While saying “hello” may seem like a straightforward greeting in most languages, in Japanese, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Greetings in Japanese vary depending on several factors, such as the time of day, the situation you’re in, the person you’re speaking to, and your relationship with them. However, with a little practice, you can master the art of Japanese greetings.
If you are studying greetings as part of your initiation into studying Japanese and eventual JLPT N5 test, check out our blog on passing the JLPT N5 level.
A Brief Guide to Japanese Greetings:
In Japanese culture, greetings are an important way of showing respect and building relationships. It is common to bow slightly when greeting someone, and to use polite language to show respect. It is also customary to use honorifics, such as “san” or “sama,” when addressing someone who is older or of a higher social status.
When greeting someone in the morning, you can say “ohayou gozaimasu,” which translates to “good morning.” This is a polite and formal way to greet someone, and is appropriate for business or formal situations. For more casual situations, like greeting your neighbour or your friend, you can use the shorter version “ohayou.”
Greetings during the day:
In the afternoon, you can use the greeting “konnichiwa,” which means “hello.” This greeting is appropriate for both formal and casual situations and is commonly used throughout the day. This was probably one of the first Japanese words you ever heard, along with karate and karaoke.
How are you?
Feeling genki? If not, no worries, you can ask someone else with the phrase “Ogenki desu ka?” which translates to “How are you?” Just be sure to listen carefully to their response, as they might surprise you with their honesty.
“Ya hou!” may sound like a cheer from a sports team, but it’s actually a casual greeting used among close friends, particularly women and children. It’s like saying “Hey!” in a playful and friendly way.
What’s up/what happened?
Looking for a casual way to ask “What’s up?” in Japanese? Saikin dou? or Nani ka atta? have got you covered! Saikin dou can be translated as “How have you been?” and is perfect for catching up with a friend. Meanwhile, Nani ka atta? literally means “What happened?” and is ideal for finding out about any exciting news or events. Just be prepared for any kind of response, from “I aced my test!” to “I accidentally bought 100 bananas at the grocery store.”
Dou yo? Simple isn’t it? It just means how’s it going, what’s going on in your life. Very casual and should be used only with friends.
In the evening:
When greeting someone in the evening, you can use “konbanwa,” which means “good evening.” This greeting is commonly used in the evening and is a polite way to greet someone.
When saying goodbye to someone, you can use the phrase “sayonara,” which means “goodbye.” This is a formal and polite way to say goodbye and is appropriate for both formal and informal situations. For more casual situations, you can use “mata ne,” which means “see you later.” If you want to be more specific, you can say “mata ashita” which means “see you tomorrow” (obviously change the time period to suit, like “mata raishuu” means “see you next week”).
If you’re a female or you have kids, “bye bye” is commonly used to say goodbye as well.
Over the phone:
When answering the phone, it is common to say “moshi moshi.” This is a casual greeting and is only used when answering the phone. It is not appropriate to use this greeting in person. Speaking over the phone is a whole other kettle of fish and takes some courage to try the first time. If you want to practice conduction phone calls in Japanese, a private lesson with a TLS teacher can help.
What about greeting a stranger?
When meeting someone for the first time, you can use the phrase “hajimemashite,” which means “nice to meet you.” This is a polite and formal way to greet someone and is appropriate for both business and social situations. You can also say your name and any other relevant information. Learn the difference between the context – for a job interview there is a specific way to introduce yourself.
Knowing how to greet someone in their language can help you make a great first impression and show respect for their culture. We hope these basic introductions will help you ease into your Japanese learning journey.