There are several ways to ask someone “how are you” in Japanese. こんにちは (Konnichiwa | Hello) and おげんきですか？ (O genki desu ka? | How are you?) are one of the first expressions when you start learning Japanese.
However, did you know that these are not exactly what you hear in everyday conversations in Japan? In this lesson, we’re learning about true-to-life Japanese greetings!
- 1 Things to Know Before Learning “How Are You” in Japanese
- 2 “How Are You” in Japanese
- 3 Asking About Someone’s Health or Physical Condition
- 4 Words of Encouragement for Health and Physical Conditions
- 5 How to Answer “How Are You” in Japanese
- 6 Other Basic Greetings in the Japanese Language
- 7 “How Are You” in Japanese and The Gifting Customs
- 8 What Aisatsu Means in Japanese Society
- 9 Basic Rules for Bowing and Hello/How Are You in Japanese
- 10 “How Are You” in Japanese from the Heart and the World
Things to Know Before Learning “How Are You” in Japanese
Before we start learning how to say “how are you“ in Japanese today, let’s focus on the あいさつ (Aisatsu | 挨拶 | greeting) in Japan.
Aisatsu has two かんじ (Kanji | 漢字). The first あい (Ai | 挨) signifies “to open” or “to get closer,” and the following さつ (Satsu | 拶) means “to approach” or “to advance.”
The word Aisatsu conveyed the meaning of “to push each other” earlier, but it has developed into the “greeting” gradually via ぜん (Zen | 禅 | a school of Mahayana Buddhism).
Hugging and kissing aren’t typical in Japanese culture. People use more vocal communication than non-verbal communication when they say hello and how are you to each other. You can see people shaking hands, raising or waving their hands, patting someone’s shoulder, and bowing or nodding as a series of familiar gestures.
Here is some vocabulary related to greeting in Japan.
|light bow, nod||会釈||えしゃく||Eshaku|
|social platitude, flattery||社交辞令||しゃこうじれい||Shakou Jirei|
“How Are You” in Japanese
Today’s theme, How are you, is one of the most common salutations in any language, and using this phrase is pretty natural in day-to-day life in the West.
Yet, “how are you” in Japanese, “おげんきですか？ (O genki desu ka?)” is too mannerly to greet friends and family members. This is typically seen in letters, commonly used in business situations, and regularly heard on official occasions.
For example, when you want to ask how you are doing with your friends in Japanese, use the phrase げんき？ (Genki?) instead of O genki desu ka?. Feel free to use some variations with your close friend and on casual occasions.
- おげんきですか？ (O genki desu ka? | お元気ですか？)
- げんき？ (Genki? | 元気？)
We’ve added more of these variations below, which you can use depending on who you are speaking with.
Formal “How Are You” in Japanese
Japanese people don’t say O genki desu ka? as frequently as the textbooks teach you. They use different ways and expressions instead. For instance, it’s common to emphasize the period they didn’t see each other by using past tense such as O genki deshita ka?.
O genki desu ka? and O genki deshita ka? are called けいご (Keigo | 敬語 | polite languages) in the Japanese language. When native speakers speak Japanese, they use the Keigo and act courteously in certain circumstances.
For example, Keigo is preferred on occasions when people meet the elderly, someone with higher status, someone you want to show your respect to, and someone they haven’t seen before.
Formal Expressions and Other Phrases
Using non-formal phrases in inappropriate situations is considered rude in Japan, so use polite expressions if you’re not so sure. Let’s take a look at the variations in a formal way!
|How are you?||元気 です か？||げんきですか？||Genki desu ka?|
|How are you?||お 元気 です か？||おげんきですか？||O genki desu ka?|
|How have you been?||お元気でしたか？||おげんきでしたか？||O genki deshita ka?|
|How have you been? *||お変わりありませんか？||おかわりありませんか？||Okawari arimasen ka?|
|It's a pleasure to see you again.||お久し振りです||おひさしぶりです||Ohisashiburi desu|
|I haven't seen you for a long time.||ご無沙汰しています||ごぶさたしています||Gobusata shiteimasu|
|Thank you for your assistance always. **||お世話になっております||おせわになっております||Osewa ni natte orimasu|
|How are you? / Have a nice day. ***||御機嫌好う||ごきげんよう||Gokigenyou|
*This literally means, “Were there any changes?”
