207 - Taking the Leap

Today I want to talk about the word きっかけ.

Generally speaking, きっかけ means something like "motive" or "impetus."

We use it in sentences like this:

サッカー を はじめた きっかけ は なん ですか?
Why did you start playing soccer? // What made you start playing soccer?
Literally: "soccer + を + started + motive + は + what + ですか?"

I guess if we translated that a bit more directly, it'd be, "What was your motive to start playing soccer?"

You'll notice that we're writing きっかけ without kanji, which is pretty standard. It is possible to write with kanji, though:


I read an interesting explanation online for how we can remember the meaning of this word:

(Note: I've numbered the lines, for those of you hoping to test your kanji skills.)

1 この「きっかけ」という言葉ですが、
2 「きる」と「かける」の合成語で、
3 「きる」は「~きる(例:やりきる)」
4 と動作の終わりを表す言葉。
5 「かける」は「~かける(例:食べかける)」のように
6 動作の最初を表す言葉。
7 つまり、一つのことが終わり、
8 新たに次のことが始まることを指しています。

1 この「きっかけ」という ことば です が、
2 「きる」と「かける」の ごうせいご で、
3 「きる」は「~きる(れい:やりきる)」
4 と どうさ の おわり を あらわす ことば。
5 「かける」は「~かける(れい:たべかける)」の よう に
6 どうさ の さいしょ を あらわす ことば。
7 つまり、ひとつ の こと が おわり、
8 あらた に つぎ の こと が はじまる こと を さしています。

Semi-Literal Translation:
1 So this word "kikkake"
2 is a combination of the words "kiru" and "kakeru," and
3 "kiru" is used as a suffix, like in the word "yarikiru (=to do completely),"
4 to show that an action is ending.
5 "Kakeru" is used as a suffix in words like "tabekakeru (=to be about to start eating)"
6 to show than an action is just starting.
7 In short, that one thing is ending,
8 and another thing is starting anew, is shown by these words.

I though that was kind of a cool explanation. And it reminded me of the word 思い切って (おもいきって // resolutely; boldly; daringly), which is used to express when you "cut" (切る) your "thoughts" (思い) and do something daring, like in this example...

You are a generally shy guy. Accordingly, you pretty much never start conversations with random people, let alone beautiful girls. But last Saturday, you were browsing through the giant Kinokuniya store in Shinjuku (pictured above) when you saw a girl way out of your league looking at one of your favorite books. So you "cut your thoughts" and started a conversation with her.

Now you have a date next weekend. Before that, though, of course you have to brag to your equally shy friend about your bookstore bravery. You tell him...

おもいきって はなしかけて みた。
I (bravely; boldly) went up and talked to her.
Literally: "boldly / resolutely + tried to talk (to her)."
Note: 話しかける is used when you go up and talk to someone unexpectedly. My dictionary says that it means "to accost a person," but that seems to be a pretty strong phrase in English. I try to never "accost" people, but I'm not totally averse to the occasional 話しかける.

Anyways, I'm getting sidetracked. Here are a bunch of examples with きっかけ, which is supposed to be our focus for this lesson...

(Note: In the literal translation, I'm always putting "motive" or "impetus" for きっかけ. It's actually quite a versatile word, though. As such, my dictionary says it can mean all of these things: "chance; start; cue; excuse; motive; impetus; occasion." Yikes! Don't let that stress you out, yeah? With a little mental gymnastics, "motive" or "impetus" works for all of the uses.)

しょくちゅうどく が きっかけ で、 からあげ が きらい に なった。
Getting food poisoning made me hate fried chicken.
Literally: "food poisoning + が + impetus + で、+ fried chicken + が + hated + became."

かのじょ に はなしかける きっかけ を さがしている。
I'm looking for a reason to go up and talk to her.
Literally: "she + に + go up and talk to + impetus + を + am looking for."

いえ を でる きっかけ が なくて、 いま でも りょうしん と すんでいる。
I have no reason for moving out, so I'm still living with my parents.
Literally: "house + を + exit + motive / impetus + が + don't have, and, + now + even + parents + と + am living."

かいわ の きっかけ を つくる ために、 わざ と けが を した。
I hurt myself on purposes so that I would have a reason to talk to her.
Literally: "conversation + の + impetus + を + make + in order to, + intentionally + injury + を + did."

Last but not least, here is a question I used to get asked quite frequently when I lived in Japan:

にほん に きた きっかけ は なん ですか?
What was your reason for coming to Japan? // What made you come to Japan?
Literally: "Japan + に + came + motive + は + what + ですか?"

Honestly, I have no idea why I went to Japan. At least, not in a way that I can sum up in a few words. So usually I would just answer...

わかりません。なんとなく です。
I don't know. I just... did.
Literally: "don't know / understand. + for some reason or another."
Note: It's hard to translate this なんとなく. I almost translated it as, "I just felt like it." A lesson topic for another day...

That conversation is a bit formal sounding though. If it's a friend asking you, they might just say:

にほん に きた きっかけ は?
What made you come to Japan?
Literally: "Japan + に + came + motive + は?"

And you could respond more casually with:

I don't know. I just... did.
Literally: "don't know / understand. + for some reason or another."

That's all for this lesson! ^_^

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