If you’ve ever been stuck on the crowded trains of Tokyo, you know the relief of being offered a seat (though it rarely happens!).
So when somebody is nice enough to give your aching legs a rest, what would you say to them?
Sure, you could say ありがとう — “thank you,” but that phrase simply won’t fit every situation.
It may surprise you, but saying “thank you” can be said and used in many ways in Japanese, just like saying hello to someone and wishing them goodbye!
What Does “Thank You” Really Mean In Japanese?
Looking at the Kanji for “Thank You”
The kanji for ありがとう is written as 有難う.
In this video, Japanese comedian ゴルゴ（ごるご）— Golgo explains that 無難（ぶなん）— “safe” means “no difficulty” or “no hardship.”
The opposite of 無難（ぶなん）would be 有る（ある）— “to have” and 難（なん）— “hardship.”
That is to say, “to have hardship” makes us thankful.
Pretty deep, right?
There aren’t any subtitles but if you’d like, watch this video to learn even more beautiful kanji meanings. It’s okay if you tear up. I did too!
The Word for “Thanks” in Japanese
Now that we know the meaning behind the phrase “thank you,” what about the word for showing thanks?
Yes, there’s a difference!
感謝（かんしゃ）— “gratitude” is the equivalent for what we would call “thanks.”
感謝祭（かんしゃさい）— “Thanksgiving Day” is the term used to refer to the holiday in the United States.
Similarly, Japan has a day when it gives thanks to its laborers, called 勤労感謝の日（きんろうかんしゃのひ）— “Labor Thanksgiving Day.”
Now you’ve got the Japanese equivalent for “thanks.” But just a heads up, it’s best to avoid equivalents.
Because there are many different ways to thank you in Japanese.
Let’s explore why!
Why Are There Different Ways to Say Thank You in Japanese?
Japanese has different degrees of politeness, so there are different degrees of saying thank you.
敬語（けいご）— Japanese respectful language showcases varying levels of respect. Longer phrases usually express more politeness but there are some exceptions to this that we’ll get into a little later.
As you continue to use Japanese, you’ll get better at picking the proper phrases for certain contexts.
For example, you definitely wouldn’t want to say ありがとう to your superiors (like your boss or teacher) but it would be nice to know casual phrases to say to your friends!
And if you ever find yourself on one of the trains of Tokyo during rush hour traffic, you’ll want to say すみません — “thank you/excuse me” instead of the usual ありがとう if someone lets you wriggle through to find a seat.
Still, it can be a little tough to decide which phrase suits best!
I know, I know, those pesky little nuances. They can be hard to capture and express.
Think about the relationship you have with the person you’re speaking to and the amount of politeness that you want to express.
And save these phrases for when you finally get the chance to show some gratitude!
Say Thank You Like You Mean It! 20 Phrases for Saying Thank You in Japanese
I know what you’re thinking—are there seriously 20 different ways to say thank you in Japanese?
How am I ever going to memorize and remember them all?
While learning anything takes time, there are definitely a few shortcuts you can take. First, it’s not always necessary to learn every phrase like the back of your hand. For example, if you aren’t working in Japan or have no need to use Japanese in a business setting, don’t worry too much about business phrases for the term “thank you.”
However, it’s always important to be aware of them. What if one of those phrases pops up in the middle of an intense negotiation scene in your favorite Japanese drama?
Speaking of dramas, learning through your favorite movies and TV shows is a great way to learn (and remember) Japanese grammar and vocabulary. Plus, you’re likely to come across most (if not all) of the following phrases in Japanese!
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Use the same videos native Japanese speakers enjoy to learn fluent Japanese through immersion.
Simply press play on the video of your choice, follow along with interactive subtitles, take a quiz at the end and store new vocabulary in your long-term memory with flashcards!
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How to Say “Thank You” in Japanese
どうもありがとうございます — Thank You Very Much
This is the most common way textbooks teach you how to say thank you in Japanese. As you probably guessed, it’s also formal.
But it’s not the end-all for saying thank you. If we break this phrase down, we’ll see that there are other ways to say it nestled inside.
どうも — Thanks or Hello
I’ve only used this phrase to thank and greet my closest friends.
That’s right, it’s a 挨拶（あいさつ）— “greeting,” too!
But if you’re meeting for the first time, say 初めまして（はじめまして）— “Nice to meet you” instead.
どうもありがとう — Thank You Very Much
Yes, as in the famous song by Styx! This is a polite and respectful way to thank someone.
You can use it in situations where someone has done something nice for you (like the Robot for the singer in the video).
The next phrase is more commonly used, however.
どうもありがとうございます — Thank You Very Much (Polite)
This is where we get fancy. The ございます at the end shows a form of 尊敬（そんけい）— “respect” or 丁寧（ていねい）— “politeness.”
It’s the same as the ございます in お早うございます（おはようございます）— “good morning.” I’ve included the kanji 早い（はやい）for “fast” early to highlight that this phrase is a polite way to say “it’s early.”
What’s more, ありがとうございます is a polite way to express how a hardship you’ve experienced has made you thankful.
どうもありがとうございました — Thank You Very Much (Polite Past Tense)
Use this phrase when someone has already done something for you.
Thanks for helping me with my homework yesterday.
When is it best to use this phrase?
Well, there’s some crossover with どうもありがとうございます — “thank you very much.”
A good rule of thumb is to remember that this phrase is more apt for actions that have been done as far back as yesterday.
It wouldn’t be weird to thank someone for something they just did for you with this phrase.
～てくれて＋ありがとう — Thank You for Doing…
You can use this phrase as in the following example:
Thanks for following me on Instagram!
Of course, to make it more polite, we can add the respectful sentence ending ございます.
