Japanese

How To Say Hello in Japanese – The Ultimate Guide

Learning how to say hello in Japanese will serve you well as it will allow you to begin any and all new conversations in a friendly way when you speak in Japanese.

The cool thing about the Japanese language is that there are many different ways that you can say hello, and they all depend on various things such as the time of day, the level of politeness needed, and so on.

So today I’m going to share with you this ultimate guide on greetings, known as 挨拶 (aisatsu), so that you always know how to begin a conversation with anyone you meet.

1. Hello / Good Afternoon

The most common way to say “hello” in Japanese is this phrase:

こんにちは!
konnichi wa!

And while it is true that this word means “hello” in a general sense, it’s actually a lot more like saying “good afternoon” in English since this phrase is really only used between the times of 11 AM and 6 PM.

You will use different phrases to great people in the morning, and then in the evening. We’ll go over those next, but before we do I wanted to mention the kanji for this phrase, because you will occasionally run into it.

The kanji is 今日は which can cause a lot of confusion since another, more common word is spelled the same way.

  1. 今日は「きょうは」(kyō wa) = this day / today
  2. 今日は「こんにちは」(konnichi wa) = hello / good afternoon

Usually when you see it written in kanji it will be number 1, and こんにちは is usually written in hiragana. This helps avoid confusion for the most part, but you do run into it the other way around some times. Just be aware of it.

As a final note on こんにちは, be sure to pronounce both of the “n” sounds when you say it.

  • kon-ni-chi-wa = correct!
  • ko-ni-chi wa = incorrect…

Alright, let’s move on to the next word!

2. Good Morning

When you want to great someone in the morning before 11 AM you will say:

おはようございます!
ohayō gozaimasu!

This version of the phrase is the polite one that is used when talking to people who are of equal status to you, but are not close friends. You will also use it with all of your superiors, such as teachers and bosses.

If you are chatting with a buddy however, you can drop the formal ございます (gozaimasu) ending and instead just use the casual version of the word, which is おはよう (ohayō).

In fact, there is an ever MORE casual version of this same phrase that you will sometimes hear guys in anime use when they greet their friends in a super chill way. Here it is now:

おっす!
ossu!

You’ve probably heard this word used before, but did you know that it is a contraction of おはようございます?

That’s kind of crazy when you see the difference in length between these two words!

They basically just took the first kana and the last one and then slapped them together with a small tsu symbol in the middle!

As a final note on this phrase, there are official kanji that will sometimes appear in books and manga. The first one I’ll show you is the most common version, and the second one is the maxed out version (not hardly used at all).

Any combination in between is also a possibility.

  • お早うございます
  • 御早う御座います

I wouldn’t worry about the souped up kanji version if I were you. Just be aware that it’s possible in case it pops up.

3. Good Evening

To finish off this trio of greetings, we’ll switch things over to the dark side.. cause it’s nighttime. Bad joke, I know!

From about 6 PM onward you will say:

こんばんは!
konban wa!

This phrase also has a kanji version which is actually pretty common. I would say that I see it more often than I do the hiragana only version I’ve listed above. Here’s the kanji version now:

  • 今晩は!

For this particular phrase, I would say go ahead and memorize both the hiragana and kanji versions since you’ll need to know them both for most situations.

Something that is pretty interesting about this phrase and the very first one we went over is that they both use the kanji 今 which is read as こん (kon) in both of these situations, and means “this” in English.

So the first phrase is like saying “This day!” and the nighttime one is like saying “This evening!” if you were to do a very literal translation.

The morning phrase is like saying “it’s early” which I think we all can relate to when we see our co-workers and fellow students at 8 AM!

4. How Are You

Of course when we great someone, we don’t always say “hi” to them. Other times we will start off with a “how are you” to begin a conversation, or sometimes to just acknowledge them in passing. The Japanese phrase for this is:

お元気ですか?
o genki desu ka?

This phrase centers around the word 元気 (genki) which means lively; full of spirit; in good health and is therefore something that you will only ask a person when you haven’t seen them for several weeks or months.

The thing about this phrase and the Japanese culture is that, when you see a person each and every day, you’re supposed to pay attention to their mood and the way they behave and really get a sense of how they are feeling each day.

In this way, you should know when they are having an off day, or when something is wrong. On the other hand, if they are acting in line with they normal self, then you know that they are good, and you don’t need to keep asking them.

