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Aisatsu greetings in Japanese

Author Anna Baffa Volpe for article 'Aisatsu greetings in Japanese'

Anna Baffa Volpe

15 min reading time

こんにちは!

Here we are today with some of the most common and widely used expressions in the Japanese language: these are the (あい)(さつ) aisatsu, greetings and pleasantries.

The concept of greeting in Japanese culture is different and in many ways deeper than in other cultures. In the Western world we use greetings when we meet a person, either out of politeness or habit.

In Japan, the Aisatsu expresses importance and recognition towards the person to whom it is directed..

You will see that some forms of greeting are not easily translatable into Western languages.


Origin of the word "Aisatsu"

The first Kanji of the word for greetings is (あい) and translates the concept of approaching, drawing near and the second kanji (さつ) refers to something imminent and close.

Both Kanji contain the element representing the ideogram () hand, arm in its radical function of the Kanji, i.e. the element that gives us information about the nature, gender or category of the ideogram.

Good morning - おはようございます

O hayō gozaimasu Good morning

The first greeting of the morning, as soon as you wake up or when greeting a person you meet during the morning time slot until lunchtime.

Expression from the い adjective (はや)い adjective hayai fast, which we also translate as adverb soon, in advance.

The term ございます gozaimasu is a polite auxiliary verb, we find in various expression of greeting.

The literal translation is: it is early

Thank you very much - ありがとうございます

Arigatō gozaimasu Thank you

A familiar form even among those who do not study the Japanese language, it is the expression used for gratitude: arigatō gozaimasu.

Gratitude is a deep and important word and concept in Japanese culture. Its kanji is (かん)(しゃ) and the verb thank is formed by the Noun 感謝 + the verb do する do, make:

  • (かん)(しゃ) する thank
  • (あい)(さつ) する greet
  • (かい)() する talk, make conversation

Again, the origin of the expression is an い adjective arigatai meaning grateful.

The adjective transcribed in Kanji becomes (あり)(がた)い:

  • 有 indicates being, existing
  • 難い refers to something difficult, hard to find, something rare and precious for which we feel grateful.

In colloquial language we can remove the auxiliary gozaimasu and shorten the expressions to:

  • おはよう!O hayō
  • ありがとう!Arigatō

We can also emphasise the expression ありがとうございます adding どうも: Dōmo arigatō gozaimasu Thank you very much.

If I want to thank for an action that took place and ended in the past, I use the suffix ました, the polite form in the past tense: ありがとうございました, Arigatō gozaimashita.

Don't mention it - どういたしまして

Dō itashimashite Don’t worry about it, my pleasure

どういたししまして is one of the forms in response to thank you that you will often hear, but not everyone prefers this expression. In fact, there are other expressions that are more 'personal' and better express appreciation and gratitude between the parties:

(やく)()てれば(うれ)しいです。

I would be happy if I could be of help.

(よろこ)んでいただけて(しあわ)せです。

I am happy that you are pleased.

Good morning - こんにちは

Konnichi wa Good morning

It translates good morning throughout the day, after lunch until late afternoon.

The word transcribed in kanji becomes (こん)(にち)は and its meaning is the present day, this day, today. For the greeting, the transcription in Hiragana is generally used.

The same term can be read 今日(きょう) kyō meaning today as an adverb and in this case the transcription is with ideograms.

saluti-giapponesi
'Konnichi wa' around the World

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(みな)さん、どうもこんにちは!

  • (みな)さん mina san literally means everyone followed by the honorific suffix さん.
  • (みな)(さま) mina sama instead uses the honorific prefix さま and is mostly used at the formal written level
  • どうも dōmo is another aisatsu, versatile and used in various situations: in this case emphasises the greeting "konnichi wa"

Good evening - こんばんは

Konban wa Good evening

The kanji for this greeting is (こん)(ばん)は and means this evening; combined with the particle は wa translates the greeting good evening, when used alone it becomes an adverb of time: on this evening, this evening.

