One of the first few phrases anyone learns when picking up a new language is how to say hello. It’s the simplest greeting, or aisatsu (挨拶) in Japanese, and also sort of mandatory to know — or at least people assume you would know.
I believe that there are more ways than one to greet someone — like in English, “hello” comes in various forms. Similarly in Japanese, you get to take your pick on which greeting you want to use. The only difference is that, while most of English greetings are flexible and can be used for almost any situation, Japanese greetings can be more specific to the setting.
It’s also best to note the significance of social status even in greeting forms. In Japanese culture, where you rank on the social status scale can affect how you speak to another.
Let’s take a look at the top ways to say hello!
1. Konnichiwa (こんにちは)
The most basic form of greeting in Japanese is “konnichiwa” (こんにちは). Anyone who has ever picked up a Japanese textbook, or have roamed the streets of Japan, would be familiar with this phrase. It’s probably the first few phrases in Japanese a lot of people pick up.
“Konnichiwa” can be both formal and informal. You’ll hear street vendors and salespeople greeting passersby to get their attention by calling out “konnichiwa”. This greeting can also be used when you first meet someone.
Some people say “konnichiwa” can’t be used casually, but in my opinion, there is no wrong to that. You can definitely use this greeting to say hello to your friends and family — but it can be considered unusual since this phrase is perceived as somewhat semi-formal, so speaking to your family or friends in that tone might be odd.
“Konnichiwa” can also mean “good afternoon”, so when you pass by a colleague at the office, a simple greeting like this with a nod is appropriate.
2. Hisashiburi (久しぶり)
The second greeting phrase is “hisashiburi” (久しぶり). This is quite different from “konnichiwa” — while you can use konnichiwa to greet someone at any time, “hisashiburi” is used to greet someone you have not seen in a long time.
A long time can be subjective, though. Some can feel like a few months is long, while others may think a week is long as well. To me, it depends on who the person is — do I usually see them more than once or twice a week, or is it normal to see them once every few months?
Anyway, if you, personally, feel like it’s been quite some time since you saw your good friend, greet them with “hisashiburi!” to mean “it’s been a while!” It’s kind of like saying, “long time no see!”
You can use it casually and also politely — with the latter, there has to be a few adjustments. The polite form is “ohisashiburidesu” (お久しぶりです). This form of the phrase can be said to someone of higher status or people you are not so familiar with.
3. Ya-ho (ヤッホー)
If you want to take it super casual when greeting someone, use this: “ya-ho” (ヤッホー). Some people say that it’s a feminine greeting, but I have friends — both guys and girls — greeting me using this. I feel like it has a more playful tone than anything, on top of a sense of familiarity.
It’s quite similar to saying “yoohoo!” to grab someone’s attention. “Ya-ho” is a great greeting for someone you’re close with — say, your best friends or classmates. I would avoid using this anywhere in a formal setting like at work and the office.
4. Ya- (やあ)
Another casual hello to use to greet your friends is “ya-” (やあ). It’s kind of like the “hey!” in Japanese. It’s a simple and effective way to grab someone’s attention. It’s usually followed by the name of the person you’re greeting.
For example, your friend Haru is walking ahead of you and you want him to turn around and say hi. Call out, “やあ、はるちゃん！” (Ya-, Haru-chan!)
Alternatively, you can even omit the “ya-” completely and just greet them by calling out just their names.
5. Osu (おす)
Here’s one for the guys: “osu” (おす). This is a slang greeting for guys to greet other guys. Usually, when they pass by each other or approaching one another, they’ll have a hand raised up or a nod to accompany the greeting.
Girls don’t usually say this, but I have a couple of friends who use it to greet their guy friends. Guys wouldn’t say it to girls, and girls wouldn’t say it to other girls either. I guess as long as the receiving end is a guy, it’s probably a safe bet.
Unlike “ya-” and “ya-ho”, “osu” is used when you already have someone’s attention rather than getting it. You don’t usually have their names followed after the greeting — you can if you want to.
6. Yo- (よー)
There’s nothing complicated about this greeting. “Yo-” (よー) is simply “yo!” in Japanese. Say it to your friends or schoolmates, but I don’t recommend using it to anyone older than you — especially your boss. Maybe colleagues would be fine, but only if you’re familiar with them and not total strangers.
“Yo-” does have a bit of masculine tone to it, but that doesn’t mean girls can’t and don’t use it, too — just like how “yo” in English is used. I’d like to think that “yo” has a cooler vibe to it; maybe it’s the same in Japanese.
Some guys switch it out for “o-i” (おーい) for more of an exclamation and grabbing one’s attention. It can be considered rude, so use it only with people you’re comfortable with so as to not offend anyone accidentally.
7. Moshi moshi (もしもし)
In English, we usually say “hello” when we pick up a call on the phone. In Japanese, while it is somewhat okay to say “konnichiwa” when picking up the phone, it’s way more common to go with the phonecall hello, and that is “moshi moshi” (もしもし). This phrase comes from the verb mousu (申す) to mean “to say”.
This way of saying hello is usually only for phonecalls from friends and family. In any business situation — for example, if your client or boss calls you — don’t use “moshi moshi”. Instead, say “hai” (はい) which translates to “yes?”, like how we sometimes answer in English for phonecalls as well.
8. Genki? (元気？)
Last but not least, this way of saying hello is more of a “how are you”. “Genki?” (元気？) quite literally is asking someone if they are healthy or not, as the word “genki” mean “health”. You don’t say it every time you see someone — if you saw the person you’re going to see today, you won’t ask them “how are you”. It’s, in a way, similar to “hisashiburi” since you’ll only use this form of greeting after a period of time.
If it’s been quite a while, changing it to the past tense is better: “genki datta?” (元気だった？) It translates to, “have you been well?” or “how have you been?”
In the casual form, you can use it to friends, family and colleagues of the same social status, but if you want to greet someone of a higher social status, switch it to the polite form that is, “o genki desu ka?” (お元気ですか？)
Another way of asking someone how they have been is by using this phrase: “ikagadesuka?” (いかがですか？) It has a more formal tone — even more than the polite form of “genki?”. Usually, you use this to greet the higher-ups and asking how something specific is going rather than their general condition.
An example is asking your university pal how his new job is going: “shigoto wa ikaga desu ka?” (仕事はいかがですか？) This translates to, “how’s work going?”
There are way more ways of greeting someone in Japanese, but these are the best ways to start you off depending on the various situations and familiarity level. Learning simple phrases for greetings is a great way to get yourself comfortable with the language while expanding your vocabulary! So, switch up your “konnichiwa” to a “ya-ho” the next time you see your good pal!