**It’s a common phrase in Japanese business situations but not easy to get translated into English.
***It’s an old-fashioned and feminine phrase.
Related Vocabulary (Formal)
Here are some additional vocabulary in the formal version.
|to change, to be different||変わる||かわる||Kawaru|
|news, rumor, decision||沙汰||さた||Sata|
|care, help, trouble||世話||せわ||Sewa|
|mood, humor, temper||機嫌||きげん||Kigen|
Informal Expressions Related to “How Are You” in Japanese
Have you experienced that a Japanese person answered your how are you question a little awkwardly? Some people who speak fluent English would reply naturally, but people at the beginner level would say so-so. The reason isn’t only their language skills and lack of experience.
Japanese people skip rigidly orthodox Konnichiwa and Genki? in casual meetings since they’re considered unnatural among close friends.
Informal Expressions and Other Phrases
The amicable conversations often begin with the phrase おまたせ (Omatase | Sorry for the wait) or just raising their hand, and friendly chats follow. Here are more of these expressions.
|How are you?||元気？||げんき？||Genki?|
|How have you been?||元気だった？||げんきだった？||Genki datta?|
|How’s going recently?||最近どう？||さいきんどう？||Saikin dou?|
|What have you been up to?||最近何してた？||さいきんなにしてた？||Saikin nani shiteta?|
|How’s it going?||調子はどう？||ちょうしはどう||Choushi wa dou?|
|Long time no see.||久し振り||ひさしぶり||Hisashiburi|
|Hi, how are you? / Good work.||お疲れ||おつかれ||Otsukare|
|Hey, what’s up?||やあ||Yaa|
|Hello, what’s up?||どうも||Doumo|
|Hey, what’s up?||おっす||Ossu|
|Did you wait long?||待った？||まった||Matta?|
|Sorry for the wait.||お待たせ||おまたせ||Omatase|
|Sorry for being late.||遅れてご免||おくれてごめん||Okurete gomen|
|What are you up to? / What are you doing? *||何してるの？||なにしてるの？||Nani shiteru no?|
|What are you up to? / What are you doing? *||どうしたの？||Dou shita no?|
*When you meet someone unexpectedly.
Related Vocabulary (Informal)
Below are other related vocabulary in the informal version.
|being late, tardiness||遅刻||ちこく||Chikoku|
|to fall behind schedule, to be late||遅れる||おくれる||Okureru|
Asking About Someone’s Health or Physical Condition
When you’re concerned about someone’s health or physical conditions, you can use the following phrase to ask how they are feeling and doing. They all mean, “how is it?” in English and are almost equally exchangeable.
Polite Expressions and Common Questions
Here are some examples of questions that you can ask to check if someone is okay in the polite version.
|What’s wrong? / Are you alright?||どうしましたか？||Dou shimashita ka?|
|How is it going? / How are you doing?||調子 は どう です か？||ちょうしはどうですか？||Choushi wa dou desu ka?|
|Is everything OK? / Are you alright? *||大丈夫ですか？||だいじょうぶですか？||Daijoubu desu ka?|
|How are you feeling right now? / Are you feeling fine?||気分 は どう です か？||きぶんはどうですか？||Kibun wa dou desu ka?|
|Are you feeling alright? / How is your health condition?||お体は大丈夫ですか？||おからだはだいじょうぶですか？||O karada wa daijoubu desu ka?|
|How are you? **||お加減如何ですか？||おかげんいかがですか？||O kaken ikaga desu ka?|
|How is your injury?||お怪我の具合は如何でしょうか？||おけがのぐあいはいかがでしょうか？||O kega no guai wa ikaga desshou ka?|
*No distinctions between mental and physical conditions
**This literally means How is your health condition?
Casual Expressions and Common Questions
Below are the questions that you can ask someone in a casual version.
