Off to see the Land of the Rising Sun? You’re going to want to take some handy Japanese phrases with you. Here we’ve hand-picked some of the ones we find the most useful and are breaking them down for the ‘gaijin’, or foreigner, tongue.
Meet and greet
Before we start, it’s important to know that there are varying levels of politeness in speech, depending on who you are addressing (and your own status). However, as a vistor to Japan, while you aren’t expected to be fluent in complex Japanese protocol, it is a good gesture to err on the side of politeness. We have included some of the contracted forms of these phrases in case you are having trouble remembering the full version.
Ohayo gozaimasu / Ohayo – pronounced “oh-hi-yo go-zai-mas”
Start your day with a cheery good morning. For a more casual version, used between friends or those younger than you, you can just say the first part.
Konnichiwa – pronounced “konn-nee-chee-wah”
Your standard hello can be used from the morning until nightfall. A polite, acknowledging nod of the head doesn’t go amiss.
Konbanwa – pronounced “konn-bahn-wah”
Good evening. Nice to say on the way to get a delicious bowl of ramen for dinner in Tokyo, or to greet the cashier at 7/11 when you pop out for a late-night snack.
Oyasuminasai / Oyasumi – pronounced “oh-ya-soo-me-na-sigh”
This is a phrase used when you are saying goodnight to someone in the evening, or before you go to bed.
Onegai shimasu / onegai – pronounced “oh-neigh-guy-she-mas”
Meaning ‘please’, this is a staple for navigating your way around Japan. If you don’t know how to say something, you can always point and say “onegai shimasu”.
Arigatou gozaimasu – pronounced “ar-ree-gah-toh goz-eye-mas”
This is the full version of the standard ‘arigato’, meaning thank you. This is one you’ll find yourself using 24/7, with the consideration and hospitality of the Japanese people.
Eigo ga hanasemasu ka? – pronounced “ay-go gah hana-say-mas kah”
This one may seem like a bit of a mouthful, but it can really save your bacon. It means, ‘can you speak English?’
… doko desu ka? – pronounced “doh-ko des kah”
Add the name of a local landmark or your hotel, and you have the phrase ‘where is …?’ Add ‘toire wa’ (“toy-reh wah”) to the front and you can ask where the bathroom is.
Sumimasen – pronounced “soo-me-mah-sen”
This all-purpose phrase can mean excuse me and sorry. Also good if you are trying to attract attention at a restaurant.
Hai! – pronounced “high”
Ie! – pronounced “ee-ay”
Oishi! – pronounced “oy-shee”
Delicious, as in that okonomiyaki you tucked into in Hiroshima.
Kanpai! – pronounced “cahn-pie”
For cheers-ing your sake.
Wakarimasen – pronounced “wah-kar-ee-ma-sen”
I don’t understand. Add a perplexed shrug for emphasis.
Shashin o totte kuremasu ka? – pronouced “sha-sheen oh toh-tay koo-reh-mas kah?”
Can you take a picture for me?