Some of you might be surprised with the fact that not many Japanese actually use the word “sayonara”.
I think the word is in the area of extinction.
From my experience of living in overseas for many years I guess it is similar to where “how do you do?” is placed.
If you are learning Japanese here is something to note.
Who uses Sayonara?
Sayonara is used mostly by elderly or children in Japan, and of course by tourists from overseas with their accents.
The reason why not many people use the word is how the word sounds like; not physically but what it sounds to mean.
Generally, “sayonara” is translated to “good bye” or “see you”.
However, there is a difference in meaning between the Japanese word and translated words.
What does Sayonara literally mean?
“Sayonara” is originated from an ancient word “sayonaraba” means “if that is the case”. More specifically “if we have to go separate ways, if that is the case (sayonaraba), then we have to be separated”.
The word does not include therefore positive implications which good bye or see you has. It merely describes the situation where two or more persons have to be separated and accepting the fact.
Japanese can feel this sadness from how the word sounds to mean therefore we don’t use them.
Elderly people use the word just because back in the days the word was mainly used in salutation. Children are taught to use Japanese words correctly by the book so they say sayonara to their teachers.
Currently though we have more expressions which would suite in different occasions. The sad one-fit-for-all expression is not commonly used for salutation in modern Japanese society.
We still use the word not for salutation. For example, we have “sayonara home run” in baseball.
How do Japanese say “Sayonara” then?
Between family members and friends I believe we normally say “matane”. “Mata” means “again” and “ne” means it asks for an agreement. So direct translation would be “again, right?” which is closer to the word “see you again”.
In business scenes I think we say “mata yoroshiku” or “kongotomo yoroshiku” both basically mean “keep in touch” or “please call again”.
To my colleagues I use “osakini shitsurei” meaning “excuse me for leaving before you”.
As it has been explained we Japanese don’t say “sayonara” but use different expressions which would suite in different occasions.
When you leave Japan you should say “matane” if you ever wish to come back or just say “sayonara” if you get sick of sushi and anime.