Japan Travel Blog Logo
Follow us:
Learn Japanese: Language in Japan & Useful Japanese Words
Picture | June 28th, 2019 | Dayna Hannah
Share:

If you’re traveling without a guide, the thought of speaking in Japanese might seem terrifying. As you walk through the alleys of Tokyo, you might wish you had studied your hiragana and katakana better. You might even find yourself choking up and forgetting how to say “hello” in Japanese. The good news is, the Japanese people you meet are probably just as nervous about communicating in English with native speakers!

Even though public school students must study English in Japan, most graduates never use it again and forget everything they learned. So while many people here know at least a few good phrases in English, communication breakdown can happen.

To prepare for your trip, you don’t need to take years of classes or start learning kanji. Just study some of these common Japanese phrases, and you’ll be good to go!

JAPANESE GREETINGS AND COMMON JAPANESE WORDS

In the interest of keeping this vocabulary list as user-friendly as possible, let me give a small introduction to Japanese grammar.

Japanese has very clear-cut polite and casual words. Since you’ll be the customer in most situations, you can say the informal (and less complicated) terms. However, you ought to also study the formal language a little so you can hear it. The following table lists polite words in ascending order.

English

Japanese

Pronunciation

Good morning

おはようございます

o-HAI-yo go-zai-MOSS

おはよう

o-HAI-yo

Good afternoon

こんにちは

kon-nee-chee-WAH

Good evening

こんばんは

kon-ban-WAH

How are you?

お元気ですか

oh-GEN-kee dess-KAH?

元気?

GEN-kee?

I'm fine.

元気です

GEN-kee dess

元気。

GEN-kee

Good night

おやすみなさい

oh-ya-suh-MEE-nah-sai

おやすみ

oh-ya-suh-MEE

Goodbye

さようなら

sai-YO-nah-rah

またね

mah-TAH neh

バイバイ!

Bye-bye! (really!)

Yes

はい

high

うん

ōn

No

いいえ

EE-eh

ううん

ōōn

Please

おねがいします

oh-neh-guy shee-moss

ください

koo-dah-sai

That's right

そうです

sew-dess

Thank you

ありがとうございます

ah-ree-gah-toh go-zai-MOSS

ありがとう

ah-ree-gah-toh

Excuse me

すみません

suh-MEE-mah-sen

I'm sorry

ごめんなさい

goh-men-nah-sai

ごめん

goh-men

I don't understand

分かりません

wah-kah-ree-mah-sen

分からない

wah-kah-rah-nai

Are you ok?

大丈夫ですか

dai-joe-bu dess-kah?

大丈夫?

dai-joe-bu?


Let's take a look at a few scenarios where you might need to use Japanese while traveling.

TAKING A TRAIN WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW JAPANESE

Most international travelers can navigate their way from Narita Airport to downtown Tokyo without too much trouble. However, unless your hotel or tour agency offers shuttle services, you’ll probably need to transfer trains at some point.

If you don't have a JR Pass, you can purchase a ticket at an automated terminal. The machines list a sequence of prices, and you’ll need to figure out how to pay on your own.

Looking up, you’ll see a map marking the cost to get to each available destination, but the station names might not be in English. You can get around this by purchasing a metro pass and loading plenty of money on it. If you prefer not buying a pass, or if you want to use your new Japanese vocabulary, find a station attendant and say the following:

すみません、~~駅まではいくらですか。
suh-MEE-mah-sen, ~~eh-key mah-day wa ee-koo-ra dess-ka?
Excuse me, how much does it cost to get to ~~ station?

The attendant might do one of three things in response. If they’re busy, they’ll pick up a calculator and type out the price to show you. If they’re in a good mood (and most of the time, they are), they’ll escort you back to the ticket machine and walk you through the process. If your pronunciation is marvelous, they might respond in Japanese!

HOW TO ORDER FROM A MENU IN JAPANESE

Japan is one of the best countries in the world for adventurous food-lovers. Each region has a dish they claim as their specialty, and Tokyo seems to have restaurants on every corner. If you’re still a novice language learner and you find yourself searching words in Japanese online over and over because you keep forgetting, don’t worry! Ordering food is less complicated than you might expect.

When you enter, the server will welcome you and ask how many people. Instead of studying the numbers 1 to 100 in Japanese hold up your fingers and follow inside. Unlike in Western countries, your server won’t return to your table until you raise a hand and say “excuse me,” in Japanese to get their attention. You'll have plenty of time to peruse the menu.

Many restaurants offer an English menu, but if your server doesn’t present one, you can ask:

英語のメニューがありますか。
eh-goh no menu gah ah-ree-moss-ka
Do you have an English menu?

