Polite Japanese phrases you must know

Considered the world’s most polite country, Japan is particularly known to have a strict code of etiquette and unwritten social rules that are reflected in their language. The culture of omotenashi (Japanese hospitality), which combines exquisite politeness and the desire for harmony, is also a way of life in the Land of the Rising Sun. Here are some of the polite Japanese phrases used and exchanged in everyday life.

Yoroshiku onegaishimasu

In business situations, use this phrase as a part of your introduction if you want someone to treat you well and take care of your needs in the future. Roughly translated as, “Please treat me kindly” in formal settings, the more casual equivalent of “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu” is “Dozo yoroshiku”. It means both “Please” and “Thank you”. This is also considered a magical phrase to soften requests and a sincere way of expressing gratitude.

Otsukaresama desu

While there’s no direct translation, this polite phrase means, “Thank you for your hard work” to show appreciation of one’s perseverance and contributions. It is usually heard in the workplace during work hours and when you’re about to leave and call it a day. Big bosses might say, “Gokurosama”, which has the same meaning but directed to a subordinate and in this case, “Otsukaresama desu” would be the appropriate response.

Ganbarimashou

From the root word, “ganbaru”, which means to persevere, “Ganbatte” is used to wish someone good luck in any given situation. However, if you’re in a business partnership or a team working towards the same goal, it’s better to say, “Ganbarimashou”, which means, “Let’s do it together!”

Itadakimasu / Gochisousama desu

The standard phrase before a meal, “Itadakimasu” comes from the verb, “itadaku”, a humble way of saying, to eat and receive. The person who prepared the meal would reply, “Douzo meshiagare” which means, “Please help yourself.”

After the meal, guests can show their appreciation by saying, “Gochisousama desu”, which is uttered by guests to express great appreciation toward those who had to run, gather, harvest, and prepare the food being presented to them. You can also say it to the restaurant staff or a friend who treated you.

Ojamashimasu / Irrashaimase

When you enter someone’s home for the first time, it’s polite to say, “Ojamashimasu”, which roughly means, “I’m afraid I’m going to bother you.”  On the other hand, when entering establishments, such as convenient stores, izakaya (pubs) and restaurants, the staff members shout “Irrashaimase” in unison to welcome guests politely and enthusiastically. In this case, a response isn’t expected.

Ittekimasu / Itterasshai

Before leaving one’s home or workplace, the Japanese don’t say “Sayonara”, which is not commonly used in everyday conversations. Instead, locals say “ittekimasu” to those who will be left behind. The closest literal translation is “I’ll go now and come back later”. A more universal equivalent would be “See you later!” The appropriate response is “Itterasshai” to send someone off and wish them a good time.

Tadaima / Okaeri

A personal favorite, “Tadaima!” is the shortened version of “Tadaima kaerimashita”, which translates to “I’m home” or “I am back safely”. This exchange happens between the people who arrive and people at home, who would respond with, “Okaeri”, the polite version of “okaerinasai” that simply means “Welcome home” or “You have finally returned, welcome back” – a thoughtful, heartwarming way to tell your loved ones that you’ve been waiting and hoping for their safe return.

What do you think and feel about these Japanese phrases? Are there similar ones in your language? Share them with us!

CATEGORIES /

Jenie Gabriel

The author

Jenie Gabriel

Jenie creates and coordinates content for Gengo's marketing team. Originally from the Philippines, she was an advertising creative in Singapore before moving to Tokyo. In her spare time, you’ll find her wandering around the city or planning her next escapade.

  • Richard Birecki

    Japanese are simply the most polite people on earth, there is no doubt that. Omotenashi is the Answer as to why Japan Win the Gold Medal in Politeness hope you enjoy.

  • Superalias

    From a translator: “Omotenashi” is a generic word for “hospitality”. It does not mean some special “Japanese hospitality”.

    (There is indeed plenty of fine hospitality here in Japan. And everywhere else in the world.)


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