As Japan comes out of お盆 (o-Bon, a time to honor ancestors), conversations around the coffee machine at work are likely to center on people’s 夏休み (natsu yasumi, summer vacations): “お盆休みはどうでしたか?” (“O-Bon yasumi wa dō deshita ka?,” “How was your o-Bon holiday?”) is one thing you’re likely to hear, “実家に戻られました?” (“Jikka ni modoraremashita?,” “Did you go back to your hometown?”) is another.

Prior to the holiday, however, one word that likely popped up a lot in conversation was 予定 (yotei, schedule). It’s not uncommon to hear 予定 in an office setting at any time of year, but the Japanese also use it to refer to plans they have outside of work: 今週末、鎌倉に行く予定があります/を立てました。 (Konshūmatsu, Kamakura ni iku yotei ga arimasu/o tatemashita, I have plans/made plans to go to Kamakura this weekend).

The verb 立てる (tateru) is used when you want to make a plan, and it’s used when you want to break one: すみません、予定が立たないので欠席します (Sumimasen, yotei ga tatanai node kesseki shimasu, I’m sorry, I must decline as I’m unable to fix my schedule). Having said that, 予定が立たない is used more often before plans are made because you can’t fix your schedule. When you’re talking about things falling apart after the fact, reach for the verb 潰れる (tsubureru): 忙しくて夏休みの予定が潰れた (Isogashikute natsu yasumi no yotei ga tsubureta, I was busy and my summer vacation plans fell apart).

立てる, 立たない, 潰れる that’s the trick to using 予定 — like a fine wine, it all depends on what verb you pair it with. There’s an old saying that goes, 予定は未定 (yotei wa mitei, nothing goes as planned), but if you want to sound less like a wise, old sage and more like a regular person, 予定が確定しない (yotei ga kakutei shinai, the schedule isn’t concrete) and 予定が流動的 (yotei ga ryūdōteki, the schedule is fluid) are both sentences that stress uncertainty: 台風が来るので今週末の予定がまだ確定しません (Taifū ga kuru node, konshūmatsu no yotei ga mada kakutei shimasen, A typhoon is coming so this weekend’s plans are not yet decided).

Still, we ought to do our best to 予定を調整する (yotei o chōsei suru, adjust the schedule) or 予定をやりくりする (yotei o yarikurisuru, manage the schedule) in order to even out the old ワークライフバランス (wāku raifu baransu, work-life balance) where possible. The term やりくり has the idea of managing things and can be attached to する to indicate moving cash around or managing your time: あれこれやりくりして千円節約した (Arekore yarikuri shite sen-en setsuyaku shita, I moved a lot [of money] around and managed to save ¥1,000) is a phrase you might hear from a stay-at-home mom who manages a household on a single income, and with her savings she might then say, 時間をやりくりして、スパに行った (Jikan o yarikuri shite, supa ni itta, I made time to go to a spa).

A 予定 can also be ground up like peppercorns, as in the phrase 予定をこなす (yotei o konasu, I got through the schedule). The verb こなす means to crush or pulverize but when used with 予定 the pulverizing feeling appears to be on the speaker since 予定をこなす is used to refer to work situations in which you “cope” or “plow through”: 仕事を重ねて、予定をこなしてようやく鎌倉に行ける (My work piled up, I powered through [the schedule] and finally I can go to Kamakura). 予定をこなす can also be used to refer to a set schedule on a package tour: ツアーの予定を全部こなした (tsuā no yotei o zenbu konashita, I made it through all parts of the tour) with the nuance that it was a tough schedule.

予定がびっしり (yotei ga bisshiri, the schedule is packed) sounds more urgent than 予定がいっぱい (yotei ga ippai, the schedule is full) but they basically mean the same thing. That’s why it’s important to 予定を空ける (yotei o akeru, free up the schedule) for vacations or quality time with family and friends, which is what お盆, 夏休み and 週末 are all about: “土曜日は空いてますか?” (“Doyōbi wa aitemasu ka?,” “Are you free on Saturday?”) is as nice to hear as it is to say. Also nice is “予定を空けました” (“Yotei o akemashita,” “I freed up my schedule [for you]”), which lets someone know you’ve made an effort to secure some quality time.

The summer is almost finished and, sadly, a lot of us may not have had the chance to take time off. Lucky for us, シルバーウィーク (sirubā wīku, silver week) will come next month and it brings two three-day weekends in a row. 3連休の予定を立てましょう (san-renkyū no yotei o tatemashō, let’s plan ahead for the three-day weekend)!

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