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Ultimate Guide to Finding the Right Expression in Japanese

By Lauren Woody & Hei Kin Wong | December 27th, 2021 

Living in Japan is exciting, but remembering Japanese expressions is one of the hardest parts of life in Japan. There’s always a time and place for saying different phrases and expressions, but it can be difficult to know when and how to say things. This guide will help you have meaningful conversations, give you essential survival phrases you need to know, and assist you in finding the right Japanese expression so that you don’t always have to respond with, sou desu ne (I agree), when in a Japanese conversation.

This article is a subsection of our extensive series on learning Japanese through  Online Lessons at Japan Switch.

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    Expressions in Japanese You Will Use Every Day 

    Let's skip past all the major boring textbook stuff and dive right in! Here are five Japanese expressions that are not hello or goodbye that you will definitely use in your daily life in Japan.

    まじで / maji de


    Depending on your tone, maji de can be used in any situation.

    まじで maji de Seriously / I’m being serious

    As a statement, maji de, can be used to emphasize how serious you are about a situation:

    まじで、やめて maji de, yamete Seriously, stop.

    And also to emphasize an adjective:

    この部屋はまじで汚いね Kono-heya-wa-maji de-kitanai ne This room is seriously(very) dirty.

    And also as a question! 

    まじで?

    Majide?

    Seriously? / Are you serious?

    そう / sou


    そうなの?

    Sou na no?

    Oh really?

    そうですか?

    Sou desu ka?

    Is that so?

    そうですね

    Sou desu ne

    That is true / I agree

    そうだよね

    Sou da yo ne

    I thought so too.

    そう、そう

    Sou, sou

    Yes, yes / ya, ya

    ~そう

    ~sou

    Seems like (~action) will happen.

    そうらしい

    Sou rashii

    It seems like it

    本当に / hontou ni


    You'll often hear this in anime to mean 'truly' or 'honestly' and hontou ni gets a lot (and I mean a lot) of use in daily life to expression seriousness or sincerity.

    本当に

    Hontou ni

    Really / Very

    You’ll hear this commonly in question form: 

    本当に?

    Hontou ni?

    Really?

    But also to emphasize an adjective:

    本当に感謝しています

    Hontou ni kansha shiteimasu

    I am very(really) appreciative.

    And to express that you are telling the truth: 

    本当に起きたことです

    Hontou ni okita koto desu

    This really happened

    大丈夫 / daijyoubu


    Daijyoubu is one of the words you are going to get ~very~ familiar with! It basically translates to 'okay' or 'alright' and is often used as a coverall expression in much the same way as 'okay' is in English.

    大丈夫 / だいじょうぶ

    Daijyoubu

    Okay

    大丈夫?/ だいじょうぶ?

    大丈夫ですか?/ だいじょうぶですか?

    Daijyoubu?

    Daijyoubu-desuka?

    Are you okay?

    If someone asks you if you are okay, then you would reply with

    大丈夫だよ / だいじょうぶだよ

    daijyoubu-dayo

    I am okay / Don’t worry about it

    But as you can see, daijyoubu-dayo can also be used to say, “Don’t worry about it”, for instance, when a friend tells you they will be 5 minutes late. 

    大丈夫です / だいじょうぶです

    Daijyoubu-desu

    I am okay

    While daijyoubu-desu means “I am okay”, this Japanese expression can be used to say that you are doing fine, but also to say that you don’t need something. For example, when a store worker asks if you need a plastic bag, you can say daijyoubu-desu to express that you are okay without one. 

    お願いします / Onegaishimasu


    Whether you’re asking a colleague for help, or ordering at McDonalds, this is a phrase you cannot live without. 

    お願いします / おねがいします

    Onegai shimasu

    Please 

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    Differentiating between Casual and Formal Japanese Expressions

    Before we dive deeper into more expressions in Japanese, it is important to understand how to use these expressions, and how to know whether one is casual or formal. 

    Formal Japanese expressions usually end in です / desu, or ます / masu, while casual expressions in Japanese can end in any way. Keep this in mind as you learn more Japanese expressions in this article.

    If you need to be very formal, your Japanese expressions will need to be in Keigo form. Here are some phrases in Keigo that you should know.

     

    いらっしゃいます

    irasshai-masu

    Will come (for others)

    参ります / まいります

    mairi-masu

    Will come (for yourself)

    ご覧になる / ごらんになる

    gorann-ni-naru

    Will watch (for others)

    拝見する / はいけんする

    haiken-suru

    Will watch (for yourself)

    お預かり / おあずかり

    oazukari

    I’ll take care of [item] / I’ll keep [item] for you

    Finding the Right Expression in Japanese When Greeting Someone

    Greetings are essential, and the most basic expression for saying hello is konnichiwa.

