A couple weeks ago, we at Nihongo Master started a series of posts with helpful and common Japanese greetings. While we obviously encourage you to learn Japanese with us, we’re also here to help if you just want to pick up a few phrases before your next trip to Tokyo. Today we’re going to focus on common Japanese greetings across the various levels of formality. Just like you would probably say “Excuse me, sir” to your boss in America instead of “Hey, man!” there are also rules for formality in Japan. And as a matter of fact, those rules are much more rigid in Japan than in America. So let’s look at a few common ways to say hello in Japanese!
“How do you do?”
More than asking “how are you,” this is a greeting you will only use when you meet someone for the first time. While we don’t often say “How do you do?” much America much anymore, it emphasizes the formality of this greeting.
おはようございます Ohayo gozaimasu
“Are you doing well?
While this is often translated into “How are you”, it can’t quite be used the same way as we do in English. おげんきですか is more likely to be said to someone you don’t see everyday, just like you wouldn’t ask your coworker “Are you doing well?” unless something was actually wrong! Ohayoo, konnichiwa and atsui desu ne etc. are more commonly used to greet to the people whom you see every day.
“Excuse me / I’m sorry”
While sumimasen does mean “excuse me,” its cultural usage can’t exactly be translated into English. If you’re in Japan for a single day, you may hear すみません uttered hundreds of times! The Japanese are an extremely polite society so many times people are “apologizing” for any minor inconvenience to another, not necessarily for something they have done wrong.
*When you leave before others*
おさきにしつれいします（お先に失礼します）Osaki ni shitsurei shimasu
As with all languages, there isn’t always a literal translation. While this technically translates to “before you, excuse me,” it is such a set term in Japan that they don’t really consider the true meaning of the words. It’s just something to be said if you’re leaving the office before your coworkers, or other similar situations.
*In reply to ‘Osaki ni shitsurei shimasu’*
おつかれさまでした（お疲れ様でした） Otsukaresama deshita
Much like お先に失礼します, we don’t have a translation for this in English. It’s a set ‘back and forth’ that is built into the language. Sort of like, “Have a good night!” “Thanks, you too.”
We don’t really think about these things in English when we say them, the response is almost exactly the same every time. You can also use this phrase for when you’re leaving something you’ve just done with other people, like if you’re all leaving a meeting.
“See you, bye!”
じゃあ、また Ja mata
While this is a slightly more casual goodbye than さようなら, it can still be used in polite company.
“See you, bye!”
The even more casual じゃぁね can ONLY be used in informal situations.
“Long time, no see!”
ごめん・ごめんなさい Gomen / Gomen’nasai
ごめん is the more casual way to say you’re sorry for something.
“See you later!
While this literally means to go and come back, the English equivalent is closest to, “See you later!” You probably can’t imagine saying that to your boss, and you shouldn’t! Because this is definitely a casual phrase in Japan!
*Reply to いってきます*
While this is another set response in Japanese, maybe the closest thing we have in English is, “See you later, alligator” “After while, crocodile!” 😉
*When you return home*
When you come back to your home or office you can say ただいま, kind of like saying “Honey, I’m home!” or in the super casual American English, “I’m back!”
*Reply to ただいま*
Another set response in Japanese, you would say this when someone returns and says “ただいま!” It’s a little like saying “Welcome home,” or “Welcome back!”
*When you leave before others*
This is a casual version of Osaki ni shitsurei shimasu. Obviously, おさき is the most casual version of this phrase.
*Casual version of “おつかれさまでした”*
Once again, we don’t have an exact translation for this and it can be used in several different ways. First it is a casual way to reply to おさき. It’s often used from a superior to his or her subordinates, as well as between coworkers. You can use it in the same way as おつかれさまでした, as when you are all leaving a meeting.
Extra Special Multi-Purpose Words
Domo is an adverb which means “very” or “much,” but it can have several other meanings depending on the situation. You can say どうも to mean:
“Thank you.” (A shortened version of “Domo arigatougozaimasu.”)
“Domo” sounds casual, but it is often used in business situations, as well. Some people often repeat it. “Domo domo!”
(Pronounded “oss”) This is a very casual way of saying “Hi!” that is often used by men. It’s also very common in the world of karate and martial arts and can take on many other meanings depending on the situation!