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I was learning Japanese a few years ago and a phrase I picked up (I think from the Pimsleur program) was "Yee ka ka desu ka" (or maybe the "Yee" was written as "ii" to pronounce as a short form of "ee"), to mean "how are you?"

I then said this to some Japanese people I met. Some say it can mean "how are you", but some showed a "what is it?" facial expression and when I tell them what I meant to say, told me it can't mean "how are you". Can this phrase mean it? Or perhaps only in a certain context or between really close friends who saw each other recently?

15

I think you're referring to

いかがですか
ikaga desu ka

which is the polite version of

どうですか
dou desu ka
How are things?

It can be used to ask "How are you?" in a polite way, but only with caution: いかがですか【ikaga desu ka】 is mostly used to mean "Would you like some?", so if you're holding something in your hand, one might assume you're offering to give something.

The more complete way of asking "How are you?" in a polite way would be

いかがお過ごしですか
ikaga osugoshi desu ka
How are you doing?

If it's clear from the context of a conversation, short forms like

いかがですか、最近
ikaga desu ka, saikin
How are things recently?

may be used, but いかがですか{ikaga desu ka} is not used to start off a conversation.

  • the fact that "but いかがですか ikaga desu ka is not used to start off a conversation" rings a bell, such as in Cantonese, something that make total sense grammatically or by its word meaning, will never be used because it is not idiomatic. On the other hand, some words that might feel quite weird can be used, just because it has been used for hundreds of years. – 太極者無極而生 May 31 '15 at 8:16
  • Yes, Japanese language lacks an equivalent to "how are you?" as is often used between strangers. I have an experience that I was spoken to as おげんきですか? and got confused and frozen. – user4092 May 31 '15 at 14:08
  • can you start off with "O genki desu ka" with anybody at all or only to people you know? Otherwise is "ikaga osugoshi desu ka" ok to say to everybody even if you didn't know them before? – 太極者無極而生 Sep 10 at 14:11
  • @太極者無極而生 I think it's not that different from English. I usually wouldn't use "How are you?" as a conversation starter with people I don't know. – Earthliŋ Sep 11 at 8:47
  • @Earthliŋ maybe it depends on country. In California, a lot of people start with "how are you?" or "how are you doing?" to begin a conversation, but they usually don't expect a real answer from you but just expect a reply like "how are you?" or "alright, how are you?" – 太極者無極而生 Sep 11 at 9:14
1

I think you are referring to

如何ですか - Ikaga-desuka?

and asking whether it’s appropriate to use as a salute to your acquaintance.

“如何ですか?” means “How are you faring (well)?” , which is nothing wrong on its own as a phrase. But as the other answerer already mentioned, we rarely say “如何ですか?” as a greeting, nor start conversation with a friend with this phrase, because it’s too abrupt and rude.

We would prefer ”お久しぶりです/ 最近お会いしていませんが – Though I haven’t seen you a little while,” then continue “ご機嫌 (お調子、お体、お仕事の方、ご家族の方) は如何ですか?” – How about your latest condition (mood, health, business, family) ?” when we meet our acquaintance after an interval.

Of course there are many other ways of saluting, like “やあ、お元気ですか”、”今日は、お久しぶりです”、”暫(しばらく)です、お変わりありませんか?” as you have in English.

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