10 Ways to Say Thank You (ありがとう) in Japanese

Last Updated on 10.06.2022 by Coto Japanese Language School

You can never say “thank you” in Japanese or be thanked enough when expressing appreciation and gratitude in any situation.

Depending on who you’re talking with, the social proximity and status between the speaker and the degree of politeness, “thank you” phrases in Japanese vary. For example, if a friend did you a favor, you thank them as a way to show gratitude. Pretty straightforward, right?

This is completely different when you’re trying to show gratitude to a client. You might say “thank you”, but that needs a lot of bowing and apologizing too. Suddenly, ありがとう becomes something complicated, right?

It’s no wonder that there are multiple ways to say thank you in Japanese too. From the formal kansha shimasu to the English loanword that’s popular among young men sankyuu, every situation calls for a different “thank you”. 

Luckily, with a little bit of crash course, you’ll be able to understand the social cues of the art of saying thank you in Japanese.

Kanji for Arigatou(ありがとう)

The kanji for arigatou is 有り難い. The word was originally used in Buddhism, where 有る (aru) means “existing; being”.  If you’ve learned a few kanji, you will probably be familiar with the second character, 難, which is also used for the Japanese adjective muzukashii (難しい) which means “difficult”. 

Here,  難い comes from gatou (難う), which carries the same meaning (muzukashii) and is derived from the Japanese adjective “difficult.”

Together, they both can be translated  to “something that rarely exists,” “difficult to have,” or “something rare and precious.“

Think of the phrase arigatou as a Japanese proverb: Having someone do something for you is a rare and precious thing.

Now, the word arigatou is often written in hiragana. ありがとう or, if you’re familiar with the more formal and long way to say thank you, ありがとうございます (arigatou gozaimasu).

history and kanji arigatou gozaimasu

History of Arigatou(ありがとう)

It’s interesting to look at the kanji characters that trace their historical roots back to the 8th Century.

According to the kokugo dictionary (national 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. 

Culture of Saying Thank You in Japan

Japanese culture and way of living are reflected in its language. Different pronouns, honorific titles and verb forms are used depending on the relationship between speaker and listener, ranging from downright rude to the utmost respect.

Similar to saying sorry, expressing the basic arigatou gozaimasu (ありがとうございます) is tightly related to the Japanese culture of groupthink, humility and compassion. In Japan, people try to put the priority of their in-group (uchi) ahead of their own personal desires.

Ironically, one “ありがとうございます” in a Japanese work setting can come off as curt and insincere. Instead, say thanks a second time is necessary to show one’s sincere feelings of appreciation for receiving a kind gesture.

For example, instead of saying “Thank you for waiting,” Japanese people might opt to say “Sorry for keeping you so long.” They might not necessarily seek forgiveness, but this apology is a token of politeness and humility. 

This is because “thank you” and “sorry” fits nicely with one another — or, at least, in Japan’s structured society. Sometimes, it seems like a few minutes of Japanese thank-yous amongst a group of recipients will last an eternity.

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.

How to Say Thank You in Japanese

thank you in japanese

We’re listing them based on the degree of formality, from the most casual to the most polite. 

1. Sankyuu (サンキュー)

Sounds familiar? The word sankyuu is a loanword taken too literally from the English phrase “thank you”. The Japanese alphabet doesn’t recognize the consonant “th, so the “s” is used (full table on converting English to Japanese consonants here).

And because it’s a loanword, it means it’s written in katakana, too. There are typically two written versions: サンキュー (with a long “u” vowel sound at the end) and サンキュ (with a short “u” vowel). 

It goes without saying, but never use サンキュー to someone socially higher or older than you. Only use this to your friends who you are close with, as even saying it to a same-aged classmate or colleague can give the wrong impression of being “too friendly”. 

Most of the time, this casual way of saying thank you in Japanese is used by young Japanese people.  

2. Azassu (あざっす)

Sankyuu is a loan word, but azassu is a popular Japanese slang. The word actually comes from the original ありがとうございます. If you try saying it fast, you’ll notice that you’re going to skip some vowels and consonants. That’s how azassu was born.

This is one of the slang words that are popular among Japanese men. In the same way saying ore sounds more rough and masculine, あざっす has a light and casual tone. It can be written as あざーす、あざーっす or あざす. It depends on the length of the vowel you might want to emphasize.  

3. Azamasu (あざます)

Another branch of the same slang word above, あざます is popular among young people in Japan. Other variations include ざす(zasu) and あざお(azao). You’ll notice that men tend to use these slang words more often than women, too.

4. Doumo (どうも)

Domo and arigatou tend to have similar formality levels expressed in quite casual situations. Domo is used more often by male speakers and is less often heard among Japanese women. 

It’s a quick, shortened way to say thank you to your friends or family if you don’t want to use slang words. Keep in mind that, rank-wise, doumo is more casual than the shortened arigatou. Because of this, save this for someone who has the same social status, if not lower than, you. 

This phrase for saying thank you is extremely casual. It’s an even more casual way to say thank in Japanese than “arigatou”. Because of its extreme light tone, this phrase is often used with people at the same social status level as you or lower — like your friends and younger siblings. It’s also okay to say it to the cashier or restaurant staff.

say thank you in japanese

5. Arigatou (ありがとう)

Arigatou is really an archetypical way to express a friendly-casual thank you in Japanese. Arigatou has an identical meaning to the English “thanks”, which means that you probably know that it shouldn’t be used in formal situations.

