Japanese Greetings: 21 for Engaging with Natives on the Fly

Confession: I have a crush on a Japanese man.

Well, not a crush exactly.

More like an intense reverence for his music and talents.

I first saw this gentleman perform in his band at a venue a few years ago and was so impressed with his abilities as a musician that I just knew I had to be his friend. Even if he was going back to Tokyo in a few days.

After his set, I tried to say hello and introduce myself. He was touring and had never been to an English-speaking country before. He couldn’t understand a thing I said. All I got was a nervous smile and nod.

The interaction was lackluster and eventually ended with his confusion and my frustration at myself for not knowing many Japanese phrases.

Life goes by fast. Opportunities to make a connection with someone often go by even faster.

However, once I became more versed in Japanese, I realized that common greetings and salutations are some of the simplest phrases in the Japanese language. I could have easily looked them up on my phone a moment before meeting the guy! You can bet that if that band tours here in the States again, I’m going to impress the heck out of him.

Luckily for you, dear Japanese learner, I don’t want anyone else to deal with the same awkwardness.

Whether you’re traveling to Japan or have a Japanese peer you’d like to connect with over the phone, on Skype, at a language exchange or at any other event—you’re in luck.

Because the following list is composed of the most useful Japanese greetings that any traveler or beginner Japanese learner could possibly memorize.

They’re also fairly easy to learn, so you’ll be able to whip them out quickly, before an opportunity for interaction goes whizzing by.

But first, let’s look briefly at even more good reasons to learn a variety of Japanese greetings.

Why Should I Learn So Many Japanese Greetings?

  • Japanese is a very detailed language and the standard “hello” may not be appropriate for every interaction. Just like “hello” isn’t appropriate for every interaction in English.
  • Broadening your vocabulary will only improve your Japanese fluency. That’s the goal, isn’t it? The more you know, the better you’ll be at Japanese! 
  • Many of the greetings we’re going to cover are very simple to understand and fun to learn. Some Japanese phrases can be very complex, but thankfully these awesome greetings are very simple for the beginner to learn and memorize.

Be Prepared! 21 Japanese Greetings for Your On-the-go Vocab

1. 何かあった?(なんか あった, What’s up?)

Rōmaji: “Nan ka atta?”

This phrase can literally be translated as “What happened?” or “What’s happening?”

One would use this term when stumbling upon a friend who seems distressed. You can also use this term when you meet up with a friend after they had some kind of event, like a job interview or confessing their love to their music crush.

2. 毎度 (まいど, Hello)

Rōmaji: “Maido.”

Literally “each time” or “every time.”

This phrase is used primarily to greet customers who come into a store or restaurant. It’s a casual way to greet someone. Fancy establishments will use 毎度ありがとうございます with いらっしゃいませ, another word we’re going to cover, for an extra professional effect.

Since this is typically used by businesses to greet customers, a simple nod and a smile will do for a response. Alternatively, you can say ありがとう (“Thank you,” or “Arigatō”).

Japanese businesses have a serious focus on making the customer feel as welcome as possible, so don’t be surprised if the politeness doesn’t end with this ultra-polite greeting. Some places of business will even have employees stand and wave at you as you drive away (or fly away) from the establishment, and won’t budge until you’re out of sight.

3. また会いましょう (また あいましょう, See you again)

Rōmaji: “Mata aimashō.”

This is considered a very polite way to send someone off. Use this phrase after meeting with your future boss or someone of equal status.

4. さようなら (Goodbye)

Rōmaji: “Sayōnara.”

Pretty much everyone has heard the term “sayonara” before. It’s a pretty cut-and-dry way to say goodbye to an individual person or group. It’s not a super formal phrase, making it appropriate for use with close friends or casual acquaintances.

5. 失礼します (しつれい します, Goodbye)

Rōmaji: “Shitsurei shimasu.”

This very polite phrase actually has several meanings, all of which are handy to know.

失礼します is said before one commits a “rude” act. This act may not be actually rude, but being humble and excusing yourself for a minor transgression is a big part of Japanese culture.

As a greeting, 失礼します is used when leaving an event or dinner table before the rest of the guests leave. Some people also use it before hanging up the phone, though this is kind of rare. You can also use this phrase for when you need to squeeze by someone in a large crowd.

6. お元気ですか? (おげんきですか, How’s it going / Are you healthy?)

Rōmaji: “O genki desu ka?”

お元気ですか? is a good phrase to use after greeting a somewhat new friend or someone you don’t know well. It’s a formal phrase that you can use with friends and family as well and implies a very earnest interest in how someone is doing.

