Similarly to learning how to say hello, how to thank someone is one of the top phrases one would learn when picking up a new language. In English, there are various ways of thanking someone. It also depends on where one is from; someone from the UK may use “cheers!” as a thank you as well as a kanpai (カンパイ).
It’s no different in Japanese. There are also a few different ways to thank someone. In fact, saying “thank you” in Japanese is not as straightforward as you might think. There are a few things you need to consider before picking the most appropriate phrase for a thank you — all within a second or two.
One of the most important aspects is social status — it’s pretty significant in Japanese culture. Depending on the social status you’re in, you have a different response and way of speaking to others. There are phrases that you can use only with friends, and others that are better off using in an office setting.
A lot to take in? Don’t worry, I’ve done the job of compiling the top 10 ways to say “thank you” in Japanese that covers a wide range of situations.
1. Arigatou (ありがとう)
The first and foremost on the list is definitely “arigatou” (ありがおう). If you have picked up even the slightest bit of Japanese — or have travelled to Japan — you would already know this phrase. It’s the most basic and simplest way of saying thank you. You’ll quite often hear this, anywhere from the streets and among groups of people to Japanese shows and anime.
“Arigatou” is used more casually, similar to “thanks” in English. Most of the time, you can use this with family members, partner, friends and people who are the same age or younger than you. You can also use it to thank strangers like restaurant and hotel staff.
That doesn’t mean it eliminates the phrase from using it with higher-ups. This phrase is quite flexible. You can also use “arigatou” to express your thanks to people older than you — you just have to make a few small changes. Switch it to the polite form: arigatou gozaimasu (ありがとうございます).
A step higher is “domo arigatou gozaimasu” (どもありがとうございます) to express your deepest appreciation. It generally translates to “thank you very much”.
2. Doumo (どうも)
If you think that “arigatou” is a bit too much, cut the expression short and use this form of thanks: “doumo” (どうも). It will do just the trick. If you haven’t noticed already, this way of thank you actually derived from the previous phrase “domo arigatou gozaimasu” — but only taking the “domo” part and binning the rest.
This phrase is even more casual than “arigatou”. It has an extreme light tone and is often used with people who are of the same social status level as you as well as lower, like your friends or younger siblings. Saying it to strangers like restaurant and cashier staff are okay, too.
A fair warning: do not — I repeat, do not — use this with your boss or people of higher social status than you. It’s considered extremely rude because the other party may get offended because you didn’t take the time to thank them in the proper way.
3. Sumimasen (すみません)
If you have a little bit of Japanese knowledge already, you might be wondering why is “sumimasen” (すみません) — a form of apology — is considered a way to say thank you. Actually, this phrase is used quite often to express gratitude. Even though it’s usually used as an apology or “excuse me”, it can be used to say sorry and thank you.
Confused? Don’t be. In Japanese culture, it’s common to apologise to the person you’re grateful to instead of thanking them as it acknowledges the fact that the person has gone through the trouble just for you. This is deeply rooted in their custom culture of politeness.
A perfect example is when you drop something and a kind soul behind you picks it up and catched up with you just to hand it back to you. You can use “sumimasen” to both apologise and thank them for the trouble and help.
4. Sankyu (サンキュー)
I hope it already sounds familiar to you even before the explanation. Sankyu (サンキュー) is the Japanified version of the English “thank you”. Sound it out — almost the same, right? Since it’s a borrowed phrase, the writing is in katakana (カタカナ) and not hiragana (ひらがな) or kanji (漢字).
This phrase for thank you tops any of the rest I’ve already mentioned previously in terms of casualness. I personally would use this phrase with my friends and people that I’m already familiar with. It’s best to avoid using this to your higher-ups, and even people you’re not so close with.
5. Kurete arigatou (〜くれてありがとう)
You probably recognised half of the phrase — the “arigatou” part. “Kurete arigatou” (〜くれてありがとう) is just an extensive version of the casual phrase “arigatou”, but with a little bit more expression of gratitude. You don’t use it on it’s own; it has to be connected to another word — particularly a verb.
For example, your friend did you a solid by helping you finish up an assignment or project. To convey your deepest appreciation for their assistance, you can say “tasukete kurete arigatou (助けてくれてありがとう) which translates to “thank you so much for helping me”.
Remember how we can change “arigatou” to the polite form to use for higher-ups? Similarly, “kurete arigatou” can be changed into “kurete arigatou gozaimasu” (くれてありがとうございます) for an extra formal tone.
6. Kansha shimasu (感謝します)
This new phrase, “kansha shimasu” (感謝します) has quite a polite tone to it. Unlike the other phrases before, this way of thanking someone is more often used for writing rather than saying it. You’ll usually see it in a business setting like sending emails or letters.
A lot of them can start off with “itsumo sapotto shiteitadaki, kansha shimasu” (いつもさーポッとしていただき、感謝します). The sentence translates to “thank you for your continued support”. So next time when you send a work email, you can consider using this phrase for a touch of politeness.
7. Osoreirimasu (恐れ入ります)
Another phrase in the formal mix of the thank you phrases in Japanese is “osoreirimasu” (恐れ入ります). You don’t really hear this a lot — not every day casually, not even every day in the office. In fact, out of all the thank you phrases on this list, this would have to be the most formal one of them all.
This form of thank you pops up in the most formal situations like meetings. It’s quite comparable to “sumimasen”, but with a few level-ups. “Sumimasen” can be used to apologise but “osoreirimasu” cannot — it’s only used to acknowledge the trouble someone has gone through for you.
Best not say it to your friends or family — reserve it for your customers and bosses. Use it sparingly, I’d say, so you can impress them when the time comes.
8. Azasu (あざす)
In the other category of thank you phrases, we have the slang ones. “Azasu” (あざす) is definitely classified as that. Try saying “arigatou gozaimasu” fast enough and you’ll get this slang phrase.
Just like any of the other slang phrases, keep it among your friends and family. It has quite a casual and light tone — I’d say it’s the most casual. Younger crowds use it more often. Definitely avoid using this with your boss or colleagues, even — maybe if you’re close with them and of the same social status, then it’s probably fine.
9. Sumanai (すまない)
The previous phrase is the slang version of “arigatou gozaimasu”. Of course, we need to have a slang version of “sumimasen” — and that’s “sumanai” (すまない). More often than not, guys are the ones using this phrase to express their thanks. It’s not really a gendered phrase, but usually, if a girl uses it, they’re perceived to have a slightly harsher tone.
10. Otsukaresama (お疲れ様)
Last but definitely not the least is “otsukaresama” (お疲れ様). This phrase doesn’t have just one meaning — it’s extremely flexible. One of the ways people use this phrase is to thank someone, especially to thank them for all the hard work they have done. This phrase is great because you can use it with anyone — friends, family, superiors and co-workers.
It’s usually said at the end of a long day of hard work, kind of like a subtle pick-me-up for the other party. Sometimes this can be used as a greeting by acknowledging their hard work before starting a conversation.
And there you have it — the top 10 ways to say thank you, covering all sorts of situations from the casual to the formal. Who knew the Japanese have various phrases for different settings. So next time when your first reaction is to say “arigatou”, quickly run through this list of Japanese phrases and pick the one that’s best for the situation — and impress everyone!