Updated March 13, 2023
How to say “Thank You” in Japanese
Saying thank you is a universal way of expressing gratitude. It’s a magical phrase that shows your kindness and friendly attitude.
But in Japan, we have to be aware of how we say thank you since it can drastically change what we mean.
In this article: 📝
- How to Say Thank You in Japanese
- Thank You #1: Arigato (ありがとう)
- Thank You #2: Domo (どうも)
- Thank You #3: Sumimasen (すみません)
- Thank You #4: Warui Na (悪いな)
- Thank You #5: Azasu (あざす)
- Thank You #6: Kansha Shimasu (感謝します)
- Thank You #7: Osoreirimasu (恐れ入ります)
- Thank You #8: Kyoushuku Desu (きょうしゅくです)
- Bonus: Thank You… With a Twist!
- How to Say Thank You in Japanese Formally
In Japanese culture, there are many ways to express gratitude. While you can use certain expressions in formal settings, others are inappropriate except with friends. Each expression is appropriate for a specific context.
That’s why in this post, I’ll look at how you can say “thank you” in Japanese. I’ll also go into the variations of the expression that you can use in a formal setting and the ones that are considered “casual talk” or slang.
How to Say Thank You in Japanese
As you might have figured out by now, saying thank you in Japanese isn’t as simple as you might think. Japanese has subtle but important nuances that you won’t find in most western languages.
While these nuances can be culture-based, they also stem from context.
For example, there are times when you should thank someone for a favor by using a phrase that means “sorry”. Speaking Japanese is tricky in these situations, so you’ll need to prepare to overcome these scenarios.
Of course, learning how to say “thank you” is just the start, especially if you’re dedicated to becoming fluent in Japanese.
While this post can help you navigate brief social interactions, you might still be curious about the ins and outs of learning Japanese. If that’s the case, check out this article: How hard is it to learn Japanese?.
Let’s start with the most common word for “thank you”. Then we’ll get into some popular ways to thank someone in Japanese, in both formal and informal situations.
Thank You #1: Arigato (ありがとう)
You’ve probably heard “Arigato” before.
It’s used all the time in movies, TV shows, and other media. And it might be the most well-known way to say thank you in Japanese.
But keep this in mind: arigato is an informal expression.
You can say it to your friends, family, or people who are younger than you. But don’t expect to say it to your supervisor or teacher and get away with it. Since it’s a more intimate way of saying thanks, it’s also not appropriate when thanking strangers.
If you want to use arigato in a more formal setting, you can use the more formal version, which is “Arigato Gozaimasu” (ありがとうございます). You can also use this phrase to thank people you’re unfamiliar with, such as service workers.
In practice, “Arigato Gozaimasu” is often the most common form of “thank you” used by people living in Japan. If you’re not sure which form to use, default to “Arigato Gozaimasu”.
And if you’re thanking someone for something from the past, you can use the past tense version: “Arigato Gozaimashita” (ありがとうございました).
Thank You #2: Domo (どうも)
“Domo,” or “Doumo,” is a short, simple way to say “hi,” but it’s also a casual way of expressing gratitude. In cases where even saying arigato feels too formal, Japanese people just say “Domo.”
It may be redundant to state that it’s an informal way of speaking, but I want to make sure you don’t say this to your professor or boss and risk being rude.
But you can make “Domo” sound more formal. Just say “Arigato Gozaimasu” afterward. “Domo Arigato Gozaimasu” is a heartfelt and respectful way to thank someone, roughly translating to “thank you very much” in English.
There are various other ways to formally say "thank you", which we’ll get to in a bit.
Thank You #3: Sumimasen (すみません)
Like “Domo,” “Sumimasen” is another word used for many purposes in Japanese daily life. You can use it as an apology since the most common translations are “excuse me” and “sorry”.
But you can also use Sumimasen to thank someone (politeness is important in Japanese culture). When someone does something for you, you can use it to communicate “I’m sorry that you went through all that trouble for me” instead of simply saying “thank you.”
So Sumimasen is an informal way to thank someone who has done you a favor like holding the door open for you.
You can also say “Sumanai” (すまない), but only if you’re feeling extra casual. This phrase is mostly used by men, but it’s not too rare to hear a woman say it either. Still, I wouldn’t recommend saying it to your boss.
Thank You #4: Warui Na (悪いな)
“Warui Na” is the equivalent of saying “my bad,” and as you can guess, it’s another informal way to show gratitude with an apology. It’s an extremely informal expression and you should only use it with friends or younger siblings.
Sometimes, you can hear people say “Warui Warui,” which is another informal version of the same expression. Essentially, the word translates to “bad,” but it can mean “my bad” in context.
Thank You #5: Azasu (あざす)
Another very informal word for thank you is “Azasu”. It’s actually not even a word. Azasu is a shortened version of “Arigato Gozaimasu”, so it’s slang.
Azasu is by far the most informal way to say thank you. In fact, you may even want to avoid saying this to older family members as it may come off as disrespectful or sound like you’re mocking them.
It’s best to use Azasu only with your closest friends, as even acquaintances may find it inappropriate. As a non-native speaker, you may even want to avoid this one entirely.
Thank You #6: Kansha Shimasu (感謝します)
The first formal version of thank you on our list is “Kansha Shimasu,” which translates to “I am grateful.”
Saying “Kansha Shimasu” is a polite way to express your gratitude, so much so that it may even be too polite to use among friends or in daily spoken language. Instead, you can use this phrase in emails. It also has a professional tone and can be a nice and polite way to end a written conversation.
