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“Thank you” and “You’re welcome” often play a part in Japanese conversations. They are used to show appreciation, but there are rules to be followed depending on the relationship between individuals. Genuine appreciation is important, but on the same note, it is also necessary to say it right.
Politeness is fundamental in Japanese culture. In a book written by Dr. Inazo Nitobe in 1899, he said that politeness should be the outward manifestation of a sympathetic regard for the feelings of others. Japanese people always take consideration of other people’s feelings, or compassion and being polite in any given situation.
※ Embassy of Japan in Norway, "Politeness in Japan," p.1
The Japanese language has a system for honorifics with different roles for different situations that can be complicated for the learners of the language. The speaker who uses the honorifics must consider the hierarchy based on social status, rank, age, gender, and the favor that he owes of the person he is talking with.
Showing appreciation is also a way to be polite. Using "thank you" and "you are welcome" is used to recognize the effort and favor done by someone, which is a form of appreciation. “Thank you” or “Arigatou” was believed to be inspired by Buddhism principles wherein people should always be appreciative
The most common situation wherein you have to show appreciation and gratitude is when you receive or give gifts. Gift giving plays a huge part in Japanese culture; that is why it is best to show your appreciation and gratitude properly from time to time.
To show appreciation to close friends or family members who have given you a gift, you can thank them casually. "Doumo," which is a shortened thank you and can be used, or you can opt with "Arigatou or Arigatou Gozaimasu." Be careful when using “Doumo”; people older than you often respond to you using this, but it does not mean that you can use this word to elder people or those who are in a higher position. "Domo arigatou gozaimasu" can be said when someone has given you a big favor or when you are very thankful for the gift you received. To thank some, say "arigatou gozaimashita” and "arigatou gozaimasu" to thank someone if the favor has already been done.
In Japan, when receiving gifts, one does not simply just say thanks to show their appreciation and gratitude. Here are some phrases you can use:
お気遣いいただきありがとうございます (okizukai itadaki arigatou gozaimasu) -
You bothered yourself bringing me a gift, thank you (in formal situations)
こんなことしなくてもよかったのに! (Konna koto shinakute mo yokattanoni!) - You did not have to do this! (In more casual situations)
In a polite country like Japan, being thanked is very common. When in this kind of situation, the basic response is “どういたしまして。(Dou itashimashite)” which means "You are welcome." “Dou itashimashite” when translated literally means “Whatever you’re thanking me for, it was nothing at all”.
However, in casual situations wherein you are the one who gave the gift and being thanked for, there are various ways to say you are welcome in addition to Douitashimashite:
いえいえ (Ieie) - “No, no, don’t thank me”
気に入ってくれて嬉しい (kiniitte kurete ureshii) - “I am glad you liked it”
気にしないで (Kinishinaide) - “Don’t mention it”
Lastly, you can express gratitude by saying "こちらこそ (Kochirakoso)" which translates to "Surely it should be me." This is used in instances where you also want to thank the person who is thanking you for the same situation.
When you are being thanked or complimented by someone who is older or superior to you, you would never use Douitashimashite. Here are phrases you could use instead.
It's nothing of the sort (to be thanked/complimented)
とんでもないです - Tondemonai desu
恐縮でございます - Kyoushuku de gozaimasu
恐れ入ります - Osore irimasu
I’m glad to be of help/service
お役に立てて 何よりです - Oyaku ni tatete naniyori desu
お力になれて幸いです - Ochikara ni narete saiwai desu
You can interchange 何よりです (naniyori desu) and 幸いです (saiwai desu) at the end of those phrases, or even change it to 光栄です (kouei desu) - it’s my honor/pleasure - to be even more polite.
Since there are different ways to say thank you and you are welcome in Japanese, it can get confusing. Gratitude and apology, sometimes partially overlap, so be conscious of how your words and actions affected the people around you. An example of this to show gratitude in Japanese like saying, "Sorry for your kindness" can also convey thank you.
For example, “恐れ入ります (Osore irimasu)” which translates to “You really didn’t have to, I’m sorry to make you go out of your way” is a phrase used to say thank you when you are in a customer service setting. This phrase is a very polite way of saying thank you to the customer or client when they help you stack the dishes at a restaurant, or if they bring you a gift - things they went out of their way to do.
Also, remember the situation you are in and who is the person you are talking to so that you could use the appropriate phrases. Depending on the situation, it is not always appropriate to just say “Douitashimashite” for “You’re welcome”.
There are some phrases that could be specifically used when at work, an example of this is “お疲れさまです (Otsukaresama desu)” which translates to “Thank you for your work”. This phrase is used to thank colleagues for their efforts. When a co-worker tells you “お疲れさまです (Otsukaresama desu)”, you should respond with “お疲れさまです (Otsukaresama desu)” which is thanking them back for their hard work.
“ごちそうさまでした (Gochisousama deshita)” which means “Thank you for this meal” is a phrase to thank someone who prepared a meal for you or treated you to a meal. This phrase should be said after a meal. If you are the one preparing the meal, you would then say “お粗末さまでした (Osomatsusama deshita)” which means “It really wasn’t much.”
Japanese politeness is rooted in their language. You will hear more often, the word "thank you" and "I'm sorry" for even the simplest things. It's interesting to notice the consideration the Japanese offer to thanks for all kinds of different circumstances, always, even for mundane things they are very appreciative.
To ensure the recognition and acknowledgment of good deeds, one must know how to return and maintain harmony - express your appreciation and gratitude is by being sincere when saying thank you, and you are welcome in Japan. And practice! It will never fail you to learn which simple phrases are best to use in any given situation.
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