The Land of the Rising Sun has always been a popular destination for travelers. It certainly has a lot to offer, which is no doubt part of why you’re interested in learning Japanese! If you’re planning a trip to Japan, it’s worth putting in the effort to learn a handful of basic Japanese phrases. These should help you get by in many of the situations you’ll encounter as a tourist. So let’s get on with it! Continue reading to see our list of 10 important Japanese phrases to know before you go!
So, you’ve planned a trip to Japan and you’re wondering how you’ll find your way or approach strangers to ask for information? Don’t worry! We’ve prepared a list of 10 of the most useful Japanese sentences for travelers. Scroll down to the end to hear our Japanese teacher, Sarah, pronounce them.
There’s one word that’s useful in all kinds of situations: すみません (sumimasen). You’ll often hear it pronounced suimasen or sīmensen. Sumimasen can be used in many different situations, but two are particularly important.
This phrase translates to “excuse me” in English.
It can be used to get someone’s attention to ask a question.
You can also use sumimasen to excuse yourself if you bump into someone or step on their foot.
If you’re a tourist, it’s inevitable that you’re going to have to ask someone for directions. To say “Can I ask you a question?” in Japanese, say: “chotto ukagatte mo īdesuka?”
Chotto means “a little.” This is a very common way to address someone in Japanese.
You can also just say “chotto īdesuka?” This phrase will indicate that you want to ask a question.
Next, let’s say you need to find a specific place or address (a bank, your room, etc.). Let’s say the toilet – it’s always good to know where the bathroom is! For this, you can say: “toire wa dokodesuka?”
- toire = toilet
- wa dokodesuka = where are/where is…?
So, any time you need to ask where something is, you can just use this structure: [place] + wa dokodesuka?“
A couple of other examples:
- Supamaketto wa dokodesuka? – Where is the supermarket?
- Yakkyoku wa dokodesuka? – Where is the pharmacy?
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Another very useful expression for Japanese learners is: “I don’t understand.”
In certain situations, you have to be able to tell the person you’re talking to that you did not understand what they said. In this case, you can say “wakarimasen,” which means “I don’t understand.”
You’ve been studying Japanese for a while, which is so exciting! But you’ll probably find yourself in a situation where you don’t know the correct word for a given context. In this case, you can simply ask how to say that word or expression in order to convey your thoughts.
- “How do you say “fish” in Japanese?” → “Fish” wa nihongo de dō īmasuka?
- “How do you say “cat” in Japanese?” → “Cat” wa nihongo de dō īmasuka?
The structure of the sentence in Japanese is: [unknown word] + wa + nihongo de dō īmasuka?
- nihongo de – in Japanese
- dō īmasuka – how do you say
You’ll soon find yourself – very often, I hope – in the position of introducing yourself to someone in Japanese. You can give your first name by saying: “Watashino namae wa [Sara] desu” or “Watashi wa [Sara] desu.” Both are correct.
We can break the sentence apart like this:
- Watashino – my
- namae – name
- wa Sara desu – is Sarah
The second sentence, “Watashi wa Sara desu” also translates to “My name is Sarah.”
To simplify things, you could also say “[Sarah] desu” (“I am Sarah”). This also works. The Japanese language is often minimalist, which can make things easier!
After giving your name, you might want to tell a little bit more about yourself. To say which country or city you’re from, you can say:
- Pari kara kimashita. – I come from Paris.
- Doitsu kara kimashita. – I come from Germany.
Start with the name of the country, state, or city, and then add “kara kimashita,” which means “I come from […].”
In a country as rich in culture and history as Japan, you’ll of course want to buy a few souvenirs.
Let’s say you’re in a shop and you want to ask the price of something. You can say “Kore wa ikura desuka” (How much is this?)
- Kore – this, that
- wa ikura – how much
- desuka – is
And the shopkeeper will reply: “Kore wa 500 en desu” (That costs 500 yen).
- Kore – that
- wa 500 en desu – costs 500 yen
There’s one phrase that all Japanese learners and visitors to Japan should know. Once you’ve asked someone a question or for assistance, you have to thank them! To do this, you can say: “arigatō gozaimasu” (thank you).
⚠️ If you simply say “arigatō,” that is also correct Japanese, but it implies that you already know the person and have a somewhat informal relationship.
When you ask for help from a stranger, it’s better to say “Arigatō gozaimasu.” And if you want to be even more polite, you can add “dōmo” at the beginning of the sentence: “Dōmo arigatō gozaimasu.” This shows that you are very grateful.
All good things must end, so the moment will come to say goodbye.
You’ve probably already heard the phrase “sayōnara,” which means “goodbye.” You can use it, and people will understand what you mean. However, this word is actually used in a very specific context: at school. When students say “goodbye” to their teacher, they always say “sayōnara.” There are actually many different ways to say “goodbye” in Japanese.
In the contexts we’ve mentioned in this article (asking for information in a store or on the street), the most common is to simply say: “arigatō gozaimasu” with a slight bow of the head.
You can watch Sarah explain each of these phrases in her video. (You can also take notes on her pronunciation!) The video is in English, but subtitles are available in French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. Click the Settings gear to turn them on or to slow down the playback speed.
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