Japanese culture is the culture of respect. You don’t have to visit Japan to know that. We all heard about the famously polite Japanese bow and about the big emphasis Japanese people place on the respect of hierarchy in the family and etiquette in general. It’s in their DNA. And the same as its culture, the Japanese language is one of the most polite languages in the world. It’s true that, as a tourist, you don’t have to learn Japanese to perfection, but you know what they say: when in Rome, do as the Romans do and you will certainly increase the enjoyment of your adventure.
Learning as much as a simple Konnichiwa (“hello” in Japanese) or Arigato (“thank you” in Japanese) can work wonders. So here’s a guide to all the Japanese greetings you’ll need in your Japanese adventure: from “hello” in Japanese to Moshi Moshi (used to say “hello” on the phone), goodbye and other common Japanese greetings.
1. “Hello” in Japanese
If you ever watched at least one anime series, you probably already know this: “hello” in Japanese is Konnichiwa. Rings any bell? It most probably does since Konnichiwa is undeniably the most common Japanese greeting. Thanks to some of the most influential anime of all time such as Dragon Ball Z, Death Note, and Naruto, a lot of people living outside Japan know at least a few words in Japanese and Konnichiwa is definitely one of them.
But back in the day, when Japanese people met, they would address each other with konnichi wa gokiken ikaga desu ka? (“wow are you feeling today?”), konnichi wa ii hi desu ne (“today is a nice day”) or kon’nichi wa ikaga desu ka (“how is today?”). Over time, these expressions became shorter and shorter until they ultimately transformed to the Konnichiwa we all use today to greet each other in Japanese.
Also keep in mind that it’s usually only used during the day time, between morning and evening.
When it comes to using it in various social contexts, you should know that Konnichiwa can be used safely in all kinds of situations (only between morning and evening; never early in the morning or late at night) except for those involving very close friends. It could be a little awkward to use Konnichiwa (こんにちは) when meeting your Japanese friends. In this situation, it’s better to use something a lot more informal than that like:
- ossu – used exclusively between male friends and relatives around the same age. It’s similar to “hey dude” or “hey man” in English
- yaho – extremely informal, typically used by girls (boys more often say yo) but suitable for all the young people
If you have to write “hello” in Japanese, there are two ways to do it (three if you also count in Romaji – the romanization of the Japanese writing system):
-using Kanji symbols: 今日は
– using Hiragana symbols: こんにちは
Curious about why there are multiple types of characters in Japanese? Here’s everything there is to know about the Japanese writing system.
How to say “hello” on the phone in Japanese: moshi moshi (もしもし)
Unlike English which uses the same “hello” for a lot of different social context, the Japanese language has a dedicated “hello” for answering the phone: moshi moshi (もしもし). Doesn’t that sound cute?
2. Good morning in Japanese and other greetings for certain moments of the day
Good morning in Japanese – Ohayō gozaimasu (おはよう ございます) is the best choice for greeting someone in the early morning hours (before 10:00 a.m.). Unlike Konnichiwa, Ohayō gozaimasu a little more formal, so it’s safe to use it with people you don’t know or when you are meeting people in a position of authority (such as your boss or your teacher).
This greeting is used both as a “hello” and as a “goodbye”.
Good evening in Japanese – Konbanwa (こんばんは) – is how you should greet people in the late afternoon or evening hours. The same as Ohayō gozaimasu, Konbanwa can be used both as a “hello” and as a “goodbye”.
If you are leaving, you can also say Oyasumi nasai (おやすみなさい) to say “goodbye” in Japanese at night. But only when you leave as this Japanese phrase is not typically used as a greeting.
Good night in Japanese – Oyasuminasai (おやすみなさい) – is how you greet someone in Japanese if you are leaving at night. This Japanese phrase is not typically used as a greeting, so don’t forget you can’t use it when you meet someone.
Bonus tip: Morning and evening are more carefully delimited in the Japanese culture than in the West. So it’s important to know your Konnichiwa and never use it instead of Konbanwa or Oyasuminasai.
3. “Goodbye” in Japanese
Another greeting we borrowed from the Japanese and sometimes use in our day-to-day conversations in English is Sayōnara (さよなら), a greeting which carries the connotation of farewell and translates to “goodbye”.
