All You Need to Know about Otsukaresama

お疲れ様 (Otsukaresama) is one of those words that anybody who has been in contact with Japanese media would have heard at least once. It is considered one of the most known Japanese words. And, even some localizations of Japanese anime, manga, or dramas leave the word as is. Instead of translating it, in this article, we would give a deeper look at the meaning of Otsukaresama, its history, uses, and examples. And even some different alternatives or words that have a similar context or use to Otsukaresama.

1. Meaning

Credit Pictures: Pixabay

First, take a look at how Otsukaresama is being translated into different media. It has been translated as “Thanks for your hard work”, “You did your best”, “This is the end for today”, “See you tomorrow” or even “Goodbye”. But then, why is it that Otsukaresama doesn’t have a concrete translation enough of Its translation to stay uniform among all the media? The reason is that Otsukaresama doesn’t have a direct translation into English, or other languages for once.

Common Meaning of Otsukaresama

To explain easily what Otsukaresama is, first, it is needed to say that Otsukaresama is not a phrase by itself, but a single word. So in Japanese, in its formal form, it would be お疲れさまです (Otsukaresama Desu). That would be the most common way of structuring this word when heard in a formal situation such as at an office, school, or event.

Otsukaresama by itself is a noun without a single meaning in specific, but an idea. Otsukaresama is a greeting used when validating or denoting the labor done by the one the greeting is addressed to.

2. History

It is not completely understood where Otsukaresama came from. But, one of the most accepted origins of the word is that in the old times.

It was not お疲れ様 (Otsukaresama) but, お憑かれ様 (Otsukare-Sama). Although it has the same in pronunciation, the meaning is completely different.

With details meaning of the Kanji as the following:

Present Kanji (お疲れ様) Old Kanji (お憑かれ様)

Means being tired or low on energy.

Means a possession.

While the kanji used in present times 疲 conveys the meaning of being tired or low on energy, the other, significantly more complex and unusual to find in this age, 憑 conveys the meaning of possession, as if overtaken by a ghost. This other word お憑かれ様 has the meaning of addressing that something or someone was possessing the body of the receiver and in fact, the 様 was to convey respect for the spirit that took over the body of that person.

It is easily noticeable that it has quite a negative meaning, as saying that someone is possessed when someone is tired. This is the case because, at the times, priests and the folklore of the Japanese people indicated that when someone was ill or tired, it was because that person was being overtaken by a spirit.

It was because of that spirit that, after a long day of work, the spirit of the workers would lose their strength and make it easier for external spirits to take over their body or stay close to the person, making them feel tired and without energy. Then, simply by the passage of time, the beliefs and ideas started to change, until it became the feeling that also conveyed the symptoms of tiredness 疲 instead of the possession 憑 that was formally used.

Another Origin of Otsukaresama

Another probable origin for the expression Otsukaresama is said to be that around the area of the Azuchi or the Edo Period, it was common for people to work at restaurants and places that would be frequented by laborers after a day of work as お疲れさん (Otsukare-San)  “Tired person” as they would look as such, a tired person after a long day of, by the era of this, manual labor.

Why? It is because of that, whenever they would approach one of these places, the people at the stalls or even the wives of the workers themselves would tell each other something like まもなくお疲れさんたちが来ます。  (mamonaku Otukare-san tachi ga kimasu) “The Otsukare-sans will be coming soon” to indicate that the sun was about to set and the laborers would be on their way back to their houses. Then over time, it ended up changing from さん (San) to 様 (Sama) and from signaling a person or group of people, it would start to be an address to the act of getting tired from work.

3. Uses

When applied to a work environment it is normally directed at a partner who is going back before you or at the same time. In this case, the first phrase would come from the one departing first, it normally being お先に失礼します。(Osakini Shitureishimasu). That would translate as “I will take my leave first.” Denoting that someone else is staying. Then the one that is staying, should answer with お疲れ様です。 (Otsukaresama Desu) with the intent of offering a greeting more formal than Sayounara, Mata kondo or a similar departure greeting.

Besides its most known use of the word, it is fact that in recent times, Otsukaresama has become a replacement for other greetings, including おはようございます  (Ohayou Gozaimasu) こんにちは (Konnnichiwa).  This is especially common among high school and university students. It is simply another greeting that can be used no matter the context or if there has been some work or not. One should say that, if you were to cross paths with a friend, one of the words one could say would be Otsukaresama. 

