Shakespeare’s play “All’s Well That Ends Well” is well-known in Japanese as “終わり良ければ全て良し” (“Owari Yokereba Subete Yoshi”). Since the ending matters most, 年末 (nenmatsu, the end of the year) and 仕事納め (shigoto osame, the last workday of the year) mean a lot to us.

It’s not surprising that people in Japan might feel uneasy with so many things to do at this time, such as the preparation of 年賀状 (nengajō, new year cards), 大掃除 (ōsōji, a big clean) and 帰省 (kisei, homecomings). In particular, if you haven’t ticked off all the to-dos on your list of 新年の抱負 (shinnen no hōfu, New Year’s resolutions), you may feel that this year has come to an end too fast.

How can we put this sentiment into words? Around this time of year, you may hear some phrases like あっという間に年末だね (Atto iu ma ni nenmatsu da ne, The year-end [came] in the blink of an eye). あっという間 (Atto iu ma) literally suggests the split-second moment you can say あっ (a, oh [wow]). あっという間 is a common colloquial expression around 年末 and 年始 (nenshi, the beginning of a year), but it’s useful throughout the year whenever you feel time flying by.