Japanese expression “ima sara” (今更、いまさら)

By | June 15, 2022

When learning a foreign language, knowing a diverse set of vocabulary words is an important requirement for becoming fluent. However, the number of words commonly used in everyday conversation is somewhat limited (at least compared to the number of words you would find in an average piece of literary fiction), and it’s also important to have a deep understanding of the nuances of certain common words in order to make sure you can communicate effectively with others.

The expression “ima sara”, often written in hiragana as いまさら and sometimes in kanji as 今更, is a fairly common word that can be confusing if you don’t understand the nuance associated with it. 

As you might guess from the word “ima”––which means “now”––“ima sara” has some connection to the idea of the present time. In fact, one of the dictionaries I commonly use (スーパー大辞林) gives one meaning of “ima sara” as “now”, with the explanation in Japanese as “今となって”. This ignores a critical nuance about this expression (although their example sentence somewhat makes up for it).

The key nuance of “ima sara” is that doing some specific action now is too late, when considering things like politeness, common sense, or other factors. This nuance is so strong that the expression can be used together with only one or two other words to form a sentence with a clear meaning. For example:

Person A: 彼女にプロポーズしようかなと思ってるんだけど (kanojo ni puropoozu ni shiyou ka na to omotte iru n da kedo)

Person B: 何いまさら! (nani imasara!)

  • Person A: I was thinking of proposing to my girlfriend…
  • Person B: Now, after all this time?!

In this case, “nani imasara” gives the feeling that it is unusual or inappropriate for person A to propose at this “late time”, for example because he has been dating his girlfriend for over a decade. In the English translation I have added “after all this time” for clarity, though in this example a simple “Now?!” would probably suffice. (Note: 何 (nani) means “what”.)

Here’s a bit of a longer example to see “ima sara” in action:

  • こんな歳じゃ外国語を学び始めるなんて今更むりだろうし (konna toshi ja gaikokugo wo manabihajimeru nante imasara muri darou shi)
  • Not to mention, it would probably be impossible to start learning a foreign language at this age.

Here, “ima sara” emphasizes that trying to learn a language at some (old) age is “too late”, although for this specific sentence you could actually remove “ima sara” and still retain the same general meaning.

To make the “lateness” even more clear you can explicitly say 遅い (“osoi”, meaning “late”), although I have frequently seen this omitted in everyday conversation:

  • 今更遅いよ (imasara osoi yo)
  • It’s too late now (for that).

“Ima sara” can also be used in the sense of “again”, but to be honest I have rarely heard or read it used this way.

As for the word origin of “ima sara”, as mentioned above the “ima” comes from 今 that means “now” (the present time). “Sara” (更) is a word/kanji that is used with various meetings, including “new”, “obvious”, and “late”, and the last of these fits pretty well with the nuance of “ima sara”. For example the word ふける that can mean “to get late” can also be written as 更ける. (You can see two other examples of words using “sara” in this post).

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