The Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa) are undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places you can visit in the Asia-Pacific region. As a formerly independent island kingdom, Okinawa has a unique cultural identity established through its rich history of trade between its neighbours, China and Japan. Its robust diplomatic ties meant that the Ryukyuan Kingdom trade routes were also formed with Sumatra, Java, and Korea.
Uchinaaguchi is one of the 14 Indigenous Ryukyuan languages, with Uchinaaguchi being one of the most commonly spoken languages of the Ryukyus. It’s spoken in the south-central part of Okinawa (Uchinaa) island. During the time of the Ryukyu Kingdom, Uchinaaguchi, particularly the Shuri-Naha dialect, held prestige as the language of the high court.
Today, Uchinaaguchi is considered endangered by UNESCO but is still kept alive by traditional Ryukyuan music and customs. Do your bit by learning some of the most common phrases in Uchinaaguchi to help keep such a beautiful and colourful language alive, which will also help illuminate and enrich your trip to Okinawa.
Mensooree ・ めんそーれー Welcome Making it at the top of the list is one of the most ubiquitous phrases in Okinawa. You’ll spot mensoree written across big signs in the airport, at shops, as well as all of the major tourist destinations.
Nifee Deebiru ・ にふぇーでーびる
A must-know phrase for your trip is Nifee Deebiru, which allows you to express your thanks to all the kind people you meet in Okinawa. If you want to say a big Thank You to someone, just add “Ippee” to the beginning to make “Ippee Nifee Deebiru”, which is “Thank you very much!”
Haisai (Male) / Haitai (Female) ・ はいさい・はいたい
Show your appreciation for Uchinaaguchi by greeting people with Haisai or Haitai, meaning Hello, instead of using Japanese! In some dialects of Uchinaaguchi, Haisai is used by people of all genders, while in others it’s used just by men.
Hajimiti yaasai ・ はじみてぃ やーさい。
Nice to meet you
This is a good phrase to know, especially if you’re being introduced by a third party; if you’re female, you can use “hajimiti yaatai”.
U-namee ya nuu yaibiiga? ・ うなめーや ぬー やいびーが？
What’s your name?
After saying hello, if you’ve never met the person before, it may be a good idea to ask them what their name is. In this phrase “U-namee” means “name” and “nuu” means “what”. After they respond, you can follow up by telling them your name using the phrase “Wannee _____ yaibiin.” (literally: I am _____.)
Ganjuu yaibiimi? ・ がんじゅー やいびーみ。
How are you?
It’s always a courteous gesture to ask people how they’re doing. They may respond with the phrase “Ganjuu do!” meaning “I’m good!”
Maa kara yaibiiga? ・ まーから やいびーが？
Where are you from?
In this phrase, “maa” means “where” and “kara” means “from”. When you meet someone, this is a question you may be asked in order for them to get to know you. To respond, you can say “Wannee _____ kara chaabitan” (fill in the blank with where you are from).
Maasaibiin! ・ まーさいびーん!
If you’re visiting Okinawa, you’re bound to be filling your stomach with delicious Okinawan food. By saying Maasaibiin, you can show your appreciation for the delicious food you’re eating. A more casual version of this phrase is “Maasan”.
Chassa yaibiiga ・ ちゃっさやいびーが
How much is this?
In Okinawa, you’ll find not only the tastiest, hospitable restaurants but beautiful traditional handicrafts sold in small villages. One of my favourite places to buy pottery is the Yomitan Pottery Village (Yachimun no sato). Surprise the vendors by asking them how much something is by asking this phrase.
Mata yaasai! ・ また やーさい
See you again!
Rather than saying goodbye, if you hope to see someone again, you can say this phrase as you leave. After a couple rounds of awamori at a bar with friends, when it’s time to head back to your hotel, you can say this phrase as a friendly way to take your leave.
Here are some other phrases that are good to know:
- Thank you for the meal - Kwatchi sabitan くゎっちーさびたん
- Goodbye (when leaving a place) - Guburii sabira ぐぶりーさびら
- Please - Unigeesabira うにげーさびら
- What is that? - Uree nuu yaibiiga うれーぬーやいびーが？
- Understood - Wakayabitan わかやびたん
- Thank you for your hard work / You’ve worked hard - Utaimisoochii うたいみそーちー
- Where is it? - Maa yaibiiga まーやいびーが？
- Good morning - Ukimisoochii うきみそーちー
- Good night - Uyukuimisooree うゆくぃみそーれー