Moreover, it is more commonly お疲れー (Otsukare-); as it is a simple reduction from the original one giving it a more familiar and close feeling to the one on the receiving end. This is also important to notice that it is not a good idea to start using お疲れ様 with everyone around you, it is considered a bit rude, especially by the older generation, to address your teachers and mentors with Otsukaresama.

Moreover, when a teacher or mentor addresses you with Otsukaresama at the end of a lesson or similar, one should return it, not with the same Otsukaresama, but instead with an ありがとうございました ( Arigatougozaimashita) that is because you should instead show your gratitude and appreciation to the teacher by sharing their knowledge with you.  

4. Cultural Notes

One of the interesting things about Otsukaresama is that it has quite a controversial take on how and to whom it can be addressed to. And also this opinion changes a lot depending on the age of the person in question and the one on the receiving end too, for example. While people of older age believe that you shouldn’t use Otsukaresama to someone above you at all.

Furthermore, Otsukaresama together with a more standardized alternative ご苦労様 (Gokurou-sama). Right now, if you were to ask a Japanese university student, he would say that for a teacher that is close to their age, let’s say 25~40 years old, they would be inclined to say お疲れさまでした to their teachers, while if the teacher is over 50 years old, he surely would use ありがとうございました。 Or ご苦労様でした。To show more respect to them.

Additional Interesting Facts about ご苦労様 (Gokurou-sama)

The interesting thing is that it is just recently that using ご苦労様 with a teacher to show respect is considered polite because before, ご苦労様 was considered a word that only superiors would use with the people under their charge, let’s say a teacher with their students or a Boss with their subordinates.

This change has only been present in the scholarly world because in the office ご苦労様 is still considered a word that should only be used by the people of a higher rank to refer to the ones below and お疲れ様 as the word one in a lower rank should use in response to it. But with how much ご苦労様 has been appearing in this article, one would wonder, what does this world convey and its formality of it.

5. Gokurousama (ご苦労様) 

ご苦労様 (Gokurousama) is a word that would be translated to exactly the same similar words that were presented at the beginning of this article for お疲れ様, words like “ Thanks for your hard work” or “Take a good rest ”, “I appreciate your efforts”  but it has a different nuance than Otsukaresama, It presents itself as a form of formality and normally it is used differently by generations, ご苦労 by itself translates to “The trouble I put you through” and it is considered that the 様 of it is used to refer at the person who it is being directed.

One of the most accurate translations would be “The person I made to pass through troubles” so in fact as it can be seen, it does have a certain feeling of authority from the one that is using it to the one that receives it. But that the same time it possesses an apologetic feeling as it means that what you asked them for was something that because of you they needed to do.

This is why based on the importance of the nuance of this word. It has a varied use range depending on the generation of each of its users, for example, younger people consider this phrase a good way to express thanks to a teacher of old age who has been teaching them directly. An example is a thesis director or a sports trainer. 

Is Gokurousama (ご苦労様) rude?

But in fact, some older people consider it rude, as it signals that you were the one that made them do it, reducing the feeling of authority from the one receiving it. This is why, it is not recommended to use it to refer to your boss or someone who has direct authority over you, as it might infer that you have a slight feeling of superiority over them.

It is also a bit more rigid than Otsukaresama so when shortened, the only thing that gets shortened or changed to a feeling of familiarity would be the 様 (Sama) of this phrase to さん (San) as well as just losing it altogether and becoming the simple word ご苦労 (Gokurou) instead of while still conveying the greeting.

6. Alternatives

As it is common in Japanese, words get shortened, sounds get abbreviated or simply a word that is commonly used as a regional dialect gets taken into mainstream culture by the younger generations. Some of the most common alternatives for Otsukaresama will be written below.

Credit Pictures: Pixabay

おつかれー  Otsukaree
It is the same word just without any honorific together with it, it is used in any case and by everyone to normally friends or classmates whom they are comfortable with.

おつー Otsuu
This is mainly used by guys as an all-powerful greeting used at any time of the day when meeting or passing by each other. It doesn’t need to exactly be after class or work, as it can simply be a “yo” or “hey” in English. This phrase doesn’t convey any interest in forming a conversation after it so, it is common to be followed by another word that entails that feeling, such as おつー、あのさー “Otsuu, Ano saa…” That would be like, “hey, by the way…” in English.

