Japanese Greetings and Good-Byes

3 of 10 in Series: The Essentials of Japanese Words and Phrases for Traveling

When traveling in Japan, the words and phrases you'll use most frequently will be the common Japan greetings (gashi). These Japanese greetings and good-byes will quickly become second nature because you use them day in and day out with everyone you come across.

In Japan, greetings are given great importance. It is considered rude to fail to greet someone or even to greet them in a lazy or offhand manner. The most common ways to greet someone in Japan are:

  • Konnichiwa (Hi; Good afternoon.)

  • Ohayō gozaimasu/ Ohayō (Good morning [formal/informal])

  • Konbanwa (Good evening)

    Say Ohayō gozaimasu to your superior instead of Ohayō. And don't forget to bow when you greet him.

As you've probably noticed, people in Japan also greet each other by bowing. A small head nod is a considered casual and is used when greeting family or friends. When greeting a superior, it is a sign of respect to use a deep, longer bow: roughly a 90-degree bend at the waist. Most Japanese people don't expect foreign travelers to understand bowing etiquette and so will usually accept a nod of the head or a handshake.

How are you? How's it going? How many times a day do you hear or say these brief greetings at the beginning of your conversations? So many times, in fact, that half the time, you don't even pay attention. These pleasantries are common in Japan as well. The Japanese phrase equivalent to “How are you?” is Genki desu ka, which literally means “Are you well?”

Other common ways to ask how someone is doing are

  • Hajimemashite. (How do you do?)

  • O-genki desu ka. (How are you? [formal])

  • Genki? (How are you? [informal])

  • Maiku-san wa? (How about you, Mike?)

As you'd expect, when someone asks you how you're doing, there are many possible responses.

  • Hai, genki desu. (Yes, I'm fine.)

  • Ē, māmā desu. (Well, so-so.)

  • Hai, watashi mo genki desu. (Yes, I'm fine, too.)

    The particle mo in Watashi mo genki desu means "also."

There are also many ways to say goodbye.

  • Mata ashita. (See you tomorrow.)

  • Sayōnara. (Goodbye.)

  • Oyasumi nasai. (Good night.)

    Say Shitsurei shimasu when you're parting from your superior. It literal means is "I will be rude," but the general idea is to say "Excuse my rudeness of leaving you."

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The Essentials of Japanese Words and Phrases for Traveling

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