Japanese expression ありそうでなかった (ari sou de nakatta), and some tasty soy sauce

By | December 3, 2018

Whenever I am at around Japanese food products, I always try to read the labels to learn new words, especially since there are many food-specific words and expressions that you won’t normally hear in daily conversation.

The other day I was reading the label for a “Butter Soy Sauce” product (バターしょうゆ) and came across some surprisingly tricky Japanese, so I wanted to explain it in this post.

The label read as follows:

ありそうでなかったあつあつご飯の友、「ガーリックバター醤油」

(ari sou de nakatta atsu atsu gohan no tomo,  “Gaarikku bata shouyu”)

When I saw part in bold above, “ari sou de nakatta,” the first thing I thought was that it meant “ari sou de wa nakatta“, which translates to something like “It didn’t seem like it existed”. Grammatically this seemed possible (because sometimes the “wa” is omitted from “de wa nai”), however the meaning just didn’t fit the context. Since I didn’t have easy access to an internet search I asked a native speaker, who explained the meaning to me.

Before I explain the phrase’s actual meaning I should talk about the phrase following it, namely “atsu atsu gohan no tomo”. This literally means “a friend of hot rice”, but a more natural translation could be “a companion to freshly-cooked rice”.

Now back to the “ari sou de nakatta” phrase––it can be more easily understood if you think of the “ari sou de” and “nakatta” parts as separate. This was a little counter-intuitive to me since the meaning between these two is contrasting, so you would generally expect a word of contrast (ex: “ari sou datta ga nakatta”). But since this phrase was printed on a very small label I guess there wasn’t space for it.

With this interpretation, this phrase literally means “Something that seems to exist but does not”. But how does this fit with the “a companion to freshly-cooked rice” part?

If you put these together you get “The companion to freshly-cooked rice that seemed to exist but didn’t.” But this is still a little difficult to understand what is being said.

Basically, the intended nuance here is that the consumer thought this type of tasty product existed (and was perhaps searching for it), but wasn’t able to find it. So this product that is being advertised here is basically the thing the consumer was searching for, or hoped existed.

Here is a quick attempt to translate this nuance into natural English:

“The perfect companion to freshly-cooked rice you always wish you had: Garlic Butter Soy Sauce”

However, this phrase might be too long for the space on the small container, so it might take some more time and effort to shrink it down to a more reasonable length. Another phrase that might come handy is “long-awaited”.

By the way, this product was actually pretty tasty. While it didn’t really taste like soy sauce (nor did it taste like Italian food, which is what I expected), it was delicious in its own way.

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