42 Basic Japanese Phrases to Survive in Japan [Audio]

Japan’s beauty is unique in Asia and attracts millions of people worldwide. Who hasn’t thought to themselves at least once,

I would love to get lost here. 

Getting familiar with some basic Japanese phrases will not only help you to survive in Japan, but also increase your chances of communicating with native Japanese and add amazing flavor to your journey.

42 basic japanese phrases and expressions to survive in japan
Mount Fuji-image from JRailPass

In this post, you will learn 42 basic Japanese phrases that will navigate you through your stay in Japan. From introducing yourself, navigating public transportation and asking for directions, to shopping, eating out and coping with an emergency, this article will cover almost all the basic Japanese phrases for tourists.


Japanese Phrases for Meeting and Greeting

We all know that Japanese people speak and act politely. Here are some greeting phrases that will make your life in Japan a lot smoother. 

First, if you want to talk to someone, you’d better start with a greeting. If you meet somebody in the morning, you can start the conversation by saying:

1. Good morning – Ohayou gozaimasu – おはようございます

In fact, you can say “おはようございます” to greet anyone in the street to simply show your friendliness. Then what if you meet others in the afternoon? You can say:

2.Good afternoon/Hello – Konnichiwa – こんにちは

And for night:

3.Good night – Konbanwa – こんばんは

When you meet someone for the first time, you may want to express your nice feelings with:

4.Nice to meet you – Hajime mashite – はじめまして

To introduce yourself, use:

5.My name is…  – Watashi  wa … desu – 私は…です

After the nice meeting, you can end your conversations by saying goodbye:

6.Good bye – Sayounara – さようなら

However, if you  are likely to meet the person again shortly, use this one instead of “さようなら”:

7.See you– jaane – じゃあね

Note that Japanese people use “すみません” frequently to apologize for things like stepping someone in the bus, or stop someone to ask for direction. So this could be one of the most useful Japanese phrases you want to memorize:

8.Sorry/Excuse me –  Sumimasen  – すみません

42 basic japanese phrases and expressions to survive in japan
Image from iStock

Japanese Phrases for Navigating Public Transportation and Getting Around

When Using Public Transportation

You may have heard that Japanese cities like Tokyo have one of the most complex railway systems in the world. But don’t worry, here are several phrases to help you survive in those underground labyrinth (Navitime can help to navigate you through Japan’s confusing metro system).

First, you need to find the bus stop (バス停, basutei) or the railway station (駅, eki).

9.Where’s the bus stop? -basutei wa doko desuka? – バス停はどこですか?

Then you need to find the ticket machine since the machine usually has the English translation on it:

10.Where’s the ticket machine? – kenbaiki wa doko desuka? – 券売機はどこですか?

Or you can consult the staff in the station:

11.How can I buy a ticket? – douyatte kippu o kai masuka? – どうやって切符を買いますか?

12.How much are tickets? – chiketto wa ikura desuka? – チケットはいくらですか?

13.Does this (train or bus) go to Ikebukuro? – kore wa ikebukuro ni ikimasuka? – これは池袋(いけぶくろ)にいきますか?

Give the number of tickets you want to buy:

14.Two tickets, please. – chiketto nimai, onegaishimasu. – チケット二枚、お願いします。

You may want to try the Japan Rail Pass to save some money as well as efforts to buy tickets every time. Also, a useful app called HyperDia can help you decide which train to take and warn you when a journey isn’t covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

42 basic japanese phrases and expressions to survive in japan
Shinkansen-image from JRailPass

Asking for Directions

Of course, sometimes you may want to go somewhere on foot:

15.Can I walk from here to Asakusa? – Koko kara, asakusa made aruite ikemasu ka? – ここから、浅草まで歩いて行けますか。

16.How long does it take to get to Tokyo Tower? – Tokyou tawa made donokurai kakarimasuka? – 東京タワーまでどのくらいかかりますか?

And you may have to ask for directions several times, take bathroom for an example:

17.Where is the bathroom? – toire wa doko desu ka?- トイレはどこですか?

Of course, you want to understand the directions they give. The following ones are the most frequently used Japanese expressions for giving directions.

18.Please go straight ahead. – massugu ittekudasai. – まっすぐ行ってください。

19.Please turn right (left) at the second corner. – hutatsume no kado o migi (hidari) ni magattekudasai. – 二つ目の角を右(左)に曲がってください。

If you can not fully understand or remember the directions they give, you may ask for a map:

20.Can you draw me a map? – chizu o kaite morae masuka? – 地図を書いてもらえますか?

To find some digit maps or travel brochures, you can consult JNTO-Travel Brochures.

For all the help you received, you can express your gratitude with the simple phrase:

21.Thank you very much. – Ari gatou gozaimasu – ありがとうございます。


Japanese Phrases for Shopping

While traveling in Japan, you may find there are so many things you want to purchase and take home. Then what phrases are used when shopping for souvenirs?

22.How much is it (are they)? – Korewa ikura desu ka? – これはいくらですか。

23.What would you recommend? – Osusume wa nan desuka? – おすすめは何ですか?

