Hajimemashite: Meeting A Japanese Person for the First Time

It can be quite intimidating when one travels to another part of the world. Especially when one does not fully understand the culture and tradition of the foreign country, visiting it for the first time can be quite scary. What makes things worse is if one cannot comprehend the language of that country. As speaking words may be one of the few options that one can do in order to make the other person understand what one is trying to say, not being able to speak the local language of the foreign country may prove to be difficult for one to move places to places.

If one ever visits Japan, the language that the locals speak is Japanese. The Japanese language can be quite interesting to learn but not everyone has sufficient time to learn the language. Trying to speak the language also require effort as there are various characters that one must first learn to understand, which are similar to the letters of the alphabet. Hence, the best thing to do would be to learn the basic phrases instead. These can be seen in most Japanese translation dictionaries.

The Meaning of “Hajimemashite” in English and in Japanese 

By Maya-Anaïs Yataghène from Paris, France (Japan - Tokyo) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

One of the basic lessons that one needs to learn when visiting Japan is how to introduce one’s self. One does not necessarily know when he or she would be introduced to a Japanese after all. The greeting that the Japanese people use in their own language when meeting somebody for the first time is “hajimemashite.” This translates to either, “Nice to meet you,” in the English language. However, this phrase cannot be used on the daily basis of greeting.

This greeting is usually used by strangers who are meeting for the first time ever. It is typically accompanied by introducing one’s name and the last greeting of introduction. While many people consider “hajimemashite” to be a translation of “Nice to meet you,” that is not necessarily the right translation. The literal meaning of this greeting is actually closer to, “This is the first time we are meeting.” This is why this greeting is apt only for people meeting for the first time and should not be abused by using the phrase every time one meets a particular person.

There is a pattern to the greeting “hajimemashite.” The term “hajime” is quite similar to another term known as “hajimaru,” which translates to “to begin.” Hence, meeting somebody for the first time is like the beginning of a new kind of relationship or the beginning of a conversation. The greeting itself is not just a phrase but also kind of serves like a symbol when one thinks about it.

When greeting another person with “hajimemashite,” the Japanese people generally bow, which is called ojigi in Japanese. This point of this action is to show both respect and courtesy to another person, which is an integral part in the Japanese culture. In fact, ojigi can be considered as an essential part of the typical daily life of the Japanese. Hence, performing ojigi is not limited to when greeting someone with “hajimemashite.” While people from the West typically shake hands, the Japanese prefer the ojigi.

The phrase “hajimemashite” might also be familiar to people who watch anime. This term is generally spoken by anime characters who are meeting for the first time. When there is a transfer student coming to the school for the first time, he or she is encouraged to introduce him or herself in front of the class. This introduction usually consists of the phrase “hajimemashite” as well. This typically happens during the first episode of most anime shows that incorporate school themes.

For example, if one’s name is Yuki and she is introducing herself for the first time, she would say, “Hajimemashite, Yuki desu. Douzo yoroshiku,” in Romaji. This translates to, “ I am Yuki. Nice to meet you,” in the English language. In the Japanese language, it is, “はじめまして、ゆきです。 どうぞよろしく。”

“Hajimemashite” in Kanji

One of the many categories of the Japanese language is kanji. It is a writing system in the Japanese language that was adopted from the logographic Chinese characters. It is used in conjunction with hiragana and katakana, other subcategories of writing systems in the Japanese language. The term “kanji” literally translates to “Han characters” and is written with characters that are the same as the Chinese term “hanzi.”

Words in the Japanese language can often be written using both kanji and katakana. Phonetic katakana is considered to be the system that is much easier to learn especially for beginners who are studying the Japanese language for the first time. however, being able to use kanji is considered to be more formal. Hence, most locals view people who can use kanji to be more educated and eloquent.

The phrase “hajimemashite,” like most Japanese phrases, can be written in both hiragana and kanji. In kanji, “hajimemashite” can be written as “こんにちは。始めまして。” If one can write this phrase in kanji, one may be able to seem eloquent in the Japanese language or, at the very least, a fast-learner.

“Hajimemashite” in Hiragana

On the other hand, hiragana is the first of the two phonetic alphabets in the Japanese language. It can be utilized for all native Japanese words that exist. The second of the two phonetic alphabets is katakana, which is generally used for foreign names and words. Literally translating to “simple” or “ordinary” kana, hiragana is a lettering system that many people consider to be simpler in comparison to kanji, which is considered a complex writing system in itself already.

