The Ins and Outs of Thank You(ありがとう)in Japanese

Pay particular attention to the situation for which you have been thanked and you will gradually develop a greater sensitivity to how the expression “thank you” is properly used in Japanese.

Posted by on May 21, 2015 – Japanese Study
How to Say Thank You in Japanese

In Japan, one can never say “thank you” or be thanked enough when expressing appreciation and gratitude in any situation.

Background about Arigatou(ありがとう)
Various ways to say Thank You in Japanese
Formality Levels
Conversational Examples

Sometimes it seems like a few minutes of Japanese thank-yous amongst a group of recipients will last an eternity.

I recall many years ago when working for a Japanese company, it was said to me that one thank-you is a bit curt and insincere. Instead, saying thanks a second time is necessary to show one’s sincere feelings of appreciation in receiving a kind gesture.


Background about Arigatou(ありがとう)

ありがとう is typically written in hiragana but it’s interesting to look at the kanji characters that trace its historical roots back to the 8th Century.

The characters for ありがとう consist of the verb 有る(ある) meaning to exist or to be, and 難い(かたい) which refers to something that is hard or difficult.

According to the Kokugo dictionary, arigatashi originally meant “difficult to exist”, which later had its meaning changed to “something rare”. It wasn’t until the 15th Century that it eventually came to mean welcome or thankful. Keep in mind that in formal writing and business situations, the word can be written as either 有り難う or 有難う followed by ございます.

It’s perfectly acceptable and quite common in business situations to say thank you in its hiragana form as ありがとうございます. And if you feel really appreciative of what you have received, you can add どうも or おおきに to the beginning of the previous word.


Various ways to say Thank You in Japanese

Use this chart to say thank you in Japanese based on a situation’s contextual formality (from least formal to most formal):

どうも Thanks
ありがとう・どうもありがとう Thank you / Thanks a lot

ありがとうございます Thank you
どうもありがとうございます Thank you very much
すみません Thank you for your trouble (lit.)
恐れ入ります Thank you for your troubles


Formality Levels

Domo and arigatou tend to have similar formality levels expressed in quite casual situations; however, domo is used more often between male speakers and is less often heard among Japanese women. Arigatou is really an archetypical way to express a friendly-casual thank you in Japanese. Adding gozaimasu signifies an even more formal situation, distance between the speakers and is typically used in business encounters.

Sumimasen (“excuse me”), like its gozaimasu counterpart, is also used in formal situations to express the desire to thank someone for all the trouble they went through to help you. The Japanese occasionally attach the adjective わざわざ (waza waza; “purposefully”) in front of sumimasen to emphasize their appreciation for troubling someone to receive help.

It is also very common to hear these expressions combined (i.e. over and over again, at times) such as in: わざわざ、すみません。ありがとうございます。」or「どうも、すみません、ありがとうございました。

Lastly is the very formal phrase 恐れ入ります(おそれいります), used to thank someone for the trouble they went through to help you. The first time I heard this expression used by a Japanese person occurred when a colleague of mine decided to make a reservation at a restaurant for a business dinner.


Conversational Examples

She began the conversation with: もしもし、恐れ入りますが、予約していただきたいんですが (Hello, excuse me but I would like to make a reservation”). Therefore, in business or more formal service-oriented situations, when you are requested or have requested someone to do something that requires one’s time and effort and you want to express your appreciation as such, you may use the expression: 恐れ入ります.


And there you have, a quick guide on how the Japanese use all these permutations to specifically show their appreciation and thanks based upon the situation at hand.

Pay particular attention to the situation for which you have been thanked and you will gradually develop a greater sensitivity to how the expression “thank you” is properly used in Japanese.

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