4 Basic Japanese Phrases You Are Probably Using Wrong — 26 Comments

  1. Wow! I never realized I shouldn’t say thank you at the register. This is helpful! I’m going to observe people at the register on my next trip over to see how I should act.

    Thank you is the most awkward situation for me when interacting in Japanese. When someone compliments me, I don’t want to say “no” unless I mean it because I don’t like false honesty and often when I say it it, it ends up awkward. My husband says it’s okay to say thank you. What does everyone think?

    I did pick up on using すみません in place of thank you when someone holds the door, pours the tea, etc. And saying that feels natural for me.

    I really do think it’s sad that textbooks and teachers promote misuse of Japanese. In particular, 私は…です. And my friends who are only taking classes use it so much, because the teacher has made it a habit, even if the student now knows not to. Some teachers even force it so the student will learn the word I.

    • Amongst good friends, it’s okay to say ありがとう if you receive a gift. But, if your mother-in-law gives you a gift, it might be better to say どうもすいません as a way to show your respect towards her. But to make it complicated, saying 「あ、どうもすいません。ありがとう。」also works! Adding あ、in front of ありがとう is a good way to show that hesitancy they want but still get to say ありがとう.

      I think the whole point of the 私は。。。です。is for students to get used to the topic marker は and the です copula while getting a feel for the basic structure of a sentence. But yes, I do cringe when I hear foreigners use that as a means to introduce themselves. Eh, they’ll learn someday.

      • Yes, I just don’t agree with that method. I think the best way to used to the syntax is to just jump into the true language and not try to make connections to your own.

        I see, thank you! Actually, I feel quite close with my mother in law. We have a particularly close relationship. I still use keigo to show respect, but we can be honest with each other and I say thank you to her and it’s not awkward. But now I think I get it after hearing your explanation. Lately, I’ve been spending time with Japanese people at my church who aren’t close to me. And it’s not awkward at all when I say すみません or decline a compliment (usually if it’s about Japanese I reflect it back on my mother in law) so perhaps I’m starting to understand and connect with social situations. Not because I’m acting off of what I’ve heard, but because I’ve taken the time to understand why Japanese say certain things.

  2. Hehe, even in English it’d be quite odd to introduce yourself with: ‘My name is Jay’. A simple: ‘I’m Jay’ is typical. Though I can imagine introducing myself with: ‘My name is Jay’ if the person had some apparent difficulty/impairment.

  3. I know that most people don’t say thank you that often, but I’m not sure if using it with a store clerk means the word is being used it incorrectly. While most of my Japanese friends wouldn’t use it in that situation, I do have one friend that would.

    I usually say thank you most of the time even though I know its uncommon. Last week I was having a bad day and didn’t say it to the store clerk at a local convenient store. As I was walking out I heard the girls working there mention how they really like that most of the time I do say thank you.

    I’m not sure if uncommon usage necessarily means that the phrase is being used wrong. I’d be interested to hear more peoples thoughts about this.

    • That’s interesting to hear! Because I would rather say thank you, even if it’s unusual. As long as it’s not incorrect or rude, I don’t want to strip away my thankful personality just because I’m speaking in Japanese. Especially since there are a few Japanese people who say it. My husband agreed with you, it’s nice to say, people just don’t.

  4. In store situations I usually just give a quick nod and say “どうも” or “はい”. Clerks / cashiers are “lower” than you as a customer and those are usually sufficient, I think.

  5. Hold on now! I have heard so many conflicting things regarding おはようございます. 1) It’s weird to use it in the late morning, because as its meaning is literally, “it’s early,” it seems as though you believe that 10:30am is early. (If 10:30am is early, what time do you get up?) 2) おはよう(ございます) has developed in to a common greeting for when you see someone the first time that day, but in somewhat informal situations, like an after school club. More colloquial, rather than proper usage. 3) But that is now what people use when they enter the workplace, regardless of time?!
    The copious use of 私は in my Japanese class drives me crazy, too. The teachers do not insist on it, but they aren’t telling the other students not to use it, either.

  6. I most often hear 私の名前は〜です in interviews and the like when people are expressly asked to STATE their name.

    Also- whether it’s supposed to be said in paid situations or not- ありがと、あざす、etc are said quite frequently in the places I.. frequent. Maybe it’s a Kansai thing- we’re all nice to each other or something weird like that.

  7. This is a great article. As someone who’s been at it pretty hard for about a a year and a half now, little things like this can still help out quite a bit. Articles about methods and motivation are all fantastic, but sometimes a little “nuts & bolts” article can go a long way. Thanks!

  8. Oh my God, that’s why I never heard ANYONE say ありがとう when talking to the cashier. And getting these “Oh, a foreigner!” look when you do say something (I’m half Asian, so most of the time it’s not immediately obvious I’m not Japanese).
    I always thought it’s just plain rude not saying anything at all when entering/leaving a store and dealing with the cashier… In Germany for example it’s perfectly normal to greet the clerks and everything.

    • It depends on the situation, but they might be saying it if they are asking for something in addition at the counter when buying something.

      For example, you’ll often hear お願いします after a convenience store clerk asks if they want their bento to be heated.

  9. That picture of the British phone box was taken at the English themed hotel, British Hills, in Shin-Shirakawa! I worked there during my working holiday year in Japan. The memories! :O

      • Good god please excuse me Adam, I had no idea you responded!

        British Hills is a hotel and English language institute built in the style of Victorian England. Mainly Japanese schools and universities go there on trips to get a taste of “Traditional” English culture and take lessons.

        Rumour has it that they had to postpone refurbishments on the Royal Albert Hall in London because the specific kind of wood needed was all being exported to Japan to build it at the time!

        • That’s the first time I’ve ever received a reply 3 years later!

          Thanks for the interesting info about British Hills.

  10. I don’t know in Tokyo, but in Osaka most of the clients (99%) say to me at least ありがとう in combini or restaurants I worked. And old guy would tend to say おおきに. A lot of women, most of them? say ありがとうございます。 When we receive something from an other company like vegetables etc… We use ありがとうございます or まいど and the reply will be the same or おおきに.
    東京弁 is not Japanese ;)

  11. Sorry, to comment on a really old blog but… what do you say at the end of a skype conversation? If the next one is not for a week, do you say さよなら?

    • じゃあ、また来週(らいしゅう)!’Well, again next week! ‘ is what I learned in my Japanese class. You can say, また明日 ‘again tomorrow.’ また月曜日, etc… It is an informal way of saying goodbye that doesn’t sound as final and longterm of a goodbye as さようなら.

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