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Both "ようこそ" (yokoso) and "いらしゃいませ" (irashaimase) seem to mean "welcome" but what are the precise circumstances under which each should be used?

  • "いらしゃいませ" (irashaimase) is uttered in unison by all the staff whenever you walk into a restaurant or shop
  • "ようこそ" (yokoso) was used in a recent "Welcome to Japan" advertising campaign

But this is just based on my very limited experience so I'm obviously missing lots of subtleties and insights.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Yokoso = Welcome

It's not limited in space or context (written or not). It can be welcome home or welcome to japan or welcome to try that or you're welcome as in response to "thank you".

Irasshaimase (you have an habit of asking keigo questions!)

is the sonkeigo form of to be and to come (いらっしゃる) thus giving you an approximative translation "thanks for coming" or maybe "It's an honor for us to have you here" :)

Practically:

*If you're invited to some friend's house, they might tell you as you enter:

いらっしゃい、いらっしゃい (roughly = come in, friendly form of the sentence above)

*They could as well tell you something like:

私のうちへようこそ

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ようこそ means welcome but it's mostly used in written context rather than colloquial. いらっしゃいませ actually means "please come in" (literally) but it often carries the meaning of welcome, this is why you hear staff saying that whenever you visit a store, it is mostly colloquial.

In a big event you may also hear ようこそ、いらっしゃいませ used together as well.

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sorry I had to -1 which I try not to do often. It's not a question of written or not written and いらっしゃいませ is not colloquial, it's very polite. –  repecmps Jun 1 '11 at 17:51
    
I didn't say it is colloquial, I said it's mostly colloquial. いらっしゃいませ is a polite form of いらっしゃい, see italki.com/answers/question/99461.htm –  Ken Li Jun 1 '11 at 17:52
    
sorry, this website's explanations doesn't look correct or is at least lacking some important points and is simplified to the extreme. –  repecmps Jun 1 '11 at 17:55

The size of the area seems to be the most crucial factor. For example, you can use ようこそ in welcoming someone to a country, prefecture, city, amusement park, etc, but いらっしゃいませ is for welcoming someone into an establishment (such as a restaurant or a store) within that larger area. いらっしゃいませ can also be used to invite people into an establishment; ようこそ does not have this function. (This last function explains why ようこそ、いらっしゃいませ is not redundant. ようこそ functions as "welcome", while いらっしゃいませ functions as "please come in".)

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It has more to do with the fact public/private. This is why invitations to a public place you usually see ようこそ, while private places like your home you usually see いらっしゃいませ –  Ken Li Jun 1 '11 at 17:55
    
@Ken: I have to respectfully disagree with you here, as I can find plenty of examples where ようこそ is used by a private establishment (such as a shopping mall or theme park). And as repecmps mentioned, you can welcome someone into your home (for the first time) with ようこそ. –  Derek Schaab Jun 1 '11 at 18:16
    
Correction: I meant to say places you own, not private. shopping mall or theme park is a public place so yes you would use ようこそ –  Ken Li Jun 1 '11 at 18:20
    
@Ken: But if "public" simply means "a place anyone can enter", why wouldn't the local supermarket or family restaurant use ようこそ instead of いらっしゃいませ? I understand how the distinction between public/private works in some cases, but thinking about it in terms of area, as I stated, leads to far fewer exceptions. Please let me know if I'm misinterpreting your reasoning. –  Derek Schaab Jun 2 '11 at 12:17

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