    こんにちは

    konnichiwa

    Hello

    If you want to use more causal expressions to greet someone, like a close friend, try these: 

    おっす

    O-ssu

    Hey / What’s Up

    よー

    yo—

    Yo! / Hey!

    But what do you say next? 

    Time to make some small talk! Have these questions and answers ready to go. 

    調子はどう? / ちょうしはどう?

    Choushi wa dou?

    How are you doing?

    元気にしてますか?/ げんきにしてますか?

    Genki ni shitemasuka?

    Have you been doing well?

    元気ですか?/ げんきですか?

    Genki desu ka?

    Are you well?

    元気?

    Genki?

    Doing good?

    この頃、何をしてますか? / このごろ、なにをしてますか?

    Kono goro nani wo shitemasuka?

    What have you been up to recently?

    Now, if someone asks how you’ve been, you might want to try using some of these next Japanese expressions.

    調子はいいです! / ちょうしはいいです

    Choushi wa ii desu

    I’ve been doing well!

    元気にしてます / げんきにしてます

    Genki ni shitemasu

    I’ve been doing well!

    元気だよ! / げんきだよ

    Genki dayo

    I’m great!

    元気!/ げんき

    Genki

    Great!

    めっちゃ元気!/ めっちゃげんき

    Meccha genki

    Super great!

    元気 / genki, implies health, energy, and wellbeing, and is probably a word you hear often, but it’s essential that you 

    Of course, Japan, like in most other countries, has it customary to say you are okay and “doing great” in response to the “How are you?” question, if you’re talking to a Japanese friend, you might opt for a more honest answer.

    調子は結構悪いです / ちょうしはけっこうわるいです

    Choushi wa kekkou warui desu

    I’ve been doing pretty bad.

    元気じゃないです / げんきじゃないです

    Genki jyanai desu

    I’m not doing great.

    一様、元気かな? / いちよう、げんきかな?

    Ichiyou, genki kana

    I guess I’m going okay?

    With all the different expressions that the Japanese language has, it can be difficult for foreigners to navigate in their conversation with Japanese. To get some tips on improving your Japanese conversation skills, visit our article on the Top 15 Japanese Conversation Tips!

    Friends share their Japanese expression in convention

    What Expression in Japanese should I use when…

     

    … I meet someone for the first time


    You’ve been introduced to someone new! What should you say?

    初めまして / はじめまして

    hajimemashite

    Nice to meet you

    私の名前は__です / わたしのなまえは__です

    Watashi no namae wa ____ desu

    My name is __.

    よろしくお願いします / よろしくおねがいします

    Yoroshiku onegai shimasu

    It’s nice meeting you (I look forward to it)

    If you’re meeting your partner's parents, a boss, coworkers, or someone who has helped you, make sure to slip in this very important line when introducing yourself.

    お世話になっています、__と申します / 

    おせわになっています、__ともうします

    Osewa ni natte imasu, (full name) to moushimasu

    Thank you for helping me(/I am in your debt), my name is __.

     

    … I visit someone’s house


    When entering the house, say:

    お邪魔します / おじゃまします

    Ojyama shimasu

    Literal translation: I will bother you

    Means: excuse me for visiting

    And when leaving:

    お邪魔しました / おじゃましました

    Ojyama shimashita

    Thank you for having me

    … Someone visits my house


    When someone says, お邪魔します(ojyama-shimasu), you should respond with:

    どうぞ

    Dou-zo

    Come in!

    And of course, offer them a drink or something to eat.

    何かを飲みますか? / なにかをのみますか?

    Nanika wo nomimasuka?

    Would you like something to drink?

    お茶でも飲みませんか? / おちゃでものみませんか?

    Ocha demo nomimasen ka?

    Would you like some tea or something?

    All of these expressions we've mentioned thus far can be used in various contexts. However, communication is far more than just words and phrases. Check out our Ultimate Guide to Japanese Conversation to learn how to communicate like a Japanese!

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    Expressions in Japanese to Convey Emotions

    It can be difficult to express how you are feeling into words. Here are some common Japanese expressions for various emotions. 

    When You’re Happy / Excited


    とても嬉しいです / とてもうれしいです

    Totemo ureshii desu

    I’m extremely happy

    嬉しくてたまらない / 嬉しくてたまらない

    Ureshikute tamaranai

    I can’t contain my happiness

    ワクワクする / わくわくする

    Waku waku suru

    I’m so excited

    すごいですね

    Sugoi desune

    That’s amazing

    やったー!