Good night - お(やす)みなさい

O yasumi nasai Good night

(やす)yasumi means rest, pause, stay and its verb is (やす)yasumu.

In this expression we find nasai which is a courteous imperative form of する make: have a good rest.

In family, with friends and generally in a confidential context we can simply use おやすみ, O-yasumi.

Pleased to meet you - はじめまして

Hajimemashite Glad to meet you

Whenever we introduce ourselves to a person, whether informally or formally, we use this expression:

(はじ)めまして、()(なか)です。

I'm Tanaka, pleased to meet you.

(はじ)めまして、二コラです。どうぞ(よろ)しく。

I'm Nicola. It’s a pleasure to meet you.

どうぞ(よろ)しくお(ねが)いします to emphasise

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どうぞ(よろ)しくお(ねが)いします。 This expression is used: 1 as an answer to:

  • (はじ)めまして nice to meet you
  • どうぞ(よろ)しくお(ねが)いします nice to meet you 2 emphasises the expression お(ねが)いします o-negai shimasu used when asking a favour from someone どうぞ(よろ)しくお(ねが)いします is thus more courteous and formal when we ask a favour, when we entrust ourselves to a person.

The culture of bowing in Japan

()()(ぶん)() is the culture of the bow

The bowing is intimately connected to the concept of aisatsu. It is a true ritual and follows precise rules in body posture, hand position, tone of voice.

japanesegrammar
The various types of bow in Japanese culture

See you later - いってきます

Ittekimasu See you later, I'm going now

Greeting that a person turns when leaving home, the workplace, and returning to it, to those who remain in the place.

Ittekimasu means I'm going and I will come back.

Expression combining the verb ()く (iku) go in its て form and the verb ()る (kuru) come in its masu polite form.

See you later - いってらっしゃい

Itterasshai See you later

In this case, the person or persons who remain in the place where they are, greet the person or persons who are leaving that place (home, office etc.) to go elsewhere and then return.

In this form, we have the combination of 2 verbs:

  • ()go in the て form and
  • いらっしゃる irassharu, honorific form of go, come, be

いってらっしゃい also implies and means ()()けてね! which is a recommendation to pay attention outside, to be careful.

I'm back - ただいま

Tadaima Here I am, I'm back, I'm home

(あい)(さつ), a greeting used when returning home, to the office, to the place left before.

Tadaima is actually an adverb and means just now, now.

salutigiapponesi
Tadaima! It's me, I'm back

ガチャ: onomatopoeia as in locking / unlocking a door

Welcome back - お(かえ)りなさい

O kaeri nasai Welcome back

The person who stays at home or in the place, greets sayin O-kaeri nasai the person or persons who return.

The verb from which the expression is derived is (かえ)kaeru return, come back. The form used in the expression (かえ)り is the B2 or base in い of the verb, combined with nasai, courteous imperative form of する make, do.

Enjoy your meal - いただきます

Itadakimasu Thank you for the meal

This short term represents a verb, it belongs to the verbs of giving and receiving. In this case, we have (いただ)きます itadakimasu, the polite form of the verb (いただ)itadaku, which means receive, expressed in a humble and modest manner with respect to my interlocutor(s).

I give thanks for the meal I receive, I thank the person who carefully prepared and offered the meal, but my gratitude also extends to Life and Creation who offer me their fruits through water, food, warmth, energy and nature..

Thank you for the meal - ごちそうさまでした

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Go chisō sama deshita Thank you so much for the meal, it was delicious

()(そう) chisō refers to the delicious meal, the delicacy, the meal one offers or receives, the banquet:

  • ()(そう)にする offering the meal to someone
  • ()(そう)になる receive the meal from someone

and さま are two honorific elements (prefix and suffix) that emphasise the value of the noun they refer to, in this case the meal. でした is the past tense of the copula in the polite form, the verb be: it was a great meal.

