Manners in Japanese can be daunting. It is a language with three levels of formality depending on social standing and the situation the speaker is in. “ありがとう” (Arigatou), or thank you, is one of the first textbook Japanese phrases we are taught. But if you are the one being thanked, what’s the best way to respond? In this article, we will break down ways to say “You’re welcome” in Japanese by the level of their formality. But let’s start with the phrase we have probably all been taught.
1. どういたしまして (Douitashi mashite)
If you’ve ever taken a Japanese class, this is probably the phrase that you learned. “どういたしまして” (Douitashi mashite) is translated most often to “you’re welcome.” It’s a great phrase to use with your friends, family, and peers. However, even though it contains two polite forms 「致す」(-itasu) and 「ます」(-masu), “どういたしまして” is not typically used in a business or formal situation. Manner Lab (Japanese only) explains that this is because the phrase has a “carefree nuance.” It might come across as high-handed from the perspective of a boss or possible customer.
For example, if you treat your Japanese friend to a drink, and they say “ありがとう,” it’s alright to respond with “どういたしまして.” On the other hand, if you’re out for an office dinner party and your Japanese boss is the one who’s thanking you, it might be better to use a more formal phrase.
Let’s discuss some other options for receiving thanks in Japanese. We will start with the more business-friendly phrases.
Formal Ways to Say You’re Welcome in Japanese
2. とんでもないことでございます。 (Tondemo Nai Koto De Gozaimasu)
This phrase literally translates to “not at all.” It carries the same nuance as “it was my pleasure” and is often used in business situations. “とんでもないことでございます” can be shortened to the more comfortable “とんでもないです” (ton demo nai desu).
3. 恐縮でございます。 (Kyoushuku Degozaimasu.)
“恐縮でございます” (kyoushuku de gozaimasu) has a couple of different meanings. It is a deeply humble phrase and implies that the person being addressed has shown the speaker great kindness. In the case of using it to say you’re welcome, it means that the speaker is honored that someone thanked them. As with “とんでもないでございます” (ton demo nai de gozaimasu), this phrase can be shorted to “恐縮です” (kyoushuku desu).
4. 恐れ入ります。 (Osore Irimasu.)
Much like “恐縮です,” this phrase has multiple meanings depending on when and how it’s used. Literally translated, it means “filled with awe/fear.” This gives the phrase a nuance of humility. It is ideal for expressing or receiving gratitude in a formal situation.
5. お力になれて幸いです。 (Ochikara Ni Narete Saiwai Desu.)
This phrase is concise and useful if you want to convey how happy you were to have helped someone. “お力になれ” (ochikara ni nare) is literally “to be your strength.” “幸い” (saiwai) means “happy.” The meaning of this sentence is, “I’m happy I could be your strength.” While this is quite a polite phrase often used in e-mails, it is an elegant way to accept someone’s thanks and add that you were happy to help.
6. お役に立てて、光栄です。 (O Yaku Ni Tate Te, Kouei Desu.)
If you wish to convey that you were happy to help, this is the phrase for you. 役に立つ (yaku ni tatsu) means to be useful. The phrase “光栄です” (kouei desu) means deeply honored, so this phrase literally translates to, “I’m deeply honored to have been useful.” The English equivalent is, “I’m delighted to have been of service.”
7. お手伝いできてよかったです。(Otetsudai Dekite Yokatta Desu.)
In my personal experience, this phrase is more commonly used in written Japanese as opposed to spoken. It bears the same nuance as “お役に立てて” (oyaku ni tate te). This phrase also means, “I’m happy I could help,” with “手伝い” literally meaning to help/lend a hand.
8. お気にさらないでください。(O Ki Ni Saranaide Kudasai.)
When you use お気にさらないでください or its less formal counterpart 気にしないでください (ki ni shinaide kudasai), you’re saying, “Don’t mention it” or “Please, it’s not a big deal.”
