“Konnichiwa” Sounds Awkward.How to Say Hello in Japanese : I’m sure this is probably one of the first, if not THE first, words you learned in Japanese. “Konnichiwa” (こんにちは) is a popular enough phrase that even a lot of people who don’t know a lick of Japanese know this one (and maybe “sayonara” and “arigatou”).
“Konnichiwa” Sounds Awkward.How to Say Hello in Japanese
Most people know that “konnichiwa” translates to “hello.” But did you know that you can’t always use it to say hello? Sometimes “konnichiwa” will sound awkward to a native speaker.
So let’s look at how to use “konnichiwa” properly, and give you some good alternatives for other situations.
When “Konnichiwa” Sounds Awkward
“Konnichiwa” is a great phrase to learn when you first start Japanese. It kind of combines the two greetings “hello” and “good day.” It technically has kanji (今日は), which, if you are familiar with kanji, you may notice mean “today” (今日, きょう). It works at any level of formality, and you can use it as a standard greeting across the board.
Except! When it isn’t daytime. That’s right, saying “konnichiwa” in the morning (generally before noon) or in the evening (starting around 5-6 pm) will sound incredibly awkward if you are speaking with a native Japanese speaker. So really, you only get a bit of time during the day to say “konnichiwa.”
It may also sound awkward if you use it to greet your friends. It’s technically appropriate, but it is a bit more formal than you may want to be with your friends.
What Do I Say In The Morning?
Your go-to phrase for saying “hello” in the morning will be “Ohayou gozaimasu” (おはようございます). This is actually a really fun phrase grammatically, because it’s in a super fancy, super formal grammar pattern that sounds really complicated, but literally means “It’s early” (the “ohayou” part comes from the adjective “hayai” or 早い, which just means “early”). We can just translate it as “Good morning.”
This phrase is great for more formal situations, and can easily be taken down to a less formal level by removing “gozaimasu.” It’s perfectly fine to greet your friends in the morning with a simple “Ohayou!”
I’ve said that this phrase is mostly used before noon, but I’ve seen a few other sources that put 10 am as the time for when you can switch to “konnichiwa.” In my experience, the Japanese people I worked with didn’t really have a hard line for when it was appropriate to switch, but a lot would use “Ohayou gozaimasu” up to noon. Japanese people I knew joked about how hard it was to know when to switch, just like people who speak English joke when they accidentally say “Good morning” after noon.
What Do I Say In The Evening?
In the evening, you can switch to “Konbanwa” (こんばんは). You might notice this is pretty similar to “konnichiwa,” and the kanji supports that (今晩は), trading out the character for “day” with the one for “evening.” We would translate this as “Good evening.”
As soon as the sun starts going down, you can say this. In Japan, the sometimes sets really early (I’m talking like 4-5 pm), so you can say this one in the late afternoon as well and no one will be bothered by it.
You might have heard the phrase “Oyasumi nasai” (お休みなさい) to say “Good night.” Just like English, this isn’t really a greeting, but you can use it when leaving later at night. This one can be made less formal by dropping “nasai” and simply saying “Oyasumi.”
What Can I Say With Friends?
There are a few informal ways to say “hello.” The first is just smooshing together the sounds of “konnichiwa” and saying “konchiwa.” I heard this a lot from high schoolers in Japan, even when talking to people older than them. High schoolers are like that.
I’ve also heard a lot of girls use “Yaho!” to greet friends.. If you’re a guy, you can say “Yo!” or, my favorite, “Ossu.” It’s probably good to note that “ossu” is only used between male friends, but that never stopped me. I play my foreigner card to use that one as a woman because it’s just fun to say (Please note: I only use it jokingly with friends I know really well. Being a gaikokujin can only get you out of so much).
As far as the other phrases, shortening and slurring them are pretty easy ways to make them casual.
Other Things to Remember
BOW. A greeting should ALWAYS be accompanied with a bow. Even if you’re greeting friends and it’s just a head nod. You gotta bow.
Also, remember that some situations have their own specific greetings. Phone calls are a good example of this. If you need help with phone etiquette and phrases, check out this article here.
And if you’re struggling with which greeting to use with which person, do your best to read the air and use their level of formality to judge your own.
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