The meaning of saisho (最初) in Japanese and how to use it

This article will give you all of the knowledge you need on the Japanese word saisho, including its Japanese definition and translation, example sentences, related expressions and more!

What does saisho mean?

Saisho (最初、さいしょ) means beginning or first in Japanese. When written as saisho ni (最初に), it can also mean at first.

The kanji characters of saisho literally stand for “the most” (最) and “first/early” (初). Conversely, the Japanese word saigo (最後、さいご) means the end (literally “the most” and “late” in kanji).

Below, we take a look at some examples of how to use saisho in Japanese.

To make it easier for you, I have written each sentence in full Japanese kanji on the first line, followed by roman letters (romaji), and hiragana, with the English meaning coming last.

Saisho = Beginning

Saisho is the Japanese word for start or beginning.

Saisho no ippo wa ichiban taihen desu.
The first step is the hardest.

Saisho wa baka mitai datta.
In the beginning I was so foolish.

Saisho kara mou ichido yatte mite.
Try doing it again from the beginning.

Saisho ni dare to hanashita no?
Who did you speak to at first?

Saisho ni nani wo sureba ii no ka wakarimasen.
I don’t know what to do first.

Ichiban saisho?!

In everyday Japanese conversation, you may also hear people say ichiban saisho ni. This is an emphatic phrase which means very first or at the very beginning.

Ichiban saisho ni kanarazu aisatsu shite ne.
First of all, do make sure to say hello.

The weird thing about this expression is that ichiban means the most or number one, which is somewhat redundant when we remember that saisho literally stands for “the most early”. Accordingly, there is some debate as to whether ichiban saisho ni is incorrect Japanese or not.

I would say it’s okay to use this in casual conversation, but you’re better off simply using saisho in more formal settings or in writing. Either way, if you’re in Japan you will probably here this one quite often, along with other “incorrect” but common Japanese phrases like zenzen daijyoubu (= no problem).