Almost everyone knows how to say ‘thank you’ in Japanese using the word arigatou but as you probably guessed, there are many other ways to express gratitude!
Japan is a country with a long history of hierarchy and many layers of social etiquette which means we end up with many Japanese words for ‘thank you’, some being formal and some being casual. How you say ‘thank you’ to others depends on your relationship with them.
An interesting thing about saying ‘thank you’ in Japanese is that many words for ‘thank you’ share the meaning of ‘sorry’. This shows us a bit about the Japanese attitude towards politeness and humility.
People above your level in Japan (whether by age, status or rank within a workplace) are referred to as me ue no hito (目上の人) which literally means ‘superior people’ and this distinction greatly affects the words one chooses to say ‘thank you’ to another.
Naturally, we want to know the right way to thank somebody depending on the situation so that we can be respectful of cultural norms!
Here is our take on how to say ‘thank you’ in Japanese, and how to respond too! But at the end of the day, most people will appreciate your effort to memorize even just one of these Japanese words for thank you!
有難う / ありがとう
Arigatou simply means ‘thank you’ and is the casual, short version of arigatou gozaimasu which we will talk about next. Arigatou can be used with people we know well, but it doesn’t have any honorific forms attached to it so it can feel like something is missing when you use it outside of close friendships.
It is believed the concept of arigatou comes from Buddhist teachings, that having another person do something for you is rare and precious and should not be taken for granted.
In fact, arigatou, when written with kanji looks like this 有難う and if we break down the characters meaning, we get:
Which gives arigatou the meaning of ‘it is difficult to have’ (but I’m thankful).
Another theory suggests arigatou came from the Portuguese obrigado, brought to Japan by Catholic missionaries from Portugal.
While it’s origins may not be agreed upon, there are many variations of arigatou we can use which are created by putting words either before or after it as you will see in the next few examples!
有難うざいます / ありがとうございます
Thank you very much
Arigatou gozaimasu is the polite and formal way to say ‘thank you very much’ in Japanese and is a phrase which most of us already know. The word gozaimasu is an honorific expression for the verb ‘to be’ and it is also used with ohaiyou (Good morning) as in ohaiyou gozaimasu.
Adding gozaimasu shows modesty and politeness, two values held highly in Japan.
Arigatou gozaimasu is the gold standard for saying ‘thank you’ in Japanese and is actually a form of keigo! Therefore, you cannot go wrong when using this phrase, though it might sound intense with people you are close to.
The past tense of arigatou gozaimasu is arigatou gozaimashita which is used to say thank you to someone for an action that has already happened.
However some people say that we should always use the present tense form, arigatou gozaimasu, because our feeling of thankfulness never changes!
Doumo arigatou gozaimasu
Thank you very much (sonkeigo)
Doumo arigatou gozaimasu is also an honorific expression (humble, polite form) which is used in formal situations when you would like to express gratitude to someone of a higher position. It can also be used if you would like to lower your position before the speaker for receiving something of which you are grateful.
This is not an everyday phrase and should be reserved for highly formal occasions.
Hontoni arigatou gozaimasu
本当に有り難うございます / ほんとにありがとうございます
Thank you truly / greatly
Hontoni arigatou gozaimasu is a nice way to say you are truly thankful. Hontoni just means really or truly, and this expression has a nice balance of formal and casual because while it is a polite way to say thank you very much, hontoni makes it sound like it really comes from the heart!
Makotoni arigatou gozaimasu
誠にありがとうございます / まことにありがとうます
Sincerely thank you very much
Makotoni arigatou gozaimasu is a formal way to say you are sincerely thankful and used mainly in business settings. Makotoni means the same thing as hontoni but is just an honorific equivalent.
For example if you were to buy something online, you might get an email from the company afterwards saying makotoni arigatou gozaimashita to thank you for your purchase. As you are the customer, you are addressed with the honorific version of thank you.
Iroiro arigatou gozaimasu
色々有難うございます / いろいろありがとうございます
Thank you for everything
Iroiro arigatou gozaimasu is a nice variation of arigatou which means ‘thank you for everything’. This is a nice way to summarize your gratitude and thank someone whose help you can’t measure as they have been there for you in many ways.
Itsumo arigatou (gozaimasu)
いつも有難う / いつもありがとう
Thank you (very much) always
To close, I share with you my favourite variation of arigatou which is itsumo arigatou! This is a casual expression that means thank you always and it’s a really sweet way to express your continued gratitude towards someone. You can easily make it formal by adding gozaimasu to the end!