|Are you alright?||どうしたの？||Dou shita no?|
|What’s wrong?/ How is it going?/ How are you doing?||調子 は どう？||ちょうしはどう？||Choushi wa dou?|
|Is everything OK? Are you alright? *no distinctions between mental and physical conditions||大丈夫？||だいじょうぶ？||Daijoubu?|
|How are you feeling right now? / Are you feeling fine?||気分 は どう？||きぶんはどう？||Kibun wa dou?|
|Are you feeling alright? / How is your health condition?||具合 は どう？||ぐあいはどう？||Guai wa dou?|
|How is your injury?||怪我 は どう？||けがはどう？||Kega wa dou?|
Words of Encouragement for Health and Physical Conditions
By skipping ですか？ (desu ka? ) or ください (kudasai ), you can ask someone the same thing more casually.
|Wishing you a speedy recovery. *||お大事に||おだいじに||Odaijini|
|Wishing you a speedy recovery.||お大事になさって下さい||おだいじになさってください||Odaijini nasatte kudasai|
|Get well soon.||早く良くなって下さい||はやくよくなってください||Hayaku yoku natte kudasai|
|I hope you feel better soon.||すぐに良くなると良いですね||すぐによくなるといいですね||Sugu ni yokunaru to ii desu ne|
|Please take good care of yourself.||ご養生して下さい||ごようじょうしてください||Goyoujou kudasai|
*the most common expression
|fine, safe, all right||大丈夫||だいじょうぶ||Daijoubu|
|mood, degree, adjustment||加減||かげん||Kagen|
|injury, harm, hurt||怪我||けが||Kega|
|condition, state, health||具合||ぐあい||Guai|
|to take good care of oneself||大事にする||だいじにする||Daiji ni suru|
|cure, health care||養生||ようじょう||Youjou|
How to Answer “How Are You” in Japanese
Like English, there are various ways to answer O genki desu ka? in Japanese. Here, we’ll show you some suggestions. They are all written formally, but you can make them more easy-going by simply omitting です (desu) and ます (masu) words.
For a positive response, you can answer the person asking with the sentences below.
|I’m good.||元気です||げんきです||Genki desu|
|I’m fine now.||もう元気になりました||もうげんきになりました||Mou genki ni narimashita|
|I’m healthy again.||健康になりました||けんこうになりました||Kenkou ni narimashita|
|I’m good now.||もう大丈夫です||もうだいじょうぶです||Mou daijoubu desu|
|I feel a lot better now. *||随分良くなりました||ずいぶんよくなりました||Zuibun yoku narimashita|
|I’ve gotten a lot better now.||やっと調子が戻って来ました||やっとちょうしがもどってきました||Yatto Choushi ga modotte kimashita|
*This is for both mental and physical conditions.
Here are the sentences that you can use to answer someone how you are but you’re unsure if you’re feeling good or not.
|Could be better could be worse.||まずまずと言った所です||まずまずといったところです||Mazumazu to itta tokoro desu|
|Neither good nor bad.||良くも悪くもありません||よくもわるくもありません||Yoku mo waruku mo arimasen|
If you’re certain that you’re not okay, here are the sentences that you can use in response.
|I’m not in good shape yet.||まだ本調子ではありません||まだほんちょうしではありません||Mada honchoushi dewa arimasen|
|I’m a little tired.||少し疲れています||すこしつかれています||Sukoshi tsukareteimasu|
|I don’t feel good. / I feel bad.||気分が優れません||きぶんがすぐれません||Kibun ga suguremasen|
|I may have caught a cold.||風邪を引いたかもしれません||かぜをひいたかもしれません||Kaze wo hiita kamo shiremasen|
Thank You for Your Concern
Lastly, it’s always polite to say “thank you” to the person for their concern. Here are the sentences that you can use.
|Thank you for your concern.||お気遣いいただき有難うございます||おきづかいいただきありがとうございます||O kizukai itadaki arigatou gozaimasu|
|I’m sorry for worrying you.||ご心配をお掛けしました||ごしんぱいをおかけしました||Goshinpai wo okake shimashita|
|Thanks to you.||お陰様で全快しました||おかげさまでぜんかいしました||Okagesama wo okake shimashita|
|I was discharged from the hospital safely.||無事に退院しました||ぶじにたいいんしました||Buji ni taiin shimashita|
We also have an article dedicated to saying “thank you” in Japanese.
