Updated May 26, 2023

How to Say “How Are You” in Japanese


Japan Dev Team

Japan Dev contributor

No matter where you go, making small talk is sure to come in handy. Especially in Japan, where politeness and respect are some of the most prized traits, you definitely want to keep at least a couple of phrases in mind for when you want to make small talk with people.

Just like I explained in my post on how to say thank you in Japanese, there are many ways you can ask someone how they are. In this post, I’ll explain all the formal and informal ways you can say “How are you in” Japanese and talk about a few other types of greetings or small talk phrases that are used daily.

However, as the culture around saying “How are you” is a bit different in Japan compared to the past, let’s start with a brief overview of the concept and how it’s received in Japan.

The Culture Around Saying “How Are You” in Japanese

For those of us living in the West, when we meet someone in daily life, saying “How are you” comes as second nature. No matter if it’s a friend or a cashier at the supermarket, it’s almost always a nice gesture. However, things work a little differently in Japan.

Considering the strong culture of politeness that even includes a dedicated concept for gift giving, you may be surprised to hear that saying “How are you” in daily life isn’t as common as you’d think. However, what’s more important is how polite you are when speaking to someone. 

As long as you’re using the correct formal or informal forms of words and phrases, what you say isn’t as important, considering you’re not being rude with your words, of course.

Still, most people who are in the beginning stages of learning Japanese are taught to say, “How are you” despite the fact that they likely won’t use it in daily life once they start getting the hang of things. 

While there may be occasions when you may want to ask someone how they are, most of the time, you’ll see people simply saying “hi” or “hello” and then immediately jumping into a specific conversation. 

There is, of course, Keigo (けいご), or the polite language, which you may need to use when talking to the elderly or to someone of higher status, so I’ll introduce the actual phrases that mean “How are you” that may be used in this setting. However, I’ll also introduce a few phrases that mean “How are you” or “How’s it going” in a more casual tone so you can use them in daily life without seeming awkward.

Let’s begin with the latter and look at a few ways you can casually ask someone how they are.

Informal Way to Say “How Are You” in Japanese

As I mentioned, saying the complete sentence “How are you” when you see a friend or a family member isn’t that common in Japanese. While many people learn to say the phrase O genki desu ka (お元気ですか) in beginner-level Japanese classes, which is the most textbook version of saying “How are you,” this phrase should mostly be reserved for more formal situations.

Instead of saying “o genki desu ka,” you can simply say Genki? (元気), which will convey the same meaning but in a much more casual tone. You’ll use this when speaking to friends and peers in informal settings. 

Normally, the word “genki” means well, vigorous, and full of spirits, but if you say the last syllable “ki” with an upward inflection that implies a question, it turns into a question that means “How are you?” or “Are you well?”. 

It may not sound natural to you in English, but this is what you’ll hear people say to each other most of the time in social settings in Japan. In return to this phrase, you can just say Genki dayo (元気だよ), which means “I’m well.” 

However, keep in mind that most of the time, saying “genki” should be reserved for people you haven’t seen in a while. Most of the time, Japanese people simply greet each other and don’t ask how someone is doing unless they haven’t seen each other in a while and are catching up.

When this is the case, it’s actually more fitting to use the past tense of this phrase, which is Genki datta? (元気だよ), which means “How have you been?” or “Have you been well?”.

Now, let’s take a look at a few other phrases that have the same meaning as “How are you” in Japanese.

Genki Ni Shi Te ru? (元気にしてる) - Are You Doing Well?

As I mentioned, Japanese people cut to the chase and jump right into the conversation when they meet friends and peers. However, if you haven’t seen someone in a while, this phrase can come in handy. 

Genki ni shi te ru (元気にしてる) is a phrase that means something along the lines of “Are you doing well?” or “How are you doing?” and can be used as a greeting when you see someone you haven’t spoken to in a while in informal situations.


Choushi Wa Dou? (調子はどう) - How’s It Going?

Choushi wa dou (調子はどう) means “How’s it going?”. However, you can use this phrase to ask someone about the condition of a specific situation, as the word “choushi” means “condition” in Japanese. 

So, even though the sentence can mean “How’s it going,” you should only use it when what you’re asking about is implied. 

For instance, if you know that a friend is going through a rough patch in their relationship or trouble at work, you can use this phrase to ask how things are going.

Dou Shita No? (どうしたの) - What’s Up?