In short, while 「お元気ですか」 means “how are you” in Japanese, you do not use it nearly as often as you do with the English version. Keep that in mind so as not to overuse it.

5. You Look Well

Continuing off of the last phrase’s primary word 元気 (geki), we now move on to another useful Japanese greeting that you can use when you meet with someone whom you haven’t seen or spoken to in a long time.

お元気そうで、何よりです。
o genki sō de, nani yori desu.

This phrase basically means “You look well, and that’s the important thing.” Let’s break it down so that it’s easy to understand.

You already know what 元気 (genki) means from the last section, and you can see that the honorific お (o) is added to the front of it for politeness.

Then we have そう (sō) which means look; appear; seem in this context. The で functions as the word “and” in this particular phrase. It doesn’t literally mean “and” in Japanese, but it is used to connect the two clauses together.

Then we have 何より (nani yori) which is an expression that means most; best; above all in Japanese and is used here to compare the other person appearing to be well with all other things in life going on at the moment.

Finally, we have です (desu) which is used to make the sentence both polite and grammatically correct. It’s a weird word that is usually understood to mean “to be” in English, but sometimes this translation falls short. In this case you could say it means “is” in the “that is” part.

6. Long Time No See

There is also another phrase that is used as a common greeting when you run into an old pal that you haven’t talked to in ages. Let’s see it now:

お久しぶりです!
o hisashi buru desu!

This phrase basically means “it’s been a long time (since the last time)” in Japanese which is pretty much the same as the English expression “long time no see.”

The casual form would just be 久しぶりだな (hisashi buri da na) which is what most dudes say. Ladies are generally more polite than men in Japanese, so they are more likely to use the first version of the greeting.

7. It’s Nice To Meet You

What if you don’t want to say hi to the other person, but instead you want to tell them that it is a pleasure to meet their acquaintance?

No? Am I the only one who talks like that these days? That would explain the weird looks…

Anyway, the Japanese phrase that is commonly used when you first meet someone new is:

初めまして
hajime mashite

This phrase literally means “for the first time” and is a common expression used to begin a new relationship, be it friendly or professional.

It’s also pretty common to combine it with 「よろしくお願いします」 (yoroshiku onagai shimasu) which is quite a mouthful when you are beginning with Japanese, but you hear it so many times that it basically becomes automatic for you.

8. Hello (Answering The Phone)

Did you know that you gotta’ answer the phone with a special word in Japanese? Yeah, pretty crazy stuff! The word I’m talking about is:

もしもし!
moshi moshi!

Now even though this word is just もし (moshi) repeated twice, it almost always sounds like the person speaking is actually saying “moshi moshh” with that final “i” left out.

This is something that sometimes happens in Japanese called “de-voicing” which is a fancy name for silent vowels. I talk more in depth about this and other things in my course Mastering the Sounds of Japanese which you can take for free by clicking on the link.

A final note on もしもし before we move on. You know how sometimes you’ll be all home alone and you hear some strange sounds coming from the scary part of your basement or attic, and you ask aloud “Hello? Is anyone there?” even though you are desperately hoping that no one will answer?

Well, in Japanese when you want to say “Hello? Is anyone there” you will use 「もしもし?」.

So this word for “hello” has two uses that you should learn:

  1. Used when answering the phone.
  2. Used when asking “Hello? Is anyone there?”

Try it out yourself the next time you’re in either of these situations!

9. Yo, what’s up? Hey… Hey!

I wanted to do a couple of informal greetings that pop up a lot in shows, but might not be used in real life quite as often. They are pretty informal, so you’d only ever use them with close friends.

よ、調子はどう?
yo, chōshi wa dō?
Yo, what’s up?

In this first one, we get an interesting thing: a word that’s the same in both languages!

Not that you can really call “yo” a word in English, but I digress.

The word 調子 (chōshi) can means a lot of different things depending on the context, but one of the is “mood” and it gets combined with どう (dō) which means “how” in English.

Another Japanese sound you can make, similar to よ, that is not really a word, but rather just a sound guys use to get someone’s attention is おい (oi) which again, is basically the same as the English “oi!” or “hey!”

おい…
oi…
Hey…

And finally, there is the word ちょっと (chotto) which means “a little” in Japanese, but actually has more like a dozen different uses and meanings.

One of those meanings is the English “Hey!” which is used when getting someone’s attention, or used in reply to something that someone has said, that you take a little offense to.

ちょっと!
chotto!
Hey! Wait!

