みんな！元気？is how I would greet you all with a “hey everyone, what’s up?” in Japanese!
In English, we say “What’s up” to everyone all the time. I even say it to my dog when I come home after work. We might use it as a greeting, or when we are asking someone how they are. Over the years we have shortened the phrase to “wassup,” or simply, “sup”. The phrase “What’s up” and its super casual variants aren’t just limited to the English language alone though! There are many ways you can say “What’s up” in Japanese and in this article we’re going to explore them.
Just as a heads up before we begin… In English, we often open with questions (sometimes rhetorical ones) to initiate conversations. In Japanese though, it’s much more common to open with a simple greeting such as “Hello,” or “Hey.” That’s not to say you’ll sound weird asking someone “What’s up” in Japanese though. The occasions when you might ask someone how they are could be when you see a friend whom you haven’t seen for while instance.
With that said, let’s jump straight into detailed explanations on all the ways to say what’s up in Japanese!
Author’s Note: Although I have tried my best to describe the pronunciation of each expression in text form, I have also attached audio files for your convenience. The audio files presented are the natural way to pronounce each entry of “What’s up” in Japanese, so I recommend using them when referring to pronunciation if you can!
Table of Contents
What’s up in Japanese
- What’s up?/How are you?
One of the most common situations where we say “What’s up” in English is when we want to greet someone. One of the best ways to do this in Japanese would be to use 元気 (genki), pronounced as [gen-key]. You can use 元気 (genki) for when you want to say “What’s up” or “How are you” in Japanese. If you’re looking for detailed information on asking someone how they are, check out our comprehensive ultimate guide on how to say “How are you? in Japanese. If you’re looking to ask someone simply “What’s up” as a casual greeting in Japanese, you can use 元気 (genki) by itself.
元気 (genki) is a very common phrase that we use all the time in Japanese. One slight nuance with it though is that you might tend to use this phrase only if it’s been a while since you’ve seen the person with whom you’re speaking to. How much time needs to have passed is really up to you to decide. As a pointer, the use is similar to when you might ask someone how they’ve been in English.
Let’s take a look at an example. Imagine you’re a student and you’ve gone home for the Easter break. The break is for two weeks. Classes begin again and you see your friends. At this point you might say something like:
John! 元気? (genki)
John! What’s up?
The best thing about 元気 (genki) is that you can use it when you’re replying to someone too!
Not much, I’m good!
When you use 元気 (genki) as a standalone reply, you’re telling the person you’re well. This is because the meaning of 元気 (genki) is “energetic; full of energy”
What are You up to?
- What are you up to?
nani wo shiteru?
When you’re wondering what someone is doing, you can ask them 何をしてる？ (nani wo shiteru?). This essentially translates to “What are you up to” in Japanese. Before we go over some examples, let’s break it down and clarify the pronunciation.
The first part of the phrase 何 (nani), is one you might have heard a lot as a meme on the internet. 何 (nani) is pronounced as “nanny” and means “what” in Japanese.
The second part を (wo) is important. を (wo) is a Japanese grammar particle that marks the object of the verb in a sentence. With を (wo), you pronounce as a lower-case letter “o.” But you spell/romanise it as “wo.” If you’re interested in more on the readings Japanese characters, have a peek at our ultimate guide on How to Read Japanese.
Lastly, we have してる (shiteru) which you pronounce as [she-teh-loo]. してる (shiteru) is the present progressive state of する (suru) in Japanese. する (suru) is the Japanese for the verb “do. Knowing this, we can deduce that してる (shiteru) means “doing” in Japanese.
To summarise, you pronounce 何をしてる as [nanny-o-she-teh-loo]. A literal translation of this phrase would be “What are you doing?” You might be wondering where the “you” is comming from. We infrequently say “you” in Japanese. Instead, we’ll use the person’s actual name! A good way to remember everyone right? It can be a struggle if you suck at remembering names of people though…
As an example, you could message a friend (preferably one who understands Japanese) 何をしてる (nani wo shiteru) when you’re wondering what they’re doing.
Bonus! If you were to say this phrase somewhat aggressively… It would sound like you’re shouting at someone “What the hell are you doing?”
What’s up/What’s Wrong in Japanese
- What’s up/ What’s wrong?
dou shita no
When you want to ask someone “what’s up” in the sense of “what’s wrong,” the expression you’ll need is どうしたの (dou shita no).
It is pronounced as:
do – doll
she – she
ta – tank
no – not (British pronunciation)
This expression is made up of three parts. Let’s break them down and then look an example of how to use the expression as a whole.
Firstly we have どう (dou) which essentially means “how” or can sometimes (as in the case here) mean “what.”
Secondly, した (shita) is the past tense of the verb する (suru) which means “do.”
