Japanese expression highlight: あるある (aru aru)

By | May 23, 2022

In this post I would like to go over the casual expression あるある (aru aru), which doesn’t have a literal parallel in English. I will also talk a little about where it is derived from.

To give some context first to how you might see this phrase used, imagine an article titled “テレワークあるある” (terewaaku aru aru). Can you guess what this article is about? (By the way, テレワーク refers to working remotely.)

It turns out that this article would be about things commonly experienced when doing remote working: having time focusing due to noise, interruptions due to other people, struggling to communicate effectively over virtual meetings, etc. Making a proper English translation would depend on the details of the article itself, but “Remote Work Common Problems” would be one option.

Perhaps a bit more interesting is where this term comes from. On the surface ある (aru) means the existence of a (usually) inanimate object. Do give a simple example:

  • ここに机があります (koko ni tsukue ga arimasu)
  •  Here is a desk.

(Note: “arimasu” is the polite form of “aru”, with no change in meaning.)

I should note that English doesn’t really have an exact parallel for this word, except for something like “exist” which is a bit stiff.

ある can also be used to describe having an experience. For example,

  • 日本に行ったことある? (nihon ni itta koto aru?)
  • Have you been to Japan before?

Literally this works by saying something like “does the thing exist of went to Japan” (though this is obviously not appropriate as a proper English translation).

We are gradually approaching the meaning of “あるある”, but we need to take one more step. ある can be used by itself conversationally to express the speaker has had a certain experience, or that those sorts of things can happen (frequently).

  • Person A: テレワークってさ、周りの人がしょっちゅう邪魔してくるよね  (terewaaku tte sa, mawari no hito ga shocchuu jama shite kuru yo ne)
    • Remote work, you know, people frequently come to bother you.
  • Person B: (それは)あるね   (sore wa aru ne)
    • That’s true. (or “That happens.”)

Finally, if someone wants to exaggerate, they can say “aru” twice. So in the above conversation, person B can say “aru aru!” to mean something like “True! True!”

So that leads us to usage like “テレワークあるある”, which means things that people are likely to say “あるある!” about related to remote work, in other words common things on that topic.

On a related topic, あるあるネタ (aru aru neta) is a phrase that refers to comments or jokes that a comedian would say to the audience to try to get them to nod in agreement and say “That’s true!” This is pretty common in English-language comedy, and the famous comedian Seinfeld comes to mind for pointing out many of these “aru aru” things that are common in life, even though we may not have actually acknowledged their existence. 

By the way, “neta” here has the nuance of “material” in this context, and the word “neta” actually comes from a reversal of the word “tane” (たね、種), which means “seed”.

If you liked this post, check out this article which explains a related expression: “sore wa nai”.

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2 thoughts on “Japanese expression highlight: あるある (aru aru)

  1. Megan

    “It is what it is” may be a good English phrase to compare this to, because it’s similar both in the literal meaning as well as contextual usage in conversation!


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