Japanese Lesson 101: What are the differences between “Ohayo”, “Konichiwa” and “Konbanwa”18 May 2021
Japan is indeed a charming country, best known for its traditional exquisite foods (sushi for instance) and unique traditions. Moreover, Japanese is considered one of the most beautiful languages in the world. If you are fascinated by their culture and interested in learning Japanese, you should begin your journey right here with us! Let’s get started with our first lesson: how to greet someone in Japan!
Lesson no.1: three different systems of writing
First and foremost, you have to understand 3 different alphabets in the Japanese language which come as follows:
- Hiragana is native to Japan and is the most basic alphabet. There are 46 of them in total. Hiragana is always used to explain the sound of Kanji.
- Katakana also consists of 46 letters and they are pronounced the same as the Hiragana letters. Katakana is usually used to write foreign words in Japanese or specific names.
- Kanji is the most difficult among all alphabets. The latter was originally imported from Chinese hanzi so it looks similar to Chinese writing. A kanji character has its own meaning and can replace an entire word in Hiragana. For example, the word “like” is 好 in Kanji which refers to 好き (suki) in Hiragana.
Lesson no.2: Romanizing Japanese and vowels
Throughout this article, we will use Hiragana that is the easiest for beginners along with Romanizing Japanese (the phonetic being written in the Roman alphabet). Speaking of which, the Roman alphabet describing the Japanese alphabet sounds are pronounced quite differently from English, especially the vowels. Japanese has only 5 vowels; a, i, u, e, o, and here is the way to correctly pronounce them:
- “A” is “Ah”, pronounced like the word “father” in American English.
- “I” equals “ee” in English but with a shorter sound.
- “U” refers to “oo” in English, but you say it more sharply.
- “E” sounds like the “e” in “wet”, “pet”, etc.
- “O” represents a sound quite similar to “o” in American English, but shorter.
Lesson no.3: three ways to say hello in Japanese
Now, you are ready for our Japanese conversation 101 and learn to greet someone! In Japanese, there are different expressions to say hello, similarly to English. It depends on the time and the situation. Below are formal ways of greeting someone:
- “Ohayō gozaimasu” (おはようございます) is the expression used during dawn to midday. it means good morning. With your close friends, it is acceptable to just say “Ohayō” as well.
- In the afternoon, you should say “Konnichiwa” (こんにちは) instead.
- “Konbanwa” (こんばんは) is used after sunset, like good evening in English.
- Lastly, a good night is “Oyasuminasai” (おやすみなさい).
After greeting, you can continue the conversation by asking “O-Genki desu ka?” (おげんきですか) which means “how are you?”. The polite way to respond to this answer is “Genki desu” (げんきです) or “I’m fine”. Very simple!
Lesson no.4: How to address a person in Japanese
In Japan, people usually use formal sentences when speaking with others, whether it be strangers or even colleagues. Keep in mind that the informal form can be used with intimate friends or family members only. Thus, when you call someone, you should always add Mr./Miss or “san” after his/her family name, for instance, Suzuki-san (Mr. Suziki), Sato-san (Miss Sato), etc.
In addition, you might have heard the words “Kun” or “Chan” after the name in Anime or series. “Kun” is normally used for younger boys in a familiar way while “Chan” is a title for girls, but sometimes can be used with boys as well.
Lesson no.5: how to say “goodbye” in Japanese
Last but not least, saying goodbye is significantly meaningful especially in Japanese culture. In fact, Japanese will often say “Sayonara” (さようなら” or goodbye), but will also add other expressions as well. Let’s take a look at them in detail:
- “Sayonara” (さようなら”) is a formal way to say goodbye in Japanese. However, the latter is not frequently used by native speakers because it means that you will not meet that person again for quite a long time.
- “Mata Ashita” (またあした) means “see you tomorrow” or you might use “mata raishu” (またらいしゅう) or “see you next week”.
- “Jaa ne” (じゃあね) or “Mata ne” (またね) are casual expressions to say with your very close friends before leaving.
- We can also say “Bai bai” (バイバイ/ばいばい) which sounds like bye-bye in English, but in Japan, this expression is mostly used by girls!
Bonus Tips: How to start learning Japanese?
If you are interested in the Japanese language but you don’t know where to start, below we have listed a useful guideline on how to learn Japanese by yourself:
- Begin with the Hiragana alphabet and then Katakana.
- Recite new vocabulary every day.
- Practice Kanji writing regularly.
- Grammar is also a must in learning a language because it allows you to structure phrases correctly and help you communicate in Japanese like native speakers.
- It is advised to learn Japanese through movies, anime, or songs as well. It is an enjoyable way of studying. By doing this, you will become familiar with Japanese accents and learn new more words progressively at the same time.
- Be disciplined and repeat all steps above on a regular basis.
Learning new languages is always a challenge but it is indeed a good time investment. Besides, it is not too hard to learn and never too late to start. We hope this article is useful. Stay tuned for the next chapter on our website and… Ganbattane! (keep going!).