Thirdly, by attaching の (no) by to the end of the expression you give your words more feeling and emotion. It tells the person whom you’re speaking with that you care that little bit extra. You can omit this part, but sometimes you might appear somewhat cold if you’re not careful.
As a full expression, you’re best off usingどうしたの (dou shita no) when you’re concerned about someone. When you use this expression, you’re essentially asking that person “what’s up? What’s wrong? Tell me about it” in Japanese. Perhaps a friend is sad and you want to show you’re concern, you could ask どうしたの？ (dou shita no).
Do note that this expression is best suited for casual situations, such as conversations between friends and family. The Japanese language has many different levels of politeness depending on whom you’re talking with. So it’s best to avoid using this when asking your boss “What’s up?” when they look stressed due to work.
Is Something the Matter?
- Is something the matter?
dou kanasaimashita ka
The Japanese language has many honorifics, called Keigo, that are used in a plethora of social situations. When you find yourself in a formal setting and wanting to ask someone “what’s up, what’s the matter” in Japanese, you’ll need this phrase. どうしたの (dou shita no), above, is a casual expression that you can use to ask someone what’s wrong in Japanese. どうかなさいましたか (dou kanasaimashita ka), however, is one of the most formal ways you can say “what’s up” as in “what’s the matter” in Japanese. It is a part of Japanese Keigo, the highest form of politeness.
So when can you use it?
When you’re speaking with someone who is your manager, a stranger to you, or even a teacher, you should speak with a higher level of respect in your language. In situations where you want to ask someone “what’s the matter,” and that someone you’re asking fits into one of the three categories listed above, you’ll want to use どうかなさいましたか (dou kanasaimashita ka).
You might be wondering why this phrase is so long, and the reason for it is mostly down to because of its high level of politeness. Let’s break down the parts of this phrase.
なさいました (nasaimashita) is the past tense of なさいます (nasaimasu). なさいます (nasaimasu) is なさる (naseru) in its polite form. Finally なさる(naseru) is する (suru) in it’s honorific (keigo) form. As discussed above, する (suru) means “do” in Japanese.
Attaching か (ka) to the end of a sentence identifies that sentence as a question.
What’s up, are you Okay? in Japanese
- Are you okay?
In English, we use “What’s up?” and “Are you okay?” interchangeably. When we notice that something might be wrong with someone, we ask them if they are alright. This is how you can use 大丈夫 (daijoubu) to ask someone “What’s up?” or “Are you okay” in Japanese.
大丈夫 (daijoubu) is pronounced as [dye-jo-boo].
Dye – dyeing
Jo – John
Boo – Boom
One of the best things about this expression is that similarly to 元気 (genki), (explained above), you can use it as a reply to tell someone you’re okay.
For instance, imagine you’ve gone to class and just gotten your exam results back after a super hard study session. You’re disappointed with results and you feel a little down. Your friend might notice you’re feeling not your usual self and ask 大丈夫？(daijoubu), as in, “What’s up, are you okay?” To which, you could reply with 大丈夫 (daijoubu), meaning “I’m okay.” Of course, if you’re completely and utterly devastated you could reply with 大丈夫じゃない (daijoubu janai). The addition of じゃない (janai) here is pronounced as [ja-nigh] and is a way of saying “no” or “not” in Japanese.
Poltiteness: You should use 大丈夫 (daijoubu) in casual settings, like those when you’re talking with friends or family. In other situations though, you need to attach something more to the phrase to raise the politeness. Japanese is a polite language, so you need to adjust your speech accordingly.
When speaking with someone such as a manager, teacher, or stranger, you should use 大丈夫ですか (daijoubu desuka). Of course, you can then answer with 大丈夫です (daijoubu desu) meaning “I’m okay,” or 大丈夫じゃないです (daijoubu janai desu) for “I’m not okay” in Japanese.
What Happened? What’s up?
- What happened?
nani ga atta no?
At times when a friend or family member looks troubled or concerned about something, you might ask them 何があったの？(nani ga atta no).
Imagine your partner arrives back home after going shopping and looks at you with the most shocked face ever. You immediately rush over and you ask 何があったの？ (nani ga atta no), meaning, “What’s up, what happened?” in Japanese. Turns out they got a steal on those ridiculously expensive cookies you enjoy. Lucky!
You can also use this phrase interchangeably with どうしたの (explained above) to ask someone what’s wrong. At times when you are wondering what happened with someone, you can use this phrase.
This phrase has four parts.
- 何 – (nani) as discussed earlier, 何 (nani) means “what” in Japanese.
- が – (ga) is a Japanese grammar particle that marks the subject of a verb. In this case, the subject is 何 (nani) and the verb is あった (atta.)