    Yatta-!

    Woo! Incredible!

    テンション上がるね! / てんしょんあがるね!

    Tennshonn agaru ne

    I’m getting so excited!

    盛り上がるね! / もりあがるね

    Mori agaru ne

    This is so exciting!

     

    When You’re Laughing


    腹から笑った / はらからわらった

    Hara kara  waratta

    I laughed from my stomach.

    面白いですね / おもしろいですね

    Omoshiroi desu ne

    That is very funny.

    おもろ

    Omoro

    That’s funny.

    笑っちゃう / わらっちゃう

    Waracchau

    I can’t help but laugh.

    You’ve probably seen these characters online, but some Japanese people will even say this in real life -- similar to how you would use LOL. 

    笑 / わら

    Wara

    LOL

    Ww

    Wara wara

    LOL (shortened way to write the above kanji/笑)

    草 / くさ

    Kusa

    LOL (where Japanese people found, ww, resembles grass)

     

    When You’re Confused


    わかりません / わかんない

    Wakarimasen / wakannai

    I do not know / I don’t know

    なんで?

    Nande

    Why?

    何? / なに?

    nani

    What?

    手伝ってください

    Tetsudatte kudasai

    Please help me

    どういうことですか?

    Douiukoto desu ka

    What does that mean?

    えっと。。。

    etto…

    umm… 

     

    When You’re Angry / Annoyed


    まじで?!

    Maji de?!

    Are you serious?!

    まじで言ってんの? / まじでゆってんの?

    Maji de yutten no?

    Did you seriously just say that?

    腹が立つ / はらがたつ

    Hara ga tatsu

    I’m pissed off

    頭に来るわ /  あたまにくるわ

    Atama ni kuru wa

    That’s getting to my head.

    いい加減にしろ / いいかげんにしろ

    Ii kagen ni shiro

    You need to stop that

    まじでめんどくさい / めんどくさ

    Maji de mendokusai / mendokusa

    That's so annoying/frustrating

    イライラする / いらいらする

    Iraira suru

    I’m so annoyed

    馬鹿じゃないの / ばかじゃないの

    Bakajyanaino

    Are you stupid?

    ちくしょう (ちきしょう)

    Chikushou (chikishou)

    Damn it!

    Friends sharing their expression in Japanese in a cafe

    When You’re not Feeling Your Best


    It can be hard to express that you’re feeling down, or sick. But here are some common and easy ways to tell anyone that you’re not feeling well. 

    悲しいです / かなしいです

    Kanashii desu

    I am sad

    寂しいです

    Samishii desu

    I am sad

    具合が悪い / ぐあいがわるい

    Guai ga warui

    I’m not feeling well / I’m feeling sick

    気分が悪い / きぶんがわるい

    Kibun ga warui

    I am not feeling well

    When You’re Apologetic


    You will hear Japanese people saying sorry all the time. However, gomen, is not the only way to express sorrow!

    本当に申し訳ございません / ほんとうにもうしわけございません

    Hontou ni moushiwake gozaimasen

    I am sincerely sorry.

    間違えました

    Machigaemashita

    I made a mistake

    ごめんなさい

    Gomennasai

    Sorry

    すみません

    Sumimasen

    I am sorry  (more polite than gomen)

    失礼しました

    Shitsurei shimashita

    I am sorry for the inconvenience

    When You’re in Love


    You meet a Japanese person you think is amazing, and you want to ask them out on a date! 

    今度、お茶でも行かない?/ こんど、おちゃでもいかない?

    お茶しない? / おちゃしない?

    Kondo, ocha demo ikanai?

    / Ocha shinai?

    Would you like to go to have some tea sometime? (“Tea” refers to a casual hangout, maybe a cafe or lunch)

    デートに行きませんか? / でーとにいきませんか?

    De-to ni ikimasenn ka?

    Would you like to go on a date with me?

    If you’ve been asked on a date, here is what you should respond with. 

    はい。行きましょう!/ はい。いきましょう!

    Hai. Ikimashou!

    Yes. Let’s go!

    ごめんなさい、行けないです。/ ごめんなさい、いけないです。

    Gomennasai, ikenai desu.

    Sorry, I can’t go. 

    (This is very straightforward, and might take the person by surprise.) 

    用事があって。。。/ ようじがあって。。。

    Youji ga atte...

    I have something that day…

    (This would imply that you are not interested.)

    Now that you’ve been on a few dates, you might want to ask this person to be your partner!

    __ のことが好きです/ __のことがすきです

    (Their name) no koto ga suki desu

    I like you.