Even though it doesn’t have the same meaning as it does in English, most people often ask how to say “What’s up” in Japanese when they’re beginner learners. 

As opposed to English, this phrase can’t really be used as a way to greet someone, as it’s more of a way to literally ask what has transpired in a particular situation. You can also use it to respond when someone calls your name. 

The true English translation of Dou Shita No (どうしたの) is actually more along the lines of “What’s the matter?”. If you’re speaking to someone who you’re very close with, you can also drop the “no” and say, “dou shita?”, but it may sound a bit unsympathetic and cold in serious situations.

Saikin Wa Dou? (最近はどう) - How Have You Been Doing Recently?

This phrase is another casual way to ask someone how they are. The word “saikin” means “lately” or “recently,” so the phrase Saikin wa dou? (最近はどう) can literally be translated as “How have you been?” or “How have you been doing recently?”.

The phrase calls for an upward inflection at the end to make it sound like a question. If you’re speaking to a close friend, you can even drop the “wa” and just say “saikin dou?” instead, as the word is used to mark the subject of the sentence. 

The sentence can be used to ask how someone is in general terms without specific context, so it comes in very handy in daily conversations.

Dou? Saikin (どう? 最近) - How Have You Been Lately?

This phrase essentially has the same meaning as “saikin wa dou?”, but the words are flipped around, and the “wa” is dropped for an even more casual tone. 

Dou? Saikin (どう? 最近) is what you’ll hear many young people ask their friends when they see each other, and it means “How have you been lately?”. Considering the tone of the phrase, a more accurate translation would be a casual-sounding phrase like “What’s the latest?”

This is the perfect phrase to greet your friend when you’re passing them by on the street. Just nod your head and say, “Dou? Saikin.”, and you’ll feel like a local.

Daijobu? (大丈夫) - Are You Alright?

This is a general phrase you can use with friends and family and in informal settings in general. Daijobu (大丈夫) means “Are you alright?” or “Are you okay?” and can be used to ask how someone is in general terms.

The phrase is very commonly used, and it’s a very flexible phrase that can come in handy in many situations because it can be used to ask about specific things as well. For instance, if you want to ask how someone’s work is going, you can add the word “shigoto” (仕事), which means “work” or “employment,” in front of the phrase and say, “Shigoto daijobu?” (仕事 大丈夫).

Nani Shiteru No? (何してるの) - What Are You Up To?

This is another way to ask how someone is, as Nani shiteru no? (何してるの) means something along the lines of “What are you up to?” or “What are you doing?”.

The phrase has a super casual tone, so make sure to use it when speaking to friends only. This is the perfect phrase to use when you run into a friend and need to have a brief catch-up. As it’s common to omit some words in daily conversations in Japanese, you can also drop the “no” at the end for an even more casual tone. 

Formal Ways to Say “How Are You” in Japanese


As I explained, Japanese has separate forms for informal and formal speech, and while the phrases I introduced above aren’t offensive by any means, they might come off as disrespectful if you use them in formal settings. 

For instance, when you’re speaking to your manager or boss at work or when speaking to a professor, you’re supposed to use formal language to show respect. The same goes for distant relatives, acquaintances, and people you’re not close with in general. 

So, as you may have guessed, saying “Genki” in such a setting might sound rude and disrespectful. Instead, you should use the formal form of the phrase and say “Genki desu ka” (元気ですか) or, if you want to sound even more respectful, you can add an “o” in the beginning and say “O genki desu ka” (お元気ですか).

Adding “O” at the beginning of a phrase makes the following words more endearing, and it makes the overall phrase sound more polite.

“Desu ka” (ですか) can also be added at the end of many phrases to make it polite. For instance, the casual phrase I introduced earlier, “Saikin wa dou?”, which means “How are you lately?” can be made polite by adding “desu ka” at the end. The phrase then becomes “Saikin wa dou desu ka?” (最近はどうですか).

Now, let’s look at a few other formal phrases in Japanese you can use in professional settings that convey the same meaning as “How are you?”.

O Genki Deshita Ka? (お元気でしたか) - How Have You Been?

This is a polite phrase you can say using the familiar word “genki.” O Genki Deshita Ka? (お元気でしたか) means “How have you been?” and is actually the past tense version of the phrase “O genki desu ka?”.

While “O genki desu ka?” means that you’re asking how a person currently is, “O genki deshita ka?”, on the other hand, implies that you’re asking about the past. It’s especially useful in situations where you haven’t seen someone in a while to ask them how they have been during that specific period.

