Thank you in Japanese is arigatō gozaimasu. But there are other ways to say thank you Japanese. Let’s look at three of them!
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Arigatō gozaimasu (polite, all-purpose)
If you only learn one phrase in Japanese, this is it. It’s probably the most important word in the language. People say thank you a lot in Japanese. Way more than we do in English.
As the famous quote goes:
When you say arigatō gozaimasu, you should bow your head. Don’t put your hands together like you’re praying. That’s a Thai custom. In Japan, you bow your head when saying thank you.
A note about formality in Japanese. Most of my clients have heard arigatō before. And yes, this is usually translated as “thanks.” However, this is strictly for friends and family. It can be condescending if you use it to other people. For shop clerks and other strangers, always use arigatō gozaimasu.
Also, you’ll probably hear native speakers slur this phrase, especially in busy service jobs, like in convenience stores – often reducing it to something like aza-as’.
Pro-Tip: The final u is very slight. So arigatō gozaimas’ is closer to the native pronunciation.
Sumimasen (polite apologetic)
If you need to cut in front of someone to get off the bus or get your waiter’s attention, you’re going to need this word. In this case, it is exactly like “excuse me.” Also, if you hold up a line or make some silly mistake, sumimasen is your go-to apology. But you can use this apologetic phrase as a casual “thank you.” It literally means “my shame will never end.”
Sumimasen, arigatō gozaimasu (apologetic & grateful)
Let’s take your Japanese thank you to the next level.
If someone has gone out of their way to help you. You can say thank you by saying sumimasen. In this case, it means something like “sorry for the trouble.” If you want to be extra polite, I recommend combining these phrases to say sumimsen, arigatō gozaimsu! “Sorry for the trouble, thank you so much!”
Arigatō gozaimasu and sumimasen are the words you most need to say thank you in Japanese. And now that you can use sumimasen, you can also say excuse me and call waiters and shop staff, too.
Now, let’s look at some silly ways to say thank you in Japanese.
Arigataki shiawase ni zonji-masuru (polite samurai to lord)
arigataki shiawase ni zonji-masuru
|I humbly thank thee for granting me this kindness|
If that English translation sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is. This is an archaic, medieval expression used by samurai and I guarantee that unless you’re visiting Edo Wonderland, you will never hear it.
This tour guide is teaching tourists how to say “thank you” like a samurai!Tweet
Arigataki shiawase (casual samurai)
Because it’s a mouthful, you can shorten it to arigataki shiawase. Again, this is a ridiculous phrase, but if you make some Japanese friends while drinking, I guarantee you’ll make them laugh if you use this.
Suman, arigataki shiawase (apologetic, casual samurai)
Just as you can combine sumimasen and arigatō gozaimasu in a situation where someone has gone out of their way to help you. You can use suman, arigataki shiawase. This is actually casual Japanese, but it’s from the 1600s. People will let it slide.
Alright, those last ones were extremely silly and I suspect you’ll forget them right away. However, those first two phrases arigatō gozimasu and sumimasen are the most important two words you need to know when traveling to Japan. Please learn them. The Japanese don’t expect foreigners to understand their language, but you’ll bring many smiles to their faces if you can master a few polite phrases like thank you.
I’ll be posting more Japanese Survival Phrases for Travelers in the coming months, so please subscribe to JapanThis.Tours for future updates. I want to help you participate in Japanese culture on your trip, not just observe it.