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You’re probably quite familiar with こんにちは konnichiwa, or ‘hello’ in Japanese, and may think why do I need to know different greetings if I can already say hello? But just like many other languages, the way you greet someone in Japanese depends on the situation, age, gender, and time of the day, etc.
In this article, you will learn 14 different ways to say hello in Japanese. What? There are 14 different ways to just say hello? Well, yes, but they are not as complex as you thought! So take a deep breath and just keep reading.
How to say hello in Japanese
In Japanese, the way you greet someone depends on the situation you are in and the person you are talking to. Remember? The Japanese language uses honorifics to refer to different people. When it comes to greetings, there are also different kinds of words you can use! You’re not going to talk to your boss the same way you talk to your homies, right?
Below is a list of greetings you can use, considering the situation you’re in. So buckle up and enjoy the ride!
Informal way (with friends, families, etc)
Be careful to only use the following greetings with close friends or family, or you may come across as very rude. In some cultures, talking in a more familiar way to someone may help to put them at ease or show that you want to lessen the distance between you two, but in Japan it’s a big no-go. And remember that you want to make a good impression on your in-laws.
やあ yā or よう yō
You’re probably already familiar with よう yō, because it’s an expression that we already use in English. Just like its English variant, it’s a very casual way to greet someone and you only say this to people who you’re very close to. よう yō is mostly said by boys, but girls can also use it sometimes. Don’t say this to people who are older than you, I will not guarantee that you will get a nice reaction back. Luckily, the Japanese are very polite and understanding people, but if you wonder why you no longer get invited to a gathering, well… I guess you have your answer.
やあ yā has the same meaning as よう yō, it also means ‘hi’, and it’s often used to grab someone’s attention. Just say やあ yā , insert the name of the person you want to talk to, and continue with what you want to communicate.
ヤッホー yahhō or オッス Ossu
One of the following expressions is quite girly and the other one is only used by boys, so don’t mix them up, or you will get some strange looks.
ヤッホー yahhō is used between girls, usually children or someone who has a very close relation with you. You can compare it with the English ‘yoohoo’, and it’s often used together with waving hands to attract someone’s attention.
オッス Ossu is a slang that’s used between boys, it’s translated in English as ‘hey!’ (and don’t forget that u is not pronounced). I know it might sound funny to say this to your easy-going boss, but just don’t. Okay?
When you arrive home, you greet your housemates by saying ただいま tadaima. It literally means ‘just now’, but because that sounds a little strange in English, we translate it like ‘I’m home’. It’s an abbreviation from the sentence ただいま帰りました (tadaima kaerimashita) which means ‘I just came home’. Your housemates in return will welcome you by saying おかえり okaeri or おかえりなさい okaerinasai, ‘welcome back’.
Semi-formal way (with strangers, colleagues, etc)
お疲れ様です otsukaresama desu
Want to avoid an awkward silence when you arrive at your workplace? The perfect way to dodge this is by saying お疲れ様です to your coworkers, you’re basically saying that they are working hard. You will score points with this one, because Japanese love it when someone makes an effort to learn their language, and you will definitely get compliments on how good your Japanese is (even if you can only say a few sentences).
お久しぶりですね ohisashiburi desune
This is how you can say hello to someone you haven’t seen in a while, like a previous coworker or a schoolmate you can barely remember. When you’re talking to someone younger who you are well acquainted with or a friend, you can just say ひさしぶり hisashiburi.
お元気ですか ogenki desuka?
Another way to address someone is by asking お元気ですか, ‘How are you?’ It has a more casual undertone, but it’s definitely something you can say to your colleagues. If you want to ask your friends how they are, you say げんき genki.
If you meet someone for the first time, you can introduce yourself by saying はじめまして hajimemashite and adding your name. Literally translated, it means something like ‘It’s the first time’ (we meet), but in order to sound more natural, it’s usually translated like ‘Nice to meet you’.
