How to say hello is probably the first thing anyone learns in their studies of Japanese.
Most will learn that this is the way to say hello in Japanese:
But are you really saying it correctly?
When I was preparing a beginner’s conversation guide for my Hacking Japanese Supercourse, the first thing I did was explain how to say hello.
In writing this section of the guide, I realized that back when I was a beginner, I was probably saying hello wrong.
My pronunciation was wrong.
My usage was wrong.
Whatever, making mistakes is just part of learning Japanese, right?
Luckily, you can seem like less of a gaijin dufus than me by reading this article.
What Does こんにちは (Hello) Really Mean in Japanese?
When writing this article, I knew that I wanted to take a detailed look at how to say hello in Japanese. So I searched 「こんにちは 語源」(konnichiwa gogen) in Japanese Google.
Literally, this means something like “konnichiwa origins,” and searching “[word] 語源 (gogen)” is an awesome way to look up the origin of words in Japanese (assuming you’re ready to challenge yourself with some Japanese-only articles, maybe using rad tools like Rikaisama).
I then came across this page, which states:
こんにちはの語源・由来The Origins of Konnichiwa
こんにちはの語源は、「今日は御機嫌いかがですか？」などの「今日は」。今日は以下を略すようになり、「こんにちは」となった。Konnichiwa comes from the phrase “(as for) today” (konnichi wa) in greetings such as “How are you today?” (kyou wa gokigen ikaga desu ka?). Such phrases were shortened to become only “today” (konnichi wa).
[Translation Note: The common pronunciation of the kanji 今日 is kyou, which means today. This is an irregular reading of these kanji, which I talk about a bit in this post on the kanji 日. However, the kanji for konnichiwa, though you’ll almost never see it written that way, is 今日は (kon-nichi-wa). Agh kanji! See here how to destroy them.]
「こんにちは」を「こんにちわ」と誤表記される理由は多々あるが、「は」と書くよりも「わ」の方が「和」に通じて親しみやすい印象を受けることから、誤表記と知りつつ、あえて「こんにちは」を「こんにちわ」と表記されることもある。There are many explanations for why こんにちは (konnichiwa) is often written incorrectly as こんにちわ (konnichiwa). One such explanation is that writing わ (wa) gives off more of the friendly impression of 和 (wa, “harmony”), so people intentionally use this incorrect writing.
So “hello” in Japanese, こんにちは (or こんにちわ / konnichiwa) comes from the word “today” in a (very polite) version of the question “How are you today?” in Japanese: 今日は御機嫌いかがですか？
The Correct Pronunciation of こんにちは
I’ve been really into studying Japanese pronunciation lately. I hadn’t really focused on it when I was a beginner. I just tried to emulate the sounds that native speakers were making.
That worked out all right in the end. But now I’m wondering if maybe I should have taken a more systematic approach to pronunciation right from the start.
When I was at a low level, I thought pronunciation was just one of those things you did/didn’t have an ear for.
You can totally improve pronunciation using systematic study methods. I know, because I’ve seen my own pronunciation improve, for example, with repeated listening of specific Japanese words and phrases. This happens a lot when I study anime flashcards.
Long story short–if you’re not careful, you might be pronouncing it wrong.
Try listening to the audio tracks on this page, in which professional Japanese voice actors say hello in Japanese for us. You might notice that the nni in Japanese gets smashed down to become really short, as does the chi, where as wa gets all the love.
When I have tons of hours to kill, I like making loop tracks of words I’m trying to master. I’m going to be including a ton of them in the next update of the Hacking Japanese Supercourse.
Here’s an old example (not as good as the ones I’ve been making recently, which have cleaner voices and background music):
How to Say Hello in Japanese: Slang
[Note: All of the audio tracks in this post are by professional Japanese voice actors that I hired for the next update of the Hacking Japanese Supercourse.]
All of the phrases below are playful, slang version of “Hello” in Japanese. These are very casual, so don’t go saying them to your boss!
To be perfectly honest, I almost never say any of these, but I do hear them every once in a while…
よっ (yo) “Hey”
よう (you) “Hey”
おっす (ossu) “What’s up!”
This was probably the first slang I ever learned in Japanese. To my disappointment, I pretty much never hear Japanese people say it.
I mean, sometimes, but not often.
Abbreviated Versions of Konnichiwa
A lot of “slang” for “hello” in Japanese is just shortened versions of the full word “hello” in Japanese: konnichiwa.
Be sure to compare it to the full word shown here:
こんちわ (konchiwa) “Hey; Hello”
This first one just shortens the んに to ん. A lot of Japanese people already say it this way without even realizing it.
I’m guessing that this version is something like a shortened version of こんにちは．．．です (konnichiwa… desu), which I’m pretty sure makes absolutely no sense.
We can just remember it as slang for “hello.”
We can then shorten it further to get chiwassu.
We can then shorten that even further to get only chiissu.
ハロー (harou) “Hello”
This is just the Japanese pronunciation of the word “Hello.” And like a multitude of other English words, this totally flies for saying “Hello” to someone.
However, it’s often used in a playful (though friendly) way.
Resources for Studying Japanese Greetings Like Hello
Since “Hello” is such a ridiculously common word in any language, it’s no surprise that there is a plethora of articles and sites talking about it.