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How to say "thank you" in Japanese

When conversing in Japanese, knowing how to say "thank you" is as critical as knowing how to say "hello" ("konnichiwa"). Showing gratitude is an important part of formal etiquette, and failing to do so would be a blunder in Japanese culture. Although occidental cultures like that of America aren't rude, East Asian cultures such as Japan's are quite intentional about proper manners.

Whether you plan to travel to Japan or want to converse with a Japanese friend in their native tongue, one of the first things you should learn is how to thank someone. Read ahead and learn about the many different ways to show your "kansha" ("gratitude").

The origins of “arigatou”

If you want to thank someone in Japanese, you would use the word "arigatou." It stems from ​​"arigatashi" ("to be") and "katai" ("difficult"), so it literally means "being alive is hard."

Using "arigatou" on its own is fine if you're in a situation where it's normal to use casual, informal language. In more formal situations, you can dress it up with other words to express your gratitude appropriately.

"ありがとうございます" (Arigatou gozaimasu) - Thank you

[ah-ree-gah-toh goh-zai-mahs]

By adding "gozaimasu" after "arigatou," you have a more polite saying that's useful at work, with strangers, or around friends you just recently met.

"どうもありがとう" (Doumo arigatou) - Thank you very much

[doh-moh ah-ree-gah-toh]

If you want to be somewhat polite but not quite as formal, you can add "doumo" before "arigatou." This phrase works for friends, family, and younger people.

Combining all three into "doumo arigatou gozaimasu" is extra polite, which we'll get to later.

Understanding Japanese gratitude culture

Failing to communicate your appreciation can be inconsiderate in any culture, but it's considered especially rude in Japan. In Japanese culture, it's customary to say "thanks" frequently and in a multitude of ways. This is done with a combination of polite phrases, bowing, and giving gifts.

How Japanese terms of gratitude are different from American culture

In both Japanese and American cultures, it's important to express your gratitude. You can do so in several ways, but in Japan it's especially important to know when to use each phrase.

In America, it's pretty simple; we say "thank you" in all situations and to all types of people. We add words like "so" and "very" to amplify the meaning and express a greater level of gratitude, and occasionally we use other phrases like "I appreciate it" or simply "thanks." No matter which one you choose, you really can't go wrong; each of these phrases is interchangeable to say to everyone from your child to the President.

In Japan, expectations are quite different. Thanking someone in Japanese takes on many different forms depending on the situation, and using the wrong phrase can result in an insulting faux pas. Fortunately, Japanese people are generally forgiving of foreigners who slip up — as long as they're making an effort to learn!

How to express gratitude without language

Expressing gratitude doesn't end with verbal exchanges. Physical gestures like bowing and gift-giving are also customary ways to show gratitude and respect.


Bowing of the head and upper body has been part of Japanese culture for more than a thousand years, and it's done in a multitude of situations.

Depending on the scenario, bowing can look different and convey different messages. You might quickly bow to acknowledge a shopkeeper or give a low bow of respect when being introduced to an elder. In any case, it's associated with respect and gratitude.

Here’s a quick guide on bowing in Japan:

  1. Keeping your back straight, bow from the waist
  2. Men keep their arms at their sides
  3. Women can keep their arms at their sides or fold one hand on top of the other, holding below the belly button
  4. The lower you bow, the more humble or respectful the gesture
  5. A casual bow is about 15°
  6. In formal situations like the workplace or when greeting a client, an appropriate bow is about 30°
  7. The lowest bows are about 45° and are done when expressing deep gratitude, meeting an important person, or sincerely apologizing


Like bowing, gift-giving is a physical way to show someone you appreciate them in Japan. That's not a foreign concept for Americans, but the process is a little different.

While gift-giving is appropriate for birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, and holidays like Christmas, there are also two times of the year when the practice is especially emphasized: "ochugen" (in early July) and "oseibo" (early December). During these times, Japanese people give gifts to their parents, teachers, coworkers, or anyone else to whom they've felt grateful throughout the year.

Giving people gifts for holidays and life events is a perfectly familiar concept to Americans, but in Japan, it's customary to respond by giving the person a smaller gift in return, or "okaeshi." These gifts are typically about half the value of the original gift and may include food, alcohol, sweets, or hand towels. There's no set timetable for how soon you should get a return gift after receiving one yourself, but it's best not to wait too long.

