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.
However, be prepared to face a challenge: the Japanese language and culture are very different from anything else you have experienced before.
TLDR? Here’s a list of useful Japanese phrases:
- Sorry/Excuse me – Sumimasen – すみません
- Good morning – Ohayou gozaimasu – おはようございます
- Good afternoon – Konnichiwa – こんにちは
- Good night – Konbanwa – こんばんは
- Nice to meet you – Hajime mashite – はじめまして
- Thank you – Ari gato – ありがとう
- Goodbye – Shitsurei shimasu – 失礼します
- I need help – Tasukete kudasai – 助けてください
- My name is… – Watashi wa … desu – 私は…です
- I humbly partake (in this meal) – Itadakimasu – いただきます
- Thank you for the meal – Gochisou sama deshita – ごちそう様でした
- Welcome – Irasshaimasen – いらっしゃいませ
- This one – kore desu – これです
- Please – Kudasai – ください
- Where – doko – どこ
- Souvenir – omiyage – おみやげ
- The money – okane – お金
- Where are the toilets ? – Toire wa doko ni arimasu ka ? – トイレはどこにありますか
- Right here – koko ni – ここに
May it be a first time entering a shop to buy something, ordering food in a restaurant, or just finding a way to charge your phone. Having some language basics will definitely be beneficial in making your ways around Japan’s luxurious city streets.
Therefore, here are some tips and expressions to make your trip to Japan smoother.
Japanese phrases for when your phone dies
A dead phone is probably the No.1 nightmare for most travellers. Running out of battery can be a real game-over moment when you’re lost. Fortunately, you can get your phone charged almost anywhere in Japan.
If you don’t find any electric plugs at your location, ask for someone’s help.
- Lead with: “すみません (su mi ma sen / excuse me)”, and a slight bow is always appreciated.
- Point to your phone battery and simply say “どこ (do ko / where)”.
- Don’t forget to say thanks with an “ありがとう” (a ri ga tou, with “r” pronounced as “L” in English. More like “ah-lee-gah-toh).
With this worry lifted from your shoulders, why not head out to a local restaurant for a tasty meal.
Japanese phrases for eating out
Entering a shop or restaurant, you will hear the staff tell (or shout at) you:
“ いらっしゃいません !”
i ra ssha i ma sen
You can respond with a friendly greeting in return:
kon ni chi wa
To ask for an English menu, say,
ei go no me nyu
Or, choose to be surprised by simply ordering from a Japanese menu.
Once you are seated, and the waiter is ready to take your order, point to the dish on the menu and say,
ko re de su
followed by “ください” (ku da sai / please) to be polite, as the waiter takes your order.
Once you are served, thank the server by saying,
a ri ga tou
Even if you don’t know any Japanese, a simple thank you can go a long way.
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
- Don’t point at someone or something with your chopsticks.
- Use the chopsticks to grab your food, not as a fork.
- Do not leave your chopsticks planted up in your rice.
- 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:
i ta da ki ma su
I humbly partake in this meal.
When you are satisfied with the food, you can say this to compliment the food:
o i shi i
One good way to move on with your day and your digestion would be to take a stroll in the nearby streets and maybe do some shopping.
Japanese Phrases for Shopping
Shopping is great to bring back an “おみやげ” (omiyage / souvenir) from your trip in Japan.
To ask for the price, you can point to the object and say this with a rising tone:
i ku ra
As mentioned above, don’t forget to thank the staff by saying “ありがとう (a ri ga tou)”.
And bid them goodbye saying
shi tsu rei shi ma su
After some time spent strolling around and shopping, the urge to find a toilet nearby might arise. Knowing how to find them is important in every trip.
Japanese Phrases for When Nature Calls
Fortunately for non-Japanese speakers, a lot of words are borrowed from English such as “girl friend” or “pool”. It is also the case for “toilet”.
If you are looking for bathrooms, the short version is:
su mi ma sen, toire wa doko?
“Excuse me, toilets, where?”
It is not the most grammatically correct sentence but any Japanese will understand immediately and show you the way. Just like in any other occurrences, say “ありがとう” to thank the one who helped you.
If the technologically advanced/innovative toilets, with their lights, radio and water, didn’t convince you how futuristic Japan is, you might want to check their public transportations, too.
Japanese Phrases for Lodging and Moving
Once in your hotel or lodging, pick up a card or ask someone to write the address on a piece of paper and then take a photo. Train yourself to say the name in case the paper gets lost. If you need to return by taxi or ask for directions, you will have the address ready on paper to show.
is a useful expression you can say when you give your address to the driver or ask him/her to stop the car.
Tip: How to use public transportations in Japan
Japanese public transportation is fast, clean, and efficient. Once you get used to them, they will take you anywhere cheaper and faster than any taxi.
The train stations are tourist-friendly. English schedules and maps can be found at bus stops and subway stations. Ticket vending machines also support English.
When you have already experienced so much fun in Japan, you might want to take the communication further and start learning the language. And your question must be “how do I start?”
How to Start Learning Japanese?
Thanks for reading up to here! I hope the article has been helpful. I am John, used to live in Shinjuku, Tokyo. As a language coach speaking 6 languages, pedagogy is the heart of my trade. I spent 10 years learning Japanese. I know it can be tough to keep it entertaining and intuitive, but it is good to start with these three basic steps first :
- Learn the Japanese alphabets Hiragana (simplified symbols) Katakana (simplified symbols for foreign words) and some Kanji (symbols from China);
- Get used to the structures of phrases, which is different from english;
- Build up your vocabulary progressively.
Keeping your learning fun and rewarding is easy with a good application like LingoDeer. Picking a serious and pedagogic one is essential for an effective progression.