Please - お(ねが)いします

O negai shimasu is translated in different ways depending on the situation: Please, I have a favor to ask you, I beg you.

(ねが)o-negai expresses the wish, the request, the demand, the prayer up to the supplication. します is the polite form of する.

The informal, colloquial expression is おねがい o-negai.

()()になります - I'm grateful

O sewa ni narimasu: here is one of the expressions that cannot be easily translated into Western languages.

()() sewa is the care, assistance, help, taking care of a person.

  • ()()する taking care of someone
  • ()()になる receiving help, assistance, favor from someone

O sewa ni narimasu thus expresses gratitude towards a person for his presence in some difficult situation, for his support and cooperation: I appreciate your cooperation in advance.

Again, we can use the past form お()()になりました and give thanks for something we received in the past from the person we are addressing: thank you for your help, thank you for everything you have done for me.

よろしく

Yoroshiku! used as single term can be translated as: best regards, please remember me, please treat me favorably.

()(ぞく)(みな)さんによろしく。

Give my love to your family.

If we use the term as it is we are in informal settings, among friends and family and the meaning is I recommend you, I trust you, I am in your hands, I entrust you with this thing to do or solve. We rely on the person for something we have asked, for a favour asked or a problem to be solved.

(よろ)しくお(ねが)いします is the complete and formal expression.

Yoroshiku o-negai shimasu expresses gratitude when we rely on the other person for a need or favour asked. We thank in advance, before the action takes place.

A speaker before beginning a presentation may use this expression to thank in advance for the attention and cooperation of the audience.

The verb do in its polite form します is often replaced by the honorific form (いた)します itashimasu, especially in written form: (よろ)しくお(ねが)(いた)します.

Congratulations - おめでとうございます!

O medetō gozaimasu Congratulations

As with はやい and ありがたい, we have an adjective here: めでたい medetai, meaning happy, joyous, propitious, auspicious.

Welcome - いらっしゃいませ!

Irasshaimase Welcome

salutigiapponesi
Irasshaimase! Welcome!

Irasshaimase is one of the greetings one learns immediately while living in Japan. It is addressed to us every time we enter a shop, restaurant or bar by the staff.

It comes from いらっしゃる irassharu the form of Keigo, which is the honorific language for the verbs be, go, come.

Thank you for waiting - お()たせしました

O matase shimashita. I apologise for keeping you waiting.

  • ()wait
  • ()たせる make you wait is a causative form used when the subject makes someone do something; the verb ends in せる or させる

The expression is formed by:

  • o: honorific prefix
  • matase: causative form
  • the verb suru do in the past polite form

This expression is also used on the phone, when we are on hold and then the operator returns and resumes communication.

salutigiapponesi
(にゅう)()しました! お()たせしました。Goods arrived! Thank you for waiting.

Excuse me - すみません

Sumimasen Excuse me

Expression used in case of meiwaku (めい)(わく), when we annoy or disturb someone.

すみません is a versatile expression: it is used in various situations: on the train to ask to pass, to call the waiter at a restaurant, to catch somebody's attention.

Sorry - ごめんなさい

Gomen nasai Sorry, I'm sorry

It's an informal term for apologizing. It is mostly used with friends, family members, people you are familiar with. It is often shortened to:

  • ごめん!
  • ごめんね!

Excuse me - (しつ)(れい)します

Shitsurei shimasu Sorry, Pardon me

The expression is derived from (しつ)(れい) shitsurei: unkindness, indelicacy.

Using shitsurei means to apologise for an action considered rude or otherwise disruptive.

If I enter an occupied room to get something I use shitsurei shimasu towards the people present; or if I have to interrupt someone while they are talking.

salutigiapponesi
O saki ni shitsurei shimasu!

I'm leaving for today. See you tomorrow - お(さき)(しつ)(れい)します

O saki ni shitsurei shimasu: I'm done for the day. See you tomorrow

Saki ni means before, in advance of others; I use the expression when for example I leave work early or leave the group before others for some reason.

