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その女から電話がかかってきたとき、台所に立ってスパゲッティをゆでていた。スパゲッティはゆであがる寸前で、僕はFMラジオにあわせてロッシーニの「泥棒かささぎ」の序曲を口笛で吹いていた。 スパゲッティをゆでるにはとりあえず最適の音楽だった。

This is one of the first few sentences of a Murakami short story called 'The wind-up bird and Tuesday's women' and the context is basically he's boiling some pasta in his kitchen while listening to classical music on the radio when the phone rings.

However, とりあえず doesn't seem to fit either of the two definitions normally associated with the word:

  1. first of all; at once; right away​
  2. for now; for the time being​

I have shown this sentence to some native Japanese people and they were also confused with what it was doing there. Any thoughts?

Edit

Sorry I forgot to mention that he was listening to classical music on the radio when the phone rings. I’ve edited that now and also added the previous sentences as it’s definitely necessary context.

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3 Answers 3

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Listing "at once" or "right away" as a translation for とりあえず may be misleading. Typically, とりあえず is used to make a tentative conclusion or suggestion, indicating that the conclusion is not a thought-out or final one.

  • どちらに向かうかはさておき、とりあえず駅に向かいましょう。
    Whichever direction we go, {first of all | for now}, let's head to the station.
  • うーん、とりあえず左のやつで!
    Hmm, {for now | right now}, let me go with the one on the left (though I may change my mind later)!

By extension, とりあえず is also used to make an unimportant comment, or finish the easiest or least important discussion, before diving into the main topic.

  • その映画は見たよ。とりあえずヒロインは可愛かった。だけど肝心のストーリーは…。
    I saw that movie. {Well | Anyway | For starters}, the heroine was cute. But the crucial part, the story, was, you know...
  • とりあえずお前が無事で良かった。それで、例の秘密書類はどうなった?
    {Anyway | To begin with | First of all}, I'm glad you're safe. So...what happened to the secret document?

Likewise, in your context, とりあえず indicates that whether the "music" is perfect for cooking pasta is not really a major concern for him, nor is it a deeply thought-out comment. It's just a random (and probably sarcastic) remark that came to mind at the moment, and something more important to him will follow this sentence.

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  • Sorry I forgot to mention that he was listening to classical music on the radio when the phone rings. I’ve edited that now as it’s definitely necessary context Commented May 24 at 7:50
  • @YerElUncleDa Hmm, can you paste the original few sentences surrounding the sentence in question? Especially the ones after it. I'm still unsure if this 音楽 refers to the classical music or the phone call.
    – naruto
    Commented May 24 at 7:52
  • Sure thing. Just added it to the post now. Commented May 28 at 6:45
  • @YerElUncleDa Well, I had assumed a completely different context, but I think my explanation is still valid after seeing the added text. This とりあえず indicates that "best music for pasta" is a trivial comment unrelated to his main concern, so it's something like "by the way" or "FWIW". (If the context was about seriously choosing the best music for boiling pasta, aguijonazo's interpretation would be correct.)
    – naruto
    Commented May 28 at 8:10
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I'm a native speaker and I wouldn't have stopped to ask that question myself but I don't know how to answer it when asked. Let me try anyway.

Without とりあえず, it would sound like that music was the best for boiling spaghetti. とりあえず adds a sense that it's the best among the options at hand. It's closer to the second definition.

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    If the speaker (or the author) is likening the sound of the phone to music, they must have meant that it was the best among all possible sounds they could have heard while they were boiling spaghetti, whatever the reason might be.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented May 23 at 16:01
  • So, sort of like "in that moment"? In that moment, while making spaghetti, it was be best music. Kind of like that?
    – A.Ellett
    Commented May 23 at 16:03
  • @A.Ellett - It's so hard to explain but it's not only about time. Let's see if anyone else comes up with a better explanation.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented May 23 at 16:47
  • Sorry I forgot to mention that he was listening to classical music on the radio when the phone rings. I’ve edited that now as it’s definitely necessary context Commented May 24 at 7:50
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While とりあえず is a fixed expression, normally written out in kana, I think the etymology offers useful clues here.

The kanji are 取 and 敢. The latter doesn't seem to correspond to be used as a plain verb in modern Japanese (I can only find examples of derivatives like 敢えて, 敢え[無]{な}い, etc.); but if it were used that way, it seems like the core meaning would be something like "be bold / daring" or "act with deliberation".

Thus, the situation of とりあえず is one of "taking" without deliberation - of choosing more or less arbitrarily, or without searching for more options or treating it as a weighty decision.

In English when we say "for one thing", to me that implies that the speaker intends to list off some other things in an organized way. But in Japanese I think you'd count them off (一つ、ふたつ etc.) instead: to me とりあえず used in that sense, has more of a feeling of "there are multiple things to consider; here's just one, arbitrarily selected".

The "temporary" sense is more like "this is what I'm choosing because I don't have the opportunity to search wider" - of course one might hopefully replace that choice later. This seems to be how it's used here. While the spaghetti was at hand, the "music" of the phone seemed like the best available option at hand - as there is essentially nothing else to choose from. Or perhaps, to the speaker, it felt somehow especially poignant in the moment.

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  • Sorry I forgot to mention that he was listening to classical music on the radio when the phone rings. I’ve edited that now as it’s definitely necessary context Commented May 24 at 7:50

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