Doumo is a common and polite way to say thanks for something. It’s short and sweet, and has a sense of being formal yet laid back.
Doumo comes from the Edo period and was originally part of the phrase dou mo ienu (どうも言えぬ）meaning there is no way to say it (言う is the verb for to say). It was used to express there are no words to express one’s appreciation for something.
People don’t say dou mo ienu any more because it was shortened to doumo in the Meiji period and has been used since.
Doumo can also be used to say ‘hello’ in Japanese depending on context!
お疲れ様です / おつかれさまです
Thank you for your effort / hard work
Otsukaresama desu is a way to thank others for their efforts, especially in a workplace setting. It means ‘Thank you for your hard work / effort’ and is usually said at the end of a work day or any event where people have worked together to achieve a common goal.
Otsukaresama desu can be shortened to just otsukaresama and is often said to every person within a workplace, from the staffroom to the office. Other situations would be between team members after practice or classes whether it be sports, music, cooking you name it!
It literally means ‘you are tired’ and with the honorific suffix -sama we can see that this is a form of keigo and is therefore a polite and formal way to address somebody.
The past tense of otsukaresama desu is formed by changing desu into the past tense deshita so that it becomes otsukaresama deshita (お疲れ様でした). Many people use this form when they respond to someone who is leaving the office.
In this case, the person leaving work would say ‘o saki ni shitsureishimasu’ (お先に失礼します）which literally means ‘I’m rude to leave before you’ and the formal response from colleagues would be otsukaresamedeshita (since the person has finished work).
When leaving work before others, you can say:
O saki ni shitsurei shimasu. Otsukaresama desu.
I’m rude to leave before you. Thank you for your hard work / effort today
Even though we would never say this in English, in Japanese culture this is a normal and polite expression to honor your coworkers who remain in the office as you clock out.
This post wouldn’t be complete without some slang and Azasu is the word you get when you say arigatou gozaimasu really fast! It’s super casual, slightly masculine and popular in written formats like chat, SMS and other online media.
Azasu should only be used with friends! You’d be considered disrespectful if you said this to someone like a boss or teacher.
Sankyu (サンキュ）is a cute, informal way to say ‘thank you’ with Japanese-friendly pronunciation. As you can probably tell from the katakana, it IS the direct transcription of ‘Thank you’ into Japanese because the th sound is replaced with s to make sankyu.
Sankyu can be used with friends and has a slightly feminine and childish sound so it’s also used frequently by anime characters.
If you suddenly forget other ways to say thank you in Japanese, you can always just say sankyu! But it’s super casual and obviously borrowed from English so you’d probably want to keep this one for family and friends only!
Thank you (sorry to bother you)\
Sumimasen is a word most of us know as ‘sorry’ or ‘excuse me’ but it is also a common way to thank someone in Japanese, especially when you feel that you have in some way troubled them. You could consider it like ‘I’m sorry you had to go through this trouble for me, but thank you so much’.
For example, when I used to work in Tokyo, every now and then me and my colleagues would take turns getting each other’s lunch from the bento shop down the road. Whenever it was my turn, I would come back and drop them off on my colleagues desks with their change and many would say Sumimasen! Arigatou gozaimasu! (すみません！有難うございます！)
By saying sumimasen, you acknowledge the trouble someone had to go through to do something for you and because of that you are even more indebted for his or her kindness.
~ no okage de
Thanks to ~
You can take a word or a name and use the の particle + okage de to direct your gratitude to someone in particular. It could be for a positive outcome or experience that you were able to have because of someone or something.
For example, if I had a friend named Yuki who helped me to study for a test and I passed that test, I could say to her:
Yuki-san no okage de, tesuto ni goukakushita.
Thanks to Yuki-san, I passed the test.
感謝します / かんしゃします
Sometimes we want to express a deep sense of gratitude for something and the word for doing so is kansha shimasu. Whether it’s something that somebody did for you or an opportunity or experience you were given, you can show how grateful you are by saying kansha shimasu which carries the meaning of thanks, appreciation and gratitude.
If we look at the kanji that makes up the word kansha we find that 感 means to ‘feel’ and 謝 means to ‘thank’ or ‘apologize’. The second half of the phrase is just shimasu, the polite form of the verb suru (to do).
We can get a sense that this phrase is one of humility and deep gratitude.
恐れ入ります / おそれいります
I’m terribly sorry to have bothered you
Osore-irimasu is a very polite and humble expression which indicates gratitude for something which you feel the other person has gone out of their way for.
