Planning a trip to Japan? Interested in learning Japanese? Then you have come to the right place.
Although a lot of people are already familiar with the word arigatou, there are more ways to say thank you in Japanese. I will be sharing different ways to say thank you, as well as explaining the meaning of the word itself, which might help to give you a better idea of Japanese culture.
The History of Arigatou
First of all, I would like to briefly share the meaning of arigatou. Arigatou, written as 有難う in Chinese characters, is comprised of two words: 有+ 難う. 有 (aru) means “being/existence,” and 難う (難しい – muzukashii) means “difficult” in English. There is an interesting story about the origin of this word.
One day, the Buddha asked his pupil what he thought about the fact that he was born as a human. The pupil replied, “I am very glad.” The Buddha asked, “How glad are you?” The pupil was stuck for an answer. The Buddha then explained how difficult it was to be born as a human, and used a blind turtle as a comparison to make his point.
This blind turtle, living at the bottom of the sea, surfaces for air only once every 100 years. It is said that there is a piece of driftwood with a hole in it which floats on the surface of the vast sea. The chances of being born human, the Buddha shared, are smaller than the chances of this blind turtle emerging on the surface every century and popping his head exactly into where the hole in the piece of driftwood is.
And so, keeping in mind the idea that being born human is an unlikely event, we have to appreciate how lucky we are. With the word arigatou, we use it to show gratitude and appreciation to someone who did something nice, considering their kindness as a rare gift to be cherished, just as our very existence is to be treasured.
Ways to Say Thank You in Japanese
1. ありがとうございます(arigatou gozaimasu): The Formal Way to Say Thank You
First of all, I want to mention the formal way of saying thank you, arigatou gozaimasu.
Arigatou said on its own is a casual way to say thanks. The combination of “thank you (arigatou)” + the polite verb (gozaimasu) makes this expression more formal.
Gozaimasu is actually a verb that means “to exist, or to be.” It is used with other words or phrases to make polite expressions.
It’s appropriate to say arigatou gozaimasu when you want to show your gratitude formally. You can use this phrase to people in superior positions, such as your boss, people who are older than you, and so on.
Also, when you go to restaurants and stores, you will hear this said by employees, as it is custom for them to show their appreciation for their customers’ patronage using polite expressions.
Since arigatou gozaimasu is not a casual way to say thank you, you won’t need to use it when you hang out with close friends.
Also keep in mind that gozaimasu is a verb in the present tense, so it is used when actions are currently taking place. For example, when you go shopping, you might encounter a conversation similar to the one that follows:
Staff: Irasshaimase. Sonoe shatsu, shichaku saremasu ka?
Staff: Arigatou gozaimasu. Kochira e douzo.
Staff: Welcome. Would you like to try that shirt on?
You: Yes, please.
Staff: Thank you. Please come this way.
いらっしゃいませ – (irasshaimase): welcome
しちゃく – (shichaku): to try on
おねがいします – (onegaishimasu): please
こちら – (kochira): here
So, now, how to say thank you formally if the action happened in the past? You just have to change the form of ます (masu) to ました (mashita), which is the past tense of “be”/”being”. Arigatou gozaimashita is used when the action has already been completed.
For example, if you’ve already paid the bill and you’re about to leave a restaurant, you will hear “Arigatou gozaimashita!” from a waiter.
2. どうもありがとうございます(doumo arigatou gozaimasu)/ どうもありがとう(doumo arigatou): Emphasizing Your Appreciation
Doumo means “very”/ “truly” in English. When you really want to show appreciation to someone, you can add doumo in front of arigatou/arigatou gozaimasu.
If you want to express your deepest appreciation to someone, you can add ほんとうに (hontou ni) before arigatou gozaimasu.
Ex: Hontou ni arigatou gozaimasu (formal)
Hontou ni arigatou (casual).
近所の人 (きんじょのひと) ：こんにちは。これ、頂きもののりんごなので、よかったらどうぞ。
Kinjo no hito: Konnichiwa. Kore, itadakimono no ringo na node, yokattara douzo.
Anata: Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.
Neighbor: Hi, there. Here are some apples I was given. If you’d like, please have some.
You: Thank you very much.
ごきんじょさん – (go-kinjo-san): neighbor
いただきもの – (itadakimono): something you received from someone
りんご – (ringo): apple
どうぞ – (douzo): please, go ahead
3. ありがとう (arigatou)/どうも (doumo) – Arigatou: The Casual Way to Say Thank You
Arigatou is a casual way to express thanks and might be the most frequently-used among all of the ways to say thank you.
I explained before that doumo means “very”, but on its own, doumo can be interpreted as “thank you”. So, when you want to express your thanks casually, you can use doumo.
For example, at the grocery store, the dialogue between a customer and the cashier can be filled with doumo.
