Language | WELL SAID

Getting up front with 'omote' and then back to 'ura'

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

Ura nimo shitsumon ga arimasu. (There are questions on the back, too.)

Situation 1: Mr. Tien is sick so he goes to a clinic and talks to the receptionist at the front desk.

ティエン: すみません、初めてなんですが。

受付: ああ、そうですか。じゃ、この紙の質問に答えてください。裏にも質問があります。表に名前を書いてくださいね。

Tien: Sumimasen, hajimete nan desu ga.

Uketsuke: Ā, sō desu ka. Ja, kono kami no shitsumon ni kotaete kudasai. Ura nimo shitsumon ga arimasu. Omote ni namae o kaite kudasai ne.

Tien: Excuse me, it’s my first time here …

Front desk: Oh, I see. Well, please answer the questions on this piece of paper. There are questions on the back, too. And please write your name on the front.

Two opposites that can be used in a range of ways are 表 (おもて) and 裏 (うら). 表 refers to “the front” or “a face,” and is used for the front side of thin objects like paper, cloth or coins. 裏 is “the back” or “the rear” of those things:

この布(ぬの)はこっちが表です。 (This is the right side of the cloth.)

表 can also refer to the front facade of a building, while 裏 expresses the back side of it:

表のドアが開(あ)いています。 (The front door is open.)

表にだれかいるみたいだ。 (It appears someone is out front.)

家(いえ)の裏には物置(ものおき)がある。 (There’s a shed in the back of our house.)

大(おお)きな地震(じしん)があったとき、すぐに表に出(で)ないほうがいい。 (You shouldn’t dash out front when a big earthquake happens.)

The word 裏表 (うらおもて) is used to refer to both sides, inside and out:

ねえ、セーターを裏表に着(き)ているよ。 (Hey, you have your sweater on inside-out.)

Situation 2: Ms. Gray and her colleague Ms. Tamachi are gossiping about a section chief at their company.

グレイ: 営業2課の課長って、何だかいやな感じね。

田町: 私もそう思う。それに、態度に表と裏があって、上司の前では低姿勢だけど、部下にはすぐ怒ったりするんだって。

Gurei: Eigyō nika no kachō-tte, nandaka iyana kanji ne.

Tamachi Watashi mo sō omou. Soreni, taido ni omote to ura ga atte, jōshi no mae dewa teishisei dakedo, buka niwa sugu okottari suru-n datte.

Gray: The section chief of sales department No. 2, I get some kind of bad feeling (from him).

Tamachi: I think so, too. And, he is two-faced, he keeps a low profile in front of his boss, but he’s quick to get angry with his subordinates.

裏 can also refer to a person or thing’s shadier side. While 表 can be used to describe the superficial facade act someone puts on.

この計画(けいかく)の裏には何(なに)かがあると思(おも)う。 (I think there’s something shady behind this plan.)

Bonus Dialogue:
Ms. Oda expresses some anxieties she has about being a parent to her friend Ms. Gray.

小田(おだ): うちの子(こ)どもが表で遊(あそ)びたがっているの。だから、こんどうちのマンションの裏にある公園(こうえん)に連(つ)れて行(い)こうと思って。

グレイ: わあ、もうそんなに大きくなったのね!

小田: でも、ゆううつなんだ。ほかの子どもたちとうまく遊べるかどうか心配(しんぱい)だし、私(わたし)がほかのお母(かあ)さんとうまくつきあえるかどうかも。

グレイ: 何言(い)っているの。行ってみなくちゃわからないでしょ。

小田: でも、いろいろネットで調(しら)べると、大変(たいへん)そうなの。ママたちのグループを裏で支配(しはい)している人(ひと)がいるとか…。

グレイ: そういうこともあるかもしれないけど、そうとは限(かぎ)らないでしょう?

小田: 私、言葉(ことば)の裏の意味(いみ)を読(よ)み取(と)るのがすごく下手(へた)なんだ。

グレイ: いろいろ考(かんが)えすぎだよ。まずは子どもと楽(たの)しまなくちゃ。

Oda: My kid wants to play outside, so I think I’m going to take him to the park behind our apartment shortly.

Gray: Wow, he’s gotten so big already!

Oda: But, I’m all depressed. I’m worried about whether he can get along well with the other children, and if I can fit in with the other mothers.

Gray: What are you saying? You won’t know until you go and try.

Oda: But when I was looking up a bunch of stuff on the internet, it looks so hard. There could be a dominant member in the group of moms who runs the show behind the scenes.

Gray: Well, that may be the case, but not necessarily.

Oda: I’m very poor at being able to read the meaning behind someone’s words.

Gray: You’re overthinking it! First and foremost, you should have a good time with your child.

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