Knowing how to say hello in Japanese is essential for enjoying your trip to Japan. Not only will knowing a little Japanese bring a few smiles, it shows respect and an interest in the local culture.
Japanese is actually easier than more tonal Asian languages such as Mandarin or Thai. Use this guide to basic Japanese greetings for knowing how to say hello in Japanese and to enhance simple daily interactions.
Language and Formalities
Just as you would not offer a casual “what's up?” to your boss or a stranger, Japanese greetings come in both formal and informal versions depending on the amount of respect you wish to demonstrate.
Japanese culture is steeped in traditions and hierarchies depending on age, social status, and relation. Both greetings and bowing are part of a complex system which applies the rules of saving face.
How to Say Hello in Japanese
Konnichiwa -- pronounced “kon-nee-chee-wah” -- is a basic way to say hello in Japanese, however, it is mostly heard in the afternoon. Konnichiwa is used as a respectful-yet-generic way to say hello.
Konnichiwa was once part of a greeting sentence (today is …), however, its use has transformed the expression in modern times as a shortened way to say hello.
- Hear the correct pronunciation for Konnichiwa.
Basic Japanese Greetings
While you can get by with the basic greeting of konnichiwa, Japanese people are more likely to use different greetings based on the time of day.
Here are a few basic Japanese greetings:
Good Morning: Ohayou gozaimasu (pronounced: oh-hi-oh goh-zai-mas) Simply saying ohayou (sounds like the US state of Ohio) is very informal, much as you would offer a simple “morning” to a friend.
Good Afternoon: Konnichiwa (pronounced: kon-nee-chee-wah)
Good Evening: Konbanwa (pronounced: kon-bahn-wah)
Good Night: Oyasumi nasai (pronounced: oy-yah-sue-mee nah-sigh)
Asking How Someone is Doing
The formal or polite way to ask “how are you doing?” in Japanese is with O-genki desu ka? (pronounced: oh-gain-kee des-kah).
To reply politely that you are doing fine: Watashi wa genki desu (pronounced: wah-tah-shee wah gain-kee des) or a simple genki desu (pronounced: gain-kee des). Follow both replies with arigto which means “thanks.” You can then ask anatawa? (pronounced: ahn-nah-taw-wah) or “and you?”.
Informal ways to ask the same question are:
- What's Up: Nannika atta (pronounced: nah-nee-kah-tah)
- What's New: Kawatta koto aru (pronounced: ka-wah-tah koto ar-ew)
- How is Everything: Dou shiteru (pronounced: doh-stair-ew)
An informal reply to a friend could be: aikawarazu desu (pronounced: eye-kah-wah-raz des) or “same as usual.”
Bowing in Japan
While knowing how to say hello in Japanese is essential, bowing is mostly optional. If you find yourself in a more formal occasion where bows are exchanged -- don't panic! First, remember that the Japanese don't really expect Westerners to have a detailed knowledge of their customs and etiquette. Often a casual nod of the head will suffice in place of a bow.
How to Bow in Japan
Men bow with their hands straight to their sides. Women typically bow with their hands in front of them.
Keep your back straight, and bend at the waist with your eyes downward. The longer and deeper the bow, the more respect shown. Always bow deeper to elders and people in positions of authority. If unsure, simply maintain your bow slightly longer and deeper than the one you received.
A casual bow is to bend approximately 15 degrees at the waist. A bow to strangers or to thank someone would go to around 30 degrees. The most formal bow to show apology or extreme respect requires bending to around 45 degrees, where you are looking at your shoes.
Sometimes bows in a formal greeting are exchanged over and over; you'll wonder when you are supposed to not return the last bow. Each consecutive bow should be quicker and less deep than the last until both parties agree.
In Japanese business etiquette, sometimes a bow is coupled with a Western-style handshake. If this happens, turn slightly to the left so that you don't bump heads!
- Read more about how and when to bow in Japan.