In case you just want the short answer, it means 'shortly'.
But if you have ever travelled on any trains in Japan, or if you have ever stood on any platform in Tokyo, you will have heard the phrase ‘mamonaku’. Not just once, but many many times, regardless of your linguistic ability (in the Japanese language or otherwise).
Why is that? Because virtually every announcement (at least all the ones I heard) begin with the word mamonaku. In fact, often before you even hear or feel the train approaching, the little jingle comes on, followed ‘shortly’ by the seemingly ubiquitous word ‘mamonaku’.
So why am I telling you all of this? Well before I actually knew what it meant, or could understand any of the Japanese that followed it, I thought you would be interested to know that I used to play a little game of making up the translation:
Like the day that Mamonaku was the name of the train announcer and he continually said:
“Mamonaku, (pause) that’s my name, I’ll say it again, before the next train”
Or when Mamonaku was a product on sale:
(cue high pitch voice), “Mamonaku is now on special in every Konbini in Tokyo. Hop on the next train to buy yours”
But that game finished when I actually worked out what the word means – shortly (as I told you above). But to ensure that you actually learn something from this post, as opposed to just reading about the silly games I play while waiting for a train, linguistically, the Japanese word 'mamonaku' is quite simple, yet fascinating.
‘Ma’ and the kanji used, 間, means space or interval. ‘Mo’, も means too or also. While ‘naku’, なく is a form of ‘nai’ which means no, not, or nothing. Mamonaku therefore literally means no further space, or without space, or without delay. A more fluid translation and the one I prefer is shortly.
So rather than give up on my fun little game of making up the translation I just changed it slightly – I started making up what was said after 'mamonaku' (Please note, at this stage I still couldn't understand any of the Japanese that followed).
Like the day drinks were on the house:
Mamonaku, the vending machines will be giving out free hot coffee in a can.
Or the day Japan became weird:
Mamonaku, you will be greeted by ten bowing salarymen for no apparent reason, followed by eight Japanese maids a milking, and a partridge in a Sakura tree (it was around Christmas the time I made that one up)
Or when train platforms became the place to be:
Mamonaku, Arashi or Kat-tun (the Japanese equivalents of One Direction) will be arriving on the next train at Carriage 6, Door 3.
Or my favourite was combining them all into one big fun translation like the script of a movie:
(Gusty wind blows along train tunnel. Platform packed full of salary men and school girls all lined up quietly waiting for the train. Camera pans along platform)
Train announcer: (or “anaunsa”, アナウンサ ): Mamonaku, Kat-tun will be arriving on the next train at Carriage 6, Door 3 right next to the 8 vending machines that will be giving out free drinks for the three minutes they will be singing their latest hit single on the platform.
(Immediately 38 Japanese salarymen, begin pushing and fighting with 86 school girls, who are manically trying to make their way towards Carriage 6)
Unfortunately as with most things in real life, it is much more boring than that, and by far and away the most common thing said when a train is coming is "Mamonaku, densha ga kimasu", which it may or may not surprise you means, Shortly, the train is coming.
Mamonaku, this post will end.