To say no in Japanese is easy, right? No. Since just “no” is usually to direct for Japanese people the Japanese language has evolved into “the art of avoiding ‘no’ at all costs”. Or at best using a lot of different words and expressions, as long as you don’t say just no.
But there are of course ways of expressing no in Japanese, it just takes a bit more getting used to for us gaijins that comes from more direct speaking countries.
The first thing you learn when studying Japanese is probably はい (hai) and いいえ(iie) – yes and no. So there we go, how to say no in Japanese! Sorry, just kidding, this is only the beginning… So yes, いいえ means ‘no’ but it is not the only way to say no in Japanese. いいえ is also mostly used for correcting someone. For example:
行きましたか？いいえ、行きませんでした。”Did you go? No, I didn’t go.”
But the most confusing part for foreigners in Japan is not the use of different words for no, it’s the avoiding of no completely. Like when you ask someone if they want to meet and you get the fluffy answer “I got some errands to do”. Pro tip: Just think of all answers that isn’t a clear ‘yes’ as a no. It will save you some time. This will become pretty obvious once you get used to the language and culture, but for beginners it can be pretty confusing.
ちょっと… – chotto
This means a little/it’s a little… If you go to Japan and try to arrange meetings and other kinds of interaction with Japanese locals you will probably run in to this one a lot. This is a way of saying no in Japanese without saying no directly and also not really specifying the reason why he/she can’t attend your meetup. A frequently used fraise is “ちょっと用事があって…“, “I have some things to do”, which basically just means “no, I can’t/don’t want to come”. Oh, and don’t ask what things the person has to do, just accept it as a ‘no’…
Sometimes you will hear people utter only a “chotto〜…” that slowly fades away. Don’t get your hopes up – there’s a big hidden ‘nope’ implied in there!
But of course there are also ways of saying ‘no’ in Japanese more directly. Here are a few ways of doing it in a more casual style. Saying no in the workplace is a whole other story that I might cover later.
いやです– iya desu
This is a ‘no’ that’s often used when you don’t want to do something or when you disapprove of something. A more casual way to say this is いやだ！(iyada!)
ダメです– dame desu
Also a word for disapproval but this is also often used when expressing that something is not okay to do. If your child is trying to steal cookies from the pantry you could shout “dame!”, which is like “No! (don’t do that)”.
もう – mou
Can be used to make the no stronger. もういやだ！
違います – chigaimasu
This is a very handy expression to know if you want to say no in Japanese. Chigau (違う) literally means ‘wrong’ or ‘different’. With the masu-stem hooked on it’s a bit more polite and I would translate it more as ‘not correct’. If someone asks you “Is this your book?” You can answer “chigaimasu , it’s A’s book” as in “What you said is not correct, it’s A’s book”. Which basically means: No, it’s A’s book.
けっこうです – kekkou desu
This is more of a “No thank you” or “Thanks, but I’m fine.” Like in: Do you want some more coffee? けっこうです。
If you know more creative ways of how to say no i Japanese, please let me know! ^^