DOMO and ARIGATO: What’s the difference? : Hmm. This can be a bit confusing since it has the same message! But as every good Japanese student knows, politeness is a huge part of Japanese culture and is usually expressed through the use of different levels of Japanese.

Thank you ありがとう, Expression of various appreciation in Japanese
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Domo どうも versus Arigatou ありがとう

EnglishJapaneseWhen/who to use it with
Thanksどうも DoumoVery casual- Close friends, close family
Thank you / Thanks a lotありがとう・どうもありがとう Arigatou/ Doumo ArigatouCasual but polite-Friends, family, close colleagues
Thank youありがとうございます Arigatou GozaimasuSimple and polite-Strangers, older people
Thank you very muchどうもありがとうございますDoumo Arigatou GozaimasuPolite-Colleagues 
Thank you for your trouble/troubling youすみませんSumimasenPolite-Strangers, colleagues
Thank you for your troublesおそれいれますOsore iremasuVery polite(in a very formal company)-Colleagues, superiors

People who have been to Japan know how polite Japanese people are, especially to foreigners. There is a very big difference between being polite and being kind. Luckily, most people in Japan are both and are very respectful at the same time. For people who have been exposed to many Japanese people, paying a bit more attention to the way Japanese people speak depending or who they’re talking to can make a world of a difference when it comes to honing your sensitivity to the different forms of Japanese. Similarly to English, there are informal, formal, and business versions of almost any Japanese phrase you can think of.

Japanese students are aware of the three main politeness levels in Japanese and how their usage depends on who you are talking to. There are three main politeness levels namely the plain polite form (くだけた: kudaketa), the polite form (ていねい: teinei), and the advanced polite form (けいご: keigo). This can be applied to when you are showing your appreciation to someone by thanking them, but which form should be used in what situation with what type of people? This is quite important information because of how this can definitely have an effect on how people see you and your relationships with Japanese people as well. Hopefully, we can discuss this through this short article.

Arigatou and its origin 

Firstly, let’s take a look at the kanji, arigatou gozaimasu is usually spelled out using hiragana but it does, in fact, have kanji characters in it which can help us with understanding it better. The phrase itself is spelled as  有難うございます or “Arigatou gozaimasu” with kanji characters. The kanji consists of two main characters 有る(ある:aru) which means to exist or to be, and 難い(かたい:katai) which means hard or difficult. In the kokugo dictionary or Japanese dictionary, “arigatashi” means “something rare” and eventually ended up meaning “thankful”. 

Different formalities and usage

Let’s get down to business and talk about the difference between the two words. In an informal/casual situation, they technically have a similar form of formality and can be used freely. In other situations however, they should be used with a bit of caution.


Domo in itself is an adverb used similarly to “very” in a formal way. By itself however, it’s actually quite a casual word that is used more often by men compared to women. It somehow has the connotation of “thanks” in a nonchalant, very casual way that is meant to be used with very close friends or family members. If used in a work setting to a colleague or someone of a higher position, this could be a sign of disrespect and unprofessionalism. Stick to using it within your close social circle!


This word actually does mean “thank you”, but in a casual and simple way. Although not recommended to use within the workplace, this word by itself is still considered a more formal compared to Domo and can be used to people you may not know but become in contact with. It can be used with friends, family, strangers, and even a few close colleagues. Again, its usage should still be outside of your workplace because acting too friendly with your colleagues can still show signs of unprofessionalism and might even fall under being きもい (kimoi: gross)! If you would like to express your gratitude to someone in a more eloquent but not super formal way, the best way is to say ”ありがとうございます”(arigatou gozaimasu) instead.

Ways to say thank you in Japanese

We have talked about the main difference between domo and arigatou and although this is the case, there are still many ways to show your gratitude in Japanese! We will list down a few other words/phrases that can help express your thanks or gratitude to someone, depending on the situation.

When it all comes down to it, the place and person you are talking to has a very big impact on which “thank you” you’ll need to use, but just to be safe, go with the simple and polite way! 

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