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Easy Japanese Greetings

Updated on May 17, 2011

Zenkouji Temple, Nagano, Japan

Zenkouji temple, located in Nagano prefeture.  This was taken by me on New Years day, clearly the most chaotic of Japanese temple visiting holidays.
Zenkouji temple, located in Nagano prefeture. This was taken by me on New Years day, clearly the most chaotic of Japanese temple visiting holidays.

Sasuga Nihon: A Brief Lesson on Japan From a Half Native

Here you will find the first of many entries to a collection of Hubs outlining, explaining, and decrypting the many questions surrounding every aspect of Japanese life. There will be humor, there will be polite apologies for ignorance, and, above all, there will be things you simply will never understand, no matter how much you try.

My target audience is those who belong in the group that goes under Japan's coveted title of "gaikoku-jin (gaijin)", or, foreigner. My hopes are that upon reading any of the numerous Hubs I will be posting, you may find yourself slightly better equipped to traverse the treacherous terrain that is Japanese culture.

Brief Lesson #1: Greetings In Japanese (and what do do with your body)

No matter what point you are at in your stay in Japan, you'll find that strangers will always assume that you speak little to no Japanese. However, that will not stop them from trying to communicate with you, especially in rural areas, and it's handy to have a few greetings on hand to not seem completely ignorant.

Basic Greeting #1: Kon-nichi-wa -- This translates to "good day", but is seen more as a "hello". The one rule though is that you can only use this from around 11 AM to about when it gets dark. However, there are numerous Japanese people who will still say Konnichiwa even after it's dark out. This may lead you to wonder, "Well, this seems to imply that there's something said after it gets dark out", and you're absolutely correct.

Basic Greeting #2: Kon-ban-wa -- This translates to "good evening", and is the dark counterpart to konnichiwa. Regarding the appropriateness of when to use this word, you'll more or less be safe to use it when the sun has gone down, or is just about to.

Basic Greeting #3: Ohayou-gozaimasu -- Considering "good afternoon" and "good evening" have been covered, this leaves us with "good morning" left. Ohayou gozaimasu is "good morning", but spoken politely. If you want to be more casual, swing out with a simple Ohayou, which would be the equivalent of "mornin'". If you ever find work in a Japanese speaking environment, this will get used a lot, and its shelf life is only until 11 AM, if you want to get technical.

Japanese Body Language #1

Almost as hard as learning the Japanese language is learning the appropriate body language that goes along with each phrase.  Here, I will explain the various things you can do with your heady, hands, arms, waist, eyes, ears, ponytail etc.   

Body Language Lesson #1: For all of the above greetings, here is a concise set of instructions on what to do WHILE saying whatever greeting is appropriate at the time.  First, make eye contact with whoever you're going to greet.  Next, put your hands kind of near your sides, palms inwards to your thighs.  Finally, as you're saying your greeting, you must bow at the waist and bow your head as well.  To determine how far to bow at the waist, simply slouch forward and notice where your shoulders are.  Now, instead of slouching, bow so that your shoulders are at the same height, or even a little lower.  For your head, just have it follow naturally in a straight line with the rest of your upper body when you bow.  At this point, it's OK to break eye contact.  

After all's said and done, come back out of your bow, and then go on being your usual incompetent gaijin self.

Next Hub Topic

The next Hub will be about how to contact the police in Japanese if your cat has been missing for over 5 hours...just kidding! (although maybe one day, if I get enough requests).  In all seriousness, next time's Hub will be how to introduce yourself in Japanese, beyond the simple hellos and good evenings.  それでは、また来週! See you next week!


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    • Ruthcurley profile image


      7 years ago from Bozrah, CT

      Funny, straight forward. bowing is sooooo confusing. I think I need a video. It must be the gaijin in me. You can take the gaijin out of Japan but they're still just a gaijin. Thanks for the body language.


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