Most of us don’t have the time to learn an entirely new language before visiting a country, but learning a few common phrases can go a long way to bridging a language gap.
For first-time visitors to Japan, there are a few phrases to keep in your pocket that will help you navigate, getting around, interacting with shop owners and restaurant staff, and engaging in pleasantries with people you meet along the way.
Perhaps this is a phrase that most already know, but it’s an important one. This is how you say “hello” in Japanese, or “good afternoon.”
People in Japan are big on being polite, so ensuring you have all of the typical pleasantries down before you visit will help you get a long way. This is how you will hear hello said during the day.
You can also say good morning, or ohayou gozaimasu, as well as good evening, or konbanwa, when you are greeting someone during those times of the day.
Watashi No Namae Wa ____
When introducing yourself to someone, you will say watashi no namae wa, and then say your name. This is how you say “my name is” in Japanese.
Eigo Wo Hanashimasu Ka?
This will be one of those phrases that you should make a high priority to memorize. It translates to “do you speak English?”
Being able to ask this of people can potentially make communication much easier when you are still learning your Japanese phrases.
After you have found someone who has answered yes to being able to speak English, you have the option to ask them yakushite kudasai; this means “can you translate this for me, please?”
If you are having trouble understanding what somebody is saying to you, you can say wakarimasen. This means “I don’t understand” in Japanese.
This phrase translates to “thank you” in English. This is considered a formal form of how to express proper manners to those who assist you in your travels or offer you any kind of service.
Shortening the phrase to arigatou would be considered the informal way to say thank you. This should probably be saved for those who you get to know a little bit better.
The proper thing to do in Japan when saying thank you would be to also bow as you say it. Your bow should be a slight bend, about 15 degrees, or a head tilt.
There are many rules for how to bow properly in Japan, but if someone knows you’re a tourist, they will accept a simple head nod with a thank you.
In response to hearing a “thank you” from someone, do itashimashite is how you respond; it means “you’re welcome.”
Ogenki desuka is how you ask “how are you” in Japanese. Chances are, you’ll hear this as many times as you might say it.
In order to respond, you can say genki desu, arigato, which means “I’m fine, thanks.”
___ Wa Doko Desuka?
If you are lost or are concerned about getting lost, using this phrase along with the name of the place you are trying to get to is the way to ask for directions. You will say the name of the place or thing you’re trying to locate before the phrase.
___ Wo Kudasai
This phrase can be used when you are somewhere ordering something, such as a cafe or a restaurant. You would say this phrase alongside the name of the item you are ordering.
A reminder that if you are asking for something and don’t know how to pronounce it, you don’t want to point at it with your pointer finger. Pointing is considered to be very rude in Japan. Instead, gesture to the item with an opened hand.
Sumimasen translates to “excuse me,” a phrase most of us use at least a few times a day when out in a crowded place. As major cities and landmarks in Japan can garner some pretty big traffic, you might have to politely ask someone to get out of your way so you can pass.
Simply saying sumimasen will let the person know that you are trying to move past them. You can also say this if you are politely trying to get somebody’s attention to ask them a question.
Finally, sumimasen is also one way you can apologize to someone nicely if a situation calls for it.
When you are going to pay for something and you aren’t able to locate the price, you can ask how much something is by saying ikura desuka.
If you know the name of the product you are wanting to purchase, there is a slightly different way you can ask for the price. For example, if you are asking for the price of mochi, you can say mochi wa ikura desuka?
Okaikei Wo Onegaishimasu
When you are finished at a restaurant, you can ask for your bill by saying okaikai wo onegaishimasu.
This phrase is used in Japan when you want to tell someone who is serving you food that you are appreciative of the meal they are giving you. This is especially important when you are visiting someone’s home for a meal.
You will be admired for your politeness when you use this phrase, regardless of where you are dining.
___ Ni Ikitai
The phrase ni ikitai is how you would say “I want to go ___” in Japanese. You will say the name of your desired destination before this phrase when you are telling someone where you need to go.
If you are trying to get directions to go somewhere or want to tell your taxi driver where you would like them to take you, you can advise them this way. When you would like them to stop, you can say tomete kudasai.
Ue, Shita, Migi, Hidari
These four words are good to know in the event that you are asking for directions to go somewhere. Ue means up, shita means down, migi means right, and hidari means left.
Knowing these four words could also come in handy when you are trying to read signage.
Yoroshiku onegaishimasu is a formal and polite way to say please in Japanese. Shortening the phrase to just yoroshiku would be considered a more casual way to say please.
There is a very high probability that you will be taking the train a few times when traveling through Japan. After all, it’s a very cost-effective way to see a large portion of the country. The train system in Japan is referred to as shinkansen.
When you are trying to make sure you’re getting on the right train, you can ask somebody dono densha, while showing them the destination that’s written on your ticket, or your kippu. They would be happy to point you in the right direction.
Kore Wa Nan Des Ka?
If something is confusing you or you are not sure what something is presented to you is, you can ask kore wa nan des ka; this simply means “what is this?”
Toire Wa Do Ko Des Ka?
Toire wa do ko des ka is how you ask someone to show you or tell you where the restroom is located in Japanese.
Kyou means today in Japanese, and ashita means tomorrow in Japanese. These two words can be good to know when you are purchasing a ticket for something, such as a train or bus.
They can also be useful when making plans with someone or trying to book reservations.
Hai means yes in Japanese, and iie means no in Japanese. However, iie isn’t always used. You can also say daijyobu desu, which is a nicer way to say no.
Hopefully, you won’t have to say this often, but knowing that tasukete means “help” is important should you ever find yourself struggling or in the midst of an emergency.
Gomen’nasai is a polite way to say “I’m sorry” in the case that you might accidentally bump into someone or startle someone, for example.
You will definitely want to know this phrase if you are in Japan for a long time, or you are there for work purposes. This is how you ask if there is wi-fi in a certain establishment.
Arimasuka is how you can ask if there is a particular thing in an establishment that you are in, and you can replace wi-fi with the name of the thing you are asking for.