Updated July 10, 2024

“Good Job” in Japanese: Otsukaresama Meaning, Definition, and Alternatives


Japan Dev Team

Japan Dev contributor

The term “Otsukaresama” is usually translated as “Good job!”, but its significance runs deeper than its English counterpart. 

As you may know from my articles like saying sorry in Japanese, respect is a big deal in Japanese culture. And hard work is deemed a highly respectable social value. Because of this, people often acknowledge those working by greeting them with “Otsukaresama.”

This is a concept that can be tough to express in English, which is why foreigners often struggle to grasp this deceptively simple phrase. So let’s take a deeper look at the phrase "Otsukaresama" and find out what it really means.

In this post, you’ll learn how to use Otsukaresama in daily life, as well as its more formal and informal versions. I’ll also teach you some additional phrases you can use instead for more fitting occasions.

Otsukaresama Definition and Meaning

Before getting into the cultural context, let’s answer one simple question: What does Otsukaresama literally mean?

Dissecting the word Otsukaresama, the main “tsukare” is derived from the verb “Tsukareru (疲れる)” which means “to be tired.” The “O” and “sama” are added as polite forms and honorific forms to the phrase.

So Otsukaresama (おつかれさま、お疲れ様) can be used to say, “You must be tired from all this work.” 

However, it also carries the meaning “You’re really working hard!”, making it more of an appreciative phrase rather than a snarky/sarcastic one (although you could use it sarcastically in some contexts). By saying Otsukaresama, you’re essentially acknowledging the person’s hard work, almost celebrating them or cheering them on.

This explains why “Good job!” is the most common translation of the term. However, it’s used way more commonly than “Good job”, as I explained in my post on basic Japanese phrases.

Due to the common themes of appreciation and respect that are imbued deeply in Japanese culture, appreciating one’s work and acknowledging it comes naturally to Japanese people. So, Otsukaresama is used way more commonly than an expression like “Good job”, because people simply do it anytime they see someone working, almost as a way to greet them. 

So, it’s best to start using the phrase in your daily life here, especially if you want things to go smoothly in your social life. 

Let’s find out how.

When To Say Otsukaresama 


Otsukaresama is a common workplace greeting. You can use it to greet your coworkers when you pass by each other in the hallways or when you leave. After all, there’s no specific time to appreciate one’s hard work.

This is especially important if somebody else is still working and you’re leaving, so use it to acknowledge that others are still working while you can be done and go home.

That being said, in traditional Japanese companies, leaving earlier than others, but especially your boss, can be problematic and saying “Otsukaresama” won’t suffice.

If you want to learn which companies to avoid, refer to my posts on black companies. Of course, you won’t have such problems working at one of the companies featured on the Japan Dev company list, all of which are screened by our team and verified to have good employment practices.

Oftentimes, you’ll even hear this phrase used in the beginning and end of meetings, and when a superior is assigning people new tasks or checking in on their current ones. 

All that said, saying “Otsukaresama” can occasionally get you in trouble if you’re not mindful of using the right level of formality/casualness, so let’s cover that next.

Politeness Levels: Otsukaresama Casual and Formal Versions


Starting with the most casual or informal way to say it, “Otsu” can be a friendly way to appreciate a close friend’s hard work. 

For a less casual setting, try おつかれ (Otsukare) instead. This is still an informal use of the phrase, so avoid using it in formal settings.

Up next on the politeness scale, you have おつかれさま (Otsukaresama).

At the most polite level, which is how the phrase is often used while at work, it becomes おつかれさまです (Otsukaresama desu). This form is also commonly used after finishing hard work, as a way to say goodbye.

But what if someone acknowledges your hard work? Let’s see how to respond to Otsukaresama in different scenarios.

How To Respond: Otsukaresama Reply Examples

Most of the time, you’ll respond to the phrase by simply repeating おつかれさまです (Otsukaresama desu) back to person. This especially goes for workplace greetings, when people run into each other at work, etc.

However, if the person saying Otsukaresama to you is a superior or your boss, you can also reply with the more formal “おつかれさまでした”.(Otsukaresama deshita)”.

But when someone who did not participate in the same work, and is only saying it to acknowledge your hard work, you can also respond by simply thanking them. This is commonly used after a performance or sports competition, for instance, 

To do so, you can say ありがとうございます (Arigatou gozaimasu), or refer to my how to say thank you in Japanese post for alternative fitting answers.

Similar Phrases: Otsukaresama Alternatives

In a vacuum, Otsukaresama or one of its more or less formal versions will work for most cases. The phrase can be used by pretty much anyone, regardless of their age or gender. 

However, if you’re saying “good job” to someone or acknowledging their hard work but from a place of higher power or competence, you also have another word at your disposal.

Gokurosama(ごくろうさま、ご苦労様)is a word intended just for that. So, if you’re a manager, you can also say Gokurosama to your subordinates. 

However, it’s highly unadvisable to say this to someone at a higher rank than you. So, unless you know what you’re doing, sticking with Otsukaresame will be your best bet until you start getting the hang of Japanese and the culture here.

To speed things up, why not consider a language course? We’ve listed some of the best language schools in Japan, so I suggest starting from there.

Closing Thoughts on Otsukaresama 


While usually translated as “Good job!”, the popularity of the phrase “Otsukaresama” is a reflection of Japanese people’s respect and consideration for others. It certainly means more than a simple “Good for you!” or “Congratulations!”, as it’s an appreciative gesture as well.

In daily life, you can say it to service workers to show your appreciation when you’re going about your day or to your colleagues as a greeting at work.

Additionally, if you want to respond to someone appreciating your hard work, you can reply with an Otsukaresama desu as well. Start small, and be observant of Japanese people using the phrase – you’ll get the right politeness level and what to say in different scenarios in no time.

While we conclude on the use cases of this handy phrase, if you want to learn about other culturally resonant words or phrases, check out my posts on the meaning of Daijobu and how to say “no” in Japanese, which is harder than you may think.


Japan Dev Team

This post was written by our Japan Dev editorial team.