Otsukaresama Deshita Meaning Explained & How to Use it Naturally.


Looking for Otsukaresama deshita meaning?

Well, long story short, it’s a Japanese phrase used to thank someone for their hard work.

Literally, it means, “you were tired.”

But there’s a lot more NUANCE to this phrase which you will learn in this guide. Cool? Cool. So, keep reading.

1. Meaning Explained/Origin

  • お疲れ様でした
    • Otsukare Sama Deshita
    • Literal translation: You are/were tired
    • Meaning/usage: Used as a greeting

Although the origin of this phrase is  unknown, “Otsukaresama deshita” is used as a greeting from afternoon to night time. This is probably because of the verb “tsukareru”, which means “to tire.” Also,  this phrase is in the past tense when used in polite Japanese — meaning, people would use it after someone worked enough to get tired, which is around evening time.

Nowadays, people use this phrase with everyone — young and old — though some people believe that saying it to someone older or in a higher position than you is offensive. So if you want to be polite, you should only use it to refer to someone younger or in a lower position than you.

2. How Otsukare Sama Deshita is Used by Japanese People

AM Work Greeting

“Otsukare sama desu,” in the present tense, is usually used as a greeting at work. For example, when you enter the office in the morning or when you meet your colleagues/bosses in the elevator. So, it’s used in the morning and in the middle of work.

Work Parting Greeting

Unlike “Otsukaresama desu” (present tense), “Otsukaresama deshita,” (past tense), is only used at the end of work or after work.

Acknowledging Someone’s Effort

People also use this phrase for someone who worked hard.

For example, a wife would say “Otsukaresama deshita” to her husband when he comes home from work.

A mother would say “Otsukaresama,” which is more casual than “Otsukaresama deshita,” to her kids after they study so hard and pass the exam.

When people use this phrase to refer to someone younger than them or in a lower position than them, they say “Otsukaresama” because it is more casual than “Otsukaresama deshita.”.

3. Why This Phrase is Confusing for Learners

The biggest reason why learning struggle with the “otsukaresama deshita” meaning is…

…probably because there’s no direct translation in their language. No similar phrase.

In English, people say “hello,” “good morning,” “good evening,” “bye,” or “thank you” before or after work. In addition, these greeting phrases are not offensive to anyone, so you do not need to worry about what to say to your boss or clients.

The other reason why this phrase is confusing is… the seemingly contradictory usage. What do I mean? Well, if you know that “otsukaresama deshita” comes from the verb “to be tired,” and is used as a way to acknowledge someone working hard, being tired, and as a greeting at night… you wouldn’t expect this phrase to be used in OPPOSITE situations, right? But, it does get used in opposite situations.

Japanese people use this phrase BEFORE working as a greeting when no-one’s even tired yet.

But for Japanese people, this opposite-usage is pretty useful. For example, take someone who works late at night, such as a TV producer or news editor. They may not know what time it is. So, a greeting like “otsukaresamadesu,” which does not depend on the time is more sensible. If they’ve worked hard into the morning, telling them “good morning” as you walk into the office would be odd, right? Mornings aren’t exactly good after an all-nighter!

Finally, “Otsukaresama deshita” is also used in business communication.  For example, in a business email or text, or the phone call as a greeting. It does not much matter whether they work hard or whether they appreciate that or not. It’s just a common greeting in business conversation.

4. Usage of Otsukaresama Deshita Recap

  • In the morning when part-timer start working at a restaurant, he would go into the kitchen and say “otsukaresama desu” to a chef and the other workers as a greeting.
  • When shift workers clock in and out to change their shift, they would say “otsukaresamadeshita” to each other.
  • When a boss gives his staff a big task and then gets it back from them, he would say “otsukaresama” to his staff. “Otsukaresama” expresses his appreciation to his staff, like “thank you for your hard work”.
  • When a couple meet up at the station after work for dinner, they would say “otsukaresama” to each other as a greeting instead of “hi” or “good evening”. This is a common greeting after work even they do not work together. It means something like, “I know you worked hard today. You did a good job. How are you?” Of course, they do not think a lot and it just comes out from their mouth like other greeting when they say that though.
  • When you send an e-mail to your employee or someone who work at the other department, you would start from “otsukaresamadesu”. This also applies when you send a casual text by such as LINE, messenger, WhatsApp etc. to your coworkers other than working. When typing to coworkers, you would begin with “otsukaresama(desu),” but you would not use the phrase with clients or customers. You are probably working for them but them. That is why “osewaninatteorimasu” is the right phrase to your clients or customers.
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