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Master Four Types of Japanese Greetings with These Useful Examples!

2015.12.11

Writer name : Yoshiaki Hirota

Your need-to-know guide for Japanese travel: Everything from saying hello to sorry in Japanese.

Here we take a look at 4 types of useful expressions adapted to the various situations you may enter when visiting Japan. For those visitors wishing to try out different greetings and ways to express thanks, this is a must read!


Words for hellos and goodbyes

Here we take a look at 4 types of useful expressions adapted to the various situations you may enter when visiting Japan. For those visitors wishing to try out different greetings and ways to express thanks, this is a must read!

First, let's look at the expressions corresponding to “good morning,” “good afternoon,” and “good evening,” and the ways in which you can say “goodbye.”

<Ohayo>
Good morning is “ohayo” (O HA YO) in Japanese. When addressing someone senior to yourself, it becomes “ohayo gozaimasu” (O HA YO GO ZA I MA SU). If you happen to meet someone on an early morning stroll, be sure to smile and say “ohayo!”


<Konnichiwa>
Good afternoon is “konnichiwa” (KON NI CHI WA) in Japanese. This is a relatively informal expression, akin to saying “hi” in English. For close friends of a similar age, you can even try the even more casual “ya” (YHA) or “doumo” (DO U MO).


<Konbanwa>
Good evening is “konbanwa” (KON BAN WA) in Japanese. Similar to “konnichiwa”, there is no polite version, and the only thing separating the two is the time of day you say them. “Konbanwa” becomes appropriate after the sky has darkened, but there really is no rule as to the exact time.


<Sayonara>
Meeting people means saying goodbye. “Goodbye” is “sayonara”(SA YO NA RA) in Japanese, but for someone you hope to see again, attach the words “mata ne!”(MA TA NE). It's hard to feel sad saying “sayonara, mata ne!” with a big smile on your face.


Thanking someone with “arigato”

Next is how to say thank you, which is “arigato” (A RI GA TO) in Japanese. A more formal version is “arigato gozaimasu” (A RI GA TO GO ZA I MA SU).
To someone who gives you directions, to someone who helps when you are in trouble, to your hotel staff - “arigato!” This simple phrase has the power to make both parties feel better, so don't be shy. Give it a try!
However, don't get the wrong impression if the other person simply bows their head with a muted gesture of recognition. One survey showed that more than 60% of Japanese in their 20s and 30s feel shy when talking to strangers, and many find it difficult to make direct eye contact. So don't take it personally! There are no cold feelings behind it.


There are many meanings in the word “sumimasen”

The Japanese “sumimasen” (SU MI MA SEN) can be used in many situations, equivalent to phrases like “excuse me” or “sorry.” Let's take a closer look.

<When apologizing>
The phrase “sumimasen” is most frequently used in an apology, along with “gomen nasai”(GO MEN NA SAI) which has a similar inference. Though interchangeable, if you've made a mistake and caused trouble for others, the more sincere “gomen nasai” is appropriate.

<When getting someone’s attention>
If you're getting off a train and need to push past someone to reach the far doors, use “sumimasen” as you would “excuse me.” You can also use this word in other situations where you are trying to attract someone's attention, like asking a passerby for directions.

<When expressing thanks>
Though we told you “arigato” was the way to thank someone, “sumimasen” is also a common expression for Japanese to express gratitude. International visitors may wonder “why is this person apologizing to me?” when in fact there is an unspoken addition “sumimasen (I appreciate you doing that for me).”


“Arigato” and “sumimasen” may have subtle differences, but don't be afraid to give them both a go when you come to Japan!

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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