Amongst native speakers of English, "sayonara" is one of the best known Japanese words, at least for words that don't fill a semantic gap ("sushi" is derived from a Japanese word but fills a semantic gap). It's sometimes used in English when saying goodbye, usually in a casual context.

And yet, I haven't really noticed the Japanese word さようなら being used in real life, with a couple of exceptions.

One is when Japanese people are talking with English-speakers. One case I can recall is a Japanese teacher using it at the end of most of her lessons.

The other instance seems to be when Japanese has re-imported the word from English, and written it in katakana. For example サヨナラゲーム, or the English "Sayonara sucker" in "Wreck-it Ralph" being subtitled in Japanese with "サヨナラ[something]" (if I recall correctly).

One possibility is that in Japanese, the word さようなら is only used in formal contexts, which I haven't encountered.

Is さようなら still used in real life? If so, when is it used?

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    Trying hard to remember when I said it the last time and failing. I know I said it everyday as a kid at school, though. – l'électeur Feb 14 '15 at 15:34
  • Only place I've seen it is in animé, where someone was pridefully/nobly taking their leave. I'm guessing: rather formal and definitive, like British "Farewell"? – Dewi Morgan Feb 15 '15 at 3:56
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    Just a small quibble: I don't think サヨナラゲーム is re-imported from English. Remember that things can be written in katakana even if they aren't loanwords. – snailboat Feb 16 '15 at 4:15

For the most part さようなら is only really the word to use when you do not expect to see somebody again for a long time, or indeed ever. The word has this in common with the English word "Goodbye", except goodbye has drifted from its original meaning to the point where it's appropriate -- if sometimes a little formal -- in any type of parting.

Japanese has a number of other expressions that better fit day to day use including general expressions for when you don't know when you'll see somebody next and more specific ones when you do know when you will see them:

General

  • じゃまた
  • またね
  • じゃね
  • また今度

Specific

  • また明日 tomorrow
  • また来週 next week
  • また月曜日に monday, but could be replaced by any specific arranged time

さようなら is still appropriate when you don't expect to see somebody for a long time but arguably this is a far less frequent occurance in the modern world then it was previously. It's rare that people will go on long journeys and technology has made communication easier. The main situation I can think of where it would still fit is if somebody is moving (a neighbour to a new area, a colleague to a new department, a fellow student to a new school, etc) and you don't expect to stay in touch with them.

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    I'm afraid I can not agree with the last part. When I was a teacher, I can't remember now how many times I was told "さようなら” even though I will see them tomorrow. So may be unarist's answer is more correct to me. – Kentaro Tomono Feb 14 '15 at 18:46
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    I might better say, I can agree with some part, but not entirely. – Kentaro Tomono Feb 14 '15 at 19:07

I agree with James' answer.

Additionally,

  • Children might use さようなら more than adults, because they often hear that word in classrooms.
  • In very formal contexts like in bussiness, 失礼します is often used. (This phrase is also used when you are entering rooms like a president's office or a staff room)

http://cotoacademy.com/blog/japanese-study/good-bye-in-japanese-sayonara/

What I've heard about "さようなら", is that it is actually still used nowadays. But, as colleagues mentioned before, there should be more time to pass till you will see each other again.

At the end of work, colleagues,who working together, say to each other "お疲れさまでした"(or other forms of the same phrase depending on the level of politeness). Which actually means something like "thank you for your hard work" and replaces our West-style "Good bye!". Also the phrase "お疲れさまでした" could be used before superiors. Then, you could hear this in the Universities or colleges - when teacher and students say it to each other after the classes have been finished.
And, the last thing, you can use "お疲れさまでした" even when you meet people on there work place!

In other words, everywhere, when I was expecting to hear "Good bye", I heard "お疲れさまでした" instead of "さようなら".

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