shibaraku (しばらく): a good Japanese word to know

By | June 20, 2017

The Japanese word ‘shibaraku’ (written “しばらく” in hiragana or sometimes written ”暫く” in kanji), is a word that I learned very early on in my Japanese studies and I still come across quite often. It has a simple meaning and usage that easy to learn and add to your own repertoire.

This word means a somewhat unspecified range of time, from a “little while” to “some time” to even “a while”. Here is a common, polite phrase that uses it:

  • しばらくお待ちください  [Shibaraku omachi kudasai]
  • Please wait a while.

Above I have given a literal translation, but if you were translating this you might use something more like ‘Thank you for your patience.” You can replace “shibaraku” with “shoushou” (少々) for another phrase with similar meaning.

Here “shibaraku” is used in front a polite form (“omachi”) of the verb “matsu” (まつ・待つ) which means “to wait”.

I’ll give another example where “shibaraku” is used to express a somewhat undefined range of time.

  • しばらく待ったけど、来なかった。 [Shibaraku matta kedo, konakatta]
  • I waited for a while but he/she didn’t come.

You can also use the phrase “shibaraku no aida” (暫くの間) which means pretty much the same thing.

Ironically, one of the first phrases I learned for this word was “しばらくですね” which means something like “Long time, no see.” However, in many years of studying Japanese I don’t think I’ve heard this phrase even a single time in real use, and even now doing a Google search brings up many pages which explain Japanese to foreigners. So I don’t recommend using this phrase. Instead, you can use “お久しぶりですね” (Ohisashiburi desu ne)  or the more formal “ご無沙汰しております” (Gobusata shite orimasu) which are much more common ways to say the same thing.

Update: I have received feedback from several people that the expression “しばらくですね” is still in use by everyday people. Nonetheless, I will continue to use the other expressions mentioned above since I hear them more often. Also, someone pointed out that “ご無沙汰しております” has a nuance of guilt for not staying in touch. I have talked to a few native speakers and done other internet research and found that while this seems to be technically true, the average native speaker may not be that aware of this nuance. 

Sometimes in literature you can see “shibaraku” used together with the verb “suru”. While “suru” generally means “to do” and is placed before a noun to make it a verb (ex: “benkyou suru”, to study), it also can be used to express time passing.

  • しばらくすると男がやってきました。 [Shibaraku suru to, otoko ga yatte kimashita]
  • Some time later, a man came by.

Another useful expression is “shibaraku no ato” (しばらくの後) which means “after a while”. (Another variant is “しばらく後”)

Since “shibaraku” can be vague, sometimes it may be a good idea to use a slightly more specific phrase of word, such as “sukoshi no aida” (a little while), “nagai aida” (a long time), etc. But even these aren’t very specific. You can use things like “数分” (‘suufun’, a few minutes) or “数時間” (‘suujikan’, a few hours) to be a little more clear.

In case you are interested, here is a post (in Japanese) where someone asks “How long is ‘shibaraku’?”. The answer, specified by situation, is from seconds to weeks. Even the Goo Dictionary entry has one definition that says “a little while” and one that says “something that continues to a certain extent”.

By the way, while I would not consider “shibaraku” particularly polite (“shoushou” actually sounds more polite to me),  I think it is a little on the formal side. To put it another way, I don’t think children would commonly use this word, instead falling back to something simpler like “sukoshi” (a little).

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6 thoughts on “shibaraku (しばらく): a good Japanese word to know

  1. Kurt

    Regarding しばらくですね, while I wouldn’t say I *often* here this phrase, I do think it’s more common than you’re implying, especially with older people. I can’t be sure but I would hazard that where a young person (say 50 and under) would say 久しぶりですね, older people would probably be more likely to say しばらくですね. Totally anecdotal and without any data to back it up. 😉

    Regarding しばらく in general, if you live in Japan and commute by train, you’re likely to hear this word several times a week in the sentence 発車までしばらくお待ちください。which I would freely translate as “the train will be moving again shortly”.

