15 Different Ways to Say “No” In Japanese

15 Different Ways to Say “No” In Japanese

Two of the most basic words that new language learners need to learn in any language is how to say “yes” or “no”.

These two words are the most basic way to answer a variety of questions about your well-being and about what you want or need. In most cultures, just saying “no” is enough to put an end to certain questions like “are you still hungry” or “would you like a drink”.

There are some places in the world, however, where a simple “no” might get the message across, but might not necessarily make the best first impression. 

For certain cultures, there are formal and informal ways of saying “no” and strict rules about who gets a certain type of “no” and in what circumstances a certain type of “no” is appropriate.

Japan is one such culture where the way you say “no” is very important. Because they are a society that values politeness and respect, Japanese speakers have a variety of ways to say “no” and rules about when a certain phrase is the right one to use. 

Most native Japanese won’t use a blunt “no” when asked a question, depending on the situation and also who they are talking to, they may use another word or phrase that indirectly means no. In this post, we’re going to look at 15 Japanese words and phrases that that mean “no” 

1. Iie

Meaning: No

If you use a translation app on your iPhone or other mobile devices, if you ask what the Japanese translation for “no” is in Japanese the first answer will be “iie”.

While you will hear a Japanese speaker use “iie” to answer a question, it is usually considered harsh and blunt. If you are speaking to a superior or to older Japanese, it may be a little rude. 

Rule of thumb, “iie” is usually used when you want to correct someone’s assumption. So, “iee” or “no”, I am not a native Japanese speaker. Do not use it when you are trying to refuse something.

You might also hear the phrase “iie,iie” which is the equivalent of “no,no” if someone is responding to a compliment. In Japan, it’s considered polite to deny or downplay a compliment. So, “no, no, my Japanese isn’t that good”.

2. Iya/uun

Meaning: No (casual)

These are casual ways of saying no. You might hear them from the younger generation of Japanese or in casual conversation.

3. Muri

Meaning: Impossible/No, I can’t

If you are around friends or colleagues, you can use “muri” when you mean “no, I can’t” This basically translates to ”impossible”. Again, this is considered a “blunt” and short answer, so be careful who you use it around.

You can use this way of saying no in Japanese in more formal situations by adding “desu”, so “muri desu”, then explain why.

4. Dame

Meaning: No good

This is another way that you can say “no” to plans in Japanese. For example, if your classmates ask you to join them for lunch, but you can’t because you have a meeting, say “dame” then explain.

This is also an informal way of telling someone “no, you can’t or no you may not”.  You might hear a Japanese parent tell their child “iya dame desu” when they are denying their child’s request. 

5. Dekinai

Meaning: Can not

Again, when talking to friends or colleges, you can express regret that you can’t fulfill someone’s request by saying this then adding the explanation.

6. Chotto matte

Meaning: No, wait!

You might hear this informal phrase from a Japanese speaker if they want to tell you to hold up or slow down. They may also say this if they are trying to warn you not to do something.

7. Mada

Meaning: No, not yet

This is actually the informal way to answer “no, not yet” to a question. If you want to be more formal and respectful, try saying “mada desu”.

8. Iya da!

Meaning: No way!

This is an informal Japanese expression of disbelief or rejection that you might hear from children and young Japanese speakers. If you want to say “no” because something is distasteful to you and you are not in a formal or business situation, you can use this phrase.

9. Chigau

Meaning: It’s different 

Technically, this Japanese word translates to “it’s different”, but it’s also often used by Japanese speakers when they want to say “no” because they have to correct you.

So, for example, if your Japanese-speaking friend asks if your birthday was in June but it’s actually in May, say “chigau” and then add the correction. 

This is the informal way of using this word, if you want to be more formal, say “chigamasu”. You might also hear someone add “iie” to this phrase if they want to say no, so “iie chigau/chigamasu”. 

10. Kekkou desu

Meaning: No thanks

If you want to politely refuse an offer, like a drink, you can say “kekkou desu”. You are more likely to hear “iie, kekkou desu” from a native Japanese speaker. No need to explain why you are turning down their offer. 

11. Daijouba

Meaning: I’m okay

This Japanese phrase is actually used to say “yes” or “no” depending on the situation.  It’s translated to something like “to be okay.”

You will hear a Japanese speaker use “daijouba” to mean “no” if they want to politely reject an offer of help. If the appropriate thing to say is “no, thank you, I’m okay”, then you can use “daijouba”.

A common phrase you might hear from a Japanese speaker using “daijouba” to mean “no” would be “Iya, daijoubu da”. This basically translates to “no, that’s okay”.

You might also hear “daijouba” if someone is responding to a request. If they can accommodate a request, “daijouba” will be used to mean “yes, I am able to”.

12. Zannen nagara

Meaning: Unfortunately

This is another way to say “no” in Japanese without actually using the word “no”. If you want to reject an offer or an invitation or turn down a request for help, you say “zannen nagara” then add the reason why you can’t do something.

13. Taihen moushiwake nai no desuga

Meaning: I’m terribly sorry but

This may sound like a long-winded way to say “no”, but in a society that places as much value on politeness as Japan, apologizing for not doing something is considered the proper way of going about things.

If you want to say no to a superior’s request, you say this and give your reason. You might also hear this particular Japanese phrase for “no” from people in the service industry. For example, if you ask a waiter for a table in a full restaurant, they will say “Taihen moushiwake nai no desuga” before informing you of that fact.

14. Sou iu wake janai

Meaning: No, not really

You might hear this phrase from a Japanese speaker if they want to deny something is difficult or that your request is putting them in a tight spot.

15. Sou wa omowanai

Meaning: No, I don’t think so

If a Japanese speaker isn’t sure how to answer your question, they might use this phrase.

Conclusion

If you are going to be traveling or working in Japan, it’s important to learn some common Japanese phrases and words. While many educated Japanese, especially those who work with international companies, may learn English or another common business language their level of comfort with that language may vary.

Learning Japanese is also a good way to show your respect for the Japanese people and culture, something that they will appreciate and which will make it easier for you to cultivate lasting and useful relationships. 

How to say no in Japanese?

Iie, Iya/uun, Muri, Dame, Dekinai, Chotto matte, Mada, Iya da!, Chigau, Kekkou desu, Daijouba, Zannen nagara, Taihen moushiwake nai no desuga, Sou iu wake janai, Sou wa omowanai

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