Expressions like “Oh my god!” might seem universal, but actually they’re tied to culturally specific things we often take for granted.
The use of “God,” for example, assumes that everyone ascribes to a monotheistic religion like Christianity.
In Japan, that’s certainly not the case.
A 2015 survey from Statista found that only 1.5% of the country’s population is Christian, with most describing themselves as Buddhist or believers in Shinto.
So how do you say “Oh my god” in Japanese?
How do you say “Oh my god” in Japanese?
There are many different ways to say “Oh my god” in Japanese.「びっくり！」(bikkuri), either by itself or with a form of する (suru), can be used to show surprise. Other options include「なんて事」 (nante koto),「なんてこった」(nante kotta) and「ええええええ？！」(eeeeee). Women can also take advantage of the feminine「あれまあ」(ara maa), although it sounds quite refined compared to English “oh my god.” If you need to express anger or frustration with “oh my god,” you can try「くそ」(kuso) or「もう！」(mou). Finally, there’s「オーマイゴッド！」(oo mai goddo), a transliteration of the English expression, which can be used for humorous effect.
「びっくり！」 (bikkuri), or more fully 「びっくりした！」 (bikkuri shita), literally just means “surprised” or “I was surprised.” You might see this translated as “That shocked me.”
This onomatopoeic word is supposed to represent the sensation of being so startled you jump. It technically does have kanji (吃驚), but these are almost never used in practice.
If someone or something startled you, 「びっくり！」 is a great equivalent to “Oh my god!” Just don’t use it to express emotions other than surprise.
Man dressed as a zombie: “Graaaaah!”
Youko: “Ah! Oh my god!”
Youko has gone into a haunted house. When a man in costume jumps out at her, she says うわあ (uwaa), a sound of surprise, followed by びっくり！ (bikkuri) to show how shocked she was.
Unlike 「びっくり！」, 「あらまあ」 (ara maa) is both very mild and can be used in almost any situation. You might think of it as the Japanese equivalent of “Oh my.”
In fact, 「あらまあ」 is so mild that it’s probably not an exact match for “oh my god” most of the time. Spoken with the right amount of scorn, surprise, disgust or anger, though, it can certainly come across as pretty intense.
The only thing that stops this expression from being universally spoken is that it’s traditionally coded as feminine speech. That means if you’re not a woman, Japanese people might look at you a bit oddly if you say this.
“Oh my! Did you truly think that?”
This example is a master class of passive aggressive politeness. 「あらまあ！」 is used not to express genuine surprise, but to point out how foolish the target was for thinking something that obviously isn’t true.
“I didn’t eat breakfast this morning.”
Here, the expression is used to just show surprise at something.
The expression 「なんて事」 (nante koto) is derived from 「何と言う事？」 (nani to iu koto), a question that literally asks “what thing did you say?”
In its shortened form, though, you’re not really asking someone a question. なんて事 is just a way to express mild surprise, shock or a bunch of other emotions. It’s similar to “You’re joking, right?”
If you’re extra shocked, you can use the related expression 「なんてこった」 (nante kotta). This is a shortening of 「何と言う事だ？」 and sounds significantly more forceful and surprised.
If you watch Japanese variety shows, you’ll often hear announcers use these two expressions to ostentatiously show how surprising something is.
“Oh my god! These comments are hilarious!”
If you run across a comment like this online, you might even translate なんてこった as WTF or OMG.
This example is close to untranslateable, but is pretty funny.
It’s なんてこった combined with パンナコッタ (panna cotta), the Italian dessert. This isn’t used in real life, but was a catchphrase used by comedian Shigeo Tsujimoto.
Yes, you’re reading that right. It’s just the hiragana え (e) drawn out for as long as you can. You might think of this like saying “Whaaaaaaaat?!” in English.
One of the beautiful things about this option is that you can completely change the meaning based on your tone of voice and the length of the え. The longer you hold that note, the more surprised you’ll sound, although after a certain point it starts to sound sarcastic.
If you’ve ever seen that video from a Japanese talk show where an owl changes its size by manipulating its feathers, you can hear some of the panelists say this.
“She said Kei got married.”
“Oh my god, really?”
In this dialogue, the first speaker says that they heard Kei got married. The second speaker says 「ええええ？」 to show their surprise, followed by 「マジですか？」 (maji desu ka) to ask if the first speaker is serious.
Most of the expressions above are about surprise, but that’s really just one way to use “Oh my god” in English.
If you’re trying to express frustration or anger, you can reach for 「くそ！」 (kuso), a word that literally means “shit.” This word does sound a little rough, and wouldn’t be appropriate in a workplace, but doesn’t carry the same level of obscenity in Japanese as its English equivalent.
That makes it a great catch-all for situations where you might say “Oh my god” because you’re angry with someone or frustrated with a situation you find yourself in.
“Oh my god, this stupid cat!”
Here, くそ has morphed to クッソ (kusso), showing the speaker’s frustration with a cat.
Fans of the anime Fruits Basket will be very familiar with this particular example.
「もう！」 (a mou) is another great expression for when you’re frustrated.
This one is even more mild than くそ, and is basically the Japanese equivalent of saying “ugh” or “geez.”
“oh my god, stop it!”
Here, もう is joined to ああ (aa) to show the extent of the speaker’s frustration. The second sentence 止めっとけ (yamettoke) is a colloquial way of saying “stop it” or “leave me alone.”
This is kind of a cheat, since it’s just a transliteration of “Oh my god” using katakana.
All the same, if you want something that is absolutely as close in meaning to “Oh my god,” then 「オーマイゴッド！」 (oo mai goddo) is the one to go for.
Just keep in mind that it’s not really used by Japanese people natively outside of comedy shows or other humorous situations.
Although people in Japan will understand what you mean if you say this, it will probably sound like you’re just joking, especially if English is already your native language.
You may as well just say “Oh my god” in English, without transliterating it into katakana!
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.