謙遜 ( = kenson) : How to sound more humble in Japanese!

March 30, 2010 in Japanese culture, Japanese customs, useful phrases



:-o 「マギー先生って本当に頭がいいですよね。」

( = Maggie sensei tte hontou ni atama ga ii desu yone!)

“Miss Maggie, I think you are really smart.”

:maggie-small: 「いいえ、私なんてまだまだです。アインシュタインに比べたら…」

( = Iie watashinante madamada desu. Ainshutain ni kurabetara…)

“No way! Far from it. I mean, compared to Einstein….”

Today’s lesson is about “being modest or humble”.
It is called 「謙遜する
( = kenson suru) in Japanese.
When you talk to someone, you have to refer to yourself as being at a much lower level[=控えめに(=hikaemeni) to be modest]than your actual ability or value.

From the picture above:

:-o 「マギー先生って本当に頭がいいですよね。」

( = Maggie sensei tte hontou ni atama ga ii desu yone!)

“Miss Maggie, I think you are really smart.”

:maggie-small: 「いいえ、私なんてまだまだです。アインシュタインに比べたら…」

( = Iie watashinante madamada desu. Ainshutain ni kurabetara…)

“No way! Far from it. I mean, compared to Einstein….”

It is a typical conversation. (except the “Einstein” part!!)

When someone gives you a compliment, you don’t suppose to say “That’s right! I am great! :o ” in Japan. Instead, you should say,


( = Sonna koto arimasen.)

That’s not true


( = Sonna koto nai desu.)

 That’s not true

•いいえ  ( = Iie) No,

•いえいえ (  = Ieie) No, no…


(  = Tondemo nai)

No way! stronger

And you lower yourself

•私なんて( = Watashi nante) I am not that…

•まだまだです。( = Madamada desu.) I still have far to go.

Or sometimes you can compare to the person.


(= Otaku(sama) ni kurabetara mou zenzen..)

Compared to your family, we are nothing like you…


(= ~san no ashimoto ni mo oyobimasen.)

The literal meaning is

“I can’t even reach to your foot. “– which means I am not in your league.


( = ~san towa kurabemono ni narimasen.)

There is no comparison with you.

Even if someone compliments us or our family (and we are happy about it and want to brag about it) we often deny it and try to list negative things about ourselves in a self-deprecating manner.
Some say Japanese people lack self-confidence or have low self-esteem. This might be true. But at the same time, many of us don’t like people who brag. If we see people always bragging about themselves, their family or what they own, we tend to think they are annoying or obnoxious. ( = 鼻につく( = hananitsuku))
People who don’t 自慢する( = jiman surubrag or 威張らない( = ibaranai) not too proud are considered:
:rrrr: 奥ゆかしい( = okuyukashisa) modest, refined, reserved.

:rrrr: 腰が低い ( = koshiga hikui) modest ( ( = koshi) is your waist, lower back.
(Humble people ask favors or say thank you bowing bending their wait lower.)

We tend to underestimate our ability or value in front of others. Some of the expressions are extreme. We don’t actually literally think what we say, but we say it just to be humble.

I want you to learn how Japanese people respond to each compliment in the following examples.

Also I hope it helps you to learn how to compliment others in Japanese.



(  = Atarashii ie wo kattan desutte? Goshujin ganbarimashita ne.)

“I’ve heard you bought a new house! Your husband must have worked so hard!

:rrrr: 「大した家でないんですよ。猫の額ほどの庭がついてるだけで、もうローンが大変ですよ。」

(=Taishita ie de naindesu yo. Neko no hitai hodo no niwa ga tsuiteiru dake de, mou roon ga taihen desuyo.)

“No, it is not that great a house. It has a tiny garden, and now we have the burden of having to pay back a big loan!”

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Note 猫の額(=neko no hitai), cat’s forehead We use this expression to describe a small or narrow space


( = Ojou san  gokekkon ga kimatta sou desune. Omedetou gozaimasu.)