    Reply
    1. locksleyu Post author

      Hey Kurt, thanks for the comment. I admit my exposure with Japanese people over 50 is much less than younger age groups, so wouldn’t be surprised if you were right.

      Also, I think maybe part of it is that I typically will say “久しぶりですね” and sometimes the other person will repeat what I said. Perhaps if I said nothing they would have used a different phrase.

      Reply
  2. Ian C

    Thanks for creating such a helpful site. I hope you don’t mind me chiming in. Shibaraku is not uncommon even today. It’s a bit more casual than 久しぶりです, so maybe your relations with native speakers have something to do with your exposure? 久しぶりですね is also quite formal. 久しぶりis more common among friends, wouldn’t you say? Also, Gobusata is not the same as hisashiburi or shibaraku. Gobusata indicates guilt for not staying in touch. So, it’s used in similar situations but the meaning is quite different.

    Reply
    1. locksleyu Post author

      Ian, thanks for the comment.

      I agree about your point about “shibaraku” and have heard similar feedback from others.

      About “gobusata”, I have asked a few native speakers and there seems to be inconsistent interpretation as to whether the feeling of “guilt” is included. However, I have seen an article online that points to this being formally true. So I think you are right, but I am not sure how much the average person is aware of this.

      I have updated the article to reflect both points above.

      Reply
  3. James

    On one of this sites pages I read about the search for an editor and this was in the job description.
    “For the time being, this is a completely volunteer (unpaid) position. ”

    I think this is a perfect example of Shibaraku in place of “for the time being”. I have almost always ran across shibaraku when a slightly negative or benign situation exists. Or more to the point, when the receiver of the shibaraku statement has no influence over the outcome; or very little control.

    When told of a train moving, is an good example of shibaraku. Not overly plight, not extremely blunt but rather matter of fact. Benign with a hint of caution.

    The most most memorable time I’ve been told shibaraku was when a new girlfriend and I started getting serious after 6 months of dating. We only spoke Japanese but I can’t recite the exact words now. I told her of my marijuana use 15 years earlier when I tried it a couple times in highschool. I could tell this slightly struck her.

    A few days later she called and said she wanted a break from dating and wanted time to think about what I disclosed. Japanese have a somewhat ignorant and brainwashed view on marijuana and I think it was a shock for her to hear a professional worker who had used drugs. In recent decades, it isnt a big deal in most western countries yet I’m not advocating for it. Myself, I feel extreme use of any substance is harmful to health and society.

    Either way, I had to consult my Japanese friends about what happened and I needed to know exactly what she meant. I had not eperienced the combination of words or delivery she used. So I knew it was serious and needed more than a dictionary. I dont remember the complete structure but it began with shibaraku. “I need time to think on this.” And we didnt talk for two weeks as she asked to be left alone too.

    Her use of shibaraku reminded me of hearing “chanto” before a serious situation. Such as when a serious talk needs to happen. As in when the relationship ending “we need to talk” speech is about to begin.

    My friends said this was a make or break situation where the seriousness in her mind was enough to throw the brakes on the relationship and make a decision if she is willing to date a druggie and if future children will be brain damaged. (Some do consider anything but alcohol this drastically)

    My friends said when she talks with me again she will probably be very direct and upfront from the beginning about the outcome of her decision with no apology for taking the time to think. Like most Japanese she is sometimes politely indirect to get her points across with how she speaks. It’s just the typical manner of Japanese language along with the cultural idiosyncrasies of any high-context society.

    Sure enough she contacted me and directly said let’s stay together and drive on. I believe she consulted many friends and maybe even doctors and learned it wasnt a big deal.

    None the less, shibaraku was used to tell me something will happen and it will take a while for an undetermined amount of time and there is nothing I can do about it. Shouganai.

    Reply
    1. locksleyu Post author

      Thanks for the interesting personal story about this word! I’m sure some of my readers will enjoy reading it.

      While you are right that “shibaraku” could possibly be used for “for the time being”, I think perhaps there would be some more appropriate expressions: 当分は、とりあえず、etc.

      Reply

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