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).