I’m going to start off my series of Japan Travel posts with some essential Japanese phrases that would be good for you to know (and hopefully use), when you are traveling to Japan. I am not an expert in Japanese, but I have on-and-off studied Japanese formally and by myself since high school (more self study than formal study). This guide is not supposed to teach you the exact grammatical or native way of speaking, but enough for you to be understood by the person you are talking to.
In this age of the Internet and Google Translate, you can actually do away with learning some Japanese words – BUT – nothing beats the experience of immersing yourself by speaking some of these basic phrases and getting surprised reactions from the locals. I’m sure they’d appreciate the effort you’ve put into learning the language, and it shows the level of your interest in their culture.
- Good morning (use this early in the morning up to around 10 am) – Ohayou Gozaimasu! (pronounced: o-ha-yo-o go-za-i-mas)
- Good day (use this around 11 am until right before sunset) – Konnichiwa! (pronounced: ko-n-ni-chi-wa)
- Good evening (use this at night) – Konbanwa! (pronounced: ko-m-ba-n-wa)
- Thank you – Doumo Arigatou Gozaimasu! (pronounced: do-o-mo a-ri-ga-to-o go-za-i-mas)
- Excuse me (calling the attention of a person); Sorry/Excuse me (passing through and disturbing people) – Sumimasen (pronounced: smi-ma-se-n)
- That’s OK/That’s fine, or I’m/We’re OK – Daijoubu desu (pronounced: da-i-jo-o-bu des)
At the restaurant
- When entering, you will be greeted “Irasshaimase, nan-mei sama desu ka?” or “Welcome, for how many people?”. You can answer:
- One person – Hitori desu (pronounced: shto-ri des)
- Two persons – Futari desu (pronounced: f-tari des)
- Three persons – Sannin desu (pronounced: sa-n-nin des)
- Four persons – Yonnin desu (pronounced: yo-n-nin des)
- Five – Gonnin desu (pronounced: go-n-nin desu)
- and so on – for more than 5 people, click here!
- Ask for an English menu by saying “Eigo no menyuu ga arimasu ka?” (pronounced: e-i-go no me-n-yuu ga a-ri-mas ka)
- It’s easier to point to your order on the menu and say: “Kore o kudasai” (pronounced: ko-re wo ku-da-sa-i). You can insert a counter by saying “Kore o xxx desu“. Replace xxx with the below (example: Kore o hitotsu kudasai, One of this please)
- One – hitotsu (pronounced: shto-tsu)
- Two – futatsu (pronounced: f-ta-tsu)
- Three – mittsu (pronounced: mi-t-tsu)
- Four – yottsu (pronounced: yo-t-tsu)
- Five – itsutsu (pronounced: i-tsu-tsu)
- For counting more than 5 – click here and refer to Hitotsu system.
- Here are some of the usual food/drinks you (a typical Filipino) would order. Use these instead of Kore in the above pattern, or add ga arimasu ka? to ask if they have these.
- Rice – gohan (pronounced: go-ha-n); or you can be specific by saying White Rice – shiro-gohan (pronounced: shi-ro go-ha-n)
- Water – mizu (pronounced mi-zu)
- Coke/Cola – koora (pronounced koo-ra)
- Beer – biiru (pronounced bii-ru)
- Coffee – koohii (pronounced koo-hii)
- After ordering, say “That’s all” – Ijou desu (pronounced: i-jo-o des)
- To order something “for now” and you plan to order more later, say Toriaezu (pronounced: to-ri-a-e-zu) before ordering (e.g., Toriaezu koohii o kudasai).
- To ask how much something costs – while pointing to it, say Ikura desu ka? (pronounced: i-ku-ra des-ka)
- When asking for the bill:
- Excuse me (call the attention of the waiter) – Sumimasen
- Please give us the bill/check – O-kaikei onegai shimasu. (pronounced: o-ka-i-ke-i o-ne-ga-i shi-mas)
- Give your compliments by saying “It was delicious” – Oishikatta desu (pronounced: o-i-shi-ka-t-ta des), and of course, say ‘Thank You’ (Doumo Arigatou Gozaimasu).
Asking for directions
- As you are causing an inconvenience to the person you are asking directions to, start with saying Sumimasen in calling someone’s attention
- And then ask “Where is xxx?” by saying “xxx wa doko desu ka?” (pronounced: xxx wa do-ko des ka?). Just make sure you pronounce the name of the place in a Japanese way (be as syllabic as you can). Keep some of these in mind:
- Train station – eki (pronounced: e-ki)
- Bank – ginkou (pronounced: gi-n-ko-o)
- Police outpost – kouban (pronounced: ko-o-ba-n)
- Convenient store – konbini (pronounced: ko-m-bi-ni)
- Department store – depaato (pronounced: de-pa-a-to)
- Pharmacy or drug store – yakkyoku (pronounced: ya-k-kyo-ku)
- Hospital – byouin (pronounced: byo-o-i-n)
- Bus stop – basu tei (pronounced: ba-su-te-e)
- Some common words for directions. You don’t need to understand everything the person is saying – just make sure to catch these words!
- Straight – massugu (pronounced: ma-s-su-gu)
- Right – migi (pronounced: mi-gi)
- Left – hidari (pronounced: hi-da-ri)
- Next – tsugi (pronounced: tsu-gi)
- Don’t forget to say thanks – you should know this by now.
Finally, if someone talks to you in straight Japanese (because you attempted to talk in Japanese, and you don’t understand what they are saying – you can just say, Wakarimasen (pronounced: wa-ka-ri-ma-se-n) or “I don’t understand”. They will know you are not really fluent, and will try to speak some English words mixed with Japanese words. When all else fails – Google Translate! It’s not always accurate but it can help on most occasions. Just construct your English sentences in a simple manner before getting it translated.
There is a lot of tutorial on the net on basic Japanese words, but I wanted to put this together for friends who are visiting Japan this year (especially after the recent airline sale), to make the experience more fun for them.
If you have any questions or have anything other phrases you think are essential to be added here, let me know via the comments below! I’m sure you will, but I’ll say it anyway – Enjoy Japan!