    付き合ってください / つきあってください

    Tsukiatte kudasai

    Please date me (Will you date me?)

    彼女·彼氏になってください / 

    かのじょ·かれしになってください

    Kanojyo / kareshi ni natte kudasai

    Please be my girlfriend/boyfriend (Will you be my girlfriend/boyfriend)

    What should you respond to being asked out! Here are some common expressions in Japanese.

    はい。よろしくおねがいします。

    Hai yoroshiku onegaishimasu

    Yes. I look forward to it. 

    恋人にはなれないけど、友達でいたい

    Koibito niwa narenai kedo, tomodachi de itai

    I can’t be your partner, but I would like to stay friends

    今は付き合えないかも

    Ima wa tsukiaenai kamo

    I don’t think I can date you right now

    But, how do you flirt in Japanese? 

    会いたいよ / あいたいよ

    Aitai yo

    I miss you / I want to see you

    好きだよ / すきだよ

    Suki da yo

    I like you

    大好きだよ / だいすきだよ

    Dai suki da yo

    I really like you / I love you 

    (Literally translates to: “big” like)

    大大大好きだよ / だいだいだいすきだよ

    Dai dai dai suki da yo

    I really, really, really, like/love you

    (You can add as many 大(dai)’s as you like! Common in texts)

    愛してる

    Aishiteru

    I love you

    It’s very uncommon to say 愛してる (aishiteru), and couples will often opt for 大好き (daisuki) to express their love for their partner (or family).

    So far we've learned quite a few phrases to express our feelings in Japanese. However, there will be times where just using these phrases might not be enough. We recommend you to check out our guide to the Top 1000 Japanese Words You Need to Know to find the right words to go with your expression in Japanese!

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    Finding the Right Expression in Japanese to Talk About Food

    Choosing the right expression in Japanese expressions can vary depending on who you're with but here are a few key ones to get you started:

    頂きます / いただきます

    Itadakimasu

    Bon appétit

    召し上げれ / めしあがれ

    Meshi agare

    Please dig in!

    ごちそうさまでした

    Gochisou sama deshita

    Thank you for the food.

    And here are a few expressions in Japanese for when you're going out to eat:

    食べに行こう / たべにいこう

    Tabe ni ikou

    Let’s go eat

    飲みに行かない? / のみにいかない?

    Nomi ni ikanai?

    Do you want to go out for drinks?

    おすすめはなんですか?

    Osusume wa nan desu ka?

    What do you recommend?

    __にはなにが入ってますか? / __にはなにがはいってますか?

    ____ ni wa nani ga haittemasu ka?

    What’s in __?

    大きさはどのぐらいですか? / おおきさはどのぐらいですか?

    Ookisa wa dono gurai desu ka?

    How big is the dish?

    辛いですか? / からいですか?

    Karai desu ka?

    Is it spicy?

    お腹いっぱいです / おなかいっぱいです

    Onaka ippai desu

    My stomach is full

    もう一杯! / もういっぱい

    Mou ippai

    Another please! (For drinks)

    おかわりお願いします / おかわりおねがいします

    Okawari onegaishimasu

    Another please! (Drinks or food)

    And if you need a handy expression in Japanese to describe the quality of the food:

    美味しかったです / おいしかったです

    Oishikatta desu

    It was delicious

    口に合わなかった / くちにあわなかった

    Kuchi ni awanakatta

    It wasn’t for me (I didn’t like how it tasted)

    まずかった

    Mazukatta

    It was not good. 

    But you might need an expression in Japanese for when the food isn’t what you asked for...

    これは頼んでないんですけど。。。 / これはたのんでないんですけど。。。

    Kore wa tanondenain desu kedo…

    I didn’t order this…

    Friends talking about Japanese expression in winter

    Expression in Japanese For Gift Giving

    It’s very important to be humble when gift-giving so the right expression in Japanese is extra important at times like this. Even if your gift is something you know is amazing, make sure to use one of these humble expressions in Japanese. 

    Start with:


    小さな物ですが。。。 / ちいさなものですが。。。

    Chiisana mono desu ga…

    It’s nothing fancy, but…

    つまらないもので。。。

    Tsumaranai mono desu ga…

    It’s nothing special,  but…

    心ばかりの品ですが。。。/ こころばかりのひんですが。。。

    Kokoro bakari no hin desu ga…

    This is just a small token of my appreciation, but…

    And end with:


    どうぞお受け取りください / どうぞおうけとりください

    Douzo ouketori kudasai

    Please take this gift. (For items)

    どうぞお召し上がりください / どうぞおめしあがりください

    Douzo omeshi agari kudasai

    Please eat this gift. (For food)

    Expression in Japanese When at a Store

    When you’re at a store looking for something, the worst feeling is not being able to find what you want, and not knowing how to ask for help. These expressions will help make your shopping experience more efficient and easy!