- あった – (atta) is the past tense of ある (aru) a verb that means “have,” or “to exist.” In 何があったの, あった can be interpreted as “happened.”
- の – (no), also discussed previously, is used to envoke more emotion in the phrase. It amplifies your words, giving them a sympathetic feel.
Combining them we have 何があったの (nani ga atta no). You pronounce it as [nanny-ga-at-tah-no, (as in the British pronunciation of the “no” in “not)].
How is it going?
- How is it going?
genki ni shiteru?
Going back to asking someone “What’s up” in the sense of “How are you” we’ll be taking another look at 元気 (genki). As mentioned in entry #1 of this post, 元気 (genki), on its own can be used to ask how someone is in Japanese. So what is the にしてる (ni shiteru) attached to it on this phrase?
First, let’s take a look at してる (shiteru). You pronounce it as [sh-teh-loo]. It is the present progressive form of the Japanese verb する (suru) which means to do. Progressive form refers to something on-going. In English, this is essentially the same as “ing” words, such as
love – loving
go – going
Thus, “do” is “doing.”
So in summary, する = “do” and してる = “doing.”
The に (ni) in the middle of 元気にしてる (genki ni shiteru) is another Japanese grammar particle. Put as simple as possible, the role of に (ni) is to express the object of the verb that has motion. If you’re interested in learning more about the rules of, and how to identify Japanese grammar particles, I recommend this extremely well-done guide here.
By attaching にしてる (ni shiteru) to 元気 (genki), you specifically transform this phrase into a gerund, or a phrase ending with an “ing” word. It’s the same as changing the question “How are you?” to “How are you doing” in English.
Similar to 元気 (genki) 元気にしてる (genki ni shiteru) is a way of saying a kind of “What’s up” to someone whom you specifically haven’t seen for a while. You wouldn’t say this phrase to someone who you saw yesterday for instance.
Formality: This is a casual phrase you should use with friends and family. To make this phrase polite, use 元気にしていますか (genki ni shiteimasu ka).
What’s up In Japanese Slang
- Hey, sup
In English, we often use slang variants of “What’s up” when speaking with friends. Although not used anywhere near as much as we do in English, there are some ways you can say “sup” in Japanese. First up we have おーす (o-su). In modern Japanese casual speech, some Japanese males use this when greeting each other. Like in English when we say “sup,” おーす (o-su) isn’t so much an abbreviation for “How are you” than it is a general greeting.
Actually, according to Gogen おーす (o-su) is the shortened version of おはようございます (ohayou gozaimasu), a polite way to say “good morning” in Japanese. It was originally used in pre-war times by students of a martial arts class in Kyoto, Japan.
Being Japanese slang, おーす (o-su) is a very casual way to say “sup” in Japanese. Different to that of the West, Japanese people haven’t adopted super casual greetings like “sup” into their culture. Therefore the frequency in which you will hear this expression being used won’t be that high. Instead, it is more common to greet people by saying their name + Good morning, or by skipping greetings completely by jumping straight into a conversation. These are expressions you’ll probably hear more on Japanese anime.
That’s not to say you’ll never hear this expression at all though. Some Japanese males use おーす (o-su) in the same way as we say “wassup” or “sup” in English. Of course, avoid using this phrase in settings outside of that with your friends and family at all costs!
More ways to say What’s up In Japanese Slang
- Hey, sup
With おーす (o-su), explained above, being the masculine way to say “sup” in Japanese, ヤーホ (ya-ho) in this entry is the feminine version. Depending on the words you decide to use in your Japanese speech, you can sound more masculine or feminine.
ヤーホ (ya-ho) is Japanese slang for “sup” and is predominately used by younger girls. Just like how in English, when we say “sup” we don’t always intend to convey a “how are you,” but rather a “hello,” ヤーホ (ya-ho) is the same. You can use this expression to initiate a conversation with someone casually. As previously mentioned, despite being a polite language, Japanese is limited in the ways in which you can ask someone how they are, or “what’s up” at the beginning of a conversation. Instead, greetings will most likely be limited to a simple こんにちは (konnichi ha), meaning “hello” in Japanese.
If you’re looking specifically for ways to say “What’s up” in Japanese slang though, these two phrases will do you well, without sounding weird. Just remember the feminity differences that are attached to both おーす (o-su) and ヤーホ (ya-ho) in Japanese.
Of course, don’t forget that both of these phrases are extremely casual, and using them with managers, teachers or strangers might not go too well.
That concludes this guide on “What’s up” in Japanese. Unless you did want a literal translation of course! 上には何がある？(ue niha nani ga aru) is “what is up” quite literally in Japanese.
I struggled with knowing how to initiate a conversation in Japanese during my year abroad. I hope this guide proved useful for you all and gave you some ideas.
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