Note: です is pronounced “desu” with a somewhat silent “u.”

7. 元気?(げんき, You good / You healthy?)

Rōmaji: “Genki?”

As you can see, this phrase is just a shortened version of お元気ですか? As such, it’s best suited to quick interactions or interactions with close friends. It still implies that you care, but is much more informal than its predecessor.

8. おはよう (Good morning)

Rōmaji: “Ohayou.”

A quick, casual phrase to use when greeting family or roommates in the morning. If you’ve been working at the same place or been part of the same class for a long time, this would be an appropriate way to greet everyone in the morning.

9. おはようございます (Good morning)

Rōmaji: “Ohayou gozaimasu.”

This is a slightly more formal way of saying “good morning.” Best used when meeting with a superior or someone you don’t know well in the early hours.

10. やあ (Hi)

Rōmaji: “Yā.”

This has got to be the easiest one on the list. やあ is the equivalent of saying “hi” or “yo” or “hey” in English. It’s definitely appropriate for greeting a close friend.

Note“Yā” is pronounced with a flat “a” sound.

11. 初めまして (はじめまして, Nice to meet you)

Rōmaji: “Hajime mashite.”

“How do you do?” in Japanese, pretty much. It’s quite a formal thing to say after meeting someone new.

12. 最近どう? (さいきん どう, What’s up?)

Rōmaji: “Saikin dō?”

This also implies the phrase “How have you been?” so don’t be surprised if you receive a response somewhere along the lines of “I had a good day.”

13. こんにちは (Hello)

Rōmaji: “Konnichiwa.”

You’ll hear this phrase a lot in anime or Japanese television. It’s a very “youth” way of saying hello to someone and is appropriate for almost all formal and informal interactions.

14. こんばんは (Good evening)

Rōmaji: “Konbanwa.”

You can use this phrase when greeting someone in the evening, but it shouldn’t be used when saying “good evening” as a closer or sendoff like “goodnight.”

15. 大丈夫ですか? (だいじょうぶ ですか, Are you alright?)

Rōmaji: “Daijōbu desu ka?”

“Daijōbu?” can also just be used as a short, less-formal way of saying this. This is another phrase you’ll hear on television a lot, typically after someone has been hurt or embarrassed.

16. ただいま! (I’m home!)

Rōmaji: “Tadaima!”

ただいま is a pretty interesting phenomenon in Japan. Many Japanese people use it when entering their home after a long day, even if they live alone. You’ll see this in Japanese movies and television quite often and it is definitely a habit commonly found across the country.

17. おやすみなさい (I’m going to bed / Goodnight)

Rōmaji: “Oyasumi nasai.”

Use this phrase when leaving a group or a friend for the night. It’s fairly appropriate for any formal or informal situation.

18. 元気だった?(げんき だった, How’s it going?)

Rōmaji: “Genki datta?”

Another way of asking 元気?or お元気ですか?

19. もしもし (Hello?)

Rōmaji: “Moshi moshi”

This isn’t the kind of phrase you’d use in real life, but rather when picking up the phone.

20. いらっしゃいませ! (Welcome!)

Rōmaji: “Irasshai mase!”

This is a common phrase you’ll hear when entering convenience stores or restaurants. When you’re greeted with いらっしゃいませ, you can respond with a nod and smile or by saying ありがとう or こんにちは.

21. ようこそ! (Welcome home / Welcome to Japan!)

Rōmaji: “Yōkoso!”

This is an extremely common phrase to say after someone arrives after a long flight or traveling a long way. You’ll hear people say this when you arrive in Japan. You may also hear the more formal version, 日本へようこそ!(にほんへ ようこそ!), or “Welcome to Japan!”

Depending on the situation, there are several ways to respond to this phrase. If you’re being greeted by an acquaintance or someone hired to pick you up from the airport, a simple ありがとう will do. If you’re being greeted by a friend or family member upon returning home from traveling, an enthusiastic ただいま is a good response.

Key takeaways:

  • These phrases are great for travelers as well as beginner learners who want to start a conversation with a Japanese person.
  • All of these phrases are basic phrases used almost universally by Japanese people, making them important phrases to write down, study and memorize.

These Japanese phrases weren’t that difficult to grasp, were they?

Even though Japan gets a bad rap for having a tough language to learn, the barebones basics aren’t that hard to get. And if you’re trying to connect with a Japanese person, these phrases are a great way to start.

Good luck with your studies and don’t forget to 練習 (れんしゅう, practice)!

Emily Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. She writes about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.

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