As in many other languages as well, in Japanese there are many different ways to say thank you. Today, I’m going to briefly introduce you to some of them and tell you which ones you probably should remember the first.
- ありがとう (arigatoo)
The most known word for thanking someone is probably arigatoo. If you know even a few words of Japanese, you probably know this word and if you have visited Japan, you might have even used it – or you could have used it overseas when you have met Japanese people. However, arigatoo alone is actually a casual way to thank someone and it can be used only in limited situations especially if you are young.
This doesn’t mean you should forget this word though. You can use it among friends or when talking to children and you can also easily make it more formal by adding up some words to it. Lets’s take these two more formal expressions for example:
- ありがとうございます (arigatoo gozaimasu)
(*Gozaimasu also sometimes changes to past tense gozaimashita.)
This expression uses the word arigatoo but is a lot more formal and can be safely used in various situations. For instance, I could use either of these when talking to a teacher or when thanking a waitress in restaurant. I have heard some people say that you should not use any expression that includes arigatoo to thank those working in customer service but listening to Japanese people, this is either old or completely wrong information. You can use arigatoo when talking to restaurant staff or a cashier – however, you might be better off saying arigatoo gozaimasu and not just plain arigatoo. This depends on your age and personality though. My Japanese friend’s father would probably never use anything as polite as arigatoo gozaimasu to restaurant staff but his mother always uses a polite expression towards staff members. Even though they use expressions with very different level of politeness, neither of them would not be considered rude or too polite to the situation.
- どうもありがとうございます (doomo arigatoo gozaimasu)
When I first started learning Japanese, I learned that this is the ultimate expression you should use when you want to be very polite. I soon learned I was wrong and I actually never use this expression. I feel like the level of politeness is pretty much the same as the politeness of arigatoo gozaimasu which I personally use. My impression is also that at least in Tokyo, expressions including doomo are used more by a little older people.
- どうも (doomo)
Doomo can also be used alone as a very casual, light way to thank someone. It can also be used as a greeting. You should be careful when using it though as it can be considered rude depending on the situation and the way of use. If I wanted to express my gratitude to someone by using only this word, I would make sure to smile while saying it.
- Phrases with a word 感謝 (kansha)
This is a bit more advanced Japanese but for more formal situations, you can use phrases that include the Japanese word for thankfulness, 感謝 (kansha). What makes this word interesting is that while the former kanji (感) symbolizes feelings, the latter kanji (謝) is actually used in a word for apologizing. This explains the Japanese way of using thank you: when you say thank you, you’re actually often apologizing at the same time.
Below you can see some example phrases that include this word:
感謝しています (kansha shiteimasu)
心から感謝いたします (kokoro kara kansha itashimasu)
心より感謝申し上げます (kokoro yori kansha mooshiagemasu)
These are all very polite, humble expressions which you will probably not need to remember if you’re only coming to Japan for traveling. You might hear them somewhere so you might want to remember them anyway. Also, while I have included roomaji spelling for the above expressions, you should probably avoid using them if you haven’t got far in your Japanese studies yet as they might sound sarcastic used in wrong situations.
As examples of the usage of these words, I have used the latter two in letters and emails to University teachers. The first one I use a little bit more but I would never use it in informal situations. Last time I used it was in a speech at University.
- すみません (sumimasen)
Introduced in my earlier article about useful Japanese phrases (10 Useful Words and Phrases for Your First Japan Trip), this word often known for apologizing is sometimes also used as a thank you. Using this expression, you can both apologize for the trouble you have caused to someone and thank that someone at the same time. There are various situations where you could use this but one example is when you drop something and get it picked up for you. I would probably stack up some expressions and say something like すみません、ありがとうございます！ to express my thankfulness. It depends on what I dropped though: if I dropped a pack of tissues for example, I would probably just mumble an embarrassed sumimasen.
- 恐れ入ります (osore irimasu)
So far, I have only heard this word when I have been somewhere as a customer. For example, imagine a situation in a restaurant where waiter brings you food but the table’s full of plates and glasses, and there’s no where to place the new plate just brought. You automatically decide to move your teacup a little so the plate can be placed there. There’s a high possibility that the waiter will thank you using osore irimasu. All in all, this expression is very formal and the chances are you will never use it expect if you work in customer service in Japan.
- お世話になりました (osewa ni narimashita)
A very good way to thank your host when you have stayed in someone’s house. This is not the only usage for this word of course: it’s also a very suitable word for thanking a long-time teacher or an advisor, one’s parents, a coach of your sports team… Pretty much anyone who has helped you in something for a somewhat long period of time. The length of this period really depends on a situation: you wouldn’t say this to a teacher after one lesson or to your friend whose house you stayed only for a few hours but you could say it to someone after staying ever just for a one night in his house.
- ご面倒おかけしました (gomeiwaku okakeshimashita)
This actually translates to as an apology for causing trouble but it can also be understood as a thank you. “I caused a lot of trouble but thank you for bearing with that” would be one more complete translation for the expression. Even though this is a polite expression, it’s not often used to people you haven’t been aquainted with much. No matter how much trouble I caused to a stranger, I probably wouldn’t use this expression.
- おかげさまで (okagesama de)
I love this expression because it can be used in a very nonchalant way, and you can easily express your feelings of gratitude by including this expressions inside a sentence. You can also use this on its own when answering compliments for example. I sometimes hear this used a bit sarcastically (and then people say Japanese don’t use sarcasm) so you should be careful when using it.
- お礼申し上げます (orei mooshiagemasu)
This expression is here just as an example of the usage of the word お礼 meaning gratitude. This word can be used in many difficult sentences in different ways but all in all, it’s mostly used in formal situations or in written contexts such as letters and it’s a very polite way to thank someone. I could imagine using this at work.
- 恩に着ます (on ni kimasu)
Although I have yet to use this myself, I find on ni kimasu a very interesting phrase. I have seen this translated as “thank you for your support” but even better alternative for this word in English would “I owe you” or “I’m indebted to you”. Even though this is not one of the first expressions a Japanese learner will study, it’s not actually that formal and can be used casually to friends as well. I have yet to have a friend say me the words 恩に着るよ so I’m not sure how common it is but it’s still an expression worth remembering. You should be careful in using it though as it can end up leaving a sarcastic impression if you use it in wrong situation.
This ends the introduction of how to express thankfulness in Japanese. There are many other ways to say thank you as well but this entry would never end if I introduced all of them but feel free to ask for more information!
Also, since my earlier entry about how to say “you” in Japanese (How to Say “You” in Japanese) got a comment regarding the regional and personal differences, I want to stress that I write about the most “ordinary” Japanese, spoken in the area of Kantoo. I have studied Japanese as my major as well as listened to many different Japanese people talk on the top of watching an awful amount of Japanese tv programs and reading way too many books of different areas, and I know there are many different ways of talking depending on a person. I’m only introducing you the very ordinary way of speaking Japanese: something that is unlikely to get you weird looks and that will most likely not be misunderstood. I can’t teach you how to show your awesome personality when talking in Japanese: that’s something you have to learn by yourself while indulging yourself in Japanese.