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It's happened several times: I'll be chattering away with a friend in Japanese, and they'll sneeze, and without even thinking about it I'll revert back to English to say "bless you." Is there a set phrase in Japanese I can use after someone sneezes?

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    The two things I noticed when I sneezed, was either the silence, or someone asking me if I was okay, or caught a cold. Coming from a country where most people say "bless you" the silence stood out in particular. – Louis Jun 3 '11 at 3:29
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    I have asked a Japanese co-worker and she told me that Japanese people don't say anything after another person sneezes. – phirru Jun 3 '11 at 8:44
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    @sartak: おだいじに literally means “Take care of yourself” and actually means something like “I hope you get well soon.” As for ご健康を祝して, I think that it is primarily used as a phrase before drinking, and it means “Cheers for your health” when the speaker thinks “you” are healthy now (rather than hoping the health of “you” in the future when “you” are sick now). – Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 3 '11 at 12:02
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    I think the problem with this question in terms of a bounty Amanda is that their may not be an answer. I to have been told by co-workers and the wife that no one says anything when you sneeze. – Mark Hosang Jun 7 '11 at 4:59
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    I have to admit I prefer the Japanese way here. It gets kinda annoying when people always stop the conversation and bless you (or wish you good health in non-English languages :)) every time you sneeze. And it gets even more annoying when you have a sneezing fit and you get to hear the aforementioned Gesundheit every other moment. :( – Boaz Yaniv Jun 7 '11 at 6:07

10 Answers 10

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+200

Here are the results from a small poll on Facebook. Six native Japanese replied. The results can be interpreted as:

  1. Don't say anything if you don't know them (6 people)
  2. If you know them you can ask if they're okay, if they've caught a cold or have allergies: "大丈夫?", "風邪引いたの?", "花粉症なの?", or something to that effect. (2 people)
  3. There's no such phrase equivalent to "bless you" in Japanese (2 people)

And here are the actual results (I didn't create any of the options, it was a blank poll when I asked the question):
enter image description here

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    +1 for actually making a poll... ;) – repecmps Jun 7 '11 at 8:04
  • Didn't you mix options 1 and 3 up when translating? I would also say 誰にも何も言わない (note the に and also try to be consistent with the neutral form you've been using everywhere else although for questions I would use formal japanese all the way) – repecmps Jun 7 '11 at 8:13
  • No, I just tallied what everyone said. Two people said ない!, one person said 知ってる人なら..., and one person said 誰でも何も言いません. I didn't actually create these options, they wrote them themselves (except for the one guy who voted for ない!). Then Miho wrote a comment similar to #2, and Yasu wrote a comment similar to #3. – Louis Jun 7 '11 at 8:18
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    知らない人からも not 知らない人でもから – repecmps Jun 7 '11 at 8:19
  • Lots of good answers! It was hard to pick one, but I will award the bounty to this one for 1) going above and beyond by polling native speakers(!) 2) explaining when it is appropriate to say something after someone sneezes and giving several examples of what to say. – Amanda S Jun 8 '11 at 3:15
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In my understanding, Japanese normally does not interfere with other's personal stuff most of time. So, they don't use those after sneeze. But if influenza is hot during that time, they may ask "Are you ok?".

And some people think that silent and unchanged facial expresssions are elegent on sneeze here, so there is some sneeze contest 「くしゃみ対決」 by intentional putting some tissues on their nose. And they try to decide least silent and without facial expressions change as winners and some are called 「イケメン」- a slang which means some kind of pretty boy.

But looks like in Okinawa, people use "クスケー" after sneeze, according to this, 2, and origin.

11

I've researched a bit and it seems that such expression doesn't really exist in Japanese. There is a kind of explanation for this:

In the Western societies, there used to be a belief that sneezes could release one's soul, therefore putting it in danger because it could have been "captured" by lurking evil spirits; or it was believed that the mouth opened would allow those spirits to enter the body.

This point of view had strong religious features which, as we all already may know, weren't this strong in Asian countries or, better, they were totally absent.
This "caused" an expression such as "Bless you" to be missing. In fact, sneezing in Japan is considered in a different way than it was originally in the Western countries:

"[...] in Japan, there is a superstition that if talking behind someone's back causes the person being talked about to sneeze; as such, the sneezer can tell if something good is being said (one sneeze), something bad is being said (two sneezes in a row), even if someone is in love with them (three sneezes in a row) or if this is a sign that they are about to catch a cold (multiple sneezes)."

Source

We could say that the most similar/close expression, which someone already mentioned in the comments, is お大事に [おだいじに]; but it is not the exact "corresponding" expression (the meaning is "Take care of yourself") and it's not really used that much.

Finally, considering that in Japan the usual is that you don't say anything, and that it's not common if you do, it might be better to follow the local custom.