Saikin Wa Ikaga Desu Ka? (最近はいかがですか) - How Have You Been Lately?

This phrase is the more official version of “Saikin wa dou desu ka?” I introduced earlier. Saikin wa ikaga desu ka? (最近はいかがですか) means “How have you been lately?” in formal Japanese.

The word “ikaga” is the keigo (formal Japanese) version of the word “dou” and means “how.” So, while it may be okay to use the version with “dou” when speaking to people you’re not close to, if you’re speaking to your manager at work, this is the version you want to use.

Daijobu Desu Ka? (大丈夫ですか) - Are You Alright?

This is the formal version of “Daijobu?” I introduced earlier. When you want to ask someone how they’re doing in general in a formal setting, you should say Daijobu desu ka? (大丈夫ですか), which means “Are you alright?” or “Are you well?”.

Just like its informal counterpart, this phrase also serves the purpose of asking someone how they are in general terms, but it can also be made specific to ask about how certain things are. 

However, when this is the case, it’s not enough to add “desu ka” to make the phrase formal. You’ll also need to use the formal version of the object of the sentence as well. For instance, to ask someone how their work life is going, you need to use the formal version of “shigoto,” which is “oshigoto,” and say, “Oshigoto wa daijobu desu ka?” (お仕事は大丈夫ですか) instead.

Okawari Arimasen Ka? (お変わりありませんか) - Are There Any Changes?

This is another phrase that essentially means “How are you?”, but a more correct translation of Okawari arimasen ka? (お変わりありませんか) would be “(Are there) any changes?”. 

The word “kawaru” (変わる) translates to “change,” and “okawari” is the polite form of the word. You can use this phrase to ask someone you haven’t talked to for a while to ask if there are any changes in their life in general. However, you can also use this phrase to ask someone about an ongoing situation that you’re aware of.

This phrase is formal and can even be used in a work setting.

Ika Ga Desu Ka? (いかがですか) - How Are You Doing?

Another phrase that’s used to ask how someone’s doing is Ika ga desu ka? (いかがですか), which means “How are you doing?” and is a commonly used polite phrase. 

However, the phrase is usually used for asking people about how a specific thing in their life is going. For instance, just like we did with Daijobu desu ka,” we can insert the object (for instance, work) we want to ask about at the beginning of the sentence to make the phrase specific. 


How to Say “Are You Okay” in Japanese: Asking Someone About Their Health

“How are you?” can mean many things. It’s a versatile sentence that we use for a plethora of reasons, one of which is asking about someone’s health or physical well-being in general.

As I explained, in Japanese, it’s not that common to ask someone how they are as part of daily small talk. However, it’s still very much common to ask people how their health is. 

If someone is sick, and you’re aware of this, a sentence I introduced earlier — “Choushi wa dou?” — can also mean “How’s your health?” and can be used in this context both in this informal form and in its formal form, which is “Choushi wa dou desu ka?” (調子はどうですか).

As there are more ways you can ask someone about their health, finally, let’s look at a few ways you can ask someone “How are you?” to ask about their well-being in Japanese.

Taichou Wa Dou? (体調はどう) - How Are You Feeling?

If you notice that a friend or a family member is physically unwell, you can say Taichou wa dou? (体調はどう) to ask about their health. The phrase means “How are you feeling?” or “Are you okay?”, as the word “taichou” (体調) means “health condition” or “physical condition.” 

Of course, if you’re using the sentence in a work setting or when speaking to people who are higher in status, you should use the formal version of the sentence, which is Taichou ha dou desuka (体調はどうですか).

Karada Daijobu? (体大丈夫) - How’s Your Health?

Karada daijobu (体大丈夫) is another phrase you can use to ask someone how their health is. The word “karada” means “body,” so the phrase means something along the lines of “How’s your health?”.

If you want to say this phrase to someone older than you or in the workplace, you can use the formal version and say O karada wa daijoubu desu ka? (おからだはだいじょうぶですか) instead.

Kibun Wa Dou? (気分はどう) - How Are You Feeling? (Mentally)

Last but not least, when you want to ask about someone’s mental health instead of their physical condition, you can use the phrase Kibun wa dou? (気分はどう), which means “How are you feeling?”

This sentence is suitable for when you notice that someone is not feeling well and can be used to ask if they are experiencing burnout and need a break.


Japan Dev Team

This post was written by our Japan Dev editorial team.