Both hiragana and katana are kana or writing systems. Every sound made in the Japanese language, known as mora in Japanese, is characterized by a single character or one digraph, with only a single or two minor exceptions, in every system. Nonetheless, these systems are considered as syllabaries instead of alphabets. There are also two primary systems when ordering hiragana, namely, the iroha ordering and the gojuon ordering. The iroha ordering is considered traditional while the gojuon ordering is considered more modern.

When learning basic Japanese phrases, it would be best if one also knew how to use them in hiragana. In this case, the phrase “hajimemashite” can be written as “こんにちは。はじめまして。” Learning to write this phrase and understanding it in hiragana would considerably be much easier than learning it in kanji due to its simplicity.

Hajimemashite Versus Yoroshiku

By Scan by NYPL [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Many people who do not fully comprehend the Japanese language often confuse the phrases “hajimemashite” and “yoroshiku.” It is important to take note that the phrase “hajimemashite” is only used when meeting another person for the first time. It is also used at the beginning of the introduction.

On the other hand, the phrase “yoroshiku” is a casual phrase from the original, which is “douzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu.” Many consider its translation to be, “I am pleased to meet you.” However, its literal meaning is actually, “Please form good relations with me” or “Please take good care of me.” This phrase is typically used at the end of a person’s initial introduction. Hence, this phrase is very different from “hajimemashite,” which is stated in the beginning of the introduction.

“Yoroshiku onegaishimasu” may also translate to, “Please be nice to me.” This phrase is an unusual thing to say in the West but in Japan, it is an imperative phrase to say at the end of their introduction. This is because of the culture in Japan wherein people are very polite and courteous to one another. This phrase translates to that culture of the Japanese.

The casual form of this phrase is just “yoroshiku.” However, since one would be meeting another Japanese for the first time, it would be highly recommended to just go with the formal version of the phrase, which is “douzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu.” This is especially important when one is meeting a Japanese person who is either older or holds a higher position. On the other hand, if one is only meeting a young person in a casual setting, then the shortened version of the phrase, “yoroshiku,” would suffice.

Other Essential Japanese Greetings

Aside from the phrase “hajimemashite,” there are also other Japanese phrases that that are used as greetings. These greetings would definitely put a smile on the faces of the locals who are being greeted to. It would be recommended to learn this phrases as these also serve as greetings when introducing one’s self or just meeting with other Japanese people.

One of the most basic greetings would be “good morning.” In Japanese, it is said as, “Ohayou gozaimasu.” It is written as “お早うございます” in kanji and “おはようございます” in hiragana. This phrase also reflects the common tendency of the Japanese to greet one another. This phrase is a more formal version. If one is only greeting friends, he or she can just say, “ohayou.” This is quite apparent in anime shows when anime characters that are friends are greeting each other.

As for the most famous Japanese greeting, it would probably be “konnichi wa.” It is written as “こんにちは” in hiragana and “今日は” in kanji. It translates to either “hello” or “good day” in the English language. It is a common greeting among the Japanese people. As for one who is greeting another person in Japan at night, the proper phrase to be used would be “konban wa.” It is written as “今晩は” in kanji and “こんばんは” in hiragana. It translates to “good evening” in the English language. This greeting may also be used to just say hello at night. The structure of this phrase is similar to “konnichi wa.” The only difference is that the word “ban” translates to “evening” while the word “niche” translates to “day.”

It is also typical for the Japanese to greet their family members once they got home. The phrase that is generally used for this greeting is “tadaima.” It is written as “ただいま” in hiragana. It translates to either “I have returned” or “I am home” in the English language. This is a nice greeting that family members use in order to let their loved ones know that they were able to come home safe and sound.

When it is time for bed, the Japanese also have a greeting for it. It is the phrase “oyasumi nasai.” It is written as “おやすみなさい” in hiragana. Though this is not the direction translation for “good night,” this phrase is the closest to that greeting. For a more casual tone, one can just say “oyasumi.” However, it is important to note that it is not a greeting to be said when leaving a friend’s house at night.

If one would be staying in Japan for quite a while, then it is most likely that one would have a phone with him or her. If somebody calls, the proper greeting when answering the phone is “moshi moshi.” It is written as “申し申し” in kanji and “もしもし” in hiragana. It is a more polite form of the Japanese word “imasu,” which means “to say.” This can be quite useful for people who may be expecting a call from a Japanese.

There are definitely a lot more Japanese phrases that one can learn in the Japanese language. The language itself is truly fascinating and interesting to study. There are simple forms as well as complex forms. Nonetheless, trying to learn the language and comprehend what the Japanese are trying to say is a great way to show not just effort but also respect in the culture of the Japanese. Plus, there is no harm done in trying to learn more Japanese phrases such as “hajimemashite” that may prove to be useful when one suddenly decides to visit Japan.