It’s acceptable to use it when you feel close to someone, or even if you want to say thank you to someone you’ve met for the first time. Keep in mind, though, that this phrase is quite casual, so it would be inappropriate to use in a business setting.
4. すみません (sumimasen): Apologizing and Expressing Thanks at the Same Time
Most Japanese language learners know that sumimasen is a word which translates as “I’m sorry” or “Excuse me.” In Japan, phrases used for apologizing can be used to show appreciation, as well. This may stem from the twinge of guilt one feels when another person goes out of their way to do something kind for them.
Sumimasen includes the feeling of thanks but also expresses the Japanese way of being concerned for others. It is particularly used in situations in which a stranger has helped you out, or shown kindness to you. In such cases, you would use sumimasen rather than arigatou.
Or, both words could be used together: “Sumimasen, arigatou gozaimasu.”
Check out the example dialogue below:
You’re walking onto the train with a lot of bags, and someone stands up to offer you their seat.
In this case, you could tell that person “sumimasen” to express your gratitude. This person went to the trouble of giving up their seat for you, so saying sumimasen gives off a feeling of “sorry to inconvenience you, but I appreciate your kindness.”
Let’s look at a couple of quick examples:
Tsuukonin: Kore, ochimashita yo!
Anata: Sumimasen, arigatou gozaimasu.
Passenger: You dropped this!
You: Thank you so much.
If someone inside an elevator holds down the “open” button for you as you approach, then it would be polite to say sumimasen in thanks.
Sumimasen vs. Arigatou Gozaimasu
A general rule of thumb is this: If someone goes out of their way to do something for you, especially if they are not obligated to do so, use sumimasen (a neighbor helps you carry your new couch into your house, someone buys your train ticket when you don’t have enough money, etc.).
Don’t worry about this too much though. The most important thing is just to say thank you, in any way that you can. While there are situations where sumimasen would sound more natural than arigatou, don’t get caught up in trying to choose the “best” word. You can use either sumimasen or arigatou in any situation to express your gratefulness. People will appreciate it 🙂
5. おせわになりました(osewa ni narimashita)
Osewa ni narimashita is another way to say thank you. It’s in the past tense (narimashita), so it’s used after an action has been taken. Different from sumimasen, osewa ni narimashita is used with someone who you became close to, or who has been taking care of you for a particular period in your life.
Here are some people with which the use of this phrase is appropriate:
◆ Someone who worked in the same department as you at work and helped you out.
◆ A neighbor who you became close to
◆A nurse who took care of you while you recovered from an injury or illness.
As demonstrated above, osewa ni narimashita is said to someone with whom you’ve spent a particular period of time, experienced a shared situation with, or with whom you’ve done business. As it sounds a bit formal, you wouldn’t need to use it with close friends.
The present tense of this phrase is osewa ni narimasu. This is the phrase often used in business settings. For example, when business phone calls are answered, osewa ni narimasu is said after the caller has mentioned their company name, along with their name.
Also, when messages are sent to clients, this phrase is almost always used as the greeting.
6. おそれいります(osore irimasu)
Osore means “fear.” In Japan, there is a known proverb: the customer is God (kami-sama). The use of osore irimasu is a phrase which upholds this idea.
This phrase can be used in a business or formal setting to someone who has performed a favor for the speaker. It’s used exclusively in a formal way to express thanks for someone doing you a favor.
Let’s take a look at the below conversation for an example.
Dialogue: Calling a travel agency to inquire about your trip.
Anata: Ashita no furaito ni kan shite shitsumon na no desu ga.
Tantousha: Yoyaku bangou o ukagai dekimasu ka?
Anata: Hai, 6542643 desu.
Tantousha: Osore irimasu. Shoushou omachi kudasaimase.
You: I have a question regarding my flight tomorrow.
Agency: May I have your confirmation number?
You: Yes, it’s 6542643.
Agency: Thank you, one moment please.
しつもん – (shitsumon): question
よやくばんごう – (yoyakubangou): confirmation number
しょうしょう – (shoushou): a moment
In this case, the agency representative used osore irimasu to express appreciation for the customer’s time and actions. Because of it’s formal and polite nuance, osore irimasu is often used by businesses when speaking to their customers.
Other Ways to Say Thank You
Ookini is used in the kansai region of Japan. Although it is said that the younger generation doesn’t use it often, it’s a word that you’ll likely hear many times if you visit the area. Ookini’s original meaning came from ookii(大きい), “great/big.”
8. あざっす(azassu) Japanese slang
A short form of arigatou gozaimasu. This is a really casual phrase you can use with friends, even if they’re older than you.
So now you know that there are many more ways to say thank you in Japanese than arigatou, and, hopefully, you’ve gotten to soak up a bit of Japanese culture, as well. Hope you liked the lesson and learned something new today!
Enjoy your visit or your stay in Japan, and try using these phrases with people when they do kind things for you. It will definitely make them happy!