"Omiyage" is another type of Japanese gift-giving that equates to Americans' concept of souvenirs. "Omiyage" are special gifts for friends, family members, and coworkers, however, and not for yourself. These gifts are generally local products from the places you visited on your trip and may include teas, snacks, and other regional goods.

Cultural tip: When you receive a gift, it's polite to accept it with both hands and wait until later on to open it.

How different situations change the phrases of gratitude you use

Much like in America, Japanese speakers use different phrases depending on whom they're talking to. However, while it's perfectly appropriate to use the same "thank you" for everyone in all situations in American English, the nuances are much more important in Japanese.

The specific way you thank someone will depend on factors like the setting you’re in, the type of relationship you have with the other person, and how close you are with each other.

Close friends

There are some Japanese phrases that you would only use in the company of close friends. They’re appropriate for people you know well but go for something more formal if you’re ever in doubt about whether or not to use them.

"どうも" (Doumo) - Thanks


"ありがとう" (Arigatou) - Thanks


"さんきゅう" (Sankyuu) - Thank you


"Doumo arigatou" is a somewhat polite way of saying thanks, but among close friends, you can simply say one or the other. "Arigatou" is a quick and casual way to say thanks across the board, while "doumo" is popular among friends in pubs and shops.


Certain situations call for the utmost formality. In these cases, it's important to know how to say "thank you" in the most polite ways possible.

"どうもありがとうございます" (Doumo arigatou gozaimasu) - Thank you very much

[doh-moh ah-ree-gah-toh goh-zai-mahs]

"本当にありがとうございます" (Hontoni arigatou gozaimasu) - Really, thank you very much

[hohn-toh-nee ah-ree-gah-toh goh-zai-mahs]

The most formal versions of "arigatou," these phrases are especially polite expressions of gratitude and are often paired with a bow.

"歯医者申し上げます" (Haisha moushiagemasu) - Thank you very much

[hah-ee-shah moh-shyah-geh-mahs]

This is a useful phrase when thanking a parent, elder, or another person of higher social status, as it has a humbling tone and puts you below the other person.


In the workplace, it's common to hear phrases that express thanks with an apologetic spirit, which convey a more humble and polite tone. In this sense, you're thanking someone by apologizing for the inconvenience and appreciating the effort they put forth. It's common to hear these phrases in the workplace.

"すみません" (Sumimasen) - Excuse me, sorry


"おそれいります" (Osoreirimasu) - I'm deeply sorry


"Sumimasen" is sort of a combination of "excuse me," "thank you," and "I'm sorry." "Osoreirimasu" is a very formal way to thank a client or superior.

"お疲れ様です" (Otsukare sama desu) - You must be tired / You've worked hard

[o-tsu-ka-re sa-ma de-su]

You can say this to a coworker to thank them for their hard work on the job.

"またお越しくださいませ" (Mata o-koshi kudasai mase) - Please come again

[mah-tah oh-koh-shee koo-dah-sah-ee mah-seh]

Shopkeepers commonly say this phrase as customers leave.


For the most part, we have relatively lax eating customs in America. In Japan, on the other hand, proper table manners are very important. Get to know these phrases to express thanks before and after a meal.

"いただきます" (Itadakimasu) - Thank you for this food (said at the beginning of a meal)


The literal translation of this word is "I humbly receive," and it's said before each meal — sort of like saying "bon appétit" but more like a secular form of grace. "Itadakimasu" gives thanks to all aspects of the meal and everyone involved in its preparation and service, including the chef, service staff, farmers and fishermen, and even the animals that became the meal itself.

"ごちそうさまでした" (Gochisousama deshita) - Thank you for this food (after a meal)

[goh-chee-soh-sah-mah deh-sh-tah]

"ごちそうさま" (Gochisousama) - Thank you for this food (casual)


"ごちそう" (Gochisou) - Thank you for this food (most casual)


Once the meal ends, you say thanks again with "gochisousama deshita." This literally translates to "it was a great deal of work" and, like "itadakimasu," is used to show appreciation for all of the people, animals, and energy involved in the meal.

"Gochisousama" or "gochisou" are more casual versions used among close friends and family members.

Other popular phrases of gratitude in Japanese

We've already covered a variety of ways to say "thanks," but there are plenty more to choose from. Try some of these other ways of showing "kansha" in Japanese.