Or for example, if your friend said your dog was ugly, you might point your finger at them and shout:

ちょっと!
chotto!
Hey! (mad)

This last word can be a lot of fun. Just be sure not to over use it (^_^)b

10. Hello (Neutral)

We are getting to the end of this article on many of the different ways to say hello in Japanese. Now I’d like to talk shortly about one that pops up now and again.

どうも。
dōmo.

This is a pretty neutral way to say hello to someone. For example, you run into someone you know on the street and they greet you with a こんにちは and then you reply with a どうも.

It’s not really a polite way to greet someone, but it’s certainly not rude. I would say that こんにちは is a better default to use for most situations, but if you hear a どうも in reply from the person you’re talking with, then now you will know what they are saying.

11. Hello (In Business)

And finally we come to the last greeting in this list. This one is really only ever used in business dealings, so you might not get a lot of opportunities to use it, but all the same I felt that it was a good idea to include it. Here it is:

いつもお世話になっております。
itsumo o sewa ni natte orimasu.

This is a really long phrase, and doesn’t really translate well into English, but means something like “We are indebted to you for your kindness” and is said from one business to another.

Let’s break down some words quickly:

  • いつも (itsumo) = always
  • お世話 (osewa) = assistance
  • に (ni) = the ni particle
  • なっております (natte orimasu) = a super polite way to say “to do”

So at the beginning of a meeting between two companies that often work together, this phrase will often be used to greet the other and thank them for their harmonious relationship.

What’s Next?

This is really just the beginning of learning Japanese. If you want to take your skills to the next level, then try checking out the top courses that I’ve used and written about in my review: The Best Online Japanese Courses!

Know any other ways to say hello in Japanese? Let me know with a comment below!

20 Comments

  • Anusuya

    My daughter was in Japan a year before for 1 semester of Law. I wish I would have this blog. But her experience at Japan is out of the world making me feel that I should visit this awesome place on earth. 

    Never knew this wonderful expression at different time, situation and etc.

    Moshi! Moshi is one word I remembered now.

    I enjoyed this useful and informational blog and hold on to it for my future Japan Visit. Thank you for sharing.

    • Nick Hoyt

      That is super cool that she got to study law for a semester in Japan! I wonder how closely their laws are to the ones in America… That might be an interesting thing to check out sometime!

      Yeah, when you’re going to visit Japan, be sure to check out some of the common and useful words and phrases so that you can talk a little bit to the people you meet. Glad I can help!

  • Jenny

    This is a very good explanation for beginners. I didn’t realise there are different ways to greet people at different times of the day and different status! The Japanese are very respectful so it does make sense. Just never thought about it. Nice to have this list of common terms for first time visitors to Japan to break the ice.

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah, it’s much more common to talk to strangers in American society, than in Japan’s. So if you’re over there visiting and you’d like to try talking to natives, you will probably have to be the one that initiates the conversation.

      So this list will be a great way for you to do so, and there a lots of different options so you can try practicing different ones and see how people respond to each.

  • Shane Black

    Hi Nick, 

    Thanks so much for sharing this very informative blog. I remember when I travelled to Japan for business in 2015 that I really struggled with the language… I wish I had this blog beforehand! I didn’t actually know that the greeting in Japanese changes depending on the time time of day, so thanks for sharing. 

    I’ve bookmarked this page as I’ll be heading back to Japan soon. 

    Cheers, 

    Shane

    • Nick Hoyt

      Traveling the world for business sounds like a pretty cool thing to do, especially if it takes you to Japan!

      Yeah, learning Japanese is no small order, although you don’t really realize how big the language is until you’re in the thick of things and are trying to understand it all.

      Still, I think that even knowing a few key phrases can enrich your experience there with the people many times over. 

      I’m glad that you enjoyed the blog! I aim to help as many people as I can to learn Japanese and improve their abilities with it. 

  • MovieFan

    Hi Nick,

    I can say that you really spot on the ultimate guide of learnng basic japanese language. I remember the days I was studying Nihonggo provided by our company, It was really fun because I’m learning something new. I’m sure many people will like your article beacause it was well presented in a way anyone can easily follow. Great job! Looking forward for more lessons.

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey that’s pretty awesome that you company provided language learning resources, and especially since it was for Japanese! 

      It’s kind of funny because I always saw how Rosetta Stone paired up with lots of companies, schools, and such to allow their employees and students to learn a new language for free. I always want to try this!!!