Sayōnara derived from Sayō naraba (“If that’s the way it is”), a phrase that was originally used by people before leaving in a way that would sum up a conversation. Nowadays, Sayōnara is a semi-formal way to say “goodbye” in Japanese.
Although notorious abroad, Japanese people don’t really use Sayonara. For informal situations that involve close friends, they prefer using bai bai (ばいばい) which translates to – you guessed it – “bye bye” in English, jaa ne (じゃあね) whish translates to “see you” or saraba da (さらばだ) which is the equivalent of “adios!”.
Want more? Here are other ways to say goodbye in Japanese that are suitable for both formal and informal situations:
- I’ll see you later. – Mata aimashou. (また会いましょう。)
- Take care! – Ki wo tsukete! (きをつけて！)
- See you tomorrow! – Mata ashita! (またあした！)
- See you soon! – Mata ne! (またね！)
4. “Thank you” in Japanese and other polite phrases that you should know
We already settled that the Japanese culture is the culture of respect and politeness. Thus, learning to say “thank you” in Japanese is probably one of your most important tasks to complete before visiting Japan. Lucky for you, there’s nothing difficult about that.
The most casual and common way to say “thank you” in Japanese to your family and friends is Arigatou (ありがとう). Not “Arigato”. That’s actually a very common misconception about how to write “thank you” in Romaji.
Japanese people use Arigatou the same way we use “thanks”, but they also have an even shorter way to express their gratitude within a group of friends: Domo (どうも). Domo translates to “very much”.
Moving to a slightly formal form, Domo arigatou (どうもありがとう) is the equivalent of “thank you”. Careful though! This is not formal enough to be used with someone who is in a position of authority over you.
If you need a more formal way of thanking someone in Japanese, you should use one of these expressions:
- Arigatou gozaimasu (ありがとうございます) – thank you very much
- Domo arigatou gozaimasu (どうもございまずいます) – an even more polite form for “thank you very much”
- Arigatou gozaimashita – suitable for when you want to thank someone for something that he or she did in the recent past
- Gochisou sama deshita – use this phrase if you want to thank for your meal. Furthermore, if you want to say that the meal is delicious, you say Sore wa oishī desu (それはおいしいです) – “that’s delicious”.
If you want to continue the conversation and reply to someone thanking you, you can use these Japanese phrases:
- Dou itashi mashite (どういたしまして) – translates to “you’re welcome”
- Iie (いいえ) – instead of Dou itashi mashite, you can say Iie which means “no” as in “it was nothing”.
Don’t forget about the Japanese bow
Every “hello” in Japanese is usually accompanied by a bow, the Western world equivalent of a handshake. Our advice would be to not skip the bow if you really want to feel like you belong.
The Japanese bow is an essential part of the culture of respect and etiquette in Japan. When you meet someone, you say Konnichiwa and you bow as a sign of respect. If you receive a bow, you immediately bow back. A simple but powerful gestures that perfectly embodies the beauty of the Japanese culture.
So here are the main things you should know about the Japanese bow:
– bowing lower is a sign of respect. Thus, you should always bow lower to people you don’t know or to people in a position of authority;
– 15-degrees bows are for people that you are familiar with;
– 30-degrees bows are for people you just met or are of a higher social status than you;
– 45-degrees bows are used for greetings only if you meet a very important person like the Emperor or the Prime Minister.
Bonus: basic conversation in Japanese
If you don’t want to stop at just “thank you” or “hello” in Japanese, here are a few more Japanese phrases that are fairly easy to remember and will definitely make all the difference for your trip to Japan:
- Hello! How nice it is too see you! – Konnichiwa! Anata ni futatabi aete ureshī desu.
- How are you? – Genki?
- Fine, thanks. And you? – Genki desu, arigatō. Anata wa.
- Everything is fine. – Subete junchōdesu.
- What is your name? – Anata no namae wa nandesu ka.
- My name is Mondly. – Watashi no namae wa Mondly desu.
- I’m pleased to meet you. – Anata ni aete kōei desu.
- Nice to meet you – Oaidekite ureshīdesu.
- Where are you from? – Anata wa doko kara kimashita ka.
- I am from _____. Watashi wa _____ kara kimashita.
- Please. – Onegaishimasu.
- I’m sorry. – Gomen’nasai.
- Excuse me. – Sumimasen.
- No problem. – Daijōbudesu.
Do you want to take a step further and speak Japanese in only 2 minutes a day?