How to say "hello" is the first thing many learn in their studies of Japanese.
Most learn that this is the way to say "hello" in Japanese:
But are you really saying it correctly?
Back when I was a beginner, I was saying "hello" wrong.
My pronunciation was wrong.
My usage was wrong.
Luckily, you can look like less of a dufus than me by reading this article.
What Does こんにちは (Hello) Really Mean in Japanese?
When writing this article, I knew that I wanted to take a detailed look at how to say hello in Japanese. So I searched 「こんにちは 語源」(konnichiwa gogen) in Japanese Google.
Literally, this means something like "konnichiwa origins," and searching "[word] 語源 (gogen)" is an awesome way to look up the origin of words in Japanese (assuming you're ready to challenge yourself with some Japanese-only articles).
I then came across this page, which states:
こんにちはの語源・由来The Origins of Konnichiwa
Konnichiwa comes from the phrase "(as for) today" (konnichi wa) in greetings such as "How are you today?" (kyou wa gokigen ikaga desu ka?). Such phrases were shortened to become only "today" (konnichi wa).
Translation Note: The common pronunciation of the kanji 今日 is kyou, which means today. This is an irregular reading of these kanji, which I talk about a bit in this post on the kanji 日. However, the kanji for konnichiwa — though you'll almost never see it written using kanji — is 今日は (kon-nichi-wa).
There are many explanations for why こんにちは (konnichiwa) is often written incorrectly as こんにちわ (konnichiwa). One such explanation is that writing わ (wa) gives off more of the friendly impression of 和 (wa, "harmony"), so people intentionally use this incorrect writing.
So "hello" in Japanese, こんにちは (or こんにちわ / konnichiwa) comes from the word "today" in a (very polite) version of the question "How are you today?" in Japanese:
kyou wa gokigen ikaga desu ka?
How are you, good sir?
The Correct Pronunciation of こんにちは
Note that there is a double "n" sound in こんにちは (konnichiwa). Or rather, a nasally "n" (ん) followed by the "n" in に (ni). There is a chance that you won't be saying enough of this nni part, but if you're a native speaker of English, I think that mistake is not too much of a danger. A more common mistake is pronouncing things like nn when there is only ん and no n- sound kana after it.
One trick to sounding a lot like a native speaker with this word is to under-pronounce the んにち (nnichi) part and to put more emphasis/length on the は／わ (wa) part. More on this pronunciation below.
If you want to hear native speakers saying this and other words at natural speed (the best way to study audio) — and to hear looped tracks of all the sentences you've learned — head over to NativShark.
The Correct Usage of こんにちは
One of the biggest mistakes I see non-native speakers making is using the word こんにちは (konnichiwa) with friends and family.
This greeting is not something you use all that often with people with whom you're on intimate terms. There are better options for that, which I'll list below.
If it's the middle of the day, however — i.e. not morning or evening/night dh — then this is a good option for strangers and people you don't know all that well.
You Shouldn't Say "Hello" in the morning.
If you walk around any friendly neighborhood in Japan in the morning, it won't be too long until some old lady says "Good morning" to you, which is:
In English, we can say "Hello" or "Good morning" in the morning, but in Japan they're pretty clearly separated.
If you're talking to a friend or family member, you can also drop the ございます (gozaimasu) off of the end of おはよう (ohayou) for a casual "Good morning:"
You Shouldn't Say "Hello" At Night.
In the evening, we can say...
How to Say Hello in Japanese: Slang
All of the phrases below are playful, slang versions of "Hello" in Japanese. These are casual, so don't go saying them to your teacher or boss!
よっ (yo) "Hey"
よう (you) "Hey"
おっす (ossu) "What's up!"
This last one was probably the first slang I ever learned in Japanese. To my disappointment, I rarely hear Japanese people say it. Sometimes, but not often.
Abbreviated Versions of Konnichiwa
A lot of "slang" for "hello" in Japanese is just shortened versions of the full word "hello" in Japanese: konnichiwa.
こんちわ (konchiwa) "Hey; Hello"
This first one just shortens the んに to ん. A lot of Japanese people already say it this way without even realizing it.
I'm guessing that this version is something like a shortened version of こんにちは．．．です (konnichiwa... desu), which I'm pretty sure makes absolutely no sense.
We can just remember it as slang for "hello."
We can then shorten it further to get chiwassu.
We can then shorten that even further to get only chiissu.
Or we can just borrow the word from English and say:
ハロー (harou) "Hello"
This is just the Japanese pronunciation of the word "Hello." And like a multitude of other English words, this totally flies for saying "Hello" to someone.
However, it's often used in a playful (though friendly) way. Kids sometimes say this to me when I pass them on the street.
Say Hello to Japanese Fluency
If you're not satisfied with just saying "hello" — if you want to learn all the Japanese — then please head over to NativShark.
It's the resource I wish I'd had for my first decade of studying Japanese.
Good luck with your studies,