You can also use the term “Maemotte Kansha Shimasu” (前もって感謝します), which means “Thank you in advance.” It’s often used in emails, but you can also use it in daily language to express gratitude when you’re asking someone to do something for you.
Saying thank you is a good start, but you may also benefit from learning a few additional tips and tricks if you’re working at a Japanese office. If you’re curious about how to be polite in a business setting, you’ll find great tips in our recent blog post on navigating a Japanese workplace.
Thank You #7: Osoreirimasu (恐れ入ります)
Another formal way to say “thank you,” Osoreirimasu is exactly what you want to say to your boss at work. It’s probably the most formal way to thank someone among the options I covered in this post.
You can say Osoreirimasu to your clients or customers at work. It’s a polite way to show appreciation, but it doesn't have an apologetic tone. It also shows that you’re grateful for their loyalty as a client, so it’s an excellent response to someone’s continuous support.
It can also express gratitude toward someone who has supported or helped you in a challenging situation. While this is a polite expression, it’s not exactly the best thing to say to your family and close friends. It can come off as unusually formal and insincere.
Thank You #8: Kyoushuku Desu (きょうしゅくです)
Lastly, saying “Kyoushuku Desu” is a great way to get some compliments on your Japanese skills.
It’s not as commonly used among foreigners as some of the other expressions on this list. But it’s a great way to formally thank someone who has complimented you or your work.
The phrase translates to something like “I’m embarrassed” or “That’s too kind.” The humbling nature of this phrase also implies that you’re sorry or that you’re apologetic. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re sorry or that you’ve done something wrong. It’s just a way to address the seniority of the person you’re speaking to.
Now, it’s important to explain what I mean by seniority. Seniority in this context can imply age difference, but it can also mean that the person has more experience than you in a certain field, like a boss or a professor.
I covered some of the most popular expressions to show your gratitude at different levels of formality, but these may not be enough in certain situations.
Here are some other ways you can thank someone in specific scenarios.
Bonus: Thank You… With a Twist!
In addition to the words and phrases so far, there are other ways to say thank you that you’d only use in specific scenarios.
For example, you might need to reject something or someone in a polite way. When this happens, it’s fitting to say “Kimochi Wa Ureshii Desu Ga…” (きもちはうれしいですが…), which roughly means “I appreciate the thought, but…”. You can add any excuse at the end to complete the sentence.
For a more direct approach to saying “No, thank you,” try “Kekkou Desu” (結構です), which means “No, I’m good” or “I’m good, thanks.” It’s somewhat of a formal expression, but no one will judge you if you use it in an informal setting.
To thank someone for waiting for you, you can say “Omatase Shimashita” (お待たせしました). This phrase acknowledges that you made someone wait and means “I made you wait.” You’ll hear this sentence at airports as a way to say “Thank you for your patience”.
With all that out of the way, let’s look at the types of honorific speech in Japanese next.
How to Say Thank You in Japanese Formally
In Japanese, there are four levels of formality you should keep in mind. So if you’re serious about learning Japanese, you’ll need to remember these rules.
Speaking of which, I recently reviewed some of the best tools for learning Japanese including apps, books, podcasts, and more. You can find both offline and online suggestions there, so I encourage you to check it out.
Levels of Formality in Japanese
While almost every language has different levels of politeness, understanding their nuance is especially important when speaking Japanese.
The four levels of formality in Japanese are:
Polite tone (Teineigo, ていねいご)
Respectful tone (Sonkeigo, そんけいご)
Humble tone (Kenjougo, けんじょうご)
Note that there’s no hierarchy to them. These forms of Japanese are more about what words to use in different settings and situations. Let me explain casual speech first.
If you’re having trouble deciding whether to speak formally or informally, think about who you’re talking to. Generally, if you’re talking to someone your age or younger, you can use casual words and expressions. Similarly, you can speak in a casual language when you’re talking to close friends.
Polite Tone - Teineigo (ていねいご)
This is the form of Japanese that’s usually taught to foreigners because it’s a simple and polite way to address anyone. It’s also the register you’d often hear on TV or find in books.
Feel free to use Teineigo when you’re speaking to new people you meet or to people at work. It won’t matter if you’re talking to someone older or younger, as there’s no difference in Teineigo. Just take care not to use it with your closest friends and family, as it sounds out of place in that context.
Using this form of Japanese when referring to both yourself and others is totally acceptable, unlike this next one, the respectful tone, (Sonkeigo, そんけいご).
Respectful Tone - Sonkeigo (そんけいご)
First things first: don’t use Sonkeigo when referring to yourself.
This is because this tone is used to convey praise and show respect. So it’s only advisable to use Sonkeigo with people older than you or your superiors.
You’ll also hear it in customer service. Since Sonkeigo implies a power dynamic, you can assume that the person speaking in this tone is speaking professionally.
Humble Tone - Kenjougo (けんじょうご)
While Sonkeigo is used to show respect, Kenjougo is about demonstrating humility. That’s why using this register while referring to others is inappropriate. It can sound like you’re insulting them.
Due to its humbling nature, Kenjougo is often spoken by people who work in the service industry. It implies that the person speaking is ready to assist or serve someone.
There are many ways to say “thank you” in Japanese, but each has a time and place. Saying “Arigato” won’t cut it in most cases, and it may even be downright disrespectful in a formal environment.
Due to this level of nuance, you need to know the different types of honorific speech in Japanese. In honorific Japanese, there are polite (Teineigo), respectful (Sonkeigo), and humble forms (Kenjougo), as well as the casual, everyday language.
To help you navigate this complex cultural context better, I also shared a few polite ways to reject someone by thanking them.
Want to learn more about saying “no” in Japanese? Check out my post on how to say “no” in Japanese next!
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