The Cheerful Greetings of Japan, Tadaima, and Okaeri

Understanding the culture of Japanese Language

A lot of people believe that a language is a part of a nation’s culture. However, what many people don’t understand is that language in itself has a culture of its own. There are proper ways of saying it depends on the region of origin. Greetings come with gestures and body language. The Japanese language has a culture of its own and it takes a great deal of experience to learn the ins and outs of the language.

What does this mean? Basically, there are proper ways of greeting another person and this is based on culture. For instance, a similar greeting can be said by two different people of different generations or ages. There may be chances that the elderly will say it in a much more formal manner than his or her younger counterpart. The younger generations have their own way of greeting one another.

It is too strong to say that the traditional culture of Japan when it comes to greetings is now totally gone. It might be safer to say that it has evolved and developed with the modernization of the younger generations.

For foreign travelers who would be going to Japan for a lengthy amount of time must be able to catch on in this culture of language. It is not enough to just learn how to say the phrases, it is also important to understand why and how these expressions are said with the proper eye contact and body language. Starting out with a few conversational expressions is great but taking the time to learn the heart and soul of the language might take more time and effort.

The Importance of daily Japanese greetings

In Japan, there are such things as household greetings. These are the kinds of phrases which are known by anyone living in Japan. These are strongly embedded in their culture that these are the first things that are taught to young toddlers and pre-schoolers.

The sad thing about this, on the other hand, is that it can be translated directly into English but the meaning and spirit behind it are usually lost. This is due to the fact that not all cultures have the same kinds of household expressions as the Japanese.

By Paul Synnott from Osaka, Japan (Showing respect) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

It is said that it is not in the culture of the Japanese to be physically and publicly expressive of their love and care. However, it is evident in these expressions that it is not true. Most of these daily household expressions are actually well-wishings. It is a means of wishing other people to safety, to good luck, and the like. There is more heart to the Japanese language than how most people think it does. They may not be physically and intimately expressive of their feelings, but a sincere way of saying some ordinary sounding expressions proves otherwise.

Tadaima and Okaeri nasai

Tadaima Meaning and Translation

A simple acknowledgment of other people, especially family members, is a highly appreciated gesture in the Japanese culture. It is a sign of respect and honor as well. This means that greeting tadaima when reaching home is a way of acknowledging the presence of everybody in the house. Perhaps this kind of greeting is announced to ensure that all people inside the house, including those that are not in plain sight, will be acknowledged.

This may also be a way of announcing presence inside the house so that people will know the presence of an additional person. If a person living inside the house is not in proper clothing or appearance, the announcement of tadaima is a good indication that he or she must start acting properly.

Tadaima in Kanji

There is no direct translation of tadaima in kanji. However, there is a way for it to be written in hiragana. Using the characters (ただいま), a person can already say that he or she is home.

Tadaima and Okaeri in English

There is a literal translation for both Tadaima and Okaeri in English. However, there is no specific counterpart of these two expressions in any other culture all over the world.

The proper Tadaima response

In the same way that it is appreciated to announce presence for the sake of acknowledgment, it is only respectful to return the favor. The proper response to the Tadaima announcement is through saying Okaeri nasai which literally translates to Welcome home or Welcome back. Usually, for more informal situations, this is shortened to Okaeri.

Just like how a person must announce arrival inside a house or a place of work, it is only apt that a proper announcement is done to indicate that somebody is home. This is why, although it may feel like a dance, the exchange of these kinds of expressions are done in all of the Japanese homes.

Household Greetings in Japan

There is actually a deeper meaning and point to the expressions of tadaima and okaeri. What most foreigners don’t understand about it is the heart and soul of the greeting. This kind of greeting may directly translate to I’m home and Welcome Back.

However, in the Japanese culture, it is not as ordinary as it sounds. Saying Tadaima is an announcement that a person got home safely and is glad to be back with his family again, despite the shortness of the journey. In response, saying okaeri is the same as saying that another person waiting at home is glad for the safety of their family member. It is also an indication that they are thankful for his or her return.

These expressions may sound ordinary and meaningless for people listening to it for the first time. But they are more than just empty greetings. All learners of the Japanese language will understand this with experience.

Most of these expressions are pointed to no specific person in particular. It is a mere announcement of action which is done so as to not offend or indirectly disrespect another person. These kinds of greetings are intended to announce one’s self so that people in the surroundings are aware of certain actions to be performed. It is done when leaving the house, arriving home, arriving at the place of work, or before eating.