      But unfortunately, I always had to pay for the courses and books that I used to learn Japanese. In the end, it was definitely worth it, but I’m sure you can agree that it’s nice to get things for free too (^_^)b

  • Renton

    Great Post! As an anime and manga fan I have picked up a few of these words already but I am 100% certain that I would pronounce them wrong. It is great to be reminded of these words and the culture that goes along with them. I think that learning these words properly would be a great exercise for me to do.

    Arigatou gozaimasu!

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah, it’s interesting because as we get older, our brain naturally begins to tune out sounds that are not a part of the languages we currently speak. 

      This is why in language class you can say a word, and be convinced that you said it exactly like you heard it, but the native informs you that you were wrong. You literally can’t hear the different sound! But fortunately, this situation can be reversed.

      By combing a lot of exposure to natives speaking the language, along with an awareness of what sounds exist in Japanese and how they are different from English, you can unlock them in your brain and then begin to pronounce them the same way that natives do.

      Recording yourself and then comparing it to the native is also an excellent way to improve. Check out Rocket Japanese’s “Rocket Record” function for an easy way to do this.

  • Michele

    Hi Nick

    Amazing website, lots of information. Are you really self taught, because regardless of the online courses you mention

    it seems you are. I believe Japanese is part of the curriculum at primary schools in Australia, while in my day a foreign language wasn’t introduced to curriculums until high school and then it was Latin and French.

    Excellent information, as I read I was pronouncing out loud the Japanese. The written word might worry me a bit, it looks like calligraphy!!

    Michele

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah, I’ve used many courses, but you could say that I’m self taught. I’ve never taken any semesters of Japanese in school, and I’ve never had a tutor either. 

      But all that aside, I’ve learned a lot about Japanese and language learning in general from others, so when you think about it, it’s really a combination of a lot of hard work on my part and a lot of help from others. 

      I think one of the reasons why using a course is super helpful is because you don’t have to do all the back end work, and can instead leverage what other people have created for learning Japanese. In this way, you can focus all of your time just learning.

  • f1shbiscuits

    Very comprehensive information, I find it very amusing on this post where you have compile a list of way to greet in Japanese with variation of tone. I find it super easy to learn on this post. I enjoyed it, and i will try to greet this way next time I see my friend. I love the touch of the proverb on the top right. Very compact and interesting website overall. I would bookmark your site just to comeback later on. Cheers! 

    • Nick Hoyt

      Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it (^_^)b

      Yeah, I added the weekly Japanese proverb as something for returning visitors to enjoy, as it’s a pretty cool aspect of the language and I have always felt that learning them was a lot of fun.

      I’m working right now on adding a lot of useful information for people who are brand new to learning Japanese, so hopefully you’ll be able to learn something helpful every time you visit! 

  • Mariah

    I spent a couple years living in Japan as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I learned Japanese pretty fluently while I was there, but I definitely made a lot of mistakes. One mistake that I made related to greetings is, I was talking to a man on the phone and was ending the phone call. Because Konbanha basically translates to “good night” I said it to say goodbye, but it’s never really used that way. I was pretty embarrassed.

    Your article is a great comprehensive guide for beginners and will help a lot of people out!

    • Nick Hoyt

      Ha, that’s actually a pretty great story! I think that everyone who has spent time learning and using another language has made these kinds of mistakes. But the good news is that once you learn the correction, you’ll never make the same slip up again!

      And spending time in Japan as a missionary sounds pretty awesome!

  • Brandon Pierce

    I’m getting ready to go to Japan in a few months to visit a relative in the military there.  I was looking for a good guide to get started maybe learning a little bit about the culture and language.  At least enough to get by.  Thanks for setting me on the right path.  I will be frequenting your site until my trip.

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey, it is my pleasure! Anytime you visit a new country it’s a cool idea to learn a few key words and phrases so that you can connect with the locals in their own language. 

      You’ll surely learn the best ways to great people in this article, and if you’re looking for some other useful phrases in Japanese, then check out this article on essential Japanese phrases for travelers!

  • Arturo Siew

    This is a very simple step to learn Japanese 😀 I am not Japanese myself but pronunciation is very easy in Japanese and was so surprise that when I tried to have a Japanese conversation for the first time, waitresses in Tokyo understand whatever that I was saying right away !!!!

    • Nick

      Nice! I actually just read today that Japanese only has 11 consonants and 5 vowels. The combination of consonant and vowels only make up a total of 48 sounds. Very simple and easy like you said!

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