Contrary to various urban legends, Japanese does have a word for "No", however, it appears it's extremely rare to hear it used directly, given the connotation of impoliteness of "iie". Even factual questions like "Is your sign X", are answered with "chigau" when one's sign is not X.

I'm completely new to Japanese and I'm trying to figure out how many ways there are to express nuances of "yes" vs. "no".

  • I wouldn't say it's "extremely" rare. but indeed there is many alternative to 'iie'. young people like to day 'iya' or 'iyada' – WKx Apr 7 '15 at 5:44
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    iya is ambiguous but iyada is "I hate it". – user4092 Apr 7 '15 at 8:53
  • Other than tangible nouns, there is no way to directly translate between English and Japanese. In English, "'no' means 'no'" is a common phrase and demonstrates that "no" is an abstraction that really has nuance. – red shoe Apr 8 '15 at 2:53
  • Let me clarify... "'no" does mean "no". no nuance. "no" is "no". But, the phrase "'no' means 'no'" means some English native speakers consider "no" to have nuance. – red shoe Apr 8 '15 at 3:02
  • FYI Chinese doesn't have a word for "no" either, because the language simply lacks a deny-any-verb-(in-any-situation-)by-one-word expression. Even some European languages doesn't have "no". As for Japanese, "iie" is an interjection which roughly means "I don't think so". – broccoli forest Apr 10 '15 at 10:23

While you can't exactly number all the possible ways to express "yes" or "no", if you are are new to Japanese, then check out this delightful video, which explains いいえ, (もう)いやです, だめです, and (もう本当に)やめてください. It will teach you several nuanced ways to say "no" in Japanese, which all seem eerily intended to prevent molestation on trains.

Keeping with the uncomfortable video theme, watch this video and learn several ways to say "yes" from two young women who are unduly interested in borrowing your car. They talk about うん, いい, いいよ, はい, and いいですよ.

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