“I’ve heard your daughter is going to get married. Congratulations!”

:rrrr: 「有り難うございます。なかなか決まらなくって、やっと片付きました。」

(=Arigatou gozaimasu. Nakanaka kimaranakutte yatto katazukimashita.)

“Thank you so much.  It took a long time finalize this. I can finally get rid of her.

Note :  片付ける(=  katazukeru), to straighten up, to get rid of,  to clean up, is usually  used for things.

Ex. 部屋を片付ける(=  heya wo katazukeru ) to clean up a room
So it is OK to refer yourself or your family but avoid using it for someone else.


(=Ii omeshimono desune.)
“You’ve dressed very nicely.” (You look nice in the clothes.)

:rrrr: 「いいえ、大したものではありません。」

( = Iie taishita mono dewa arimasen.)

“Oh no, it’s nothing special.” (Not that expensive.)


Note : お召し物 ( = omeshimono) an honorific way to refer someone’s clothes.


( = Otaku no obocchan, gakkou dewa taihen odeki ni naru to okiki shimashita yo.)

“I’ve heard your son is an excellent student at school.”

:rrrr: 「とんでもありません。出来が悪くて困ります。」

( = Tondemo arimasen. Deki ga waruku te komarimasu.)

“No way. I’m afraid he is terrible.”


(=Eiken ikkyu ukattan desu tte? Sugoi desu ne.)
“You have passed STEP 1st grade! That’s really something!”

:rrrr: 「いえいえ、まだまだです。」

( = iie madamada desu.)

“Oh, I still have a long way to go.”

Note : 英検 = STEP test, English proficiency test in Japan. (STEP :Society for Testing English Proficiency)


( = Goshujin shoushin shitan desutte? Yokatta desune.)

“Your husband got promoted, right? I’m very happy for you.”

:rrrr: 「いいえ~…肩書きだけですよ。お給料は何にも変わらないんですから…」

( = Iiee katagaki dake desuyo. Okyuuryou wa nanimo kawaranain desu kara…)

“Well… it is just a title. His salary won’t change at all so…”


( = Senjitsu wa oishii omiyage wo arigatougozaimashita.)

“Thank you so much for the delicious souvenir the other day.”

:rrrr: 「いいえ、ちょっとばかりでごめんなさい。」

( = iie chotto bakari de gomennasai.)

“Oh, that was nothing.”


( = Ojyousan genki ga iidesu ne. Imaga ichiban kawaii toki desune.)

“Your (little) daughter is very energetic! Isn’t this when they are cutest?”

:rrrr: 「もう本当に手がかかって、目が離せませんよ。」

( = Mou hontou ni tega kakatte me ga hanasemasen.)

“Oh no, she is a handful. I always have to keep my eyes on her.”


( = Eigo no hatsuon ga ojouzu desu ne.)

“Your English pronunciation is great!”

:rrrr: 「そんなことありません。全然だめです。まだ勉強しないと…」

( = Sonna koto arimasen. Zenzen dame desu. Mada benkyou shinaito)

“No way! Not at all! I still need to study more…”


( = Okusan ii kuruma wo kattan desutte?)
“Your wife got a  nice car, right?”

:rrrr: 「いやあ〜、乗りもしないのに、もう何を考えてるんだか…」

( = Iyaaa nori mo shinai noni mou nani wo kangaeterundaka..)

“Well, she doesn’t even use a car so often.  I have no idea what she is thinking about. “


( = Musuko san hontou ni rippa ni nararemashita ne.)

“Your son has became admirable.” / “He has grown up.?”

:rrrr: 「いえいえ、これからが大変ですよ。」

( = Ieie korekara ga taihen desuyo.)

“No…it is going to be tough from now.”

Note : 立派な ( = rippana) valuable, respectable, admirable,

立派な人 ( = rippana hito) a fine person.


