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:
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.
- 今日は「きょうは」(kyō wa) = this day / today
- 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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
- Used when answering the phone.
- 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.
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!”
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.
Or for example, if your friend said your dog was ugly, you might point your finger at them and shout:
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.
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:
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.
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!