    __はどこにありますか?

    ____ wa dokoni arimasuka?

    Where can I find ____

    __には何がおすすめですか? / __にはなにがおすすめですか?

    ____ ni wa nani ga osusume desu ka?

    What would you recommend for __?

    __の在庫はありますか。/___のざいこはありますか

    ____ no zaiko wa arimasu ka?

    Do you have ____ in stock?

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    Expression in Japanese to Use at the Workplace

    Workplace etiquette is extremely important, and these expressions in Japanese will help you 

    おはようございます

    Ohayo gozazimasu

    Good morning — when you start your shift, no matter the time

    お疲れ様です / おつかれさまです

    Otsukare sama desu

    Thank you for your hard work / Good work

    お先に失礼します / お先に失礼します

    Osaki ni shitsurei shimasu

    Excuse me for leaving first.

    ご苦労様です / ごくろうさまです

    Gokurou sama desu

    Thank you for your hard work through hardship

    少しお時間を頂いてもよろしいですか? / すこしおじかんをいただいてもよろしいですか?

    Sukoshi ojikan wo itadaitemo yoroshii desu ka?

    Can I have some of your time? (When asking for help or advice)

    __日は休みをとってもよろしいですか?

    ____ nichi wa yasumi wo tottemo yoroshii desu ka?

    Is it okay if I take __(day) off?

    なるほどですね

    Naruhodo desu ne

    I understand your point.

    賛成です / さんせいです

    Sansei desu

    I am in agreement

    もう一度、説明してください / もういちど、説明してください

    Mou ichido, setsumei shite kudasai

    Can you please explain that one more time.

    Expression in Japanese for Special Occasions

    Some occasions call for a very specific expression in Japanese (or several) that you don’t hear often and so are easy to forget! Here are some of the most important: 

    For Marriage


    ご婚約おめでとうございます / ごかんやくおめでとうございます

    Gokonyaku omedetou gozaimasu

    Congratulations on your engagement

    ご結婚おめでとうございます/ ご結婚おめでとうございます

    Gokekkon omedetou gozaimasu

    Congratulations on your marriage

    For Funerals


    ご愁傷様です / ごしゅうしょうさまです

    Goshuushou sama desu

    I am sorry for your loss.

    お悔やみ申し上げます / おくやみもうしあげます

    Okuyami moushi agemasu

    I offer my deepest condolences.

    __が亡くなって残念ですね / __がなくなって残念ですね

    ____ ga nakunatte zannen desu ne

    I am sorry __ passed away.

    For Pregnancy


    妊娠おめでとうございます / にんしんおめでとうございます

    Ninshin omedetou gozaimasu

    Congratulations on your pregnancy

    ご懐妊おめでとうございます / ごかいにんおめでとうございます

    Gokainin omedetou gozaimasu

    Congratulations on your pregnancy

    お体を大事にしてください

    Okaradawo daijini shite kudasai

    Please take care of your body

    ご出産おめでとうございます / ごしゅっさんおめでとうございます

    Goshusan omedetou gozaimasu

    Congratulations on giving birth (to the mother)

    __のお誕生おめでとうございます / __のおたんじょうおめでとうございます

    ____ no otanjyou omedetou gozaimasu

    Congratulations on __ being born

    Japanese Slang and Idioms

    Japanese slang and idioms are great Japanese expressions to learn as well, because they can help you communicate your feelings or explain situations to a wider audience using more specific or relatable language. 

    Japanese slang is something you can use with close friends! While you will probably pick up on slang your Japanese friends use, two common phrases are:

    やばい / やっば

    Yabai / yabba 

    No way! 

    微妙 /びみょう

    bimyou

    So-so / not great

    For a more in-depth read about slang, you can learn more in our Ultimate Guide to Japanese Slang

    Japanese idioms can be used with anyone! A common one that you might hear often is:

    相変わらず / あいかわらず

    aikawarazu

    The same as ever

    If you’re interested in learning more Japanese idioms, check out our Ultimate Guide to Japanese Idioms

    Conclusion

    Finding the right expression in Japanese can be extremely difficult, but learning key phrases can really improve conversations and help you in navigating your day-to-day life in Japan. Make sure to slowly build your Japanese expression repertoire as you build stronger relationships and steady life in Japan.

    If you wish to know more about practical Japanese phrases you can use in real-life, then visit our Ultimate Guide to Useful Japanese Phrases to learn more!

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