( = Rika-chan kirei ni natte okaasama mo hanaga takai desune.)

“Rika has became very pretty. You must be very proud of her as her mother.”

:rrrr: 「いいえ、もうわがままで…

(=Iie mou  wagamama de…)
“Not at a ll. Sh e is such a pain.”

Note : 鼻が高い(=hanaga takai) the literal meaning is “to have a high nose”. It means to be proud of someone.

わがまま/我が儘 ( = wagamama)  selfish, spoiled


(= Nanka takasou na gaggu dane.) casual

” Hey, your bag looks very expensive!”

:rrrr: 「そんなことないよ。安物だよ!」

(=Sonna koto naiyo. Yasumono dayo!) casual

“That’s not true.  It’s very cheap!”


(=Omaen toko no imoutotte kawaiina.) casual (between boys)
“Your sis is cute!”

:rrrr: 「んな、ことないよ、すっげえブスだよ。」

(=Nna koto naiyo. Suggee busu dayo…)  casual and blunt (between boys.)

“What are you saying? She is very ugly.”


んな、ことないよ( = Nna koto naiyo.) very casual←そんなことないです( = Sonna koto nai desu.) That’s not true.

すげえ(=sugee) or すっげえ(=suggee) are blunt form of すごい(=sugoi) very, great

Usually for boys but we sometimes hear girls use it as well.


( = Eigo hanasemasu ka?)

“Do you speak English?”

:rrrr: 「いいえ、ちょっとだけ。」

(= Ie, chotto dake)
“Just a little!”

:rrrr: 「いいえ、全然話せません。」

(=Iie, zenzden hanasemasen.)
“Oh no. Not at all!”

Note: Of course some people say this when they really can’t speak English.


(=Yamada san tte hontou ni ningen ga dekite imasu ne.)

“Mr. Yamada, you are really a man of character!”

:rrrr: 「いえ、私なんてまだまだ修行が足りません。」

(=Iie watashi nante madamada shugyou ga tarimasen.)

“Oh, no! I still have a long way to go.”

Note : 修行( = shugyou) training, apprenticeship, religious austerities

<What are you suppose to say if someone responds like that?>

And after hearing a humble response, they say:

「ご謙遜を!」( = Gokenson wo)
“You are just trying to be modest”
or “You are very humble!”

(= Matamata sonna koto osshatte)
”Oh, you really don’t mean that! You are so humble!”

「またまた〜!謙遜しちゃって!」(= Matamataaa Kenson shichatte!)  casual
“Come on! You don’t mean that. You are so humble!”(jokingly)

Note : So… If someone says your house is big, you have to say “No, it is small!”. And if someone says something you own is beautiful, you have to say “It’s not so beautiful!” And you have to list negative reasons why you don’t think it is that great. If someone compliments your family, you also have to immediately deny it and  try to find their faults and point them out in front of them.
Sounds like Japanese are a negative people, doesn’t it?

It is all formality. Even if we don’t hug, kiss, or use the endearments that Westerners use, we still love our family and respect them. We are very happy to be complimented and have someone acknowledge our achievements and ability. Some of you might think…

“I want to improve my Japanese but I don’t want to do that!” or “I really think I am great and my family is great and I am proud of them! Plus my house is biiiig!”
Don’t worry. You don’t need to be humble like Japanese but just don’t be too surprised when you hear the above mentioned conversation in Japan. I know Japanese people lack confidence, but we don’t necessarily think we suck that much!

:jjj: <Other humble examples>

1) When we hand out a gift, we say,


(=Kore tsumaranai mono deuga, douzo!)
“This is just a little thing but… here.”


(=Kore sasayaka desuga, kimochi dake…)
“This is just a small token of my appreciation.”


