Obrigado gozaimasu

The popular idea that "arigato" derives from "obrigado" has been repeatedly debunked. However, every debunking I have seen is unsatisfactory. It is pointed out that the Japanese word from which "arigato" is derived long predates the Portuguese arrival in Japan. And that's it. But that's clearly unsatisfactory. A satisfactory debunking would claim, and demonstrate, that the word itself, in that specific use, predated the Portuguese arrival. Without this, it remains possible that the following happened:

1) "arigatai" meaning "difficult" long predated the Portuguese arrival, but the use of "arigato" to mean "thank you" did not predate the Portuguese arrival.

2) Observation of the Portuguese saying "obrigado" to mean "thank you" caused the Japanese to say "arigato" to mean "thank you".

I do not have specific examples, but I do believe I have seen genuine examples of this sort of thing happening with other words in other languages - that is, that one language has indeed affected another language by altering the second language's use of its own native words.

Nothing I have read anywhere specifically excludes this possibility. Talk is always about the word "arigatai" meaning "difficult" predating the Portuguese. In my experience (and I have looked into this multiple times over the years) no one ever offers any samples of Japanese writing "arigato" to mean "thank you", or even claims that they did so before the Portuguese arrived.

So, no one seems to have ever debunked this possibility. If this is what happening, then it is simply overstating the case to claim that:

"Superficial appearances notwithstanding, there is absolutely no linguistic relationship to the Portuguese word obrigado of the same meaning."

If the Portuguese use of "obrigado" shaped the Japanese use of "arigato" then that is a linguistic relationship.

I would be happy if either:

1) Someone finally specifically showed that "arigato" was used to mean "thank you" before the Portuguese arrived, or

2) People stopped overstating the case against the relationship between "obrigado" and "arigato".

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Constant, to be a little

Constant, to be a little more precise, "arigatou gozaimasu" is the formal, honorific way of saying "arigatai", which does not mean "difficult", but literally, "difficult to obtain".

While of course this is not proof that the usage did NOT arise as a result of "obrigado", it is easy to imagine this phrase being adopted as a customary expression of appreciation for a favor or a gift received.

Yes, it's plausible

I agree that it's plausible that this was so adopted without any influence from "obrigado". What puzzles me is the absence, in all the debunking of the Portuguese theory that I've seen, of direct evidence of the sort I described, of "arigatou" in use as such an expression before the arrival of the Portuguese. My impression has been that the Japanese have long been a highly literate culture, and this is what makes the absence of direct quotes puzzling to me.

As a point of comparison, "thank you" shows up all over Shakespeare as an expression of appreciation. For example, "Thank you, good Pompey". And it can also be found in Chaucer, for example, "Thanke yow, lord, and lady myn Venus". Chaucer predates the Portuguese arrival in Japan, Shakespeare comes slightly after.

How do we know you're the real Constant?

How do we know you're not an impostor?

Just a quick couple of

Just a quick couple of comments about your assumption of the Japanese having "long been a highly literate culture." At a quick glance it may seem so, but it is actually not the case.

Due to the Japanese co-opting Chinese characters at first, then having them gradually fall from use (from over 5,000 to 1,945 today), most Japanese are never fully literate in their own language - unable to read even WWII-era Japanese today. Prior to the Meiji Restoration (move from Samurai/feudal system to modern governance) which dragged Japan into the modern era in almost 1900(!), education was essentially only for the wealthy and priveleged.

A post-war literacy survey revealed that while the *illiteracy* rate was low, the rate of actual literacy (as determined by Western standards) was only 6.2%.


Further, due to the proliferation of PC & cell phone input-predictive systems today, many Japanese as old as age 40 are forgetting how to write everyday kanji.


Japan has long been a country of isolation and provincialism, but not really a culture of high literacy, until the 20th century.