  • My Googling of various Japanese blogs and Q&A sites concurs most with this answer. In Japan, there is no burden on nearby people to react to the sneezer. At most, you might hear a comment (from people you know) along the lines of the superstition Alennano quoted. – Derek Schaab Jun 7 '11 at 17:57
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    @Derek Thanks for the comments. I guess the best way to take is to avoid saying something. Or if we really wanna say something, we might use the "bless you" expression; but a language is not simply words and grammar, it's also, and maybe above all, culture. If we use a language without taking into account its symbiosis with the culture, we are ignoring an important part of the language itself. That's my opinion. :D – Alenanno Jun 7 '11 at 19:48
  • @Alenanno: Well put. For every non-Japanese in Japan wondering at the silent response to sneezing, there is a Japanese somewhere outside of Japan wondering at the storm of "bless you"s that result from a single sneeze. Culture is definitely huge. – Derek Schaab Jun 7 '11 at 19:56
  • @Alenanno, @Derek I think the comments here are correct, but they are European-centered or American-centered. you shouldn't think of it as Japanese vs. non-Japanese. It is rather the European or English speaking people with the habit of responding that is special. How can that habit be the world's norm? – user458 Jul 9 '11 at 12:58
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In Tokyo, currently, people comfortably ignore other people's sneezes. Of course, when your family (or a close friend) sneezes, it is common to ask 風邪ひいた? (caught cold?) or something like that. However, this is equivalent to asking such questions to your family member trembling or looking pale.

A common Japanese experience in the US: when they sneeze, someone speaks a short phrase, but it is confusing because they have no idea what is going on.

Seven hundred years ago, when someone sneezed, they or people around them said くさめ. That practice has disappeared although the noun for a sneeze is still くしゃみ.

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Absolutely nothing. Seriously.

  • What do you mean "seriously"? Is not having the practice to worry about the plague everytime someone sneezes such a special thing that has to be emphasized? Isn't it rather the other way around; that doing so is a very special practice? – user458 Jan 3 '12 at 1:31
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    I agree. My use of the word intended no sarcasm or special meaning. I just said that to emphasize that I am not making this up, b/c some people might not believe it. – sym3tri Jan 7 '12 at 23:28
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During my 5 years working in Japan, I normally just heard "are you ok?", which is "Daijyobu?"

4

大丈夫ですか? Simply saying that is enough to smooth the conversation or whatever. But I still believe it depends on various situations.

4

Depends on the number of times you've sneezed.

  1. Once: you can say 「そうとう嫌われてるね、あなた」 "you're quite hated eh"
  2. Twice: you can say 「あなたもなめられたもんだね」 "you're quite the ridiculed typed eh"
  3. Thrice: you can say 「ほ~もてもてじゃんか」 "ohho, aren't you popular (with the girls if boy, with the boys if girl)"
  4. More than above: time to get serious. 「風邪か?お大事に」 "Caught cold? Hope you get well"

Bonus points for you if you can figure out the reason for above suggestions! ← rescinded as previous answer by Alenanno pretty much gave away everything! His was another variation. Mine had そしられ first, 笑われ second.

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    This may be outside the language topic, but yes, there is a saying “一ほめられ、二そしられ、三ほれられ、四かぜひく” (one sneeze means someone is praising you, two means someone is speaking ill of you, three means someone is falling in love with you, four means you caught cold) (this is the version I know, but other variations also exist). – Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 7 '11 at 23:32
  • @Tsuyoshi Ito: It's not off-topic to mention these sayings. It's completely on-topic and an accepted answer should have mentioned those... sad. More Japanese sayings for sneezing: netlaputa.ne.jp/~tokyo3/e/sneeze_e.html – repecmps Jun 8 '11 at 12:58
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I've been in Japan 3 years myself and haven't heard anyone respond to my sneezes. Although I'm American, I never say "bless you" to anyone in the states or here in Japan. As long as they're not sneezing on me, I feel like nothing needs to be said.

I have to agree with other posters that it gets pretty annoying to hear bless you all the time. I worked at a place where one lady would say pardon me. I swear that woman sneeze at least 20x in an hour. I finally brought earplugs to work to drown her out!

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Growing up in Asia as a person of East Asian origin, strangers do not say anything says when someone sneezes; family members and friends would ask if you were sick, that's all. It just isn't part of social norms here to say something when someone sneezes. I believe this applies to China, as well as to Japan.

  • Does this answer bring any new value? – macraf Dec 31 '16 at 1:56
  • Yes, I thought I could bring in the perspective of someone who is not Caucasian and/or grew up in a Western society; a lot of the posters here seem to be from that background. – Joshua Chong Dec 31 '16 at 9:32

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