When things don’t work out well in Japanese Relationships…
Hello there. You opening this post must mean that you’re dealing with some kind of relationship issue that you just couldn’t handle on your own. The first thing to remember is that breaking things off with somebody special is never easy, regardless of the language they speak. This applies to any relationship but especially in Japan, remember to keep things sweet, short, and clear to your point. As you may sense from studying the Japanese language, it’s always better to say things in an indirect way; a Japanese novelist Sosuke Natsume famously translated “I love you” in English to 月（つき）がきれいですね which directly translates to “The moon looks beautiful today”. In English, it makes little to no sense at all, but in Japanese, that level of euphemism and subtlety is important to be a truly fluent speaker. But regardless of how you say things or what you say, PLEASE meet in person (or over FaceTime if you’re in different places, whichever way that’s face-to-face) when ending a relationship with someone; this is 2019, we aren’t cavemen.
Relationships in Japan
Relationships in Japan, whether it be romantic, friendly, or professional, can be said to be based on a mutual understanding and respect that often go unsaid. As the term 暗黙の了解 (Annmoku-no-Ryokai Unspoken understanding) shows, there are many things you need to “get” from the subtle exchange of words or body language. A few years ago, the term “KY” became a trend; KY, which stands for 空気が読めない Kuuki (ga) Yomenai, which made fun of people who aren’t capable of reading between the lines, or literally are unable to read “the air” of social interactions.
So, when deciding to end a relationship with someone in Japanese, it is important to understand the subtle signs your (ex-) significant other shows, and maybe even show some signs of unhappiness prior to letting them know of wanting to break up. These signs you can show really depend on each relationship, but for example, you can show that you are less eager to meet up with them or be less responsive to texts or calls. In any case, the Japanese idiom 親しき仲にも礼儀あり Shitashiki-nakanimo-reigi-ari is always a good rule to have in mind; by definition, regardless of how close you are to two people, it is important to stay polite and respectful even as you break up.
Phrases to use when Breaking Up
What are some words or phrases you could use to end a relationship with somebody in Japanese? We’ll divide it according to some general reasons why you are suggesting breaking up:
- Your feelings have changed
友達(ともだち)になりたい。I want to be friends.
長（なが）く付（つ）き合（あ）ってみて、私（わたし）たちがお互（たが）い全然（ぜんぜん）違（ちが）うタイプの人間（にんげん）だということに気（き）がついた。The longer we stayed together, the more I started to realize how different we are as people.
付（つ）き合（あ）い始（はじ）めたときとは、状況（じょうきょう）が変（か）わった。Things are quite different from when we first started dating.
- Your work/family situation/school circumstances don’t allow you to continue dating
夢（ゆめ）を叶（かな）えることに集中（しゅうちゅう）したい。I want to focus on making my dream come true.
私（わたし）たちには、遠距離恋愛（えんきょりれんあい）はできないと思（おも）う。I don’t think we’d be able to handle a long-distance relationship.
- You found someone else
他（ほか）に好（す）きな人（ひと）ができた。I have feelings for somebody else.
私（わたし）はあなたにとってふさわしい人（ひと）じゃないと感（かん）じるようになった。I started to feel that I’m not the right person for you.
- The futures you imagine are too different
価値観（かちかん）が全然（ぜんぜん）違（ちが）う。Our values are just so different.
最近（さいきん）、お互（たが）い理解（りかい）しあえてない気（き）がする。I feel like we’re just not understanding each other well these days.
二人（ふたり）が想像（そうぞう）してる未来（みらい）が違（ちがい）いすぎる。The futures we’re imagining are just too different.
- Stress from constant fighting, or feeling controlled
いつも喧嘩（けんか）ばかりしてるのは辛（つら）い。The constant fighting is hard for me.
束縛（そくばく）が激（はげ）しすぎる。I feel so constrained with you.
一緒（いっしょ）にいたら、お互（たが）い自分（じぶん）らしい人生（じんせい）が送（おく）れないと思（おも）う。If we’re together, we both can’t live our lives the way we should be.
このまま付（つ）き合（あ）っていても、お互（たが）いストレスが溜（た）まっていくだけだと思う。If we stay together, I think we’ll both constantly be stressed out.
A (子):「どうしたの？What happened?」
B (介):「ちょっと話（はなし）があって、、、最近（さいきん）いろいろ考（かんが）えてみたんだけど、私（わたし）たち、もうこれ以上（いじょう）付（つ）き合（あ）い続（つづ）けるべきじゃないと思（おも）うんだ。I just wanted to talk… I’ve been re-thinking things lately, and thought that maybe we shouldn’t be together anymore.」
A (子):「え、どうして？What, why?」
*Insert reason for ending the relationship below*
Simple considerations such as saying “～気がする” instead of ending with a full-stop sentence, or emphasizing that the situation is the issue instead of the person’s qualities, makes a huge difference in how the break-up line sounds to the other person. The stories and motivations behind your words are certainly different for everyone, and even by reading this I’m sure there will be endless conflicts and questions that remain unanswered for you. I’d like to end this post with a 短歌（たんか）, a Japanese poem from a famous collection of poems for the emperor at the beginning of Heian-era, the 古今和歌集（こきんわかしゅう）, the Kokin-Waka collection.
「飛鳥川（あすかがわ）淵（ふち）は瀬（せ）になる世（よ）なりとも思（おも）ひそめてむ人（ひと）は忘（わす）れじ」 よみ人（びと）知（し）らず Author unknown
Broad translation: “Like the Asuka-river, where deep waters change instantaneously into a shallow, the world is full of fervent changes; nevertheless, a person once loved will never be forgotten. “