It’s not likely you will need to use this phrase often unless you work in Japan, but it’s good to know because it is a form of keigo used in many professional settings, especially customer service so you will certainly hear it if you visit Japan!
ご苦労様でした / ごくろうさまでした
Thank you (for completing a demanding task)
Gokurousama deshita is a workplace expression used by superiors to inferiors to say thank you for their work. It’s slightly masculine and old fashioned sounding and has a similar meaning to otsukaresama deshita as a farewell at the end of the work day.
Gokurousama deshita is normally a response to someone who has indicated they are leaving a formal environment such as an office, event or meeting, and is always said by someone of higher status.
Special ways to say thank you in Japanese
I humbly accept
This is a nice way to show gratitude for the food you are about to eat before digging in. It can be like saying ‘thank you’ to the earth and animals that have provided it and the hands that have made it. Many people, especially women, also join their hands briefly in a prayer position when saying it.
ご馳走様でした / ごちそうさまでした
Thank you for the delicious meal
Gochisousama deshita is a formal way to say thank you for all your restaurant outings in Japan! We know it is an honorific expression already because it contains the honorifics Go and –sama but It’s kind of long, so let’s break it down.
Go is the honorific prefix we learned about in Japanese Honorifics which makes an expression polite.
The next part, chisou 馳走 is a banquet (meal) and sama 様 is of course an honorific suffix. And as we learned earlier, deshita is the polite past tense (was).
So gochisousama deshita literally means ‘it was like a feast’, but is a commonly used way to thank the people involved in your dining experience. It is normally directed at the chef or staff themselves, and it is a very common and polite gesture before you leave the restaurant.
How to respond to thank you in Japanese
Not at all
Iie is a simple and humble way to respond to someone who has said thank you. It literally means ‘no’ but in this context means ‘not at all’. Actually, many people will repeat the word when they say it, as in iie, iie, iie (no no no) and they may follow it with tondemonai desu (see below!).
Iiyo / Zenzen ii yo
いいよー / 全然いいよー
No problem (at all)
Ii yo is a nice, casual way to say ‘it’s nothing!’ ‘it’s fine!’ or ‘not at all’. It’s common amongst friends, and sounds very native because it is colloquial!
The kanji for zen zen (全然) means completely / totally so if you want to emphasize that it was really nothing and not to worry, you can say zenzen ii yo !
Tonde mo nai
Don’t mention it
Tondemo nai is a casual way to say ‘no problem at all’, or ‘don’t mention it’ and is a personal favourite! I like this phrase because you can make it more polite by adding desu to the end to make it tondemo nai desu. It sounds very native especially when you pair it with iie as in the following dialogue:
A: Sumimasen! Arigatou gozaimasu!
Thank you! Thank you very much!
B: Iie, iie, tondemonai desu!
No not at all, don’t mention it!
Dou itashi mashite
Dou itashi mashite is a formal response and is often translated to ‘You’re welcome’ in English but be careful, it has a very different nuance!
Native Japanese speakers rarely use this phrase because it means something more along the lines of ‘I helped you but don’t worry’, which can sound a little bit condescending, especially to people who are at or above your rank within a professional setting.
You would not say dou itashi mashite to your boss as it would be like saying ‘it was no big deal’!
The pleasure is mine / I should thank you
With Japanese culture being so focused on politeness, it’s normal to deflect praise of any kind! Kochira koso has a meaning of ‘I should be the one thanking you’ or politely saying ‘right back at you!’. People often say Kochira koso arigatou gozaimasu, which translates to ‘Thank you too’ but the actual meaning is my pleasure.
Tonde mo gozaimasen
I feel sorry that you thanked me
Tonde mo gozaimasen is a more formal version of tondemo nai desu and although the translation sounds a bit weird (I feel sorry that you thanked me) it is a polite and humble expression used more in business settings and aimed at lowering the status of the speaker.
Thank you in Japanese
As you can see, there are a ton of ways to say thank you in Japanese for any occasion! Don’t be overwhelmed by this epic list – when in doubt, you can’t go wrong with a heartfelt arigatou gozaimasu. But if you’re looking for the best way to say thank you in Japanese for your specific situation, we hope this post helps you out.
More essential Japanese phrases:
- How to Say Please in Japanese
- How to Say Hello in Japanese: 19 Different Ways
- How to Say Goodbye in Japanese: 16 Useful Ways
- How to Say Sorry in Japanese: Apologize Like You Mean it
- 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.