The context of my remarks

The context of my remarks concerned whether Japanese literature could have been expected to capture "arigato" in use to mean "thank you". As a point of comparison I picked a famous English writer from before the Portuguese visited Japan, Chaucer, and I found several instances in his work of "thank you" used to mean "thank you" (i.e. used as we use it today). That's from just one author (I didn't cherry-pick; Chaucer was the obvious first choice on the basis of name recognition, Shakespeare being a little bit too late). So if the Japanese had at least one author more or less comparable to Chaucer, we should be able to repeat the experiment - i.e., find a few instances in the author's works of the word "arigato" being used to mean "thank you".

This experiment does not require a 90% literacy rate or even necessarily a 5% literacy rate. Strictly speaking, it requires only one author more or less comparable to Chaucer. I think Murasaki Shikibu might qualify.

Kanji troubles

“[M]ost Japanese are never fully literate in their own language….”

Written Japanese is full of “kanji”, or Chinese characters, and being able to read them correctly often distinguishes the well-educated from the less so….

Prime Minister Taro Aso was caught red-handed several times in the past few weeks mangling quite a few of his kanji….

Last week, for instance, when addressing a Japan-China student exchange event at his alma mater, Gakushuin University, he read the word “mizou” (meaning “unprecedented”) as “mizoyu”.

Aso also described exchanges between China and Japan as “hanzatsu” (“troublesome”) when he was supposed to have said “hinpan” (“frequent”).

Mr Aso had also caused a stir in parliament recently when he was heard several times mispronouncing the word “toshu” (“follow”) as “fushu” (“awful smell”).

It gets worse.

Most mistakes are at worst inconvenient, but some can be disastrous. The mother of all bloopers was perpetrated by a television announcer. Pointing to a sober graph of population changes, the woman referred to the “baby-boomer generation” (dankai no sedai) as dankon no sedai — the penis generation.

As a result of Mr Aso’s ideographic inadequacies, Japan’s publishers are enjoying a kanji boom, with books about the written language soaring up the bestseller lists. One title, Commonly Misread Kanji that You Think You Can Read but Can’t, has gone into its fifteenth edition and sold 600,000 copies in three months, bucking an overall slump in book sales.

Although it has no connection with Mr Aso, bookshops report that customers often ask for it as “the Prime Minister’s book”. Last month a member of the Opposition stood up in parliament brandishing a white board of tricky kanji to test the Prime Minister on the spot — he declined the challenge — and parents report that the name Taro has become a schoolboy’s taunt for a playground dunce.

Lost in translation

Observation of the Portuguese saying "obrigado" to mean "thank you" caused the Japanese to say "arigato" to mean "thank you".

A somewhat analogous situation, the name of the J. F. Oberlin University (in the Tokyo suburbs) is written and pronounced in Japanese as "Obirin." Apparently this coincides with a familiar word for cherry orchard.

An aside: My dad took a sabbatical to study Japanese social norms. At one meeting a Buddhist monk greeted him in fluent English and began exchanging pleasantries. “How do you find Japan?”

“Oh, it’s so very different here. The weather, the people, the food, the culture – everything!”

“So different? I’d expect we have a similar crime rate to yours.”

“Well, you’d be surprised. That’s one of the matters I’m researching for my Criminology and Deviance class next semester. Once you control for levels of education, employment and racial variables …” and he launched into one of his lengthy lectures so familiar to members of my immediate family. It was several minute into this dissertation that the puzzled monk, with the aid of translators, was able to clarify that he was asking about the climate.

Sure enough, some things aren’t so very different between our cultures. When making small talk, we both talk about the weather.

I differ with most people

I differ with most people here; I found this blog post I couldn’t stop until I finished, even though it wasn’t just what I had been searching for, was still a nice read though. I will instantly get your blog feed to stay in touch of any updates.

Thank you fore elaborate this

Thank you fore elaborate this with examples.......In this side how word meaning differ from one another due to language ..it occurs and due to this a new language born with change its meaning.practically meaning of the language change and depend upon the citizen of the country,whats their main language.........so thanks for your suggestion. Notice to Quit


So you mean that the word obrigado is portugese and somehow the japanese people were inspired from this word to make arigato their thank you word? I'm not really sure what you want to say but I really like the japanese language and learning something like this is pretty informative. I never knew that the portugese somehow inspired some of the japanese words like arigato.