If they don’t, a lot of establishments have pictures of food on their menus, and you can order by pointing. But sometimes, especially the farther you get from urban areas, there aren’t any English menus or menus with pictures. In this case, try saying:

オススメは?
Oh-sue-sue-may wa?
What do you recommend?

Japanese uses a lot of borrowed words for food. You can say these words in English, and your server will understand.

ビーフ Beef
ポーク Pork
チキン Chicken
ベジタリアン Vegetarian
ライス Rice
ジュース Juice
コーラ Cola
ビール Beer
ウイスキー Whiskey

You can also use these terms:



sah-kah-nah
Fish

野菜
yah-sai
Vegetables

果物
koo-dah-mo-noh
Fruit

お水
Oh-mee-zoo
Water

If you want to order like a pro, just add the word "please" to your requests:

お水ください。
oh-mee-zoo koo-dah-sai
Water, please.

おかわりください。
oh-kah-wa-ree koo-dah-sai
Refill, please.

(While pointing somewhere on the menu)
これください。
koh-reh koo-dah-sai
This, please.

And don’t forget to ask for the bill!

お会計おねがいします!
oh-KAI-kay oh-neh-guy shee-moss
Check, please!

JAPANESE SENTENCES FOR RIDING A TAXI

You don’t need to study very many phrases to catch a cab, but there’s a bit of etiquette to learn. To hail a taxi on the street, wave your hand so the driver can see you. If you board at a taxi stand, give the driver a small nod to let him know you need a ride. In either case, don’t open the door yourself. Cab drivers use a mechanism to open and close doors for passengers.

When you want to load luggage into the trunk, peek your head in and say:

トランクを開けてください。
Trunk oh ah-kay-tay koo-dah-sai
Please open the trunk.

In Japanese culture, it’s polite to thank your driver as soon as you get in a car. As you duck inside, say:

おねがいします!
oh-neh-guy shee-moss
Please and thank you for the ride!

To tell the driver where to go, say:

[Place Name] までおねがいします。
[Place Name] mah-day oh-neh-guy shee-moss
I'd like to go to [Place Name], please.

It helps if you have the address ready in case they aren't familiar with your destination. In this case, hand them either your phone with Google Maps pulled up, or a piece of paper with the address written in English and say:

ここまでおねがいします。
koh-koh mah-day oh-neh-guy shee-moss
I want to go here, please.

Japan doesn’t have a tipping culture, so at the end of your ride, pay the amount on the meter. Collect your things, thank your driver, and don’t touch the door handle!

HOW TO SAY “HELP ME, PLEASE!” IN JAPANESE

Hopefully, you won’t need to use these phrases, but they’ll be helpful to have on hand just in case something unthinkable happens.

English

Japanese

Pronunciation

Do you speak English?

英語を話せますか。

eh-goh oh hah-nah-say-moss kah

Does anyone here speak English?

英語を話せる人がいますか。

eh-goh oh hah-nah-say-ru hee-toe gah ee-moss ka

There’s a fire.

火事です。

kah-jee dess

I’m injured.

けがです。

kay-gah dess

I’m sick.

病気です。

bee-yo-key dess

There’s been a traffic accident.

交通事故です。

koh-tsu jee-koh dess

I’m having difficulty breathing.

胸が苦しいです。

moo-neh gah koo-roo-she dess

(Someone) is unconscious.

意識不明です。

ee-she-kee fuu-may dess

(I have) a high fever.

高熱です。

koh-neh-tsu dess


If you’re ready to use this new grammar and vocabulary on your next vacation, check out our tours!


Modern Japanese Art: Where, When, & How to Experience It

Modern Japanese Art: Where, When, & How to Experience It

CULTURE | Arts & Entertainment

Picture | September 13th, 2019 | Dayna Hannah

So many places to see modern art in Japan, so little time. Here are our favorite art museums, festiv......

Luxury Vacations in Japan: 10 Ways to Make a Memorable Trip

Luxury Vacations in Japan: 10 Ways to Make a Memorable Trip

LUXURY | Luxury Tours

Picture | September 12th, 2019 | Dayna Hannah

What distinguishes a luxury vacation from other trips? We believe it’s what you do that cou......

Japanese Flowers | When & Where to See Lavender Farms

Japanese Flowers | When & Where to See Lavender Farms

TRAVEL | Where to Go

Picture | September 11th, 2019 | Dayna Hannah

Get started on planning your summer vacation! Here's everything you need to know about lavenders in ......



Search Group Tour

Search
FOLLOW US

SUBSCRIBE TO BLOG VIA EMAIL

POPULAR ARTICLES

TOP 1
TOP 2
TOP 3
TOP 4
TOP 5
TOP 6
TOP 7
TOP 8