24.What is this? – Kore wa nan desu ka?– これは何ですか?

25.Are there any T-shirts? – Tsyatsu wa arimasu ka? – Tシャツはありますか?

Don’t forget to get your tax refund if you are an international tourist staying in Japan for less than 6 months.

26.Can I buy this without tax? – Menzei de kaemasu ka? – 免税で買えますか?

42 Japanese phrases and expressions for you to survive in Japan
Busy Shopping Street in Japan-image from Webretailer


Japanese Phrases for Eating Out

After walking and shopping, you may find yourself hungry and want some authentic Japanese cuisine.

With these basic Japanese phrases, you can walk into any restaurant you want with confidence.

27.A menu, please. – menyu, onegaishimasu. – メニュー、お願いします。

If you want to ask for an English menu, you may say: 英語のメニュー、お願いします。(eigo no menyu, onegaishimasu.)

When you find something you are interested in, you can just point to the menu and tell the waiter: 

28.Three of these, please – ko re mittsu, onegaishimasu – これ、三つ、お願いします。

If you want to order the food by its name, you could use the sentence structure “ください (kudasai)”. For example, if it is the tea that you want, you can say:

29.I’d like tea, please. – ocha o kudasai. – お茶をください。

42 basic japanese phrases and expressions to survive in japan
Japanese Food-image from Culture Trip

As one can imagine, the amount of help you might receive doesn’t only depend on the welcoming nature of your host but also how respectful you are.

Tips: Japanese dining etiquette 101

  1. Don’t point at someone or something with your chopsticks.
  2. Use the chopsticks to grab your food, not as a fork.
  3. Do not leave your chopsticks planted up in your rice.
  4. Don’t pass on food to other people around you from chopsticks to chopsticks.

The first two are out of simple politeness, and the bottom two are acts that could be associated with funeral service.

You are now ready to have a good meal. If you happen to be dining with a Japanese person, say this before you start:

30.Let’s eat! – Itadakimasu – いただきます。

Japanese people say “いただきます” before eating (not towards anyone, but to the food), and “ごちそうさまでした” after finishing it. You can say “ごちそうさまでした” to the owner of the restaurant, and he or she will be very much glad.

When you are satisfied with the food, you can say this Japanese phrase to compliment the food:

31.(It’s) tasty – o i shi i – おいしい!

After finishing the delicious meal, you may want to express your gratitude by saying:

32.Thank you for the meal – Gochisou sama deshita  – ごちそうさまでした。

To better plan your trip and find local cuisine, you can consult: Japan Travel; Japan-Guide and Gurunavi.

Before going to Japan, you might want to know more about Japanese Manners Do’s and Don’ts. Know their manners so that you can use these Japanese phrases wisely. 


Japanese Phrases for Emergency

I do hope you will not run into any unpleasant situations in Japan. However, as the saying goes, “Better safe than sorry”, I hope you can remember the following phrases to prepare for any emergency cases that might occur.

First, the situation will be a lot better if you can find anyone who is able to speak English, so you can try to find one by asking:

33.Is there anyone who can speak English? – Eigo ga wakaru hito, imasuka? – 英語が分かる人、いますか?

If it is getting dangerous, just shout out:

34.Help! – Tasukete! – 助けて!

35. Please call the police. – Keisatsu wo yondekudasai. – 警察を呼んでください。

If you get lost, try to explain your situation to people around:

36.I’m lost. – maigo ni narimashita. – 迷子になりました。

Remember you can get help from the embassy and do note down the phone number and address of the embassy of your country. If you cannot use your phone, try to ask others for help:

37.I want to contact the embassy. – taishikan ni renraku shitaindesuga. – 大使館に連絡したいんですが。

Except for the last section, I do hope all the basic Japanese phrases you learned in this post will come in handy during your stay in Japan. As a bonus, I will introduce several cute Japanese phrases that can be used to express your emotion when talking to native speakers!


Japanese Phrases to Express Emotion

38.Cute – Kawaii – かわいい

You may have already known the phrase, Japanese people do use “かわいい” a lot. It seems that “かわいい” can be used to show their likeness for almost anything, from clothes, stationery, to buildings and shops.

39.Wow! / Amazing! – Sugoi – すごい!

Another phrase that you are most likely to hear in Japan is “すごい”. Try to use “ すごい” to compliment others and you may make some native friends.

40.Cool – Kakkoii – かっこいい

41.How splendid. – rippa desune. – 立派ですね。

42.How wonderful. – subarashii desune. -素晴らしいですね。

See, learning another language is not that hard and more importantly, it is fun!

42 basic japanese phrases and expressions to survive in japan
Hirosaki Castle-image from JRailPass

If you already fall in love with Japanese, you can go on reading the blog:”How long does it take to learn Japanese?”  

There are more than 1000 common phrases in the Japanese Travel Phrasebook at our Lingodeer’s app and it is free! The Deer is very happy to learn more Japanese with you!

Learn Japanese phrases in lingodeer‘s travel phrasebook


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