This article will brief Japanese learners on how to greet friends, strangers, and those who merit great respect. It will detail different greetings and whom they should be used with as well as the body language appropriate for Japanese greetings.
Just as in English, some of the most common greetings in Japanese vary by the time of day. Many Japanese will greet each other in the morning by saying ohayou gozaimasu. This is a very polite morning greeting which can be used with anyone, regardless of gender, age, or social status. The same greeting can also be shortened to ohayou in more informal situations or with close friends.
Konnichiwa is a little more conspicuous. It most closely means ‘good day.’ However, it is one greeting that is used frequently at almost any time of day. Konnichiwa is also polite and can be used with anyone. Be aware that there are derivatives that are not so flexible.
Sometimes within small circles, and mostly with younger women greeting younger women, the word chiwa, an abbreviation of konnichiwa might be heard. Men would never say chiwa. If looking for a word of similar purpose as chiwa, men might greet each other with oos. Neither of these terms is used as a regular greeting.
Konbanwa is an evening greeting. It means good night. It is not used to say ‘goodnight’ to depart, but only to greet during the night time. Konbanwa is also polite. Sometimes between friends the abbreviation konban is used, but very informally. You would not say this to strangers or those of higher social ranking.
Body Language When Greeting
Also remember that body language conveys a lot of respect or lack thereof. If you wish to be respectful when greeting others, there is a small downward nod of the head that is used as almost a mini-bow, when in passing, or to people one knows well.
If you are greeting someone with whom you should be very respectful, you must do the full bow. Women will keep their hands together toward the inside of their legs when bowing and men will keep their hands to their sides. If you need to be very respectful toward someone, your bow must be more inclined than theirs. Most do not bow at a full 90 degree angle as it is not comfortable. However, your bow normally should at least be comparable to that of the person you are greeting. Sometimes people will bow multiple times. Just go with the flow of your counterpart.
Today, many Japanese also shake hands, but there are still those who are not yet comfortable with this custom. Unless dating, you will almost never see the Japanese greet with a hug or kiss on the cheek. Displays of affection are more reserved and can put people off in the wrong setting or situation.