What Is “Late” In Japanese? Here Is The Answer!

Sorry for the delay on today’s post. I’m running a little behind. You might even say I’m late. Of course, I’m saying all of this because it ties in with our topic and what we’re going to be covering in the following sections: What is late in Japanese?

First I want to talk about the most common word for late that is often used in formal situations such as school, work, meetings and more.

Then I want to talk about the words you can use to tell someone you are running late and apologize for it. To make things even better, I’ll also talk about how you can accuse someone of being late, and therefore inconsiderate.

How To Say Late In Japanese

The key word to learn is 遅刻 (chikoku) which is one of those special words that can be a noun or a suru-verb. When it is used as a noun it means “lateness” and can be used to talk about the concept of being late or to talk about a particular persons’ tardiness.

  • 遅刻が多い。
  • chikoku ga ooi.
  • (You’re) late a lot.

When this word is used as a verb, we can either add on a form of する (suru) for “to do” to it or we can use a form of だ (da) for “to be.”

Let’s say that you’re at school and you don’t see one of your friends. You ask someone if they have seen your buddy, to which they reply “Yeah, he’s in the principal’s office.” You’re a little surprised at this, so you ask why they had to go there.

  • 学校に遅刻した。
  • gakkou ni chikoku shita.
  • (They) were late for school.

When you want to say that a person is late for something like school, class (事業), or a meeting (会議) you will add on that に (ni) particle to whatever event the person showed up late to.

On the other hand, if you wanted to say something like “I’m late” you can do so by just using this word with the other verb that we covered.

  • 今日も遅刻だよ!
  • kyou mo chikoku da yo!
  • (You) are late again!

As I learned in my Cross-Cultural Analysis class this semester, there are a lot of cultures around the world who view time as more of a guideline than a rule when it comes to things like arriving at work or starting a meeting when it’s scheduled.

That being said, both the United States and Japan view time and being punctual as very important cultural values.

Apologizing For Being Behind Schedule

The Japanese are super polite. This can be seen in a lot of their common phrases and when they use them. One such phrase is お待たせしました (omatase shimashita) and while basically means “sorry to have kept you waiting.” The thing is, people use this even when they arrive on time!

Let’s say that you tell someone that you are going to meet them in the town square at 11:00 so that you two can get lunch and then go shopping. If you show up a little early, and then your friend shows up right on the dot, then they still might apologize to you even though they aren’t technically late.

At any rate, this is really just a polite way of acknowledging that you arrived to spot last.

What if you actually are late to something and you need to give an authentic apology?

Well, in that case you will want to utilize the word 遅れる (okureru) which means:

  • to be late
  • to be delayed
  • to fall behind schedule

You may notice that the kanji used in this word is the same as one of the two kanji used in our first word 遅刻.

Anyway, what you would do is use this word to tell the other person that you are behind schedule and then you would apologize for causing the other person an inconvenience.

  • 遅れてすみません。
  • okurete sumimasen.
  • Sorry I’m late.

In this case the word used for sorry is すみません but you could also say ごめんなさい if you wanted to.

When Someone Makes You Wait

Have you even been waiting at home for your wife or husband to return and they showed up an hour later than when they told you?

Or how about meeting a friend at a restaurant, only to have them show up 30 minutes later than you agreed to meet and they didn’t give you any heads up about not making it on time?

In cases like those, you might be a little angry that they not only wasted your time, but they didn’t even feel that you were important enough to call or text ahead of time to let you know!

That’s why you might feel like telling them to their face that they are late, and you are not happy about it.

  • 遅かったわね。
  • osokatta wa ne.
  • You’re late (and I’m not happy about it).

We’ve got our same kanji, but it’s used in a new word again. This word is 遅い (osoi) and its most common meaning is “slow” but there is a related one that also gets used a lot. It is of course “late; behind schedule; tardy” and so on.

What’s interesting from an English person’s perspective is that you would use the past-tense version of this verb once the other person has arrived.

If you just said 遅いね it would mean that the other person (or persons) is late and has still not yet arrived.

Also note that the わ (wa) particle in the above example is commonly used by females to add emotional emphasis to the statement.

The Deceased

The last Japanese word that I wanted to cover is not really related to our topic of time, but rather it is just another way that we use the word “late” in English.

For us, this is a word that we use in place of “deceased” because it sounds a lot nicer and is also a way to show respect to whomever has passed away (usually recently).

  • 岩下健三博士を偲んで
  • ko iwashita kenzo hakase o shinonde
  • In memory of the late Dr. Kenzo Iwashita


That being said, this isn’t all that common a word in Japanese so I’m not sure that you will have to worry about running into it.

Over To You Now

Now you know several ways to talk about not being on time in Japanese. There were some general words we covered, some phrases used when saying sorry, and then of course a phrase to let someone know you’re angry.

If you have any questions or comments about any part of today’s lesson, then please let me know down in the section below.

Thanks for reading!

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