By Jim Epler from San Diego, USA (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Other greetings which are similar to tadaima and Okaeri nasai would be itadakimasu. For instance, seniority is very much important in the Japanese culture and it might be a little disrespectful to eat ahead of a senior. So, it is the senior’s ethical responsibility to announce that he will begin eating by saying Itadakimasu. This means “let us eat” or “I am humbly accepting the gift”. Once an older person or a senior announces this, everybody else at the table who are much younger can have ease of eating.

In a deeper sense of things, this expression means that a person wishes everyone happiness and gratefulness in accepting gifts from gods. Since the proper way to say this expression is to do it cheerfully, it may also be a way of expressing that they are happy to share the meal with another person.

Another type of household expression would be Ittekimasu and itterashai. These are the greetings being said when a person is about to leave home. An individual will say Ittekimasu to the people left inside a room, the office or the house. This expression directly translates to I am leaving. In response, people shall say Itterasshai which directly translates to take care.

In the concept of respect, this exchange may be done to announce departure. If there is anything that is left unsaid like a reminder or a favor it might be a good time to say it. For the receiving end, it might be a good time to think through any possible favors and reminders that have been forgotten by the person leaving.

Just like all other household expressions, these two have deeper meanings in them. Saying Ittekimasu to another person is simply saying that they will be leaving, but has a promise of returning safely. It is also a way of showing that the other person receiving the greeting should not worry about the person’s return and safety. On the other hand, the expression itterasshai is a form of well-wishing that the person who is leaving shall be safe on both his journey and his return.

What is Aisatsu?

These are the kinds of respectful greetings that the Japanese say to each other out of pure respect or acknowledgment. The aisatsu are the types of greetings which are taught to children starting at a very young age. These are proper greetings that are directed to no one in particular but are still usually expressed. It is highly appreciated and it is a must-know for anyone who is actively trying to learn the language.

Most often than not, these kinds of greetings are said in loud and cheerful voices. It is said that it is a means of transferring joy and energy to another person, especially in the sleepy hours of the morning and the tired hours of the night. Through a simple household greeting, a person might just bring a slight source of joy to another.

See page for author [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A lot of Japanese people say that saying these phrases and expressions are actually automatic and there are times that they are unaware that they are saying them. There are people who claim that this may be because it was a part of their curriculum growing up to have what is called as moral education classes. They are taught how to behave properly and to always put respect and honor on top of all other things. This is why the Japanese are strongly attached to their ethics and etiquette.

Although it may seem meaningless and useless at first, these kinds of expressions actually have very deep and rich meanings. It may take quite some time for a foreign learner to feel the joy in saying them and receiving them as well. It may also take quite some time for an individual to truly appreciate its purpose and its meaning.

The effects of technology to Japanese greetings

A lot of research has shown that the Japanese culture evolved with the globalization and modernization of society. The use of technology has affected how people interact with one another, how they form conversations and even how they form expressions and sentences.

There are cases when the presence of technology has improved people’s appreciation for language. People are now more welcoming with having conversations with other people despite gaps in ages. More people are more confident to share their knowledge and thoughts publicly than originally. Through the use of interconnectivity, Japanese migrants in different parts of the world can still get in touch with their origin and roots.

By Jorge Hernández Valiñani 〔cf. the meta data.〕 ((untitled)) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

It is apparent that the effect of technology on culture and language are not always positive. The use of interconnectivity may have changed how the Japanese people are welcoming to new cultures. It is apparent that they now start embracing multiple languages on top of their own. This may have declined the younger generation’s knowledge, skill, and understanding of their own vernacular. With the use of auto-typing keyboards on gadgets and cell phones, not all people are familiar with how certain characters are written and have limited skill writing them without the guide of technology.

For instance, there are now more Japanese individuals who are knowledgeable of second languages like Chinese, English, French, German, and more. There are cases when the younger generation finds it cooler and classier to say certain expressions in English than to say it in their vernacular. This may have caused some more traditional and formal means of greeting to phase out entirely.

Furthermore, there are cases when individuals are less attentive than they are supposed to. Certain household greetings are forgotten because they may tend to get too focused on their gadgets like the music they are listening to, the stuff they are reading, and the clips that they are watching.