Here, in Japan, it is said that 2020 will be the year of omotenashi. This word got famous through the Olympic game invitation presentation in 2013. The presenter used it to express Japanese hospitality. So, in the following paragraphs, I will explain Japanese hospitality from the grammatical point of view. Let’s get started!
- Definition and meaning of omotenashi
- Meaning of omotenashi as a combination of “o” and “motenashi”
- Meaning of omotenashi as a combination of “omote” and “nashi”
- Appendix: honorific prefix O and Go
Definition and meaning of omotenashiLet me start with a definition and meaning of “omotenashi”.
- omotenashi – おもてなし : a noun to mean ‘hospitality’. Today Japanese people widely use it to mean ‘Japanese hospitality’.
Meaning of omotenashi as a combination of “o” and “motenashi”First, I will explain “omotenashi” as a combination of an honorific prefix and noun-formed verb. It consists of the following two words.
- o – お : an honorific prefix to add a polite nuance to a following word.
- motenashi – もてなし : a noun-formed verb to mean a ‘reception’ or ‘service’ for guests. Originally it comes from a verb, “motenasu もてなす”, which means ‘to welcome’, ‘to treat’ or ‘to entertain’.
Japanese people often use a word, “gokigen”, which is a polite expression for a ‘mood’ or ‘feeling’. Here, “go” is a prefix to add a polite nuance to the following noun “kigen”. “Go” fits better with “kigen” than “o” does. In fact, Japanese native speakers never say “okigen”. For the use of these two prefixes, I will add more explanations at the end of this blog post as an appendix.
Get back to explanations of the components. The other component, “motenashi”, originally comes from the verb, “motenasu”. Here I need to mention a relation between Japanese nouns and verbs. In Japanese, we can often make nouns from verbs by replacing their last vowel with “i”. “Motenashi” is one of the typical examples. This is why I called it a noun-formed verb.
This is one way to break down “omotenashi” into two parts. In my opinion, this way helps us a lot to understand its meaning directly. Then let’s take a closer look at the other one.
Meaning of omotenashi as a combination of “omote” and “nashi”In the other way, “omotenashi” can be broken down into the following two words.
- omote – おもて : a noun to mean a ‘front side’, ‘top side’ or ‘face’.
- nashi – なし : a noun-formed adjective to express ‘non-existence’. Originally it comes from an i-adjective, “nai“, which means ‘not to exist’.
From meanings of the components above, omotenashi meaning would be ‘non-existence of the front side’. In order to understand this meaning, we need to know what exactly “omote” means here.
Omote vs Ura: how they affect omotenashi meaningIn Japanese, the word, “omote”, is often used in comparison with “ura” which means a ‘back side’ or ‘bottom side’. Japanese people often use “ura” as a metaphor to express something hidden from the front side, in other words, hidden intention in one’s mind. In the same way, “omote” can be a metaphor for stated opinions. So, does “omotenashi” express ‘non-existence of stated opinions’? Partially, yes. It could be correct. However, we need to be aware that it can also express ‘non-existence of hidden intention in one’s mind’ in parallel. Japanese people normally consider that omote and ura are inseparable and also that if the one side is lacking, the other side cannot exist alone. Therefore, in a way, “omotenashi” can be a metaphor for ‘service with one integrated mind’.
SummaryLet me summarize this blog post. First, omotenashi meaning is as follows.
- omotenashi – おもてなし : a noun to mean ‘hospitality’. Especially it widely means ‘Japanese hospitality’.
Hope my explanations are helpful for Japanese learners to improve their Japanese skill. And also hope we can welcome a lot of people with Japanese hospitality in 2020.
Appendix: honorific prefix O and GoIn order to make honorific expressions, we need to choose a correct prefix. How can we use either of “o” and “go” properly?
In a nutshell, existence of a full kanji expression is a key to choosing a proper prefix. If a word can be written only in kanji, most probably it would fit with “go”. Actually, “kigen” used as an example above has its full kanji expression, “機嫌”. So it can work well with “go” and makes its honorific form, “gokigen”. On the other hand, if a word does not have its full kanji expression, it would fit with “o”. This is why “motenashi” works well with “o”. Basically, “motenashi” cannot be written in only kanji.
For the background of this method, let me add some explanations. To tell the truth, “o” and “go” work well with kun-reading and on-reading respectively. Their use is not directly related to existence of full kanji expressions. However, in general, words pronounced as their kun-reading can be written only in kanji. Contrary to this, words pronounced as their on-reading usually contain hiragana characters or perhaps one character. As always, we need to be careful with exceptions, but this is the background of the method to choose a proper prefix.
This method would help Japanese learners a lot to choose a proper prefix. Definitely, it presupposes much knowledge of kanji. Yet, after they learn a certain number of kanji characters, they can easily choose a proper prefix to make honorific expressions in Japanese.
Japanese Particles Master
Masaki Mori is a Japanese particles master. Through teaching Japanese language, he is trying to spread the culture of Japan. His goal is to preserve it as much as possible.