If we apologise for something that happened in a past time we use the polite past tense form of ます i.e. ました:

  • (しつ)(れい)しました: shitsurei shimashita: sorry about that

To emphasise the expression:

  • (たい)(へん)(しつ)(れい)(いた)しました: I'm terribly sorry

もししもし

Moshi moshi Hello

salutigiapponesi
Pronto, sono io...

Phrase that is used particularly when answering the phone.

The expression is also used to call attention and make sure the person is listening: Are you there?, Can you hear me?

See you soon - またね

Mata ne See you later, See you next time

It is an informal greeting, thus used between friends and in the context of family.

salutigiapponesi
Sayonara: see you again, goodbye!

()()(しょう)(かい) - Self introduction: dialogues and advices

Here are some short phrases we can use when introducing ourselves to a person for the first time. We generally use a pattern consisting of 3 elements:

  • (あい)(さつ) aisatsu first element indicating the greeting.
  • ()(まえ) namae one's name
  • (あい)(さつ) aisatsu the second greeting

えいこ

はじめまして、えいこです。よろしく。

I'm Eiko. Pleased to meet you.

リンダ

はじめまして、リンダです。よろしく。

I'm Linda. It’s a pleasure to meet you.

In translation we only use the expression nice to meet you once, in Japanese we have the second greeting which emphasises the expression. Another example:

あきら

どうも。(はじ)めまして、あきらです。よろしく。

Hello. I'm Akira. Pleasure to meet you.

マイケル

どうも。(はじ)めまして、マイケルです。よろしく。

Hello. I'm Michael. It’s a pleasure to meet you.

These are simple sentences that we can use to introduce ourselves in a ()(ぜん), natural way. On the other hand, we do not use the greeting こんにちは in introductions, nor the subject わたしは, which would, on the contrary, be ()()(ぜん), unnatural. (よろ)しく is used singularly in informal situations, but if the occasion requires a more polite form we can complete the expression saying (よろ)しくお(ねが)いします。

松本

(はじ)めまして、(まつ)(もと)です。(よろ)しくお(ねが)いします。

My name is Matsumoto. Pleased to meet you.

ジョンソン

(はじ)めまして、ジョンソンです。(よろ)しくお(ねが)いします。

My namw is Johnson. Pleased to meet you.

In a presentation, it is not necessary to state one's country of origin. Our interlocutor will eventually ask for it.

あきら

どちらの(かた)ですか。

Where do you come from?

マイケル

カナダから()ました。

I'm from Canada.

Another important element for Japonese when introducing oneself is the word (しょ)(ぞく): the organisation one belongs to, which can be the school, the university and the university faculty or the company one works for.

前田

(はじ)めまして、(すみ)(とも)(しょう)()(まえ)()です。(よろ)しくお(ねが)いします。

I am Maeda from Sumitomo Corporation. It’s a pleasure to meet you.

We complete our self introduction with と申します instead of です and the expression is perfect in a professional and formal context.

寺本

(はじ)めまして、パナソニック(かぶ)(しき)(がい)(しゃ)(てら)(もと)(もう)します。(よろ)しくお(ねが)いします。

Hello, I am Teramoto from Panasonic Corporation. It's a pleasure to meet you.


We could go on much further into the nuances of aisatsu in the Japanese language.

Here is an intersting audio from a Japanese video that analyses the importance of Aisatsu and identifies 3 main points in the use of Aisatsu.

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1.(あい)(さつ)とは(こころ)(ひら)くこと、2.(あい)(さつ)とは()きてることを(かん)(しゃ)()うこと、3.(あい)(さつ)とは(あい)()(はん)(おう)()(はか)るもの。

1: greetings are a way of opening our hearts; 2: greetings are a way of expressing our gratitude for being alive; 3: greetings are about guessing the other person's reaction.

Enjoy studying and exploring this beautiful language!

(げん)()(がん)()って(くだ)さいね!

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