Japanese: Making Things Clear (Hakkiri)


So you want to spell things out in simple terms? To say it straight? To make things crystal clear? In Japanese, this is being hakkiri (はっきり) about it. There is no kanji for “hakkiri”; it is a native Japanese-ism that implies the literal truth.

Japanese society is full of white lies. This is not so different from the old saw of, when a woman asks you, “Does this dress make me look fat?” you answer “no,” regardless of whether it does or not! Speech itself can be full of hewing and hawing, with things like the “um” ‘s that Obama was known for during his candidacy and early presidency. Statements can be filled with all manner of fudging and imprecision.

“Hakkiri” is used in Japanese as an adverb, chiefly in the following way:

hakkiri iu (はっきり言う)

Here, “iu” is the root form of the verb to speak/ to state. At least, in the way we will see it, those readings work:

To state clearly.

To clearly state.

To plainly state.

To distinctly state.

If someone is fumbling a response to an awkward question, like, oh, do you like me and not that other girl, a response might read:

hakkiri itte kudasai! (はっきり言ってください!)

So, an urging – insistent but not overbearing – that the other party tell it to her straight, whether it’s what she wants to hear or not. This is a plea for seriousness, for honesty, and for bluntness.

Of course, actually replying clearly and plainly may not lead to the result the girl would prefer.

In one scene in a Japanese video game I was recently playing, a young female magic user rescued from low-level demons was in a conversation with the knightly main character (of that arc, at least). The question arose as to, if she was able to use magic, how did she get captured like that in the first place?

As the magic user tried hard to avoid the subject, the knightly character gently suggested that she must have been terrified of the demons and froze in place from fright.

To this, her response was:

h, hakkiri itte nai de kudasai!! (は、はっきり言ってないでください!)

As this is a bit problematic to try and read literally, let’s put it like this:

“D, don’t spell it out like that!”

That is, it’s bad enough that’s what actually happened, she just doesn’t want him to say it in such blunt, literal terms. This being no more than gentle teasing, it goes no further than that. She remained happily rescued and appreciative of the hero.

Now, the real trick follows:

hakkiri suru (はっきりする)

By adding the “suru” suffix, we make what precedes “suru” into an action verb. Normally, this is done for kanji compounds like for “benkyou” (勉強), which is normally read as “study,” turning it into “benkyou suru” for the verb “to study.” (There is a nuance to this that only language nerds would want to hear, but it is a common verb so it gets the point across.)

So, as I said at the start, “hakkiri” does not have a kanji (and never did).

Yet we can still turn it into a verb!

In this incarnation, it becomes the verb “hakkiri suru,” or, to make plain/ to make clear.

When applied to an intangible object, such as a person’s feelings, we can use the “saseru” suffix:

kimochi o hakkiri sasete (気持ちをはっきりさせて)

This is skipping ahead slightly but, this reads as the “soft imperative” form of make (your) feelings clear.

This can be to yourself or to others. If you are a male lead of an anime or manga story where you are in the middle of a love triangle, or square, or pentagon (and so on…), you may hear this phrase spoken (iu, いう言う) to you.

As in, make up your mind. ^^

I hope I have successfully spelled out how Japanese people talk about spelling things out.

– J

J Sensei

About J Sensei

Blogger, writer, linguist, former Japanese> English translator, rusty in French, experienced in Japanese, fluent English native. Writing for Technorati.com and various blogs. Skype: jeremiah.bourque (messages always welcome). E-mail: [email protected]
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One Response to Japanese: Making Things Clear (Hakkiri)

  1. Ann says:

    Wonderful explanation! Thank you so much! Ajaget