乙 (Otsu)
It is an online text alternative for Otsukaresama/ Otsu greeting, it is chosen to be represented by this kanji as it can be pronounced the same as the start of -Otsu-karesama. It is normally used when someone dies in a game, just saying Otsukaresama to a friend after they did some work or homework or after something went so bad it is considered as if it finished already. This can also be a filler word to start any conversation online just sending an 乙― Otsuu is a way of starting a convo by yourself without an actual reason or before going to the main part of a conversation.

Additional Alternatives of Otsukaresama in Japanese

おつ↴ Ots
It is just the same just that the sound of the *su* gets shortened to just sound like Ots, it is used by any person just as a small greeting, after work, or as a passing-by greeting. It does not convey a start of a conversation.   

おっつー Otttsuuu
This variation makes the sound of the *T* longer as if making a pause in between the word,  when used this way it has a slight sense of “coolness” to it so it is mainly used by teenagers and young adults. This one also conveys to a certain point that there is something you want to say after it, so, in contrast with extending only the “u” sound at the end, it does entail the feeling of starting a conversation or getting closer to someone to talk.

Formal Alternatives of Otsukaresama

ご苦労様 Gokurou-sama
This one is, as explained above, considered a more formal alternative to Otsukaresama, but at the same time, it depends a lot on the generation gap between people to convey if it is formal or informal to use with them, and also it might be depending on your own age. For more information about Gokurou-sama reading the text above should give a better explanation of its use.  

「遠いところご苦労様」
This phrase is used by itself as a formal and work-related greeting to convey gratitude to someone because they have come from somewhere far, it is true or not, it just conveys that the one receiving the greeting has needed to move from one place to another to be in front of you. It is mainly used by employees when a customer or a member of another company comes to their office. It might also be used as a general greeting at a meeting or an event where people from different places have physically come to meet at a designated spot.

7. Intonation Nuances

お疲れ様 Otsukare-sama is a word that is used so commonly in everyday life in Japan that just changing the intonation of its pronunciation can affect its meaning of it completely and more importantly the nuance for it, so below we will explain some of the different nuances that could be given to Otsukare-sama based on the different strengths or lengths when pronouncing it.

おつかれー  Otsukaree

It is the most commonly used one, it is stoic and doesn’t convey anything besides closeness to the one on the receiving end, it might be used towards a friendly coworker or classmate.

おーつかれーOotsukaree

Has two extra elongations on the sounds of the normal pronunciation. Ootsukaree has a nuance of saying “bye-bye” to the ones staying behind. It might also have a certain mocking that the other people are staying behind and the one saying instead finished his part already and can go back earlier than others.

おつかれさーん Otsukaresaan

This is a way of wording Otsukaresama when they change the honorific from Sama to a less formal San. In this case, it becomes less formal in general, but by extending the sound of the *a* in San it gets to a point of a mocking feeling giving instead a guide of expressing that the one on the receiving end of this “greeting” didn’t work enough or that his work is not something so important nor hard.

Also, it could be “something that anyone could do without much effort”. So, it is because of this that it is considered a mocking expression. It is not normal to find this in everyday life, but it sometimes appears in Anime. It is common for the nuance to get lost in the interpretation.

Conclusion

In conclusion, お疲れ様 is a word that not only conveys the meaning of *thanks for your hard work*. That is what it is translated into. In fact, it could easily be considered one of the most widely used greetings in Japan. Also, it is exactly because of this variety it presents that it can be used as a reception or departure greeting. Also, depending on how it gets its syllables accentuated or elongated. Therefore, with this, we also hope you are able to use it. More importantly, understand the nuances that come with this all-purpose word.

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About Alejandro Hernandez 9 Articles
Hello, My name is Alejandro H. I am an international student currently residing in the Tochigi prefecture and majoring in Biological Engineering. My hobbies round from cycling, traveling, practicing martial arts to studying languages and cooking. And have always been intrigued by the singularity of the Japanese culture and language. In my opinion, to be able to understand a culture; the two best ways is through its idioms and its culinary delights!  When it comes to the Japanese language, my curiosity has brought me to study the different origins and ideas conveyed through those now considered normal or even filler words in everyday Japanese, such as greetings and slangs. In addition to my ample variety of hobbies and tastes, I am always open to interact with new people and their way of seeing and living the world.