(= Zenzen taishita mono dewa nai no desu ga…)
“It’s nothing fancy but…”

•「粗品です。どうぞ!」 (=Soshina desu. Douzo!) at a store
“This is just a small thing but…”

Note : Especially stores or companies hand out a small give away with a label,
(=soshina) a little gift (the literal meaning is a “ shabby gift“)

3) When you invite someone to your place,


(=Nanimo arimasen ga douzo)

We don’t really have anything (to serve) but…


(=Nanno okamai mo dekimasen ga douzo)

We don’t really have anything worth serving you but…


(=Kitanai tokoro desu ga douzo)

This place is a mess (literally: dirty) but…


(=Semai tokoro desu ga douzo)

Welcome to our humble abode.


(=Douzo chirakatte imasu ga)

It is messy inside but…


(=asobini irashite kudasai.)

Please come visit me/us!(When you invite someone to your house.)


(=ohairi kudasai.)


(=Oagari kudasai.)

Please come in! (When you are welcoming a guest into your house.)

Note : お上がりください。

(=oagari kudasai.)

When we take of our shoes at the 玄関(=genkan) entrance there is usually a step leading a house. That is why we say 家に上がる。(=Ie ni agaru)

A person who comes into other people’s homes is supposed to say,


(=Soredewa chottodake agarasete itadakimasu.)

Then let me come in just a little bit.


(=Soredewa ojama shimasu.)

Then allow me to come in.

4) When you serve food at your house,


(=Okuchi ni au ka douka wakarimasen ga…)

“I’m not sure if this tastes all right with you but..”

Note : Poor food/simple food is called 粗食(=soshoku)


(=Nanimo arimasen ga douzo!)

“This is nothing special but please help yourself! “

(The literal meaning is “We don’t have any food, but please help yourself!)

When you serve tea,


(=Socha desu ga douzo!)

“This is poor quality of tea but please help yourself.”

(→Of course they don’t really mean that the tea is of poor quality!)

5)When you see off your guests,


(=Nanimo okamai dekinakute…(sumimasen))

“I am sorry that we didn’t serve you enough.”

You can say this even if you actually did serve “enough”.

If you just serve a cup of tea, you say


“I am sorry that all we served you was tea.”

And if you don’t even serve tea because it was a short visit, say,

お茶も出さないで申し訳ございません。(=Ochamo dasanai de moushiwake gozaimasen.)

“I am sorry that we didn’t even serve you a cup of tea.”

6) When you offer someone help


(=Nanno oyaku ni mo tatenai kamo shiremasennga..)

I may be useless but…


=Ochikara ni nareru ka wakariamsenga..)

I am not sure if I could be a big help for you but

:rrrr: Please check more expressions in 労る(=Itawaru) caring experssion lesson

7) When someone asked you to do something or appoints you to a position and you accept it,

•こんな私でよければ/よろしければ(=Konna watashi de yokereba/yoroshikereba)

If you really think someone like me… (would be desirable then, yes I accept.)

Note : We also hear this when someone pops a question or go steady.


(=(Konna) watashi(boku) de iino?/ Iindesuka?)

Note: (=watashi) for women or men. (=boku) is for men. いいの?(=Iino?) is casual

こんな(=konna) like this, such そんな(=sonna) like that, such あんな(=anna) like that, such

(When the distance from a speaker is close, we use  こんな(=konna), when the distance is further, we use そんな(=sonna) and something far away from the speaker and listener is あんな(=anna).

When we use it with:

+ (=hito) person(=hito) object

sometimes we use this pattern to refer to things or people we look down on or have a bad feeling about. HOWEVER, it is also used in the opposite direction — to refer to the speaker in a way that is self-deprecatory.


(=Madamada chikara busoku desu ga onegai itashimasu.)

I am not good enough yet, but I would appreciate your support in advance.


(=Madamada benkou busoku desuga , doryoku shimasu.)

“I still have much to learn, but I will do my best!”