よろしくおねがいします yoroshiku onegaishimasu
This expression is used after you have introduced yourself or after you have been introduced by someone else. This sentence has many different uses in Japanese, and doesn’t really have an English variant, but after an introduction it’s mostly translated as ‘I’m in your care’, ‘Please take good care of me’ or ‘Let’s work well together’.
If you want to sound very formal, you can add どうも dōmo and いたします itashimasu (どうもよろしくおねがいいたしますdōmo yoroshiku onegai itashimasu), but only say this to your boss or persons with a high status, or else you will make your poor coworker feel very uncomfortable (worst case, you can come across as very rude and sarcastic!). When talking to children or requesting something from your friends you can keep it short by saying よろしく yoroshiku.
Formal way (with professors, leaders, etc)
In this part, you will learn how to address someone with a higher social status. In the previous parts, you have seen that you can’t use informal speech with your boss, professor or people you’re not familiar with in general. It’s the same in this case, if you start talking to your friends in a very formal way, they will think you’re mad at them. So, when your significant other starts talking to you in formal speech, you would know you have done something wrong!
お会いできて光栄です o-aidekite kōei desu
To keep it short (because these expressions are already long enough), it’s the very formal version of はじめまして hajimemashite. This is how you introduce yourself to someone you meet for the first time.
いかがお過ごしですか ikaga osugoshi desuka
‘How have you been?’, would be the proper translation for this question. Asking how they are is in Japan also a common way to greet someone.
Other Essential Japanese Greetings You Need to Know
In Japan, the way you greet someone depends on the time of the day, so don’t lose track of time!
おはよう(ございます) ohayou (gozaimasu)
This is what you say when you want to greet someone in the morning, but be aware that おはようございます ohayou gozaimasu is a very formal language. If you want to say good morning to your family or friends, just say おはよう ohayou.
Finally, you may think, a word that I know! こんにちは means ‘good afternoon’, and it’s usually used between 12 and 5pm. It has more of a formal undertone, so it’s not something you say to your family or friends, but you can use it in semi-formal situations.
After learning ‘good morning’ and ‘good afternoon’, ‘good evening‘ is the third one you need to know. Around this time of the day, こんばんは is the greeting you will hear most often.
So, you may wonder, if I want to call someone, can I just say one of the greetings I have learned? Well, we have a different expression for that (I don’t think that surprises you after this list). When you pick up the phone or when you call someone, you can start the conversation by saying もしもし moshi moshi. If you need to make a call for your company, you usually say はい hai and add the name of the company you represent.
Learning all these different types of greetings can be quite overwhelming if you have never heard of them before, so here is a quick overview of the ways you can say hello depending on the situation.
- If you are a girl, you can say hi with やあ yā or ヤッホー yahhō.
- If you are a boy, you can use よう yō or オッス Ossu.
- ただいま tadaima is what you say when you arrive home, and someone else will welcome you back by responding with おかえり okaeri.
- おつかれさまです otsukaresama desu: meaning ‘you’re working hard’, this is a good way to greet your coworkers.
- When you haven’t seen someone in a while, you can say おひさしぶりですね ohisashiburi desune (distant acquantaince) or ひさしぶり hisashiburi (well acquainted).
- おげんきですか ogenki desuka: how are you?
- はじめまして hajimemashite: when you meet someone for the first time.
- よろしくおねがいします yoroshiku onegaishimasu: after introductions.
- おあいできて こうえい です o-aidekite kōei desu: the very formal version of はじめまして hajimemashite.
- いかが おすごし ですか Ikaga osugoshi desuka: how have you been?
Other essential greetings:
- Good morning: おはよう(ございます) ohayō(gozaimasu)
- Good afternoon: こんにちは konnichiwa (don’t say it to the persons you know well)
- Good evening: こんばんは konbanwa
When making a phone call or answering the phone: もしもし moshi moshi (casual or semi-formal), during working hours you pick up the phone with はい hai and add the name of your company.
Ready to strike up your first Japanese conversation? Let me help you!
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