But what about even more laid-back ways to say thank you in Japanese?
Japanese Slang for Saying Thank You
あざーす — Thanks!
This is a very casual way to say thank you. I’ve had this said to me by classmates when I studied abroad. However, I never used it with my host parents or any of my superiors.
But it’s definitely used a lot with the younger crowd!
サンキュー（さんきゅー）— Thank You!
This is normally written in katakana because it’s a loan word from English.
Japanese is known for having loan words integrated into the language. Phrases like バイバイ（ばいばい) mean “goodbye” but give off a more casual feel. So I’d make sure to only use this with friends or people you already know.
済まない（すまない) — Thank You (Lit. It Never Ends)
I’ve only ever heard guys use this phrase, but it’s the casual form of すみません, which isn’t a gendered phrase. If you choose to use it, make sure it’s in a casual setting, like with your friends.
I wouldn’t say it to my boss or teacher if I were you!
Polite Ways to Say “Thank You” in Japanese to Superiors and in Business
Earlier I talked about knowing how to thank 目上の人（めうえのひと）— your superiors. This means being mindful of 自分（じぶん）— the self and your status.
You don’t have to have an existential crisis or anything. It’s just considerate to understand the relationship hierarchy in Japanese culture.
I certainly had to get used to it when I worked for a Japanese company. To save you some struggle, here are business phrases I heard used the most:
恐れ入ります（おそれいります) — Thank You Very Much (Very Polite)
Going back to those nuances, this can also mean “Excuse me” or “I’m sorry.”
Just think of it as something you’d say after a superior has done something for you.
A real-life example I can think of is when I recycled my plastic bottle at Disney Land Tokyo. The maintenance person told me, “恐れ入ります!”
I am by no means someone’s superior! But in the context of a customer-employee relationship, it put me in a position worthy of more respect than I’d usually receive.
お疲れ様です（おつかれさまです）— Thank You for Your Hard Work
This is a phrase you can say to your superiors and 同僚（どうりょう）— your co-workers. After a long day of hard work, saying this phrase is a nice pick-me-up. In some situations, it’s also used as a greeting. I used this phrase constantly with my bosses when I worked in Japan.
ご苦労様です （ごくろうさまです）— Thank You for Your Hard Work (to Subordinates)
Don’t say this to your superiors! It’s not a rude phrase but saying it shows that you don’t understand the hierarchy.
It may be said to 目下の人（めしたのひと）— subordinates. We’ll look at how to respond to thank you in Japanese a little later on.
感謝します（かんしゃします）— Thank You
Thank you for your continued support.
You may see this written more than spoken, like in writing Japanese emails.
誠にありがとうございます（まことにありがとうございます）— Thank You Kindly
誠に（まことに) — is the respectful way to say 本当に（ほんとうに) — “very.”
I’ve seen this written a lot, especially in emails that go out to subscribers, customers, etc. If you plan to say it, use it with someone like your superior. It would probably feel out of place to say to your friend.
恐縮です（きょうしゅくです）— I Am Indebted to You
This is another phrase that’s often used in business settings. Other than being written in correspondences from businesses to customers, you can say this to your superiors after they’ve helped you out with something.
However, note that there are some situations where this phrase actually means “I’m sorry.”
Sorry to trouble you…
But in other situations, it expresses gratitude.
Thank you for being so kind.
Responding to “Thank You” in Japanese
Saying “You’re Welcome”
What’s the point of knowing how to say “thank you” if you don’t know how to say “you’re welcome?”
Most likely, you won’t be the only one doing the thanking in Japanese. Other people will thank you for your time and generosity, too!
Thus, it’s equally important to know how to respond to “thank you” as it is to say it.
Let’s take a look at some must-know phrases for saying “you’re welcome” in Japanese.
- いえいえ — No problem
- うん — Sure
- ううん、いつでも声かけて (ううん、いつでもこえかけて) — Sure, anytime!
- いいよ — Sure! No problem
- 大丈夫 (だいじょうぶ) — It’s okay
- 全然 (ぜんぜん) — Not at all!
- 別に（べつに) — No problem
Business Japanese and More Formal Ways to Respond to “Thank You”
Of course, business settings are much different than personal settings in everyday life.
Let’s take a look at some useful ways to respond to “thank you” while doing business in Japanese.
- どういたしまして — You’re welcome
- こちらこそ — It’s I who should say so
- とんでもないです・とんでもないことでございます — It’s no problem
- お役に立ててよかったです (おやくにたててよかったです) — Glad I could help!
- 遠慮しないでください (えんりょしないでください) — Don’t hesitate (to ask anything)
- 助けになれて良かったです (たすけになれてよかったです) — Glad I could help
More Ways to Say Thank You: Japanese Dialects!
That’s right, Japan has 方言（ほうげん）— local dialects! Like the awesome prefecture Osaka and the beautiful city of Kyoto, different regions add their own little flares to the Japanese language.
Let’s explore how different regions say “thank you” in Japanese!
- おおきに (ありがとう).
From 関西弁 (かんさいべん) — Kansai (southern-central region of Japan).
From 愛媛県 (えひめけん) — Ehime Prefecture.
From 富山県 (とやまけん) — Toyama Prefecture.
Polite way to say “thank you” from 沖縄県（おきなわけん）— Okinawa Prefecture.
From 山形県 (やまがたけん) — Yamagata Prefecture.
I know, it seems like a lot to practice, but remember that it just takes time! A great way to put this knowledge to use is by finding language partners and watching lots of Japanese media.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start practicing the many ways to say thank you in Japanese!
And from me to you, お疲れ様です（おつかれさまです）— thank you (for reading)!
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