After years of putting it off, I finally took the JLPT N4 exam last July. The JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) is made up of 5 exams, from N5 (super basic) going up to N1 (fluent).  This test certifies your level of fluency in Japanese which you can use for various purposes such as applying for work, studies, or just self-assessment. I have already completed the first exam in 2009. Back then, there were only 4 levels, and Level 4 was the equivalent of the current N5 exam. I have also applied for the N4 around 3 times prior this, but I never really took it seriously and ended up not studying and skipping the exams on the test date.

This year, I’ve realized that I have wasted so many years not progressing in Japanese.  So, I decided to take the N4 exam, whether I was confident or not. I had 4-5 months to prepare, but as usual, I was procrastinating for the most part. Still, I studied more this time around versus previous attempts.

Forced myself to study by going to coffee shops – expensive coffee equals determination to study

I blocked 8PM of every night for studying, although it wasn’t consistent

Japanese Karaoke helps you practice Reading (both kana and kanji).

I ditched Romaji and used Japanese writing for my exercises and notes.

Practice with mock exams on the final days before the test date

The actual exam was a bit more difficult than the mock exams I’ve taken. So, I wasn’t really feeling confident with the results. There were so many words that I did not encounter in my studies that I ended up making educated guesses for around half of the questions. I realized I was still not prepared enough for the exam and just hoped that I’d get a passing grade.

They’ve released the results today, and my efforts paid off!

I (barely) passed!

I’m really glad I passed N4 because I’m now more motivated than ever to continue studying for N3. I won’t be able to take the N3 exam this December because of schedule conflicts, but that buys me more time to prepare for July next year. I hope I get a better grade (at least 75%), but more important than the grade is the actual improvement of my Japanese. Slow progress is better than no progress and my goal is to reach N2 by next year!

For those of you who are interested in learning Japanese, or are taking the JLPT, I will share some Japanese lessons, resources, or studying tips in future posts.  You will find them under 日本語 in the menu above!

TORIAEZU – Japanese Phrases for First Time Travelers!

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!