"おかげさまで" (Okagesama de) - Thanks to you

[oh-kah-geh-sah-mah deh]

Use "okagesama de" to express thanks and attribute credit when something went well because of the other person's help. For example, when the person who helped you study for a test congratulates you on getting a good grade.

"色々ありがとう御座いました" (Iroiro arigato gozaimashita) - Thank you for everything

[ee-roh-ee-roh ah-ree-gah-toh goh-zah-ee-mah-sh-tah]

This is an all-encompassing way to say "thank you" to someone who has done many things for you, like a host or tour guide.

"お邪魔します" (Ojama shimasu) - Thanks for having me over

[oh-jah-mah shee-mahss]

In the literal sense, "ojama shimasu" means "I bothered you," but it's used as a token of thanks when leaving someone who hosted you.

"ありがとうございました" (Arigatou gozaimashita) - Thank you

[ah-ree-gah-toh goh-zah-ee-mah-sh-tah]

In this case, the "-shita" suffix implies the past tense, so you would use this to say "thank you" for something that's already happened.

How to write “thank you” in Japanese

There are three ways to write in Japanese: Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana.


Kanji is a system of Japanese writing that uses Chinese characters. It's used for verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs, but it doesn't cover the entire Japanese language.


(Arigatou) - Thank you


Hiragana and Katakana are kana systems, or sets of 46 symbols each that represent vowel and consonant syllables. Hiragana has more of a "cursive" appearance, while Katakana characters are more angular.

Hiragana, which means "flowing" or "simple" kana, is the most commonly used form of Japanese writing. This is the system that native children and foreign learners alike generally begin with. It can be used alone or in combination with Kanji, although you can hypothetically write anything in Hiragana since it's not always practical to use by itself. It's most commonly used for native Japanese words and grammatical functions.


(Arigatou) - Thank you


(Arigatou gozaimasu) - Thank you very much


(Azasu) - Thanks (slang)


Katakana is made up of "fragmentary" kana, or pieces of the more complex kanji characters. Whereas Hiragana is used for native Japanese words, Katakana is used to represent "loan" words that are borrowed from other languages — of which there are many.


(Sankyuu) - Thanks (slang)

“You’re welcome” in Japanese

If you want to respond to a phrase like "doumo arigatou gozaimasu" with "you're welcome," you would say "dou itashimashite." However, there are many different ways to accept someone's expression of gratitude.

"どういたしまして" (Dou itashimashite) - You're welcome

[doh ee-tah-shee-mah-shee-teh]

"いえいえ"(Ie ie) - No, no / Not at all

[ee-eh ee-eh]

"問題もない" (Mondai mo nai) - No problem

[mohn-dah-ee moh nah-ee]

"全然" (Zenzen) - Not at all


"もちろん" (Mochiron) - Of course


"こちらこそ" (Kochirakoso) - Thank you as well (formal, common in the workplace)


Whichever phrase you choose, don't forget to graciously accept the person's thanks!

More ways to say thank you: Japanese dialects

If you've memorized all of the above, you're more than capable of expressing your gratitude in Japanese. However, some locales use their own dialects, which means they say things a little bit differently. 

Here's how to say "thanks" in a few Japanese regional dialects.


"おおきに" (Ookini) - Great, thanks


"毎度" (Maido) - Thank you for your patronage (can be used with "ookini" or "arigatou")



"だんだん" (Dan dan) - Thank you



"キノドク" (Kinodoku) - Sorry


"あら、キノドクな" (Ara, kinodokuna) - Oh dear, sorry

[ah-rah, kee-noh-doh-koo-nah]


"ニフェーデービル" (Nifueedeebiru) - Thank you


"ニヘデビル" (Nihe de biru) - Thank you

[nee-heh deh bee-roo]

"イッペンフェーデービル" (Ippee nifee deebiru) - Thank you very much

[ee-peh-eh nee-fee deh-bee-roo]

Though there are several spelling variations, each is a formal expression of gratitude appropriate for superiors or strangers.


"もっけだの" (Mokkedano) - Thank you


"おしょうしゃな" (Oshyoushina) - Thank you (Polite)


"オシャシ" (Oshoshi oshoshi) - Thank you (Casual)

[oh-shoh-shee oh-shoh-shee]

"オショシ ナシ" (Oshoshi nashi) - Thank you (Formal)

[oh-shoh-shee nah-shee]

Wrapping up

We hope this guide is useful as you continue your language-learning journey. For more tips about speaking Japanese, check out how to say "I love you" and other terms of affection.

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