Learning Japanese in Japan or the native Language of any country you’re planning to visit or live in goes a long way. It enriches your experience, gives you a better insight into the lifestyle and most importantly shows respect to the native people of the country. If you’re planning to visit or come and live here, even learning a few basic words or phrases in Japanese goes a long way to demonstrating that you’re trying to make an effort.
Truth be told though, English in Japan has come a long way, especially if I compare it to my initial trip over 10 years ago, when I was a naive tourist who spoke very little of the native tongue. It has got a lot better since then, with local shops, train stations, restaurants and more catering for the English speaking tourist, recognising that this could be a continuing source of revenue in the lead up to the Olympics. In saying this, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to learn the local lingo, and I believe it can truly enrich your experience and your interaction with the Japanese community.
The most common and easiest phrases, probably some of which you may already know, is to learn is the basic greetings, signs of gratitude and simple words or phrases to express your apologies or make a request.
Let’s begin with the basic greetings, こんにちは (Konnichi wa) is the basic greeting of Japan, simply meaning ‘hi’ or ‘hello’. You can basically get away with this phrase as your only greeting if you want to keep things simple. However, the Japanese also use a variety of greetings to distinguish between different times of the day, for example おはようございます (Ohayo Gozaimasu) means ‘Good Morning’ and こんばんは (Konban wa) simply means ‘Good Evening’, for any other time of the day the Japanese simply use こんにちは (Konnichi wa) as the standard greeting.
Showing gratitude is also another important aspect of Japanese culture and there are many ways to show this depending on the situation and context. The most basic and one of the more polite forms of thank you is ありがとうございます (arigato gozaimasu), of course using just ありがとう (arigato) is considered fine too, but where possible it is always good to be more polite. If you really want to show your appreciation you can say どうもありがとう (domo arigato) or どうもありがとうございます (domo arigato gozaimasu), which means ‘thanks a lot’ or ‘thank you so much’. Another good phrase to know, which you use at the end of a meal or drink is ごちそうさまです (Gochi-so-sama-desu), which is simply a phrase the Japanese use to show their appreciation for the meal or drink. Most commonly, you will hear this being used in restaurants, bars, cafes and the like. In addition, you may also use it to say thank you to someone who may have paid or prepared your meal, if somebody pays for your meal or cooks for you. Finally, the last phrase that I would recommend learning is おかげさまです (okage-sama-desu), which is a very general phrase of appreciation meaning ‘thanks to you’ or ‘I really appreciate you’.
Making requests in Japanese is another thing you will be doing a lot of in Japan, especially in restaurants, stores, cafes, bars, etc. The first two words which you will probably use most often when making a request are ください (kudasai) and おねがいします (onegai-shimasu), basically meaning ‘please’ or the equivalent in English. For example, ビールをください (biiru-o-kudasai) means ‘please give me a beer’ or ホットコーヒーおねがいします (hotto-koohii-onegai-shimasu) means simply ‘hot coffee please’. Of course, things can get a little complicated when you start counting objects too. To start with the basics, the most common counters to use in any scenario are the following ひとつ (hitotsu) meaning ‘1’, ふたつ (futatsu) meaning ‘2’, みつ (mitsu) meaning ‘3’, よつ (yotsu) meaning ‘4’, いつつ (itsutsu) meaning ‘5’ and so on.
Finally, here are some miscellaneous phrases that will also come in handy during your stay. どういたしまして (dou-itashimashite) means ‘You’re welcome’, for when someone says thank you to you. いらしゃいませ (irashai-mase) is a greeting you will hear in many types of stores, restaurants, convenience stores, cafes, and the like, and is a phrase that basically means ‘welcome’ or ‘please look around’. すみません (sumimasen) is a very versatile phrase and can be used as an apology, to excuse yourself or just to get someone’s attention, especially staff in a restaurant. In Japanese, they also have a word specifically for sorry which is ごめんなさい (gomen-nasai), which is also another common way to apologise.
So, now that you are armed with these new words and phrases, you should see your communication and hopefully, your experience go a little smoother during your stay in Japan. Happy Practicing 🙂
List of words/phrases below, we also an accompanying YouTube video available here:
こんにちは (Konnichi wa) – Hi/Hello
おはようございます (Ohayo Gozaimasu) – Good Morning
こんばんは (Konban wa) – Good Evening
ありがとう (arigato) – Thanks
ありがとうございます (arigato gozaimasu) – Thank you
どうもありがとう (domo arigato) – Thanks a lot
どうもありがとうございます (domo arigato gozaimasu) – Thank you very much
ごちそうさまです (Gochi-so-sama-desu) – Thank you for the meal/beverage
おかげさまです (okage-sama-desu) – Thanks to you
~ください (kudasai) – Please ~
~おねがいします (onegai-shimasu) – Please ~
ビールをください (biiru-o-kudasai) – Please give me a beer
ホットコーヒーおねがいします (hotto-koohii-onegai-shimasu) – Hot Coffee, please
ひとつ (hitotsu) – 1
ふたつ (futatsu) – 2
みつ (mitsu) – 3
よつ (yotsu) – 4
いつつ (itsutsu) – 5
General Useful Phrases:
どういたしまして (dou-itashimashite) – You’re Welcome
いらしゃいませ (irashai-mase) – Welcome (to my store)
すみません (sumimasen) – Excuse me/I’m sorry
ごめんなさい (gomen-nasai) – I’m sorry