The Meaning of “Ohayo (Gozaimasu)” in Japanese (Greetings)


The Meaning of Ohayo and Ohayo Gozaimasu in Japanese - Greetings おはよう おはようございます

Since “Ohayo” (おはよう) is another extremely common and important Japanese greeting, today’s lesson is all about its meaning and and translation. I’m not only go cover the more casual greeting, but also the more formal “ohayo gozaimasu” (おはようございます). So let’s find out whatohayo” and “ohayo gozaimasumean.

“Ohayo” (おはよう), also written as “Ohayou”, is a casual Japanese greeting that means “good morning” or just “morning”. It is most commonly used in the morning but can also be used in the afternoon and evening. The more formal and polite greeting in the morning is “Ohayo gozaimasu” (おはようございます).

This is just the quick answer, below I will explain in more detail what “ohayo” (おはよう) and “ohayo gozaimasu” (おはようございます) mean in Japanese. We will also discuss when you should use the more formal greeting and when you can use the informal one. Last but not least, you will get to know why both spellings “ohayo” and “ohayou” are correct.

The Meaning of “Ohayo” in Japanese

Ohayo (おはよう) is one of the three basic Japanese greetings and means “Good morning!” or “Morning!“. The phrase comes from the adjective “hayai” (早い) which means “early” and the greeting literally translates as “It is early“. “O” (お) is a prefix that adds respect and politeness to a word or phrase.

Ohayo
おはよう
Good morning!
Morning!
Mornin’

Since the phrase “ohayo” comes from the adjective 早い (hayai) it can also be written in kanji as お早う (ohayou). However, it is not very common to write the Japanese greeting in kanji. Usually, it is just written in kana alone as おはよう (ohayou).

I personally prefer to translate “ohayo” (おはよう) as “Morning!” or “Mornin’” because it better reflects that it is a more casual greeting that you should use with friends, family members, and people you know well.

Is “Ohayo” Informal?

Ohayo” (おはよう) is the casual or shortened form of “ohayo gozaimasu” (おはようございます) and used to say good morning in informal situations. It’s an appropriate greeting for friends, family members, coworkers, and juniors. While normally said early in the morning it is sometimes also used later in the day.

Ohayo
おはよう
Good morning (informal greeting)

Ohayo gozaimasu
おはようございます
Good morning! (formal greeting)

How to Reply to “Ohayo”?

When a friend, family member, or someone you know well greets you with “Ohayo” it is best to reply with exactly the same phrase “ohayo” (おはよう). However, to your boss, a senior, a stranger, or someone you don’t know very well you should respond using the more formalohayo gozaimasu” (おはようございます).

Greeting:
Ohayo.
おはよう。
Morning!

Casual Reply:
Ohayo.
おはよう。
Morning!

Polite Reply:
Ohayo gozaimasu.
おはようございます。
Good morning!

Generally speaking, both repliesohayo” and “ohayo gozaimasu” are acceptable. However, with friends I always choose the more casual and nicer sounding “ohayo” (おはよう), while with strangers I prefer to be more distant and use the more formal “ohayou gozaimasu” (おはようございます).

The Meaning of “Ohayo Gozaimasu” in Japanese

Ohayo gozaimasu (おはようございます) is a formal Japanese greeting meaning “Good morning“. The first word “ohayo” is derived from the adjective for “early” which is “hayai” (早い) and the last word “gozaimasu” (ございます) is commonly used to add politeness. Literally the full phrase translates as “It is early“.

Ohayo gozaimasu.
おはようございます。
Good morning!

Ohayo gozaimasu” can also be written in kanji as お早うございます (ohayou gozaimasu), but it is usually written in hiragana only as おはようございます (ohayou gozaimasu). The same goes for the other greetings “Konnichiwa” (こんにちは) and “Konbanwa” (こんばんは), by the way.

Is “Ohayo Gozaimasu” Formal?

Ohayo gozaimasu” (おはようございます) is the formal and polite greeting that is used to say hello to someone in the morning. It is the appropriate phrase to greet your boss, seniors, elderly people, and strangers. However, when greeting your friends or family members the casualohayo” (おはよう) is better.

Ohayo gozaimasu
おはようございます
Good morning! (formal and polite greeting)

Ohayo
おはよう
Good morning! (casual greeting)

How Do You Respond to “Ohayo Gozaimasu”?

When someone greets you in Japanese with “Ohayo gozaimasu” it is best to respond using the same phrase “ohayo gozaimasu” (おはようございます). However, when you are older or have a higher social status than the person who greets you, you could also reply withohayo” (おはよう) which is the more casual version.

Greeting:
Ohayo gozaimasu.
おはようございます。
Good morning!

Best Reply:
Ohayo gozaimasu.
おはようございます。
Good morning!

More Casual Reply:
Ohayo.
おはよう。
Morning!

As I explain in my blog post about how to respond to konnichiwa, as a general rule of thumb, it is most of the time the best idea to respond to someone’s greeting by repeating the same phrase. Especially when you use a polite phrase like “ohayo gozaimasu” (おはようございます).

Can You Say “Ohayo” at Night? Or Only in the Morning?

Ohayo” (おはよう) and “Ohayo gozaimasu” (おはようございます) are usually used in the morning. However, it is also commonly used in the afternoon, in the evening, and sometimes even at night when you see the person for the first time that day. Especially at work it is a common greeting regardless of the time.

Typically you greet someone withohayo” (おはよう) until 10:30 or maybe 11:00 o’clock. While some Japanese might smile when you still use “ohayo” as late as 11:00 o’clock, other Japanese will tell you that you can use it until right before noon. It really depends on the people and the situation.

Since I teach at an English conversation school and start working late in the afternoon, my coworkers and I always tend to greet each other withohayoin the evening. For us, it is perfectly normal.

Which is Correct “Ohayo” or “Ohayou”?

The Japanese word おはよう can be written as “ohayo”, “ohayou“, and “ohayō“. All three romanized versions are correct, but the original spelling of the word is with four syllables o, ha, yo, and u. So “ohayou” is the closest to the hiragana, while the others reflect the pronunciation more accurately.

  • おはよう is お (o), は (ha), よ (yo), and う (u)
  • in romaji the following spellings are correct “ohayou”, “ohayo”, and “ohayō
  • ohayou” is closest to the original hiragana and the Japanese spelling
  • ohayō” and “ohayo” reflect the Japanese pronounciation most accurately

Using “ohayo” might be more intuitive, but in case you want to learn Japanese I recommend you to memorize and useohayou” or “ohayō“. You will make fewer mistakes when writing the word in Japanese, believe me! It is more difficult but actually best if you can remember おはよう in Hiragana!

Want more? Check out my blog post how to Say “hello” in Japanese (26 Common & Fancy Greetings).

Alex (RockinJapanese)

おはよう. I'm Alex. I have started studying Japanese when I was still a high school student and I have been living and working in Japan since 2015. I'm still learning new Japanese phrases and words every day and I thought that publishing them online will be useful for you, too. Hopefully, my study notes and free Japanese lessons will help you to reach the Japanese level you want to have! If you have any questions feel free to contact me anytime! Alex

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