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Asking someone for a service or favour is never complete without saying ‘please’ and in Japanese, ‘please’ is usually translated as either onegaishimasu or kudasai. But what’s the difference between these two words and are there more?
Yes, there are many words for ‘please’ in Japanese and as always, context is king! Saying ‘please’ in Japanese can change depending on whether you’re asking for something from a friend, a child, a waitress or your boss.
There are also some words for ‘please’ in Japanese with more of a feminine or masculine nuance.
Understanding which word is more appropriate is just as important as memorizing the word itself!
Do you share a close relationship with the person? Is it a formal setting where you would like to highlight the position of the listener? Perhaps you want to humble yourself when making a request or maybe you want to indicate your authority!
Whatever the scenario, here are the must-know phrases for how to say ‘please’ in Japanese!
下さい / ください
Please (give me something / do something)
Kudasai literally means ‘please give me’ and is used to make simple, neutral requests with either a verb or a noun, for example mite kudasai (look please) or kohi kudasai (coffee please).
Though it’s not the most polite way of saying ‘please’ in Japanese, it’s fine to use kudasai when asking for something of somebody who is equal to or inferior to you in age / rank / status or when ordering something as a customer.
At an izakaya (a Japanese pub) you could order drink by saying:
Nama wo futatsu kudasai!
Two draft beers please! (Two beers on tap)
As you can see, you can specify ‘how much’ of something you’d like to request, by using the を particle followed by the counter, for example: mikan wo hitotsu kudasai (ミカンを一つください) ‘one orange please’.
Kudasai can sound quite direct compared to onegaishimasu (which we will go over next). You would never use kudasai to someone of superior rank within a workplace for example.
To make a simple request using kudasai, you can either say noun + kudasai or you can use the – te form of a verb as follows:
Please sit down.
Koko ni sainshite kudasai.
Please sign here.
It would be rude if you removed kudasai from the above phrases and instead just say suwatte (sit) or koko ni sainshite (sign here), unless you were speaking to a friend.
In customer service settings, the verb matsu 待つ (to wait) is often used with kudasai but with it’s – masu form which is machimasu (待ちます). So instead of using the -te form and saying 待ってください its more polite to say お待ちください which is basically the difference between ‘wait please’ vs ‘just one moment please’.
A receptionist at a hotel would never say matte kudasai (please wait) to a customer, instead they would say:
Shou shou o machi kudasai.
Wait a moment, please. / Please wait a little. / Please hold for a moment (on the phone)
Or in some cases, chotto matte kudasai (ちょっと待ってください）can be used to soften the phrase.
Kudasaimase is the polite, imperative form of kudasai used by staff in customer-service settings to make respectful requests to customers in a shop.
Kudasaimase is more commonly used by those identifying as females and is formed by adding – mase to the end of kudasai, allowing staff to gently command customers (who are considered above them) to do something:
Tsutsu ga naku o sugoshi kudasaimase.
つつがなく おすごし くださいませ 。
Please take your time without any trouble.
Kudasai sounds very formal when used with friends. A good alternative you can use in casual settings is choudai (ちょうだい) see below!
お願いします / おねがいします
Onegashimasu is a very useful phrase for saying ‘please’ in Japanese because it’s universally polite so it can be used in almost any situation. It comes from the noun negau (願う) which means ‘hope’.
Onegaishimasu focuses on politely requesting as opposed to asking someone to give something to you or do something for you like kudasai.
The cool thing about onegaishimasu is that on it’s own, it is an honorific form of saying ‘please’ in Japanese but it can easily be made more polite or more casual to suit your needs.
For example, you can just say onegai (お願い）to a friend if you want to request something from them like kohi onegai (コヒーお願い) to say ‘coffee please!’.
On the other hand, when you want to elevate the position of the person you are speaking to, you change the ending to itashimasu as in onegai itashimasu!
Some say that onegaishimasu and kudasai are interchangeable, but onegaishimasu is actually far more appropriate in a professional setting. The fact that you can use onegaishimasu but not kudasai towards someone superior demonstrates this.
You can still use onegaishimasu in the same way as kudasai when ordering something at a restaurant, so like our beer example above, you could say nama wo futatsu onegaishimasu (生を二つお願いします）。
If you’re about to pay for something and you are asked whether you’ll pay by card or cash, you can say ‘card please’ by saying kaado de onegaishimasu (カードでお願いします)。
Onegaishimasu is also used by itself in a few situations. You can use it to politely get the attention of an employee at a restaurant. If you see a waiter / waitress who seems to be free, you can just call out sumimasen, onegaishimasu! (すみません、お願いします！) and they will respond ‘haii!’ and quickly attend to you.
The other way to use onegaishimasu by itself is when responding to someone and in this case it has the same meaning as ‘yes please!’
For example, if you went to a store to try on a t-shirt and it was too small, the staff member might offer to get you a bigger size by saying o kyaku sama ni motto ookii no saizu motte kimasu ka? / お客様にもっと大きいのサイズ持ってきますか？(Should I get a larger size for you?) You can simply respond onegaishimasu! It would not work to say kudasai here.
