Updated June 12, 2024

What Does "Daijobu" Mean in Japanese? Meaning, Origin, and Alternatives

author-imageauthor-image-outline

Japan Dev Team

Japan Dev contributor

As one of the most commonly used Japanese words, you may have heard “Daijobu” or the phrase “Daijobu (desu) ka” countless times if you’ve spent any time in Japan. It’s also sometimes written as “daijoubu”, but the meaning is the same. 

The phrase is known for its versatile use that depends on the context and who you’re speaking to. But the basic meaning is roughly “Okay”. So, if you’re living or planning to live in Japan as a foreigner, it’s important to learn what daijobu means, how it’s used, and what other things it can mean in more niche scenarios.

After all, social cues, manners, and other rules that govern social life are abundant in Japan, and it’s easy to come off rude when the cultural norm tends to be polite and respectful. 

So, in this post, I’ll explain all of the use cases of daijobu in Japanese and how to use it in daily life, which should help you feel a bit more at home in Japan.

Let’s start with the literal definition and move on from there.

The Literal Definition: Daijobu Meaning in English

As I mentioned, when used in daily life, Daijobu (大丈夫) simply means “okay” or “all right.” So, it’s the kind of word you use to reassure someone that you’re okay, unharmed, or uninjured. In this context, you simply exclaim 大丈夫ですor Daijobu desu (polite form for I’m okay!).

Daijobu can serve as an answer, but it can also serve as a question for the same purpose: to make sure someone or something is okay. 

Therefore, asking 大丈夫ですか? or Daijobu desu ka? simply means in polite form, “Are you alright?”.

That said, the literal meaning of the popular word, as described in the dictionary, means “strong” or “safe/sound.”

The phrase derives from 丈夫 or Jobu which can be used when objectively describing something sturdy or resilient. It can also mean “durable” when you want to ensure whether a certain object/person can withstand a certain condition or struggle.

In this context, 大丈夫 or Daijobu can also describe someone trustworthy, reliable, or strong, but it’s more of a subjective opinion and can be used with versatility in different situations.

Daijobu in Japanese Culture: Word Origin

The word daijobu written in kanji is made up of symbols dai (大), which means big and large, and joubu (丈夫), which means sturdy by itself but refers to a “sturdy, strong man” as it combines the kanji symbols for stature (丈) and man or husband (夫). 

So, essentially, daijobu (or daijoubu), simply means large strong man. It’s speculated that the phrase was used traditionally to refer to a strong man who provided safety, indicating that things were stable. 

Over time, the phrase changed in meaning, and people began using it as a blanket term for being in good health, being unharmed, and things being okay. 

So, if you feel like you haven’t gotten the hang of the phrase yet, don’t worry – it’s a more complex phrase than it initially seems, and even the word itself seems to have lost its original meaning over time.

Polite and Casual Forms of Daijobu

As you may already know from my posts like “How to say “thank you in Japanese” or “I’m sorry in Japanese”, the language changes according to the setting, and there’s often a formal (polite) and an informal (casual) way to say certain things.

This is no different for the word Daijobu, which is the informal way to say the phrase. The formal way to say it, which is often used in public towards strangers, is Daijobu desu 大丈夫です..

In Japanese "です" (desu) serves as a connecting word or a copula, implying politeness and forming an essential part of formal speech. 

So, adding -desu at the end of most words or phrases can effectively make it polite, which you’ll quickly learn if you decide to learn Japanese. If this is your goal, I also have a detailed guide for the best Japanese learning tools that can help you get started.

Of course, this all seems simple enough so far, but did you know that Daijobu can mean a variety of other things, and even have a negative connotation in certain scenarios? Let’s have a look.

“Daijobu” as a Form of Rejection

My description so far may lead you to think that although it’s a versatile word, daijobu ultimately has a positive connotation. That said, as confusing as it may sound, daijobu is often used as a “no” as well. Here’s what I mean.

In my previous posts, I’ve discussed the renowned Japanese politeness and the indirect way of speaking that stems from the culture of Honne and Tatemae. Essentially, Japanese people don’t like to say “no” directly, as it can often come across as rude. I’ve also explained this in great detail in my post on how to say no in Japanese.

Therefore, due to this culture of avoiding open rejections, “daijobu” is often used as a “No thanks, I’m good” under the unsuspecting guise of the commonly used phrase for “Okay.”

So, next time you want to turn down someone in public in Japan, just say, “Daijobu desu, arigatou gozaimasu”, and they’ll understand that you’re respectfully and politely declining their offer.

image1

“Daijobu” as a Question: Daijobu desu ka

As I said, daijobu is also used to inquire about someone’s well-being or safety.

So, for instance, when you want to ask someone who just fell in public, “Are you okay?”, you simply say, “Daijobu desu ka (大丈夫ですか?),” which is the polite form of the phrase. Of course, in a more friendly setting, a simple Daijobu? (大丈夫?) should be enough.

Similarly, this phrase can be used to ask a variety of other things. For example, asking someone who looks lost to see if they need help or asking an elderly person crossing the street if they need assistance is as easy as saying, “Daijobu desu ka?”.

