“Please” in Japanese – A way to show politeness

Today, we’re going to find out how to say “please” in Japanese. And while it may sound like a simple venture, there are quite a few ways to say “please” in Japanese in different situations (unlike English).

A girl with her hands clasped together in a pleading gesture

Japanese culture is all about respect, politeness, and formalities. That is why it’s something that every learner needs not only to improve their communication skills but also to be a nice person in general!

So grab your helmets and get ready for this academic ride!

Saying “please” in Japanese – Sentence structure

A quick and easy grammar note worth clarifying before moving on any further is about Japanese sentence structure. When making polite requests in Japanese, “please” always comes at the very end of the request! So, whereas in English, you may say, “please pass the salt, ” this doesn’t work in Japanese.

Instead, you’d have to use the conjugation te form with kudasai, like しおをとってください (shio wo totte kudasai | 塩を取ってください), which is literally “pass me the salt, please.

More on ください (kudasai) in just a moment. For now and just keep in mind that these “please” words always come at the end of a request!

How to say “please” in Japanese formally

Before anything else, let us remind you that context is king in Japanese! When questioning context, one of the most important factors to consider is how respectful or polite you should be with whomever you’re engaging.

As a general rule, it’s always better to be more respectful when conversing with someone if you’re ever in doubt about where you stand, and for that reason, we’ll learn Japanese formal guidelines for saying “please” first and foremost!

おねがいします (onegaishimasu | お願いします)

Here is the most polite way to say “please” in Japanese, and it’s something you’ll encounter all the time in Japan – during train announcements, written on official notices, when checking out at the clothing store, asking for something in a restaurant, you name it.

It’s best to use this expression in most situations when talking with strangers, clerks, doctors, a taxi driver, etc. Here are some examples of when you can use this expression.

そのちいさいビールをおねがいします(sono chiisai biiru wo onegaishimasu | その小さいビールをお願いします)

That small beer, please.

This phrase is also used when requesting a service you cannot fulfill yourself, be it an abstract object or something more concrete

せんだいえきまでおねがいします (sendai eki made onegaishimasu | 仙台駅までお願いします)

Please (take me) to Sendai Station.

ごりかいをおねがいします(gorikai wo onegaishimasu | ご理解をお願いします)

We ask for your patience (please).

On the other hand, you can use this phrase on its own if the request has already been stated, is otherwise implied, or is confirmed.

Masako: そしてすいようびまでおみせをしめてあげる?(soshite suiyoubi made omise wo shimeteageru?|そして水曜日までお店を占めてあげる?)

So then, I should keep the store closed for you until Wednesday?

Yuki:お願いします (onegaishimasu)

(Yes) Please!

A note on お願いします (onegaishimasu)

This expression is used to lower oneself and honor those to who you are speaking. As such, this phrase can be thought of as a spoken bow in Japanese culture. Even before competitive matches or sports, お願いします (onegaishimasu) is spoken to the opposition before the games begin.

Originally, this expression comes from ねがう (negau|願う), a verb meaning “to hope.” In fact, the noun form of this verb is ねがい (negai|願い) which is a hope or a wish, and is a common Japanese word worth remembering!

どうぞ (douzo)

This phrase for please in Japanese is used when you want someone to accept something, as in “please go ahead.” It’s either used when offering an actual object, like a cookie, or when offering a gesture, like when allowing someone to pass through a door before you.

こちらへどうぞ (kochira e douzo)

This way, please.

おさけをどうぞ (osake wo douzo|お酒をどうぞ)

Here is your sake (and please enjoy) *this might be said after a waiter delivers your glass of sake

Also, どうぞ (douzo) is one of the few please phrases in Japanese that appears at the beginning of a sentence at times. It’s also paired with other please words, as it adds an emphatic quality to a suggestion or request whenever used

どうぞおはいりください (douzo ohairi kudasai|どうぞお入りください)

Please come in. *used when politely being prompted to enter a room

どうぞよろしくおねがいします(douzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu|どうぞよろしくお願いします)

Nice to meet you. *one of the early important phases you learn as a Japanese student. It translates to something like “please take care.”

We’ve given this a spot in the formal list because that’s rightfully where it belongs, but this expression is also used in the same way between close acquaintances and relatives.

Yuki: これのんでいい?(kore nonde ii?|これ飲んでいい?)

Can I drink this?

Masako: うん、どうぞ (un, douzo)

Yeah, go ahead.

How to say “please” in Japanese informally

Of course, you wouldn’t, nor should you be, overly formal and respectful when speaking with friends and family in Japan. In fact, formalities only create separation and distance between people (especially in Japan), so being too formal with someone you’re supposed to be close with may actually be offensive!

That’s why it’s important to know how to communicate with your best folks just like everyone else does, with a bit of rudeness and a heaping of love.

We have an article on Japanese honorifics if you’d like to dig deeper into formalities. Going back, here are the informal ways to say “please” in Japanese.

ください (kudasai)

This is the informal equivalent of お願いします (onegaishimasu), and while it’s usually used in more formal situations, typically for set expressions, it is also used with close friends and family members. It’s more like a direct request to give or do something for you, which is why it can be rude when used improperly. Here are some example sentences.

ごちゅういください (gochuui kudasai|ご注意ください)

Please be careful.

もういちどください (mouichido kudasai|もう一度ください)

(Say it) One more time, please.

じぶんのごはんをもってきてください (jibun no gohan wo mottekite kudasai | 自分のご飯を持ってきてください)

Please bring your own lunch.

While it’s not the most polite way to make requests in Japanese, it’s fine to use this term with those who share the same or are at a lower status/rank/age as you do, or even when ordering something as a customer (which makes you important by default).

It’s definitely the most common way to say “please” in Japanese!

ちょうだい (choudai|頂戴)

Here’s a super casual Japanese expression for “please.” It can be used by both genders but carries more of a feminine essence and is used more by women.

It’s something often heard by mothers requesting their children to do something.

みせてちょうだい (misete choudai|見せて頂戴)

Show me.

It’s a popular way to ask a friend to try some of their food or drink.

ちょっとちょうだい (chotto choudai?|ちょっと頂戴?)

Can I try it?/Can I have a bit?

Lastly, couples use this word between themselves as a cute and short way to ask for something.

しょくパンちょうだい (shokupan choudai|食パン頂戴)

Please pass me the shokupan.

プリーズ (puriizu)

As you may have guessed, this is simply the Japanese rendition of the English word “please,” which makes it pretty easy to remember. It’s not very often said in Japan unless for play or when a Japanese native is trying to communicate with someone who cannot speak Japanese.

Rightfully, it’s more of a neutral expression as a foreign word, having yet to be distinguished on a larger contextual scale, but it can be considered casual nonetheless.

A final note on saying “please” in Japanese

The phrases for please covered in this article are universal, but by no means are they exclusive or most popular in all parts of Japan. Actually, Japanese culture can get pretty diverse depending on the region/province, so naturally, there would be a difference in communication norms and social expectations too.

Remember that as you immerse yourself in Japan’s culture (especially if you are in the actual country), stay open-minded and receptive to the vast pool of individuality you are likely to discover on your journey – especially concerning patterns of speaking. Never stop learning Japanese!

がんばってください (ganbatte kudasai)! ^^

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