8) Refering our family member,

unless you are a small child or are talking with your friends, you should refer to your own family members this way

•お父さん(=Otousan) father(=chichi)

お母さん (=okaasan) mother (=haha)

お兄さん (=oniisan)/お兄ちゃん(=oniichan) brother(=ani)

お姉さん (=onisan)/お姉ちゃん(=oneechan) sister(=ane)

叔父さん (=ojisan)/叔父ちゃん(=ojichan) uncle叔父(=oji)

叔母さん (=obasan)/叔母ちゃん(=obachan) aunt叔母(=oba)

おばあさん (=obaasan)/おばあちゃん(=obaachan)  grandmother 祖母(=sobo)

おじいさん (=ojiisan)/ おじいちゃん(=ojiichan) grandfather祖父(=sofu)

In addition, your wife should be referred to as (=tsuma)/家内(=kanai) and your husband as 主人(=shujin) or (=otto)

Note : When you refer other people’s family member, you have to add 〜さん(=san) or〜様 (=sama) in the end.

Ex. (あなたの)お父様は… (=(Anata) no otousama wa…) Your father is…

Don’t call someone’s wife or husband as家内 or 主人(=tsuma/kanai/otto or shujin)
Instead you have to call them  奥様(=Okusama)/奥さん(=Okusan) /  御主人様(=goshujin sama)/ 御主人(=goshujin)

These are very old fashioned expressions and we rarely use them in a daily conversation but for your information, we have these expressions as well.

愚息(=gusoku) refers to your own son

愚女 (=gujo) refers to your own daughter

愚妻 (=gudai) refers to your own wife

愚夫 (=gufu) refers to your own husband

(=gu) means 愚か(=oroka) which means “stupid“/”idiot/and of course moron

What!? “Moron”??? It gets worse! Are you ready?

豚息(=tonsoku) refers to your own son

豚児 (=tonji) refers to your own child

(=ton) is from (=buta) which means “pig” Oh my…

This is just the tip of the iceberg!
I will make a lesson about more 謙遜語(=Kensongo) or 謙譲語(=kenjou go) humble words some other time including verb forms.

frenchbulldogマギー先生より(=Maggie sensei yori) From Maggie sensei yori


(=Ima, dareka watashiga kawaikute atamaga yokutte seikaku mo iitte  iimashitaka?)
Someone has just said I am pretty, smart and have a nice personality?

(=Ieie, sorehodo demo…)
Oh no…I am not that great.

(=Ureshiiiii!!) I am so happy!!!
(=Yappari watashi wa “homerarete sodatsu” taipu mitai desu.)

I think I am the type of person who improves more the more they’re praised.

Note :
褒められて育つ/伸びるタイプ(=Homerarete sodatsu/nobiru taipu) We often bring up this phrase in daily conversation as a joke.

intransitive  verb ↔   transitive verb

•育つ(=sodatsu)  to grow  育てる(=sodateru) to raise

•伸びる(=nobiru)  to improve 伸ばす(=nobasu) to help improve

•褒める(=homeru) to praise, to compliment ↔ 褒められる(=homerareru) to be praised/complimented

褒められて育つ(=homerarete sodatsu)to grow by being praised

褒めて育てる(=homete sodateru) to raise or train someone by finding their good aspects and telling them.

•褒められて伸びる(=homerarete nobiru) to  improve someone by being praised

褒めて伸ばす(=homete nobasu) to help improve someone by finding their good aspects and telling them.

Some people learn and grow or improve by being criticized strictly or having their faults pointed out to them.
On the contrary, 褒められて育つ(or 伸びる)タイプ(=Homerarete sodatsu/nobiru taipu) is the type of person (not just children but also athletes, students or people who work etc.) who can improve themselves by being praised.
So when someone gives you a compliment about your ability,  we jokingly say
ありがとう!私、褒められて育つ(or 伸びる)タイプだから..

(=Arigatou! Watashi homerarete sodatsu(or nobiru) taipu dakara…)

Thank you! I am the type who improves the more they’re complimented!