However, because it’s less casual than doumo, you can still use it with someone older than you, like your senpai, parents or ojiisan. Keep in mind that, while it’s acceptable, the most important thing is the relationship distance you have with them.  

6. Arigatou gozaimasu (ありがとうございます)

Adding gozaimasu signifies an even more formal situation, the distance between the speakers and is typically used in business encounters. It shows respect and politeness.  You can also use this form for strangers, like a waiter, the konbini clerk or a distant acquaintance. 

Notice sometimes people switch between the present and past tense of arigatou gozaimasu? You say arigatou gozaimashita (ありがとうございました) when someone has already helped or done a favor.  

For example, if someone is offering a hand to carry your luggage, you will use the present tense. 

荷物を持ってくれてありがとうございます。
Nimotsu o motte kurete arigatou gozaimasu.
Thank you for carrying my luggage. 

However, if that person has carried the luggage yesterday, you’d opt for arigatou gozaimashita instead. 

昨日, 荷物を持ってくれてありがとうございました。
Kinou, nimotsu o motte kurete arigatou gozaimashita.
Thank you for carrying my luggage yesterday. 

7. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu (どうもありがとうございます)

In this case, adding doumo on the front emphasizes your appreciation further and makes it more polite. Besides that, you can use hontou ni (本当に), which means truly. 

本当にありがとうございます。
I am truly thankful. 

8. Kansha shimasu (感謝します)

This is usually used in business emails, more often written than spoken as you can come off as stiff or “old-schooled” if you attempt to say it. The word kansha (感謝) means thanks or gratitude — which is, of course, the same as the other thank-yous above, but it has a more polite tone to it.

In business Japanese emails, you can start off with itsumo sapoto shiteitadaki, kansha shimasu (いつもさーポッとしていただき、感謝します), which means “thank you for your continued support”

You will need to add the verb する after the end. If you want to level up the formality and flex your business Japanese skill, you can use Japanese keigo instead and follow the typical rule of adding a prefix on the noun and changing する to its humble form: いたす.

The highest degree you can get from using 感謝します as an alternative to arigatou gozaimasu is ご感謝いたします (gokansha ita shimasu).

心の底からご感謝いたします。
Kokoro no soko kara gokansha ita shimasu.
I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

7. Osoreirimasu (恐れ入ります)

Lastly is the most 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 word osore (恐れ) means uneasiness, reverence or concern.

Like sumimasen, 恐れ入ります doesn’t translate immediately as “thank you” in Japanese. Even Japanese people don’t use it often, as it’s only used in super formal situations like in meetings. You can think of this phrase as something like, “Would you be so kind?”

Unlike sumimasen, which can be used as an apology, osoreirimasu is used to only acknowledge the trouble someone has done for you. 

恐れ入りますが、私手紙を出してくれませんか?
Osoreirimasuga, watashi tegami o dashitekuremasenka?
Would you be so kind as to post my letter?

9. Arigataki shiawase (ありがたき幸せ)

We can’t help but sneak this one in. If you’ve never heard of it before, that’s completely understandable. Arigataki shiawase is an old-fashioned way used by Japanese samurai to show gratitude to their lord. If you like to watch Japanese historical drama, you’ve probably come across it a few times.

Now, some people still like to use it in a sarcastic way. It is sometimes used as an old-fashioned expression with humor when you catch a person doing something they don’t usually do. 

まさか、お弁当を作って下さるなんて、誠にありがたき幸せにござります。
Masaka, obentou o tsukutte kudasaru nante, makoto ni arigataki shiwase ni gozarimasu.
No way… I am very grateful and happy you made me a lunch box.

Sumimasen and Arigatou

If you live in Japan, you’ll probably realize that sumimasen might as well be Japanese people’s favorite word. That’s because すみません is a versatile word with multiple meanings, ready to be used across different social contexts. It can be said in situations where the English “excuse me” and “sorry” would fit.

遅くてすみませんでした!
Osokute sumimasen deshita!
I’m sorry for being late!

すみません、通ります。
Sumimasen, toorimasu.
Excuse me, I’m going through. 

Check out: Apologizing in Japanese

Besides these two functions, sumimasen can be used to express gratitude for someone who’s gone through all the trouble helping us. Think of the word as “sorry for being a nuisance.” In other words, when you’re thanking someone, you’re also making a fuss or bothering them. You thank them for allowing you to inconvenience them. This is why, oftentimes, “thank you” goes hand in hand with “I’m sorry”. 

Because of this, Japanese people actually use sumimasen a lot more than arigatou. For example, instead of being grateful that someone holding the elevator for you, you’d say sumimasen. In this case, you’re implying, “Sorry (but thank you) for holding the elevator for me.”

Sumimasen and arigatou don’t have to be used separately, though. You can combine domo, sumimasen and arigatou together when speaking Japanese. 

Occasionally, you can attach the word wazawaza (わざわざ ), which means “purposefully”. When you do, it emphasizes your appreciation for bothering someone. 

わざわざ、すみません。ありがとうございます。
Wazawaza, sumimasen. Arigatou gozaimasu.

どうも、すみません、ありがとうございました。
Doumo, sumimasen, arigatou gozaimashita.

Conclusion

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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