Many people visit Japan and don’t speak or understand the Japanese language. If you find yourself wandering around the city and you feel like you have no way to ask directions, you don’t have to be afraid. From public transportation to tourist sites, there will be signs in English. If you approach the Information Booths, most of the people there are good at speaking English.
Some random strangers may not respond or are hesitant at first, but this is usually not because they don’t know any English. They are just embarrassed about their self-perceived poor English skills and would rather not engage in a conversation where they lack fluency. Most of them are willing to help you with anything. They would even go above and beyond.
Japan is a very friendly place for travelers and the people are extremely polite. That is why it’s important to return the same courtesy by learning these essential Japanese phrases to use during your trip. It may even impress people you meet because you took the time to learn some of their languages.
USEFUL JAPANESE PHRASES: THE BASICS
It can also be used as good morning or good afternoon.
“Ohayou gozaimasu” is the formal way of saying good morning. The informal way is “Ohayou.” To be safe, use the formal one when greeting strangers.
Not to be confused with “Oyasumi” which means “good night.”
“Sumimasen” is an incredibly convenient and versatile word and is commonly used everyday. It means “I’m sorry” but it can also be used as “excuse me” when stopping someone on the street to ask directions, or when trying to pass someone in a narrow street. Generally, it is used as a polite way of getting someone’s attention.
It is used when you are asking for help to do something that you cannot do by yourself or when making a request for service.
Example: “Tokyo eki made onegaishimasu.” = Tokyo Station, please. (to taxi driver)
Note: “Kudasai” also means “please” but is a polite way to order someone to do something.
Example: “Chotto matte kudasai.” = Please wait.
Saying “Hai” can also mean “I understand”.
“Iie” means “no” as in trying to correct someone. Don’t use it to refuse things.
If someone offers you something and you want to decline it, you may say “Kekkou desu” which means “It’s OK” but can also be used as “No, thank you.”
There are two ways of saying “thank you” in Japanese. “Arigatou gozaimasu” is the formal way and “Arigatou” is the informal. Most people bow when saying this as a way of showing gratitude.
Thank you very much = “Doomo arigatoo gozaimasu.”
While “Sumimasen” will help you in most cases, but when you did something more serious like when you bumped into someone or if you step in someone’s foot, you should say “gomen nasai” while bowing repeatedly.
Mōshiwake arimasen is a version more formal than “gomen nasai” and is used when we do something really bad or unforgivable. Commonly used in workplaces.
“Jaa ne” means “see you” and is the most common and casual way of saying “good bye.” Throughout my visits in Japan, no one ever used “sayounara.”
USEFUL JAPANESE PHRASES: BREAKING THE LANGUAGE BARRIER
You use “wakarimasen” when you don’t understand something or what they’re saying. The casual way of saying is “wakaranai.”
“Shirimasen” means “I don’t know.”
To be more specific, you can tell them that you cannot understand Japanese by saying “Nihongo ga wakarimasen.”
If it’s a mouthful, you can also ask “Eigo, okay?”
If you want to ask if anyone speaks another language besides English you can replace ‘Eigo’ with the language of your choice.
Furansugo o hanasemasu ka? = Can you speak French?
You can also ask to repeat what they said by saying:
“Mou ichido onegai shimasu?” = Could you repeat that, please?
or to speak slowly, “Y
USEFUL JAPANESE PHRASES: ASKING DIRECTIONS
Example: Konbini wa doku desu ka?
Fill in the blank with places from the list below.
- Bank: Ginkou (銀行)
- Convenience store: Konbini (= コンビニ)
- Embassy: Taishikan (大使館)
- Front Desk: Uketsuke (受付)
- Hospital: Byouin (病院)
- Hostel: Hosuteru (ホステル)
- Hotel: Hoteru (ホテル)
- Money Exchange: Ryougae (両替)
- Police Station: Keisatsusho (警察署)
- Post Office: Yubinkyoku (郵便局)
- Toilet: Toire (トイレ)
- Tourist Information: Kankou annaijo (観光案内所)
- Airplane: Hikouki (飛行機)
- Airport: Kuukou (空港)
- Bus Stop: Basu noriba (バス乗り場)
- Subway: Chikatetsu (地下鉄)
- Taxi: Takushi (タクシー)
- Train: Densha (電車)
- Train Station: D 電車の駅)
- Ticket Sales: Kippu uriba (切符売り場)
- Amusement Park: Yuenchi (遊園地)
- Art Gallery: Bijitsukan (美術館).
- Beach: Hamabe (浜辺)
- Garden: Niwa (庭)
- Market: Shijou (市場)
- Mountain: Yama (山)
- Museum: Hakubutsukan (博物館)
- Observatory: Tenboudai (展望台)
- Palace: Goten (御殿)
- Park: Koen (公園)
- River: Kawa (川)
- River Cruise: Kawa kudari (川下り).
- Ruins: Iseki (遺跡)
- Shopping Street: Shoutengai (商店街).
- Shops: Mise (店)
- Shrine: Jinja (神社).
- Stadium: Sutajiamu (スタジアム).
- Statue: Zou (像)
- Temple: Tera (寺)
USEFUL JAPANESE PHRASES: ORDERING FOOD OR SHOPPING
Example: Wagyu wa arimasu ka?
Fill in the blank with the name of the food from the list below.
Or you can ask “_____ wo Kudasai?” = “May I have _____?”
Note: “Kudasai” is a polite way of asking please. By asking this phrase, you can look at the product up close. It can also mean you want to purchase the product.
- Beef: Gyu Niku (牛肉)
- or if Japanese beef: Wagyu (和牛)
- Breakfast: Asa gohan (朝ごはん)
- Cake: Keki (ケーキ)
- Chicken: Tori niku (鶏肉)
- Dessert: Dezato (デザート)
- Dinner: Yushoku (夕食)
- Eel: Unagi (鰻)
- Egg: Tamago (卵)
- Fish: Sakana (魚)
- Fruits: Kudamono (果物)
- Lunch: Chushoku (昼食)
- Meat: Niku (肉)
- Pastry/Sweets: Kashi (菓子)
- Pork: Butaniku (豚肉)
- Prawn: Ebi (海老)
- Rice: Gohan (ご飯)
- Salmon: Sake (鮭)
- Scallop: Hotate (帆立)
- Sea Urchin: Uni (うに)
- Snack: Otsumami (おつまみ)
- Soup: Supu (スープ)
- Supper: Yashoku (夜食)
- Tuna: Maguro (鮪)
- Vegetables: Yasai (野菜)
Or you can ask: “O=
If you know the product name in Japanese you can use “______ wa Ikura Desuka?”
USEFUL JAPANESE PHRASES: EMERGENCY
Example: Saifu o naku shimashita.
Fill in the blank with the name of the items from the list below.
Things that travelers may lost:
Mobile phone: Keitai denwa or simply, keitai
Example: Isha o naku shimashita.
Fill in the blank with one of the things from the list below.
Fire department: Shou bou chou
USEFUL JAPANESE PHRASES: FOR SOLO TRAVELERS 😉
When you want someone to take picture of you in a beautiful spot. It can also be accompanied by hand gestures especially if you have a camera/smartphone in your hand. Just ask nicely and don’t forget to say “Arigatou gozaimashita” after.
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Credit: Nix U. for proofreading.