“It’s OK” in Japanese: Other Ways to Say “Daijobu”

While daijobu is commonly used in daily life, it can initially pose a challenge for foreigners living in Japan. This is largely because the word is so versatile, and only the right pronunciation with the correct inflection can convey the true meaning. Let me explain.

Let’s say you’re at one of Japan’s neat little convenience (konbini) stores like 7-Eleven or Lawson’s, and the person working the checkout counter asks you if you need a plastic bag. This is where things get tricky.

Responding with a “Daijobu” can mean two things depending on your tone: you’re either okay without, as in you don’t need it, or you’re okay with it, meaning you accept what’s being offered. The tone alone can significantly impact this interaction. So, what is a foolproof way to go about this?

To clearly express you want to turn down an offer, it’s best to respond with “kekkou desu (結構です)” instead. 

Admittedly, this might make you sound very polite, especially when used in super-casual settings. Still, it’s a surefire way of not being misunderstood, and we’re all about functional communication here.

So, if you’re unsure how to use Daijobu properly, saying Kekkou desu (結構です) when turning down offers and declining questions instead is a good alternative. So, until you master the correct pronunciation, kekkou can be your savior in many social situations.

image2

Other Use Cases of Daijobu: Examples From Daily Life

To understand how to use “daijobu” properly in everyday language, let’s look at a few different scenarios where you can use it in other ways than just saying, “I’m okay.”

Daijobu as “No Problem!”

Daijobu” is also used as “No problem!”. 

This is especially common among the younger generation in Japan, who use it as Zenzen Daijobu, meaning “Totally fine!”.

So, if a friend tells you they won’t be able to make it to your party, for instance, you can just say Daijobu da yo (大丈夫だよ) or Zenzen daijobu da yo (全然大丈夫だよ), which means “No worries at all!”

Daijobu in The Service Industry: Do You Need Anything?

Japanese hospitality is like no other, and this is largely due to the culture of politeness that radiates throughout the country. So, oftentimes, when you’re at a cafe, restaurant, or an izakaya, you’ll hear the phrase daijobu used by the service workers.

For example, at a restaurant, if your water glass is empty and the waiter asks if you need a refil, they may ask Omizu no okawari, daijōbu desu ka? (お水のおかわり、大丈夫ですか?) .

Similarly, service workers often ask if you need something extra by using daijobu. For instance, to ask if you need wet tissues with your convenience store purchase, the clerk may say Oshibori wa daijōbu desu ka? (おしぼりは大丈夫ですか?). Similar to the above examples, they can use the phrase to ask if you’re happy with your order or need something else.

Daijobu To Ask For Permission 

Another common way to use daijobu is to ask for permission or to ask whether something is allowed.

If you’ve read my post about tattoos in Japan, you might already know how easily you can break some social rules in Japan without even realizing it. So, you can also use the phrase to ask if you’re allowed to do something.

To solidify with an example, let’s say you’re at an onsen (Japanese word for hot spring bath), but you don’t know if it’s allowed to go in with visible tattoos. To do so, you say Tattoo ga attemo daijobu desu ka? (タトゥーがあっても大丈夫ですか), which means, “Is it okay if I go in with tattoos?”.

Additional Examples For Using Daijobu and Daijobu Desu Ka

image3

As much as I try to group the use cases of Daijobu under clear categories, as I said, this is one of the most adaptable words in Japanese, so it’s tricky to present all of its use cases effectively. 

Nevertheless, let’s look at some other cases where you can use daijobu to mean different things.

  • To get reassurance from someone on whether something is really okay, i.e., “Are you okay with this?”: これで大丈夫ですか? (Kore de daijobu desuka?)

  • To express that there’s no need to do something, i.e., “You don’t need to send it”: 送らなくても大丈夫です (Okuranaku temo daijobu desu)

  • To encourage a friend by saying, “You’ll be just fine!”: きっと大丈夫! (Kitto daijobu!)

  • When you want to say “It’s ok!” to someone who has bumped into you on public transport: 大丈夫ですよ (Daijobu desu yo)

  • When getting confirmation for an appointment at the doctor’s office, i.e., “Is Monday good?”: 月曜日は大丈夫ですか? (Getsuyoubi wa daijobu desu ka?)

Final Word on Daijobu Meaning in English

If your frustration with the word “Daijobu” isn’t the reason that brought you to this article in the first place, by now, I’m sure you understand how it’s such a big part of daily life here.

As a foreigner living in Japan, mastering it can help you fit in better here. 

Besides, the daijobu kanji is easy to recognize and remember in Japanese. So, once you learn it, identifying it in signs or writing it should be fairly smooth as well. You’ll find yourself quickly responding to simple things in Japanese!

So, while this is it for daijobu meaning and origin, if you’re a Japanese learner or want to learn social context around certain common words, here are a few great additional resources you can head over to:

author-imageauthor-image-outline

Japan Dev Team

This post was written by our Japan Dev editorial team.