(はんばい)するばかりでなく、エステを開設(かいせつ)して、両者(りょうしゃ)をタイアップさせたいと思(おも)っています。この施設(しせつ)が軌道(きどう)に乗(の)れば、次第に製品の売り上げも上(あ)がっていくはずですから。先日(せんじつ)の役員(やくいん)会議(かいぎ)では否決(ひけつ)されましたが、何度(なんど)でも提案(ていあん)して、このアイデアが通(とお)り次第、実行(じっこう)するつもりで準備(じゅんび)を進(すす)めています。

大久保: [ひとりごと] ああ、部長(ぶちょう)はまた新(あたら)しいことにチャレンジしている。私(わたし)もまだまだ守(まも)りに入(はい)ってはいけないなあ。

Okubo: Recently, the sales of our new products have been gradually slowing down, and it’s been on my mind.

Yamani: Well, now isn’t an era in which we only sell things. Whether they can sell or not depends on the needs of the present day and age.

Okubo: I see. Speaking of that, unlike electric appliances and such, our products are still promising … the anti-aging supplements and so on.

Yamani: Yes. And, in addition to the development and sales of those supplements, I hope to establish an esthetics component and have them both tie-up. As that facility gets on track, product sales should gradually go up. The idea was rejected at a board meeting the other day, but I’ll keep suggesting it and, soon after this idea passes, I am planning to execute it so I am proceeding with preparations.

Okubo: (To himself) Ah, the department head is again taking on a new challenge. I don’t think I’ll play it safe quite yet.