Using the form “さらないで” (saranaide) makes this phrase quite formal, but the lesser “しないで” (shinaide) version is acceptable among friends and peers. You do not need to say “ください” (kudasai) with people you are close to; saying, “きにしないで” (ki ni shinaide) or “気にしなくていいよ” (ki ni shinakute ii yo) is fine.
Casual Ways to Say You’re Welcome
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, “どういたしまして” (douitashi mashite) is actually a casual way to say “you’re welcome.” The phrase dates back to the Edo Period. According to Career Picks (Japanese only), “どういたしまして” (douitashi mashite) meant: “I haven’t done much for you, so please don’t mind.”
Aside from “どういたしまして,” here are a few more casual ways to say “you’re welcome.”
9. こちらこそ、ありがとう。 (Kochira Koso, Arigatou.)
Saying, “こちらこそ、ありがとう” implies that the person who thanked you has done something you’re grateful for as well. It’s a lot like the English phrase, “No, thank you.” This is a polite and pleasant way to receive thanks from an acquaintance or a neighbor you might not know very well. If you want to use this phrase more informally, you can use a shortened version, “こっちこそ、ありがとう” (kochi koso, arigatou).
10. いいえいいえ/いえいえ。 (Iie Iie/Ie Ie.)
The final and most informal response on our list means literally, “No, no.” This should not be used in formal or business situations; you don’t want to refute the thanks of a customer or a boss. However, among friends and family members, this is a short yet sweet way of saying, “You’re welcome.”
You’re Welcome in Other Dialects
Did you know that Japanese has 47 dialects? That’s one for each prefecture. Individual prefectures in Japan each have unique cultures and traditions. This could be compared to the phrase “you guys” in American English and its more southern counterpart, “y’all.”
It should be noted that using dialects isn’t proper in a business or formal situation. You should use ひょうじゅんご (hyoujungo – “standard Japanese”) for these situations. Still, if you want to impress your Japanese friends, why not try saying “You’re welcome” in the dialect of their hometowns? Here are some common examples from famous Japanese dialects.
Japan’s northernmost prefecture, Hokkaido, has a dialect that is considered “cute.” Many basic phrases in Hokkaido’s dialect or 北海道弁 (Hokkaido-ben) are well-known.
“You’re welcome” isn’t one of them, so you’ll probably surprise Hokkaido natives if you use it. The Hokkaido dialect for “You’re welcome” is “なんもなんも” (nanmo, nanmo). You could also shorten this phrase and say the word なんも (nanmo) once.
Maybe you’ve heard of the infamous Japanese 関西弁 (Kansai-ben). Kansai, or the area containing tourist hotspots such as Osaka and Kyoto, is famous for its heavily-accented dialect.
Many famous Osakan comedians use the Kansai dialect, so many Japanese people use it to make jokes or light-hearted conversation. “You’re welcome” in Kansai’s dialect is “かまへん” (kamahen), or “ええから” (ee kara).
The Okinawan islands in Japan’s southernmost territory have a particularly unique dialect. It might not even sound Japanese to you…and that’s because it isn’t. Okinawa was once its own country called “The Ryukyu Kingdom.”
It had its own language and its own culture, both of which are still strongly present in the islands today. Saying “You’re welcome” in the Okinawan dialect might be difficult, and anyone who isn’t from Okinawa will probably not understand you. But you’ll definitely make your Okinawan friends happy. “You’re welcome” in Okinawan is “ぐぶりーさびたん” (guburii sabitan).
Although we’ve been taught in Japanese class that the way to say “You’re welcome” is “どういたしまして” (douitashi mashite), there are a great variety of ways to accept thanks from your Japanese peers. It is important to remember that although many of us learn “どういたしまして” as the go-to phrase, it is not technically the politest way of saying “You’re welcome.”
A safer phrase to use in a formal situation might be “とんでもないです” (tondemo nai desu) or even “恐縮です” (kyoushuku desu).
I hope this article has helped you find a better understanding of how to accept gratitude in Japanese.
Thank you for reading!