How to talk like a samurai

How to talk like a samurai

Sure, you can learn how to have everyday conversation in Japanese or blow away the JPLT so you can get a translating job in Japan, but let's just admit that the real reason you're studying Japanese is so that you can speak like a samurai. Isn't that every Japanese language learner's secret dream?

Japanese samurai wannabe Photo by mazgrp

The samurai were the military nobility of medieval and early-modern Japan who lived by a strict code of ethics. If you've ever watched the daytime jidaigeki (時代劇 – period dramas) on TV in Japan, you know they also had a cool way of talking.

You can talk like a samurai if you just master a few simple expressions and, well, um, a whole lot of other vocabulary. But let's just get you started with the most common samurai words and phrases.

でござる

Degozaru is the samurai version of desu (です – is/are). Gozaru is actually an old form of aru, and de aru is a more formal version of desu that's used today as polite speech.

Here are some examples:

おはようでござる Ohayo degozaru
Good morning.

これはなんでござるか? Kore wa nandegozaruka?
What is this?

わたしは彦左衛門でござる Watashi wa Hikozaemon degozaru.
I am Hikozaemon.

You can put degozaru anywhere you'd put desu.

Degozaru is humble and polite but don't worry, with samurai there is always humbler and more polite. When referring to someone respectfully, something samurai do a lot, use de-irassharu (でいらっしゃる – is/are). If you live in Japan, you should recognize this as related to irasshaimase (いらっしゃいませ – welcome), which shopkeepers say (and often shout) to welcome you to their store.

Sessha and onushi

There is no class of people or situation in Japan that doesn't call for its own pronouns. The samurai, of course, are no exception.

Sessha (拙者) is a samurai word for the first person. It's humble and literally means something like clumsy buffoon. We all know the samurai were mostly clumsy buffoons. Okay, maybe not; but like most polite speech in Japanese, it puts the speaker down and raises the status of the listener.

A word for the second person is onushi (お主). This word is used only for people of a lower rank. Examples of onushi in action:

お主はなにものだ? Onushi wa nanimono da?
Who the * are you?

お主は俺の敵か? Onushi wa ore no teki ka?
You wanna piece o' this? (literal translation: Are you my enemy?)

This seemed strange to me because the kanji shu (主) means 'master.' Why would it be for people lower than you? I called up a samurai friend of mine and he assured me that yes, it's an impolite word that's definitely talking down to someone. He said a more polite word is sonata (其方 – you), although this is rarely used.

Samurai pleasantries

There are several samurai versions of the phrase genki desu ka (元気ですか – how are you?):

ご機嫌いかがでござるか? Gokigen ikaga degozaru ka?
How are you? (literally: How is your feeling today?)

達者でござるか? Tassha degozaruka?
How are you? (tassha is another word for genki)

The samurai P's and Q's

There are a few ways of saying excuse me or thank you in samurai speech (similar to sumimasen). Katajikenai (忝い) means indebted or grateful and can be used like this:

忝いでござる Katajikenai degozaru.
Thank you.

Or you can use suman (すまん), which is a shortening of sumimasen (すみません – excuse me/thank you). Occasionally you hear people use this today.

Finally, in order to speak like a samurai, you should speak in short, guttural bursts and generally not say too much at all.