Saying Goodbye In Japanese
Hellos and Goodbyes are normally the first thing we learn to say in every new language. At first, saying ‘goodbye’ might seem pretty straight-forward until you dig a bit deeper. There’s a time and place to say ‘see you later’ ‘goodbye’ ‘farewell’ and if you mix them up, you could sound awkward or off. It’s the same in Japanese.
It’s essential to know the right way to say goodbye in Japanese for the right situation. At the same time, you need to know which phrases go in the right context. Otherwise, you might commit a social blunder and feel a bit awkward. So let’s dive into how to say goodbye in Japanese.
How to Say Goodbye in Japanese
Starting with an easy one, we’ve got the simple bai-bai. If it looks familiar to you, it’s because the phrase comes from the English ‘bye-bye’. Using bai-bai definitely has its time and place, mostly amongst friends and often by women so using bai-bai will definitely sounds a bit kawaii (cute).
Be mindful about using it as well. The phrase bai-bai definitely has a more feminine feeling to it, so people might look at you strangely if you say it as a guy.
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See you and See you Later
The next phrases should only be used in casual situations with people of the same social standing. Remember that Japanese culture places a premium on social structures and the language reflects that. So while you can use these with your friends, don’t try them out on your boss.
See You — じゃあね (jaa ne)
You’ll hear jaa ne used as parting words a lot if you spend time with the Japanese. It’s their way of making a quick goodbye among friends. Think of it as the Japanese way of saying ‘see you,’ as it’s both brief and simple.
See you Later — またね (Matane)
By itself, the word mata simply means ‘again.’ You can use mata-ne when you expect to see someone again in the near future. Men sometimes omit the –ne particule and combine it with jaa to make jaa mata.
The word mata can also join with other time words to specify when exactly you’ll see someone next. If you plan to see someone the next day, you can probably say mata ashita.
‘See you tomorrow’ また明日 mata ashita
‘See you next week’ また来週 mata raishū
Expressions for a Formal Goodbye
In Japan, showing respect and proper politeness is considered very important. As such, there’s a strong emphasis on using keigo (敬語), which is the concept of respectful language. Now let’s get into the more formal ways of saying goodbye you might use in more formal situatation.
Shitsurei Shi-Masu — 失礼します
People use shitsureishi-masu to say goodbye in more formal situations. This can include leaving a doctors office or a meeting. The phrase has a rather odd origin that tells you a lot about Japanese culture. The term 失礼 (shitsurei) simply means ‘rude thing’ and the verb する (suru) means to do. Translated literally, saying shitsureishi-masu means that you’re about to do a rude thing. In this case, that means leaving.
It may seem odd at first, but sometimes set expressions are simply strange.
Osaki-ni Shitsurei Shi-Masu — お先に失礼します
This phrase is a slight variation of shitsurei shi-masu and is regularly heard as the standard ‘goodbye’ in a Japanese office. But there’s one catch. You’ll hear people say osaki ni shitsurei shi-masu when they are leaving while other people are staying at the office.
You see the first part osaki-ni roughly translates to ‘before (you).’ So when you break it down you get ‘I’m doing the rude thing (leaving) before you.’ Since Japanese work-culture puts such a high value on long hours, you can understand how such phrasing came about.
Stop Saying Sayōnara So Much!
You may have heard the word sayōnara (さようなら) in your favorite anime or movie. People even say it in English sometimes. However, you should understand that in Japanese, the phrase sayōnara should only be reserved for special occasions.
The best translation for sayōnara is probably ‘farewell,’ but the meaning is much deeper than that since the word has a very strong sense of finality to it. Saying sayōnara implies that you’re saying goodbye to someone for a very long time or maybe even forever. So be sure not to say when you leave a group of friends or family!
Note: On the rare occasion where you do have to say the long goodbye, be sure to make the yō long. Sah-yōh-na-ra, not sah-yoh-na-ra or sah-yuh-na-ra.
Leaving Your House — 行って来ま (Ittekimasu)
In Japanese, there is a specific way to say goodbye for when you leave your own home. As you slip on your shoes, you’re expected to call out ‘itte kimasu.’ The phrase comes from the verbs for going (iku/ 行く) and coming back (kuru/来る).
Whoever is still at home when you leave should respond with the phrase 行ってらっしゃい (itte rashai). This simply means “go and come back.”
You might also be wondering why you’d use the -masu form of verb with your own family. Simply put, there’s really no reason other than that itte kimasu is a set expression and that’s how it’s formed.
Take Care – 気を付けてね (Ki-o Tsukete-ne)
Our last way of saying goodbye in Japanese is probably the most poorly understood. Often you’ll see it translated as ‘take care’ but the phrase has a bit more nuance to it than that. People often wish each other ki-o tsukete-ne when they go on trips.
But here’s the catch: Only the person staying can say it to the person going. So if you’re leaving on a journey, do NOT say ki-o tsukete-ne, but if you’re friend is going to backpack through India, then this is the phrase you want to use before you depart.