25 Essential Japanese Phrases and Words

So you finally hit that button and you’re going to Japan. COOL!

These are the 25 essential Japanese phrases for travelers and tourists, that I can think of. Presented in no particular order or categorization…. Some of these you may hear, some you’ll read, some you’ll need to know how to say, but these are the ones you should consider learning.

Let’s get started.

Hello

Saying hello is a little tricky because it depends on the time of day, usually.

Morning: Ohayou! (oh-hai-yoh, with a longer ending ‘oh’ sound)

Daytime: Konnichiwa! (kon-nee-chee-wah)

Evening: Konbanwa! (kon-bahn-wah)

Yes and No

Yes: hai (high)

No: iie (eeeee-ay)

that’s basically all there is to that. However, note that “iie” is considered a little harsh, and you won’t often hear it used directly. a thoughtful “nnnnnnn” with a shake of the head, maybe a little hand wave in front of your face, that actually is more what you’ll find.

Please

Saying please has a couple different variations, depending on the level of formality you need. These two are your safest bets and can usually be used interchangeably. Always use a slight bow or head nod also.

<something> o-kudasai (oh-koo-dah-sigh)

or

<something> o-onegaishimasu (oh-oh-nay-guy-shee-mahs) <– more formal/polite version.

Thank you

casual: doomo (doh-moh)

polite: arigatou (ah-ree-gah-toe)

more polite: arigatou gozaimasu (ah-ree-gah-toe goh-zai-mahs)

In most situations, you would use the latter two. A quick “thanks” would use the first.

No Thank you

Then there’s the opposite. If you don’t something you usually say “no thanks” or “no thank you” but what’s the Japanese equivalent?

kekkou desu (kay-koh dess) – Basically means “It’s fine.” You can add an “iie” to the front of that (so it becomes, “iie, kekkou desu“) but its not required.

Alternately you can use daijoubu (“dai-joe-boo”) which means just “OK!” and you’ll get the point across just fine.

Excuse Me / Sorry

“Excuse me” in Japanese is a “blanket” phrase that can be used in many different situations. You’ll hear and use it on a daily basis.

sumimasen (soo-mee-mah-sehn) : Use this for getting someone’s attention, like a waiter for example. Also for just a general “pardon me” type of thing, while moving through a crowd, or for very minor transgressions, filler material, or if you don’t understand something.

gomenasai (goh-men-ah-sigh) : Use this for situations where you’ve distinctly messed up or done something to someone. It can be shortened to “gomen” in informal situations but not often.

Do Not Enter

This one you’ll see on signs more than anything:

立入禁止

Its pronounced tachiirikinshi (tah-chi-ee-ree-kin-shee) and roughly means “stand/enter prohibited.” You will see this all over and its usually pretty obvious from the sign. But understand that they mean it. 15

Entrance / Exit

You’ll see these two all over, also. In stores, train stations, anywhere there’s a queue or distinct entrance/exit doors.

入口 – entrance, “iriguchi” (ee-ree-goo-chee)

出口 – exit, “deguchi” (day-goo-chee)

Time and Date

example of 24 hour time used

In Japan they really don’t use the western names for months, rather they just refer to the month, day and year. So for example, “June 22nd, 2020” would be 6月22日2020年.

Timewise, 12 and 24 hour systems are used almost interchangeably, with the latter used at train/bus stations for clarity. 10:15pm would be written 22時15分.

Other date related words to know:

Today: 今日 kyou (kyo-oh)

Tomorrow: 明日 ashita (ah-shee-tah)

Yesterday: 昨日 kinou (kee-kno-oh)

Goodbye

There’s a couple different ways to say “bye” in Japanese, from the universal “bye-bye” (pretty self explanatory) to the interminably final “sayonara…”

ja, mata (jah, mah-tah) – literally “well, until” but refering to the next time you meet.

sayonara (sah-yoh-nah-rah) – This is the “goodbye” that we’ve been conditioned to know here in the west. Problem is, you don’t ever use this, unless you are considering it a permanent and final goodbye. So, in practice, you rarely if ever use it.

GREAT

Last but not least, here’s how you say “great!” or “awesome!” in Japanese . Well, one way that is.

sugoi (soo-goh-ee) – awesome!

Conclusion

So there are 25 “essential” Japanese words and phrases you can memorize and use in your toolkit for totally nailing your trip to Japan.

If I left anything out, or missed something (hey its possible!) please let me know in the comments!

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