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Greetings are often words that break the ice between distant acquaintances caused by long periods of time. The key to a good conversation is a good start, so start them well by making sure you are doing it right. Here are some things to note when greeting your Japanese friends.
Words and phrases are usually shortened when greeting someone of a close relationship. Most often, we use these when conversing with our families, friends and loved ones.
おはよう (ohayou) - Good morning; a casual phrase to greet everyone
久しぶり (hisashiburi) - Long time no see!!
元気 (genki)? - How are you?; usually used by friends and is more commonly used to greet people
もしもし (Moshi-moshi)? - Used when answering a phone call from a friend and not workplace superior or others with formal relationships. Moshi-moshi is a casual greeting and should only be used during a phone conversation with our close friends and family members.
最近どう？(Saikin dou) implies the phrase “How have you been?” or "How are things going lately?"
どうしたの？(doushitano) means “What’s up?” or “What’s wrong?”
ただいま (Tadaima) means “I’m back”; used when returning home from work or school. When you come back from office or school, you must let your presence be known by simply saying “tadaima” to indicate that you have arrived. おかえりなさい (Okaerinasai) is the response which means something like “welcome home” or “welcome back”.
We use formal greetings when we do not have as close of a relationship with someone or to show respect when talking with someone of superior status than us.
はじめまして (Hajimemashite); used when meeting someone for the first time. Hajimemashite means “how do you do?” or “nice to meet you”.
Use こんにちは (konnichiwa) which means good day when greeting someone hello during the day
Say こんばんは (konbanwa) when greeting someone in the evening.
大丈夫ですか？(Daijōbu desu ka) simply means "Are you all right?" It’s a phrase used when someone has been hurt or looks like they need help.
お疲れさまです (Otsukaresama desu) is a greeting used to recognize hard work done in a workplace and start a conversation. It can also be used when you’re leaving after you’ve finished doing a group work or a meeting.
ご苦労様です (Gokurosama desu) is a phrase is used by a superior to their subordinate with closest meaning to "Thank you for your hard work. Good job."
すいません (suimasen) means “excuse me” which can be used to get someone’s attention or to apologize for something such as bumping into them
Say お世話になっております。(Osewa ni natte orimasu) as a business greeting to show and appreciate support, kindness, and or cooperation for any services rendered.
Tip: The longer the word is, the more formal it usually is. For example, the word “domo” is an adverb which means very or much. It may sound casual but is often used in business situations such as saying “domo arigatou gozaimasu” to say thank you very much. The less formal or casual way is simply saying “arigatou” which should never be used to a superior
さようなら (Sayounara) - Direct Japanese equivalent of saying goodbye and has a strong sense of finality to its meaning like when you are about to say farewell to someone who you will never meet again. またね (Mata ne) or また (Mata) literally means “again” and is used to mean “See you!”
行ってきます (ittekimasu) which means “See you later!” or じゃあね (jaane) which means “See you, bye!”. Say 行ってまいります (itte mairimasu) when leaving the office when you’ll be back later that day.
Say 失礼します (Shitsurei shimasu) when you’re parting from your superior which literally means “excuse my rudeness of leaving you”, but is used to simply mean “Please excuse me.” This can also actually be used when you enter a room as well, such as for an interview.
気をつけて (Ki wo tsukete) - “take care” or “be safe”; is usually said when you are parting ways and the weather is not good or it is late at night.
おやすみなさい (oyasuminasai) - Good night; This should be used when you are at home and about to sleep, or to say good night to a friend via text message. Sometimes, you might use it to say bye at the end of an event at night, but it’s not as commonly used as the phrase “Good night!” might be used as a greeting at the end of the night or event in English.
Japanese people place great importance in their greetings. It is also very important to know the proper greeting to be employed in different types of situations and there are some rules of formality to be followed which depends on the type of audience. It is a must to consider the choice of words so as not to make the conversation awkward or inappropriate. There are formal and casual ways to greet someone and we must take particular caution in uttering the proper phrases/words the same way that is important to try to gauge the appropriate depth and duration of bows in different situations.
It is a very common practice to bow when you greet someone instead of shaking their hands. Bowing is the most popular and perhaps most complex etiquette in Japan. Generally, there are three main types of bows: informal, formal, and very formal. Informal bows are made at about a fifteen-degree angle or just tilt over one's head to the front, formal bows are at about thirty degrees while very formal bows are deeper. For instance, if a person maintains his or her bow longer than the other person expected (generally about two or three seconds), the person who rose first may express politeness by bowing a second time and then receive another bow in response and so on.
This is why we usually see in films Japanese people greeting each other in several progressive bows. One who is considered below-ranking in Japanese society bows longer, more deeply, and more frequently than one of a higher rank. A mistake in the execution of a bow can be interpreted as sarcasm as much as a mistake in the execution of a greeting can also be deemed rude. (E.g. If you are to greet your superior, the word “ohayou gozaimasu” is the full formal greeting to greet someone “good morning” which should be coupled with a deep bow at the waist in some companies.)
Japanese honorific titles such as Kun, San, Chan, Sama, etc added to the end of names or occupations are equally important to show politeness. Please take note of the following suffixes when addressing someone:
Kun - Casual. Usually used for boys, can be attached to their last name.
Chan - Casual. Usually used for girls but can also be used for:
Close relationships - attached to their last name
Close friends - attached to their first name
San - most commonly used, used at work by everyone and is gender neutral.
Sama - most formal honorific suffix and is used to address gods and royalties.
It is also used to address clients and customers.
You can also use -sama to flatter people or to be sarcastic.
The title of their job position - formal, for work
For example: Kacho - Formal. Section/Department Manager
Shacho - President of the company
Greetings form a vital part when conversing with someone. We often want to build a good relationship with people around us especially if we are foreign to their land. We do not want to be awkward or have them confused with our intentions. There is a saying that first impressions last and that is why it is very important to invest in learning how to say even the basic greeting etiquettes. So to conclude, when we visit our friends in Japan, make sure to learn and use the proper way of greeting them so that we can create a good impression with them.
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