Ima wa, kikoku suru beki ja nai yo.

(You shouldn’t return to your home country right now.)

Situation 1: Mr. Sere is talking to his colleague Mr. Mita.

セレ: 母の体調が心配だから、ちょっと帰国しようかと思っているんだ。

三田: 今は、帰国するべきじゃないよ。再入国できないかもしれないよ。

Sere: Haha no taichō ga shinpai dakara, chotto kikoku shiyō ka to omotte-iru-n da.

Mita: Ima wa, kikoku suru beki ja nai yo. Sainyūkoku dekinai kamo shirenai yo.

Sere: I’m worried about my mother’s physical condition, so I’m thinking of going home a little while.

Mita: You shouldn’t return to your home country right now. You may not be able to re-enter Japan.

The word べき translates as “should” or “ought to” in English, and is often used in the expression Xべきだ/です. The word comes from an old auxiliary verb, べし (should), but since べき acts like a noun in modern Japanese it is usually paired with the noun-modifying form of a verb:


(This thesis should be rewritten.)

The negative version is Xべきじゃない/ではない, and it is used when advising or insisting what the speaker thinks is right. That’s why Mr. Mita advises Mr. Sere 帰国(きこく)するべきじゃない in Situation 1. This nuance of insistence also means that you shouldn’t use the structure with people who are above you.

Situation 2: Mariko and her mother head to a shrine. Mariko gets excited and runs into a prohibited area.

まり子: わーい、きれいな芝生だ!

母: だめよ、まり子。「芝生に入るべからず」って書いてあるでしょ。

Mariko: Wāi, kireina shibafu da!

Haha: Dame yo, Mariko. “Shibafu ni hairu bekarazu” -tte kaite-aru desho.

Mariko: Wow, the pretty lawn!

Mother: No, Mariko. It says, “Don’t step on the lawn.”

The Xべきじゃない structure used in Situation 1 expresses the speaker’s opinion. In Situation 2, however, Xべからず is used to express a prohibition. べからず is the negative form of the old verb べし, and it is mostly used in written Japanese nowadays:


(That kind of thing is behavior that cannot be permitted.)

In the past, the Xべからず structure was often seen on regulatory signs:

ここにごみを捨(す)てるべからず。 (Do not throw away garbage here.)

However, these days signs are more likely to be phrased a little gentler:

ここにごみを捨てないでください。 (Please do not throw away garbage here.)

An old proverb also makes use of the phrase:

働(はたら)かざる者(もの)食(く)うべからず。 (Those who do not work should not eat).

Bonus Dialogue: An office team is discussing Ms. Gray’s idea.

ヤマニ: 今日(きょう)はブレインストーミングとしては有意義(ゆういぎ)な話(はな)し合(あ)いができましたが、なかなか具体的(ぐたいてき)な提案(ていあん)にはたどり着(つ)きませんでしたね。

大久保(おおくぼ): はい、終了(しゅうりょう)時間(じかん)が迫(せま)っていますが、具体(ぐたい)策(さく)は出(で)ていません。

グレイ: やはり、コストが最大(さいだい)の問題(もんだい)ですね。

大久保: コストは削減(さくげん)するべきですが、質(しつ)は落(お)とすべきではありません。これが大(おお)きな課題(かだい)になっています。

三田(みた): うーん、それならいっそ、質については妥協(だきょう)してはどうでしょうか。

大久保: そうですね、わが社(しゃ)は品質(ひんしつ)第一(だいいち)の伝統(でんとう)がありますが、今回(こんかい)だけはコスト本位(ほんい)でいきましょうか。

ヤマニ: 「初心(しょしん)忘(わす)るべからず」という格言(かくげん)があります。迷(まよ)ったり悩(なや)んだりしたら、始(はじ)めに立(た)ち返(かえ)りましょう。品質は譲(ゆず)れません。では、また来週(らいしゅう)、このような会議(かいぎ)をやって、解決(かいけつ)策を探(さぐ)りましょう。

Yamani: Today, we were able to have a meaningful discussion while brainstorming, but we couldn’t quite come to a concrete proposal.

Okubo: Right, the closing time [deadline] is approaching, but no concrete measures have been taken.

Gray: As expected, cost is the biggest issue.

Okubo: Costs ought to be reduced, but the quality should not be reduced. That’s the main challenge.

Mita: Hmm, in that case wouldn’t we be better off compromising on quality?

Okubo: Well, our company has a tradition of [putting] quality first, but let’s just focus on cost this time.

Yamani: There’s a proverb, “Don’t forget what got you there in the first place.” If you get lost or you’re worrying, then it’s best to return to the start. Quality cannot be compromised. Well then, we’ll have this kind of meeting again next week, let’s look for a solution.

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