Beyond Konnichi wa: 11 Japanese Greetings for Your Next Trip
Are you planning to travel to Japan? Then the first thing you need to do is learn a few essential Japanese greetings.
“But…Isn’t Konnichi wa enough?” you might be wondering. Well, is “hello” enough? Would you say “hello” when you leave a restaurant, for example? When visiting Japan, people will appreciate it if you use appropriate greetings in Japanese for different types of interactions.
Maximising your Japanese vocabulary will help you integrate better with locals and will allow you to have friendlier and more successful communications.
For this reason, we have compiled a list of the most awesome greetings in Japanese that every traveller should learn and memorise.
Like “Good morning”, this expression is typically used until before midday. Although the word “morning” is not actually included in the phrase, the base word hayai means “early”, so you can see why this expression is used at breakfast time.
Is there a shorter version for this Japanese greeting? Absolutely. Just like we sometimes say “‘Morning” instead of “Good morning”, you can omit the gozaimasu part and simply say Ohayō, but bear in mind that this is something you would only do in informal situations, i.e., when talking to a friend or a family member.
Probably the most popular Japanese word, Konnichi wa is a safe choice because it’s often said that it can be used at any time.
But is this true? Yes and no. Though you can say this phrase in the evening and no one would look at you like you’ve made a big mistake, Konnichi wa is most commonly said during the day hours, especially between noon and 5 PM. After all, the phrase literally means “today” or “the sun”, so it’s only natural that people use it while the sun is up.
Japanese greetings like “hello” and “good morning” are all very good. But if you want to show people that you’ve really made an effort to learn their language, you should go beyond these expressions.
Hajimemashite, which means “Nice to meet you”, helps you start a new relationship with the right foot by showing courtesy and interest, no matter if you’re talking to a potential client, friend or partner.
After the sun goes down, you can use konbanwa, which literally means “tonight”, the same way you would use “good evening,” in English.
Be careful, however, not to use konbanwa as a closer or send-off like “good night”. Like “good evening”, it’s something that we would say when we arrive at a restaurant, not when we’re leaving.
You think Japanese greetings are hard to learn? Then think again. Konbanwa follows the same structure as konnichi wa, only we use “ban” for “evening” in place of “nichi” for “day.” And in contrast to konnichiwa, konbanwa is used in more formal contexts, which means you wouldn’t normally use it with close friends.
If we were to translate this one literally, we would come up with something like “please have some rest” or “have a nice rest”, which makes it the near-perfect equivalent for “Goodnight”.
Why near-perfect? Because this greeting is used slightly differently than it is used in English. While we can use both phrases when we’re going to bed at the end of the day, we wouldn’t use Oyasumi nasai when we’re leaving a bar or a friend’s home at night.
Like most Japanese greetings, this expression can be shortened to create a more informal version. If you’re talking to a roommate or to a friend, you can just say oyasumi.
Contrary to popular belief, Japanese people don’t say sayōnara (“if it is so”) that often. Even rarer nowadays is gokigenyō, which means “farewell” and used to be combined with sayōnara in ancient times as a complete greeting.
If you want to say goodbye in a more natural way, there are better, less stiff Japanese greetings you can use. Bye-bye, jaane, dewa, or mata ne (see you) are all phrases you can say among friends and family to mean goodbye.
Although many greetings in Japanese have one-to-one equivalents in English, there are some which are specific to Japanese culture.
These expressions, for example, are used when a person leaves the house or the workplace. The one who leaves says ittekimasu (I’ll go and come back) and the one staying says itterasshai (“please go but come back”).
These greetings are used on a daily basis in Japanese companies. If you’re doing an internship in Japan, make sure you use them to show that you have done your homework.
But wait. It doesn’t end there. What about the “come back” part?
When the person who left returns to the office, he or she will often say tadaima modorimashita, which means “I have come back now”, at which point you might be tempted to say “Yeah, I can see that”. But that’s not the right thing to say at all.
Remember that courtesy is very important for Japanese people. The returning person will expect you to welcome him/or her back by saying okaerinasai,(welcome back) and we strongly suggest you oblige!
(By the way, if you’re travelling to Japan for business, make sure you check out our post on Japanese words you should avoid on your business trip.)
Remember we said greeting in Japanese can be very specific? Well, there is one particular expression that people only use on the phone.
Moshi moshi, from the verb mōsu (to say) is used at the beginning of phone communications to make sure the line is working and both parties can hear well.
If you are expecting a business call, however, you might want to answer your calls by saying hai (“yes”) followed by your name or the name of your company.
Just as it happens in-person meetings, business people will normally say osewa ni natte orimasu to express that they appreciate the relationship.
This is one of the most interesting Japanese greetings. People use it when they get back home after a long day, but the funny part is that many of them do it even if they live alone, a common habit that you can often see in movies and TV shows.
Don’t wait to be in Japan to practise this one. Next time you come home to your cat, just say Tadaima! to start soaking in Japanese life habits.
These Japanese greetings are your best allies if you want to make friends. O genki desu ka? (How are you?) is a phrase people use when they meet a new friend or when talking to somebody they don’t know very well. It’s a friendly but formal phrase that shows an earnest interest in how a person is really doing.
Alternatively, you can say Genki? which is a shorter version of the one above. Like most shortened expressions, this one is better suited for informal interactions with closer friends. It still means that you care, but it has a more casual vibe than the complete phrase.
Are you travelling to Japan soon? Then check out our list of Japanese expressions you need to know before you travel.
Do you want to go beyond Japanese greetings and useful expressions? Then explore our one-to-one tailor-made courses taught by native Japanese teachers. You can also click here and send us a quick inquiry and we’ll get back to you with more details about our methodology.