Other Basic Greetings in the Japanese Language
Apart from asking someone how they are, there are also other ways to greet people in Japan. We’ve listed some of them below.
Here are the standard greetings in Japanese that you can use.
|Good morning.||お早う御座います||おはようございます||Ohayou gozaimasu|
|Hello, good afternoon.||今日は||こんにちは||Konnichiwa|
|How are you?||お元気ですか？||おげんきですか？||Ogenkidesuka?|
|Good night.||お休みなさい||おやすみなさい||Oyasumi nasai|
Informal and Abbreviated Form
If you’re speaking to a friend, family, or someone close to you, you can use the greetings below.
|How are you?||元気？||げんき？||Genki?|
Casual and Easy-Going Form
Here are more ways to speak with someone casually. These shouldn’t be used with someone older or of higher status.
|How are you?||元気？||げんき？||Genki?|
|Long time no see.||久しぶり||ひさしぶり||Hisashiburi|
|Hi, have a good day. / Good work.||お疲れ||おつかれ||Otsukare|
|See you.||またね||Mata ne|
|Take care on your way back.||気を付けて帰ってね||きをつけてかえってね||Ki wo tsukete kaette ne|
“How Are You” in Japanese and The Gifting Customs
Japan has a unique gift-giving custom apart from someone’s birthdays or during the Christmas holidays.
Japanese people have hello and how are you visit with a small gift to their new neighbors when they move into new houses and apartments. It’s also common to bring a gift when visiting the hospital to see how their friend, a family member, and a co-worker are doing.
These how-are-you visits and gifts exist upon the wishes with “Best Regards” or “No disaster will remain,” so comforting chats and gifts that disappear after use and eat are preferred.
|a visit to someone in hospital, a visiting gift||御見舞||おみまい||Omimai|
|a gift showing thanks for the support from the complete recovery *||快気祝い||かいきいわい||Kaiki iwai|
|a discharge celebration gift **||退院祝い||たいいんいわい||Taiin iwai|
|housewarming gift ***||引っ越し祝い||ひっこしいわい||Hikkoshi iwai|
|moving greeting, moving gift ****||引っ越し挨拶||ひっこしあいさつ||Hikkoshi aisatsu|
*A gift from the patient.
**A gift to the patient.
***A gift to the people who moved in.
****A gift from the people who moved in.
What Aisatsu Means in Japanese Society
Presumably, one could say that Japanese people put importance on あいさつ (Aisatsu | greeting) way more than in the West. Japanese people suppose it’s a way to show their consideration, good manners, and cooperative attitudes in society. The importance of Aisatsu has been imprinted in practice for a long time.
Basic Rules for Bowing and Hello/How Are You in Japanese
Bowing is probably one of the most prominent Asian cultures. There are occasions that Japanese people habitually lower their torso and greet, but many are not familiar with the explicit rules of bowing. おじぎ (Ojigi | お辞儀 | bow) is the universal term in the Japanese language, but it has three different ways and invisible intentions.
Three Types of Ojigi
It’s said that “verbal greeting first and bowing second” is the proper way.
- えしゃく (Eshaku | 会釈) — A light bow roughly 15 degrees. It could be a nod in casual greetings.
- けいれい (Keirei | 敬礼) — A standard bow about 30 degrees. Common in the first meetings and when seeing someone off.
- さいけいれい (Sai Keirei | 最敬礼) — A deep bow between 45 degrees to 90 degrees. The most formal way originates in a ritual bow. It shows one’s sincere apologies or deep appreciation.
However, it’s more than enough to say hello with a smile and give the company a small nod as an extra.
In addition to that, no need to bow or nod when you ask someone, “how are you” in Japanese. Don’t forget that the idea of Ojigi is similar to Keigo in the Japanese language. Try adding a nod or bow whenever you speak in a formal way.
“How Are You” in Japanese from the Heart and the World
Greetings are one of the essentials in learning Japanese and other languages. Probably, its styles and people’s perspectives vary from place to place and from time to time, but the fundamental idea remains the same everywhere.
The expression how are you shows your good intentions towards others and society, even though it sometimes is a form of social platitude. Start a casual talk with Genki? or another phrase next time to have more meaningful and fun interactions!