Japan is a beautiful place to explore, visit, and work. Depending on your needs, desire, or even length of your stay, it may be incredibly helpful for you to learn Japanese. Japan uses Kanji (adapted Chinese symbols) and Katakana (for foreign words) and Hiragana (used with kanji for almost everything else) and is most definitely one of the more challenging and rewarding languages to learn. Here are a few phrases that are easy to understand and pronounce that will get you started on your trip to Japan.
Meaning: Hello! This is a word that’s good to know and obviously good to react to while in Japan. Please make sure you say it with a bow or an incline of the head. Eye contact isn’t necessary, but you’ll find this to be the most culturally sensitive way to address someone.
Meaning: I don’t understand (more formal). This is another handy phrase that can be accompanied with Eigo (English) in an emergency situation. It’s usually better to stick with more formal language when you’re speaking with someone you don’t know very well as it shows respect. The same is true for people who are older than you.
Meaning: Cheers! The literal translation of this is ‘dry glass’, which is one way to say ‘bottom’s up!’ that I can get on board with. This will come in useful when you find yourself at a restaurant or perhaps even an Izakaya (a restaurant where you may drink and eat, often ‘all you can drink’ options are available) when drinking with new friends.
Meaning: Please do your best to treat me well. If you use this phrase (or simply Yoroshiku) with someone offering you assistance or really in just about any situation, that person will do their utmost to help you in any way that they can. It’s a bit like saying “best wishes” or “kind regards” as well, as you can use this phrase when you first meet someone, or when inquiring after a friend or family member of a friend. It’s a great phrase that is incredibly polite and will make you seem endearing. Use it whenever you can.
Meaning: How much? Usually, prices will be labeled on things you want to purchase but if you wish to buy souvenirs or neat items from street vendors, the price may not always be visible. Haggling is not always encouraged depending on where you are, so make sure to ask the locals if the market or area you’re headed to is ok with haggling.
Meaning: Excuse me! A good catch-all ‘excuse me’ you can use this when you need to pass by someone when you didn’t hear something, or as a generic ‘sorry’. Japan is an incredibly polite country, and knowing a few niceties will most definitely improve how you are perceived throughout your trip.
Already know some Japanese and want to see how close you are to native fluency? Why not try one of our level tests here?