The art of saying I don’t understand in Nihongo

4 years in Japan and probably one of the Japanese words I still use the most often when speaking to Japanese people is わかりません (wakarimasen).

There are two easy ways (or phrases) to convey that you don’t know how to answer a question; わかりません (wakarimasen) and しりません (shirimasen). With my limited knowledge of Japanese language, I believe that these are the difference of the two.

しりません (shirimasen)
しらない (shiranai)

Basically, しりません is use when you don’t have the knowledge to answer the question. Translation is literally, I don’t know.

Person A: What is the value of x as it approaches the value zero?
Person B: しりません (I don’t know)

わかりません (wakarimasen)
わからい (wakanai)

わかりません is use when you can’t understand or you don’t understand the question or what is happening (Translations are I can’t understand or I don’t understand). It can also be use when you don’t actually have a way of knowing the answer (like if it’s really raining tomorrow when the weather app says it’s 30% chance of rain).

Person A: <speaking Japanese I can’t understand>
Rowell: ごめなさい、わかりません (I’m sorry, I don’t understand)


There you have it. I hope things are clear about the difference of the two.
Next time someone ask you a question you can’t answer, I hope you remember this article. 🙂

Nihongo: How to respond to “thank you”

In work, my colleagues would sometimes request or ask me to help them. And more often than not, when they thank me by saying ありがとうございます (arigatou gozaimasu), I’m not sure what the most appropriate reply is.

So here I compile the list of phrases we can use when responding to thank you:

どういたしまして (douitashimashite)

This is the textbook and safest reply to thank you but sounds robotic for me. It’s the equivalent of saying You’re welcome.

いいえ いいえ (iie iie)
いえいえ (ie ie)
いやいや (iya iya)

Literally saying No no (don’t mention it).
This one might not be good for formal situation and must be accompanied with a smile. 🙂

問題ない (もんだいない; mondainai)
問題なし (もんだいないし; mondainashi)

Translation: No problem.
The し (shi) makes it sound softer (and more polite but I might be wrong).
This one might not be good enough for formal situation too.

こちらこそ、ありがとう (kochira koso arigatou)

Translation: I am the one who should thank you.
Use this one if you also need to give a thank you to the one who said it.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I hope you can use the above phrases next time someone says thank you to you.

— Edit —
As pointed out in the comment, the above phrases are for casual and informal situation. Checkout まいける’s comment for more formal ways to reply for thank you.