How to say Yes and No in Japanese

⏱ 2 minutes

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

👍 Yes

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.

👎 No

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.

Updated on October 28, 2020 Oui et non en japonais