How do you say hello in Japanese? This is the first question I get from 90% of my clients.
The most common way to say hello in Japan is kon’nichi wa. which is like “good day” in English. However, there are different greetings for different times of day. And you never use it on the phone. Confused? Don’t worry. I’m going to teach you all the Japanese greetings. And if you’re overwhelmed, in the final section I’ll even narrow it down to the three phrases you absolutely must know.
Alright then, let’s get started!
Table of contents
- Basic Japanese Greetings
- Other Useful Japanese Greetings
- Conclusion: The 3 Must Know Japanese Greetings!
Basic Japanese Greetings
Ohayō gozaimasu – good morning
This is the first greeting of day. You’ll hear this everywhere in your hotel until you check out. When someone says o-hayō gozaimasu to you, the correct response is… well, o-hayō gozaimasu. It’s good manners to use this with hotel staff in the morning, but if you’re staying at a family-run ryokan (Japanese style inn), you absolutely must reply to the staff. So please learn this phrase!
Many native speakers slur this phrase, especially if they’ve been saying it all morning.
Pro-Tip: The final u is very slight. So, o-hayō gozaimas’ is closer to the native pronunciation.
Kon’nichi wa – hello, good afternoon
Kon‘nichi wa is the most common casual greeting in Japan. Since the bulk of your time exploring Japan will be in the afternoon, this is a really important one.
Note that I translated it as “good afternoon.” Some people say it’s “good day,” but native speakers never use it the morning – usually from lunch time until about 5 PM. That said, you’re just a tourist, so if you use it all day, nobody’s gonna get angry and correct you. They know you’re just trying to be friendly.
Many native speakers, especially men may slur this phrase until it sounds something like chiwa-a.
Konban wa – good evening
You can use konban wa from about 5 PM until bedtime.
Pro-Tip: Remember, this is a greeting – like “hello.” It’s never used for parting.
Oyasumi nasai – good night
Remember that konban wa is a greeting, so when saying goodbye in the evening, you should use o-yasumi nasai. You can even say this to strangers as they (or you) get off the elevator when it’s late at night.
If you trudge through the hotel late at night to pass out in your room, the lobby staff will probably say o-yasumi nasai as you leave the area or hop into the elevator.
Other Useful Japanese Greetings
Mata ne – see ya; later
|See ya later!|
Most people already know sayōnara as “goodbye” in Japanese. But, that’s rarely the word you’re looking for.
If you’ll see the person later (or if there’s even the slightest chance of seeing them later), you should use mata ne. It literally means “again, ok?” If you leave your Japanese tour guide on your lunch break, you can use this because you’ll seem them after eating.
Women and children may even say mata ne, bai bai! Which is mata ne plus “bye bye.” It sounds cute in Japanese.
Sayōnara – farewell; goodbye (for a long time, possibly forever)
Yes, the famous phrase sayōnara does mean “goodbye.” However, it means it in a really final way. If a couple breaks up, they say sayōnara. At a funeral, you say sayōnara to the deceased. See what I mean?
Most of the time, you should just say mata ne, or more properly arigatō gozaimasu. You can read more about arigatō gozaimasu in my article How do you say thank you in Japanese?
Moshi moshi – hello (telephone only)
Can you hear me?
OK, if you’re taking phone calls in Japanese, then your proficiency is way beyond this lesson. But in order to be comprehensive, I have to include moshi moshi. If you get a call from the front desk, you can use use this. I can’t think of any other situation where a tourist would use moshi moshi, though.
Pro-Tip: The final i is very weak. Native speakers, especially men, stretch out the final o. So if you say it moshi mo-osh‘ it sounds more natural. Keep your ears perked up in Japan, you’ll hear it soon!
Conclusion: The 3 Must Know Japanese Greetings!
|Ohayō gozaimas’!||Good morning!|
|Kon’nichi wa!||Hello! Good afternoon!|
(11:30 to dusk)
|Mata ne!||See ya!|
I wanted to include all the Japanese greetings, so you can learn as much as you want. If you think you only have a limited amount of hard drive space in your head, then these three will serve you well as a tourist in Japan. A little Japanese goes a long way here, so using these greetings will definitely score you points during your adventures.
If you’d like to learn more Japanese Survival Phrases, I’m putting together an ongoing series. You can print these out to study during the long flight or when you have down time in your room. If you’d like future content delivered to your inbox, be sure to sign up for JapanThis.Tours!