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There’s many different ways to say both hello and goodbye in Japanese, tailored to each situation and the type of relationship you have with the person you’re talking to. Also, are you supposed to bow at every greeting? We cover hellos and goodbyes in various situations and levels of formality.
Table of Contents
The most basic hello in Japanese, probably the first that most people learn.
It’s hard to pinpoint an exact time in the day to start using こんばんは but if you’re meeting after 4 or 5 pm, it might be good to use こんばんは。
or おはようございます (Ohayou gozaimasu) to be more formal. Some people use this greeting well into the afternoon as long as it’s their first time seeing you.
A very very casual version, used mostly by men, is おす (osu), which is technically a shortened version of おはようございます. And an even more casual version is ういっす (uissu). It’s also used as a term of acknowledgement, like “got it”, “yes”, “roger”.
or お久しぶりです (Ohisashiburi desu) to be more formal. You can repeat the phrase back to them before following up with:
or お元気ですか？ (Ogenki desuka?) to be more formal. This is used to mean "How are you?"
If you’re doing well (or just exchanging pleasantries), you can say
Formal: 元気です。(Genki desu.) or お陰様で。(Okage sama de) which means “Yes, thankfully.” in this situation.
Doumo has many many different uses, and one of them is hello. But the nuance is more casual, like “Hi” or “Hey.” This is confusing because doumo can be used in polite situations as well, but usually never to mean hello.
These are of course just casual ways to greet each other. “Yo” is used more often nowadays as a short greeting between friends and family (usually men), with mostly the older generation (usually men) saying “Yaa”.
Used when you meet someone for the first time. If a third person is introducing you to another person, you can just say “Hajimemashite.”
However, if you have to introduce yourself, then you’d say:
Hajimemashite. ○○ desu.
Nice to meet you. I’m ○○.
In even more formal situations, you’d use:
Hajimemashite. ○○ to moushimasu.
Nice to meet you. I’m ○○.
And in all situations, finish the introduction by saying よろしくお願いします (Yoroshiku onegaishimasu) or the much more formal よろしくお願いいたします (Yoroshiku onegai itashimasu), which also carries the sentiments of “Nice to meet you” but also an added sense of “I look forward to our relationship” in this particular situation.
When you see a coworker in the hallway at work or you see coworkers at a meeting, you greet them with お疲れさまです。It’s an acknowledgment of working hard, while also just simply being a greeting.
Fun fact: This can also be used to say goodbye when you’re leaving work at the end of the day. In fact, there’s various ways it’s used, including its variation お疲れさまでした (Otsukaresama deshita) which is used when we finish projects or a long year.
This is a very formal greeting used in business towards clients. The meaning can change based on the circumstance, but the sentiment behind it is “Thank you for your business.”
We use this in person when meeting clients and business partners, as the opening greeting in emails, to answer the phone in the office, etc.
This greeting is rarely used, but you may have heard it somewhere before! It’s seen as a very prim and proper greeting - thus often translated to “How do you do?” “Good afternoon”, or “Greetings”, also phrases we’ve all heard of but don’t often use. It’s often used by the upper class and as a proper greeting at private all girls’ schools, and can also be used to mean “goodbye”. However, some people still use it as their trademark greeting nowadays.
This is a greeting mostly used at home. The person coming home says ただいま (Tadaima) - I'm home - and the person at home will say おかえり (Okaeri) or おかえりなさい (Okaerinasai) - Welcome back - in reply (or vice versa). However, we sometimes use it in the workplace with close colleagues when they return from going out or from a business trip.
The more formal version is ただいま帰りました (Tadaima kaerimashita) - I’ve just come back - and お帰りなさいませ (Okaerinasaimase) - Welcome back.
We say this when visiting someone’s home. It literally means “I intrude (upon your space)” or “Excuse me for disturbing you” but it’s mostly used as a greeting to mean “Thank you for having me over.” We say お邪魔しました (Ojamashimashita) when we leave.
Both of these mean welcome. いらっしゃいませ is used more for businesses (chefs and servers will often yell this out when you enter ramen or yakitori shops), while ようこそ is used more to welcome you into a home. You’ll also see it at airports and stations, welcoming travelers to that particular place.
もしもし is how we answer personal phone calls. It's how we go "Hello?" when we pick up a call. However, with caller ID, people have a variety of ways they answer the phone when they know who is on the other line. (はいはーい Hai ha—i is a popular one.) When you are unsure of who it is or what they are calling you for, “はい、もしもし?” (Hai, moshimoshi?) is an acceptable way to answer.
In professional settings, we wouldn’t use もしもし however. We’d answer with our company name (or department name) and our own name.
さようなら (Sayounara) is also probably the first phrase you learn for goodbye in Japanese. However, it’s actually not used that often, as it implies that you won’t see each other for a long time (or ever again!)
Instead we use phrases like:
またね (Mata ne) or また (Mata) which literally means “again” and is used to mean “See you!”
では (Dewa) or the more casual じゃあ (Jaa) or じゃあね (Ja-ne) to mean “Until next time.”
The person you’re saying this to will say “いってらっしゃい (Itterasshai)” which means “See you later” and since this is often used at home, also means “Have a good day/time.”
In professional settings, say 行ってまいります (itte mairimasu) when leaving the office when you’ll be back later that day, or when you go on a business trip. Your colleagues / team will answer “いってらっしゃい(ませ)” (Itterasshai (mase)) to send you off, or they may say the next one:
When someone’s going on a trip, or leaving when the weather conditions aren’t so great, this is a common greeting to send them off. You can even combine it with the previous and say “気を付けていってらっしゃい” (Kiwo tsukete itterasshai) - “Take care on your way/trip”.
失礼します (Shitsurei shimasu) 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. When you’re leaving work before the rest of your team (or there’s other members left), you can say “お先に失礼します” (Osaki ni shitsurei shimasu) which means “Excuse me for leaving first (or ahead of you)”.
Of course we use this phrase as we’re about to sleep, but we also use it to say goodbye to friends at the end of the night, whether you’re out together in person, or talking on the phone or messaging online at night. If you’re close, you might just say the shorter version: おやすみ (Oyasumi).
Bonus: Also make sure to check お疲れさまです above
When using the above phrases, are you supposed to bow as you say it?
When talking to friends, you don’t normally bow unless you’re thanking them or apologizing. So for the hellos and goodbyes above, you don’t have to bow.
If you’re meeting someone for the first time, it’s polite to bow.
In the office, it depends on the company culture. People often bow to their superiors when greeting them but simply nod to their colleagues. We definitely bow to clients and those we’re doing business with. It’s ingrained in the culture so much that people sometimes even bow when on the phone, even though the other person can’t see them. The general rule is, the more higher ranked the person is in relation to your position, the deeper the bow.
How to bow is often taught at new employee training, especially if the workplace is strict about it, and it’s also best to follow along with how other employees act.
In any case, if you bow and the person thinks you don’t have to be so formal, they’ll tell you!
Want to learn more basic expressions in Japanese? How about 50 of the most common phrases we hear and use every day?
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