This post introduces humble Japanese expressions that make you sound like Japanese people. Since some of them are very Japanese (i.e. traditional) phrases, chances are you may make your Japanese friends laugh or surprised if you use them in a conversation.
お邪魔します, ojama shimasu
“お邪魔(じゃま)します”, which literally means “(sorry for) causing a nuisance”, is an expression to use when you enter someone’s house. When you leave a house, you can say “お邪魔しました (ojama shimashita)”, the past form of お邪魔します. Many people use this expression as a sort of a greeting and probably are not aware of its literal meaning. In fact, there are several Japanese phrases like this that we say before or after doing something, including the well-known phrases “いただきます (itadakimasu)” and “馳走様でした (gochisousama deshita)”, which we say before and after having a meal to show appreciation.
Please come in!
(The sound of ま is often prolonged)
お言葉に甘えて, okotoba ni amaete
“お言葉(ことば)に甘(まあ)えて” literally means “let me get spoiled by your words”. It is a humble and polite expression to use when you accept a favour from someone. It is often used when someone who is much older or higher-ranking than you offers a favour and you accept it in a very polite way.
Do you wanna have dinner at my house today (before you go)?
Then, let me get spoiled by your words (and have dinner with you).
つまらないものですが, tsumaranai mono desu ga
“つまらないものですが…” literally means “(This) is trivial/not interesting, but…” and figuratively “This is not much/just a little something, but…”. It is a traditional Japanese phrase to say when you give a present to someone in a humble way. It is not commonly used among young people, but often used in anime/drama.
This is not much, but (I hope you’ll like it)
Oh you didn’t have to, thank you very much!
Note that the phrase after つまらないものですが is omitted, i.e. 言いさし文, “Unfinished Sentence”; see “Omission of Words” and “Unfinished Sentences” in Japanese for details.
ふつつか者ですが, futsutsuka mono desu ga
“ふつつか者(もの)ですが…” literally means “Although (I’m) a little immature, clumsy, and goofy person…”, which is usually followed by “どうぞよろしくお願(ねが)いします”, meaning “let’s have a good relationship together”: a handy Japanese expression that shows one’s eagerness to build a good relationship with someone.
Typically, it is used (especially in anime/manga/drama) when you accept a confession of love or marriage proposal from someone. (Sounds cute, doesn’t it? but it might be too cute for many people to actually say this on such an occasion…). It is also used when you join a new community and introduce yourself in a humble way, or when you show your eagerness to stay in touch with others on your special occasion (e.g. birthday).
A: Since I met you for the first time, I have been in love with you. Would you be my girlfriend?
B: Yes, I’m happy to! Although I’m a clumsy, immature and goofy person, I’d love to build a close relationship with you (as your girlfriend)!
手前味噌ですが, temae miso desu ga
手前味噌(てまえみそ)ですが… (or 手前味噌になりますが…) is an idiomatic expression that literally means “although it’s this-side miso (Japanese seasoning)”. It actually means “I’m afraid this may sound boastful, but…” and is used when you want to make a bit of a brag in a humble way. One of the theories says that this phrase originates from how people used to boast about their original home-made miso.
Note that this expression is highly advanced and even some Japanese people may not understand it; a more recognised phrase with a similar meaning would be 自分(じぶん)で言(い)うのもなんだけど…, literally meaning “although this would be inappropriate to say this myself…”.
I’m afraid it may sound boastful, but the number of my followers has reached 10,000!
滅相(めっそう)もないです, messou mo nai desu
滅相(めっそう)もないです, which originates from a Buddhist term, is a very polite and humble expression to use when you deny a compliment given by someone (e.g. senpai). Typically, people say いえいえ (“No no”) before this expression to deny someone’s compliment. If you’re a Japanese learner and feel rather fed up with some Japanese people repeatedly saying “日本語上手ですね (“nihongo jōzu desu ne”, “your Japanese is very good”) to you, you may reply to them by this humble expression — now you sound more than jōzu.
Your Japanese is very jōzu (good)!
No no, that can’t be true/I’m still learning!