頂戴 / ちょうだい
Choudai is a casual expression to say ‘please’ in Japanese and while it can be used by both men and women, it has a feminine nuance.
The reason is because mothers use choudai when talking to children in an imperative way for example ‘please eat’ as in tabete choudai (食べてちょうだい) or ‘show me please’ as in misete choudai (見せてちょうだい).
If you wanted to have a piece of your friend’s food you could say chotto choudai (ちょっとちょうだい) which means ‘Can I have a bit?’ or ‘Can I have a piece?’
Significant others can also use choudai when asking each other to do something, for example ‘get me a pen please’: pen choudai (ペンちょうだい。)
Like most words for ‘please’ in Japanese, you can modify the politeness by adding honorific stems to choudai.
Many supermarket cashiers, particularly female, will use choudai with the polite stem – itashimasu when telling you how much you need to pay. For example:
Sen ni hyaku en de choudai itashimasu.
That will be 1,200 yen please.
Please (accept this)
Douzo has two main uses: a way to offer something to someone in the same way we would say ‘Please help yourself’ ‘Please, have ~ / take ~ ’ in English or as a way to give permission as in ‘please, go ahead’.
When employees speak to customers in Japan, they often use douzo to politely usher them into trying something or inviting them to take a look at something.
A host may say to a guest, douzo wo agari kudasai (どうぞを上がりください）which is literally ‘please come up’ but means ‘please, come in’.
While pouring you a glass of water and placing it on the table the waiter / waitress might say o mizu douzo (お水をどうぞ) which is like ‘Here’s some water’.
It’s also common to use douzo as ‘Please, after you’ when giving permission to someone to do something. For example, when leaving a room with a group of people, the person holding the door might say douzo with an open hand gesture to tell you to go first or if you were at a shop looking for something and the staff member wanted you to follow them, they would say kochira e douzo (こちらへどうぞ) as in ‘this way please’.
In formal speech, douzo is used to add extra politeness in combination with kudasai or onegaishimasu in some set phrases:
Douzo o kake kudasai.
Please have a seat.
Douzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu.
Pleased to meet you. / It’s a pleasure to meet you
Douzo on it’s own is used when you want to politely offer something to someone, similar to how we say ‘here you go’ in English. Informally, people also say hai (はい) when they want to give you something, but douzo is much more polite and formal.
Finally, douzo is used to give permission for example if someone says ‘May I take a photo?’ You can politely say ‘sure, go ahead’ by using douzo.
Japanese versions of English words can be difficult to understand, so we needed to include puurizu as one of the ways to say ‘please’ in Japanese, just so you know what you’re hearing if you ever go to Japan!
Again, the use of katakana in this phrase clearly tells us it’s a foreign word, and indeed puurizu is just ‘please’ with Japanese-friendly pronunciation.
It’s casual and is sometimes used in conjunction with douzo if a store employee is aware that you don’t speak Japanese. They may try to express their desire for you to help yourself or feel free to look around by saying puurizu!
Set phrases which use kudasai or onegaishimasu
There are set phrases which only use either kudasai OR onegaishimasu such as ‘ganbatte kudasai’ which means ‘Do your best!’. You do not say ganbatte onegaishimasu.
Similarly, you can say yoroshiku onegaishimasu when you meet someone for the first time, but you do not say yoroshiku kudasai – you will get some very strange looks!
A note on making polite requests in Japanese
We often say the word ‘please’ in English when we want to make polite requests in formal situations starting with ‘Can’ ‘Could’ or ‘May’’ for example ‘Can I have your name please?’ or ‘Could you call me a taxi please?’
In Japanese there are set phrases to make polite requests such as these, instead of directly saying ‘please’:
(request) + shite mo ii desu ka? (〜してもいいですか？）casual
- kuremasen ka? （〜くれませんか？） formal / polite
- itadakemasen ka? (〜いただけませんか？) very formal / polite
Kore wo kopii shite mo ii desu ka?
Can I copy this please?
Shio wo watashite kuremasen ka?
Could you pass me the salt please?
The word ‘please’ is inclusive in the question when you phrase it this way. You don’t need to say kudasai or onegaishimasu.
Depending on how polite you would like to make the phrase, you can choose itadakemasen ka? to be very polite.
For example, even though you could say:
Mou ichido itte kudasai.
Please repeat that one more time.
It would be more polite to say:
Mou ichido itte itadakemasen ka?
Could you please repeat that one more time?
More essential Japanese phrases:
- How to Say ‘Thank You’ in Japanese
- How to Say Sorry in Japanese: Apologize Like You Mean it
- How to Say Hello in Japanese: 19 Different Ways
- How to Say Goodbye in Japanese: 16 Useful Ways
- How to Say Yes in Japanese: ‘Hai’ and Beyond!
- How to Say No in Japanese: 11 Ways
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Francesca is a freelance copywriter and teacher, who moved to Tokyo from New Zealand at age 24. A linguistics and ESL major, she spent 3 years teaching at an all-boys high school. Now based in France, she remains a self-confessed Japanophile who loves kanji, cooking, cats and the outdoors.