Most beginner Japanese classes teach you “konnichi wa” or “ogenki desu ka” as ways to greet people, but would you use that in casual conversations with friends? What if you want to play it cool and toss out a casual “‘sup” to your friends instead?
We have just the solution to your problem.
“What’s up” can mean anything from a casual greeting to “how have you been?” to “what’s going on right now?” As versatile as it is, knowing a couple of phrases to replace “what’s up” in Japanese will definitely come in handy.
Please note that just like the English counterpart of “what’s up,” all of the following 8 phrases are rather casual and should not be used in formal situations.
1. よう(Yō), よぉ(Yō), Or よっ(Yo!): Sup
よう(yō) is a casual greeting more commonly used by men. It tends to be used by younger people, though it wouldn’t necessarily be strange if men up to their 50s said it too. It can also be pronounced as よぉ(yō), Or よっ(yo!).
A reply isn’t necessarily needed, but you can always say “yo” back in response, or you could go straight into small talk.
Ken: (Ō, tsuita ka. Kyō no ranchi, nani taberu?)
Ken: Oh, you arrived. What should we grab for lunch today?
2. やっほー (Yahhō): Sup
The version is more commonly used by women and has a slightly cutesy image. Older women tend to avoid using yahhō, as it tends to sound too young.
Similar to よ (yo), a reply isn’t necessary.
1. 恵美: やっほー！
Sora: (Emi-chan, yahhō! Ohisashiburi da ne.)
Sora: What’s up, Emi! It’s been a while.
2. ソラ: やっほー！昨日の宿題やった？
Sora: (Yahhō! Kinō no shukudai yatta? )
Sora: Sup. Did you finish yesterday’s homework?
Shōn: (Iya, mada yattenai yo.)
Shawn: No, I haven’t started yet.
3. 元気？ (Genki): You Good?
The full question is 元気にしてる (genki ni shiteru), or “are you doing well?” This greeting is used when you haven’t seen each other in a while. As you may have noticed, the textbook Japanese “ogenki desu ka?” is another way you could ask this question.
People of any age can use this greeting. But as it is pretty casual, it’s best used with people you know well.
The answer to this is simply yes or no. You can also reply with “元気 (genki)” or “元気だよ (genki da yo)” to say that you have been doing well.
1. ケン: ショーン！久しぶりだね。元気？
Ken: (Shōn! Hisashiburi da ne. Genki?)
Ken: Shawn! Long time no see. You good?
ショーン: うん、元気だよ！ ケンは？
Shōn: (Un, genki dayo! Ken wa? )
Shawn: Mhmm, I’m great. How about you?
2. ショーン: お、ゆかさん！ 元気してた？
Shawn: O, Yuka-san. Genki shiteta?
Shawn: Oh, Yuka. How are you?
Yuka: Iyā, saikin wa chotto…
Yuka: Actually, not so great…
4. 最近どう？ (Saikin Dō): How Have You Been Lately?
This is the equivalent of asking “what’s new?” when you see someone for the first time in a long time. It can be tailored to be slightly more formal by adding desu ka, but even then, it’s still best not to use it with those superior to you.
There are numerous ways to answer, but here are a few examples:
- 最近いい感じだよ！(Saikin ii kanji da yo!): Things are going well!
- まぁまぁだね。(Mā mā da ne): Nothing’s new. / It’s alright.
- あまりついてないね。(Amari tsuitenai ne): It hasn’t been going too well.
Takumi: (Saikin dō yo.)
Takumi: How’ve you been lately?
Shun: (Saikin meccha umaku itteiru yo. Takumi wa?)
Shun: Everything has been going super well recently. You?
5. 今何してる？(Ima Nani Shiteru): What Are You Doing Right Now?
This is commonly used by both genders and all generations, especially over text or messaging. Using the masu form of する will make this question more polite:
(Ima nani shiteimasu ka?)
What are you doing now?
1. ショーン: 今何してるの？
Shōn: (Ima nani shiteru no?)
Shawn: What are you up to right now?
Sora: (Toku ni nannimo!)
Sora: Not much!
2. ケン: 今なにしてんの？
Ken: (Ima nani shiten no?)
Ken: What’s up?
Sora: (Ima eiga wo miteiru yo.)
Sora: I’m watching a movie right now.
6. 調子どう？(Chōshi Dō): How’s it Going?
Like the rest of this list, 調子どう (chōshi dō) is very casual. In addition to friends or coworkers, it’s pretty common to be asked this by those who are superior to you in status (your boss or those older than you).
Ways to answer casually include:
- 悪くないね！(Warukunai ne): Not bad!
- まぁまぁだね。(Mā mā da ne): So-so.
- ぼちぼちだね。 (Bochi bochi da ne): It’s going. / It’s just okay.
To answer formally, all you would have to do is use です (desu) at the end of your reply.
1. 上司: ショーンくん、調子どうだ？
Jōshi: (Shōn-kun, chōshi dō da?)
Boss: Shawn, how’s it going?
Shōn: (Warukunai desu ne, kyō wa.)
Shawn: Not bad today.
2. ショーン: 最近調子どう？
Shōn: (Saikin chōshi dō?)
Shawn: How’s it going?
Miki: (Bochi bochi dane. Socchi wa?)
Miki: It’s going. You?
7. 今暇？/ 今忙しい？(Ima Hima? / Ima Isogashii?): Are You Free / Busy Now?
This means “what’s up” or “what are you up to” when preluding an invitation to do something. It’s also commonly asked over text.
Though casual, this can be tailored to more formal situations (such as at work) by adding お (o) and です (desu) like this:
(Ima oisogashii desu ka?)
Are you busy at the moment?
Alternatively, you can also ask:
(Ima sukoshi ojikan arimasu ka?)
Do you have some time right now?
Important: Even when adding desu, the term 暇 (hima) should be avoided at work as you do not want to imply your coworker or bosses are slacking.
1. ショーン: 先輩、今お忙しいですか。
Shōn: (Senpai, ima oisogashii desu ka?)
Shawn: Senpai, are you busy right now?
Senpai: Ūn, dōshita no?
Senior coworker: No, what’s up?
2. ケン: ショーン、今暇？ ごはん行かない？
Ken: (Shōn, ima hima? Gohan ikanai?)
Ken: Shawn, are you free right now? Want to grab some food?
Shōn: (Ii yo, juppun inai ni ikeru yo.)
Shawn: Sure, I can be ready within 10 minutes.
8. どうした？ (Dōshita): What’s Going On?
As you already know, “what’s up” can be used in various ways, not just as a casual greeting. Using どうした (dōshita) or どうしたの (dōshita no) is closer to “what’s going on” or “what’s wrong.” For example, if your sister suddenly bursts into your room and says she needs to talk to you, you might ask her, どうしたの？
Sora: (Ne, chotto kiite yo. Ima meccha taihen da wa.)
Sora: Hey, can I vent to you for a second? Things are crazy right now.
Shōn: (Dōshita no?)
Shawn: What’s up?
Although there’s no one-size-fits-all phrase for all the different meanings of “what’s up,” these 8 replacement phrases in Japanese are sure to be beneficial to keep in your repertoire. Though they are all casual, some can be tailored for use in work situations, so be sure to study up!