How to say Yes and No in Japanese

Although it may seem strange to some of our readers, there are different ways of expressing both approval and denial in Japanese. 


The simplest and most straightforward way of saying yes in Japanese is はい hai.

In a more formal style, one may also use は! ha!. If you are conversing with a close acquaintance, ええ ee is also suitable.

To show that you actually agree with someone, you should say  分かりました wakarimashita (or 分かった wakatta, which is less formal): "Yes, I agree, this is OK".

As to どうぞ dôzo, it can also be used to say "go ahead" when you are happy to grant a request. 

There are also other ways to express approval in particular when you want to show the person you’re talking to that you share their opinion:

  • うん un, a rather nasal sound
  • ああ aa  "I see"
  • or そう or even, in a more polite way, そうです sô desu which means "yes, that’s it"

These expressions can be repeated over and over throughout the conversation. 


In Japanese, no will translate as いいえ iie in a formal context, while いや iya will be more suitable when talking to a close acquaintance. 

However the rituals of politeness in Japan are averse to any straightforward denial. People therefore often signify their disapproval in a roundabout way, by nodding their head slightly to one side, bowing or waving their hand up and down and saying:

  • 結構です kekkô desu: This is perfect , meaning "No, thank you"
  • ちょっと chotto... : Well…
  • 難しい muzukashii: This is difficult
  • or even すみません sumimasen as an apology for not being willing to grant a request.

In a more straightforward fashion, they use だめ! dame!, i.e. "This is forbidden" and cross their arms over their chest.

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Posted by Gael
Editor in chief
Gael is founder and responsible for Kanpai's publication. In love with Japanese culture, he travels to Japan regularly since 2003 and shares his information and tips.
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