In a grammar textbook I have, there is this phrase:


The translation given is:

Fortunately, I studied Japanese in Japan and now I can speak it fairly well. I didn't go to Japan for nothing.

The thing that confuses me is in that last part, where the translation is "I didn't go to Japan for nothing".

It seems to me that だけのことがありました literally translates to something like "there was just that thing". だけ, to me, implies exclusion of other things.

So to me, the sentence should be something like "That's all I went to Japan for", or perhaps "That's all I got from being in Japan". The way I read it has more of a negative implication than the given translation.

What am I not understanding about this phrase in order to see how the given translation makes sense? Or perhaps is the given translation not as good as it could be?

6 Answers 6


Some of the other answers try to connect the meaning of the idiom だけのことはある to “just” or “only,” which is one of the meanings of だけ, but I do not think that it is the right way to analyze this idiom.

だけ means “extent.” It sometimes means some kind of limitation on the extent, but not always.

For example, if you go to buy a cloth and are asked how much you need, you can show the length of the cloth you need with your hands and say,

これだけください。 I would like this much.

(Depending on the context, this sentence can mean “I would like only this.” In the Tokyo dialect, これだけ is pronounced LHHH in the the first case and LHHL in the second case, where L and H mean low and high pitches.)

The literal translation of the sentence


would be “There was something to the extent that I went to Japan.” In your context, the “something” refers to the fact that the speaker improved his/her Japanese language skills, and the speaker is saying that it was worth visiting Japan.

  • @DaveMG: I am fine that you did not choose my answer as accepted answer, but I just want to clarify that I know that “There was something to the extent that I went to Japan” is not even English. If you followed the logic up to that point, you would know what it means. If you did not follow the logic, that means that I did not explain the logic well (but at least I tried). Coming up with a nice English translation which has some flavor of the literal meaning of the original Japanese expression is not the purpose of my answer. Jul 17, 2011 at 15:59
  • +1 for underlying mechanism instead of derived meaning.
    – Flaw
    May 5, 2012 at 8:18

The given translation is a good one.

Given some scale, だけ either excludes the lower side or the higher side of the standard. Probably you only knew the usage of excluding the higher side. That usage is more common.

  • Excluding the higher side of a scale: 'no more than', 'nothing other than (= only)'

    • 寿司だけを食べた 'I ate {nothing other than/only/ at most} sushi'
  • Excluding the lower side of a scale: 'no less than', 'as much as'

    • 日本に行っただけのことはあった 'It (= the outcome) was worth {no less than/as much as} (the cost/effort/etc. of) going to Japan'
  • Sorry, can you try rephrasing your translation in the second example? "It worths" is not parsable English, so I'm hesitant to even guess what you are trying to say, and I'd like to be exact in my understanding. Thanks!
    – Questioner
    Jul 15, 2011 at 7:42
  • I gave this answer a +1 for opening my eyes to the idea that だけ can exclude the lower side of a scale, which is helpful. However, I gave the nod to William's answer because it gave me a useful logical construct for understanding the particular grammar of the example sentence. Since both answers were valuable, I thought I should clarify why I took one over the other.
    – Questioner
    Jul 16, 2011 at 6:46

I think a slightly more literal translation, that still flows nicely in English, would be, "It was worth going to Japan just for that." or maybe "I went (could have gone?) to Japan for that alone."

  • Thanks. :) I still find it's the best way (for me, at least) to approach new concepts. Of course, after that, it's best to deal with them in context and get a true feel for the meaning.
    – William
    Jul 15, 2011 at 12:52
  • 3
    It might be a useful mnemonic to remember the meaning of だけのことはある, but as I wrote in my answer, this だけ does not mean “just,” and it is not correct to say that your translation is “slightly more literal” than the translation “I didn’t go to Japan for nothing” given in the question. Jul 16, 2011 at 14:44

I think the source of your initial confusion is that there's some ambiguity in the phrase "didn't do X for nothing." In the above translation, it seems to mean "fortunately, my time in Japan didn't go to waste" but I think the more common use is to kind of sarcastically remind someone of the reason or purpose of something. Something like, "I didn't bake all these cookies for nothing, you know!" or "They don't call it Death Valley for nothing!"


Quoting entry 【だけ】no. 3-2 from Daijisen :


Entry no 3 from Daijirin:


which is: it shows that it is deserving of a certain characteristic, ability, or value due to what is said.

Therefore, in your example, "I went to Japan" therefore it is just deserving that "I'm able to speak Japanese".


As expected of a daughter of nobility, she's good at social manners and is well-spoken."

Hokkaido, worthy of its name, the winter is very cold and the snow piles up real good.

p/s: please comment my Japanese grammar/English translation, I think it may need fixing.


I came across this today in the Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar, and remembered this question. I'm posting here even after all this time because it offers some translation examples that haven't yet appeared in this thread. The description it gives is:

A phrase expressing an evaluative component regarding how s.t. is contributing to an expected, remarkable result

(This description isn't particularly helpful to me, but it may be to someone.)

And some possible English translations:

  • don't do s.t. for nothing;
  • ~explains it
  • no wonder~
  • it's no surprise that~

It also states that さすが is commonly used with the phrase to further emphasise the sense of "expectedness":

[reason for expectation]。 さすがに [remarkable result] だけのことはある。

So while I can't give info on the origin or word-by-word breakdown of the phrase, it is considered enough of a standalone "set phrase" to have its own entry in a grammar dictionary.

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