The art of saying “no” in Japanese

「no」を  翻訳ほんやく すると「iie」です。
しかし、この  ことばは  生活せいかつの なか で 日本にほんの  ネイティブスピーカー(native Japanese speakers)によって  使つかわれることは  ほとんど  ありません。


If you have studied Japanese at all, one of the very first things that a textbook will teach you is that the word for “yes” is “hai“, and the word for “no” is “iie“. And if you have lived in Japan for any period of time, one thing you’ll quickly realize is that you’ll hear the former a lot, and the latter… not at all.

While it’s technically true that the most direct translation of “no” is “iie“, this word is hardly ever used by native Japanese speakers in everyday life. This is in part because “iie” is considered extremely direct and therefore rude in most situations. You should always try to avoid using the word “iie“, no matter what the textbook and your instinct tells you! In order to avoid doing so, there are some more roundabout ways to say “no” to someone in Japanese.

In more formal situations, there are some very mild-mannered expressions that are commonly used, that people will immediately take as a “no”. These might be hard to grasp for those learning the language, but if someone uses them with you, take them as a “no”! These include expressions like “muzukashii” (difficult), “sore wa chotto…” (“that’s a little…” – yes, this sentence is left hanging in the air and will never be finished!), or “taihen” (tough).

Another way to say “no” is to make a full sentence instead. The answer to “are there any seats available?” would be “there aren’t any”,  (“arimasen or “nai“). The answer to “are you coming tomorrow?” would be “I am not coming” (“ikimasen” or “ikanai“). By using the suffixes “-sen” or “-nai” you can make a negative verb and avoid saying “no”.

There are a few more direct ways to say “no”, without being quite as direct as “iie“. You should use these only with friends or people you’re close with. These include expressions like “muri” (not possible), “dame” (no good, bad, inadequate), or “dekimasen/dekinai” (it can’t be done). If you want to sound a bit softer, you can add “kamo ne” (it seems) after these.

Something that can seem simple to non-Japanese people, like saying “no”, can be quite complex and context-relative. It might take you a while to get used to it, but until you learn to use expressions like the ones we covered today, just remember to avoid using “iie“!


Hi, I’m Sergio.
I’m from Spain, lived in the UK for seven years and came to Japan in 2012.
I majored in journalism in London and have been teaching English in Tokyo.
I like traveling, cycling, photography, movies, and spending time with friends.
I wrote articles about life in Japan as a foreigner and anything that I might find interesting.
My email is ” “, by all means contact me about anything!


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