Mar 3, 2011

Survivor Japanese for First-Timers in Japan

Do not know Japanese? Totally clueless about the strange strokes and characters on the signages and packagings in Japan? But still bent on visiting Japan?

嵐 is the travel ambassadors for Japan this year.

Fret not, here's a short post on some really basic Japanese phrases or words you can look out for during your first trip in Japan.

For a start...

1. The Japanese have a special system of characters called, Katakana, which is used for words they borrowed from other languages, in particular, English. Hence, you can try to katagana-nise English words for a start, and they just might be able to guess what you are trying to convey.

For example, instead of
  • MacDonald's, say "Meh-ku-do-naa-"
  • supermarket, say "su-paa-"
  • beer, say "bi-ru-"

*note, I am trying to write as they sounds here, so they are not the romaji spellings of actual Japanese words.


Words that end with k, becomes "ku"; words that end with "t" becomes "toh" and words that end with "d" becomes "doh".


2. And if you do not know yet, the most basic greetings:
  • お早う ohayou = Good Morning!
  • こんにちは konnichiwa = Good Afternoon! / Hi!
  • こんばんは konbanwa = Good Evening!
  • おやすみ oyasumi = Good Night!
  • ありがとう arigatou = Thank you
  • どういたしまして dou itashimashite = You're welcome
  • すみません sumimasen = sorry/ excuse me
  • ごめんなさい gomenasai = I'm very sorry
  • いらしゃいませ irashaimase = welcome (in shops, etc)

To express different degrees of gratitude, here are different ways to say "thank you". It's easy to remember, the longer it is, the more polite it is.

(with increasing gratitude:)
  • ありがとう arigatou
  • ありがあとう ございます arigatou gozaimasu
  • ども ありがとう ございます domo arigatou gozaimasu

Eating out...

3. Some basic vocabulary associated with food, which would be useful when you are ordering food at restaurants or cafes.
  • たっぷり tappuri - with a lot of
  • 野菜 yasai - vegetables
  • 肉 niku = meat
  • 牛肉 gyuu niku/ ビフ bifu = beef
  • 豚肉 buta niku = pork
  • 魚 sakana = fish
  • 刺身 sashimi = raw (fish, usually)
  • 寿司 sushi
  • 鰻 man = eel/ also known as unagi
  • わさび wasabi
  • 食べ放題 tabehoudai = buffet for food
  • 飲み放題 nomihoudai = buffet for drinks

鰻 is a specialty of Hamamatsu.


To order sushi without wasabi, say わさび抜き wasabi nuki.

4. At restaurants or cafes, the serving staff may ask you "お召し上がり omeshiagari" or "お持ち帰り omochikaeri" at the end of your order. お召し上がり means eating here and お持ち帰り means take-away.


5. During shopping, staff may ask if you need a bag to put your purchases. Here, the keyword is 袋 fukuro. For some shops, especially supermarkets, additional costs will be incurred if you need a bag for your purchases. This is because Japan is trying to promote a greener environment, by encouraging everyone to bring their own bag when shopping.

6. Hence for such instances or other similar instances like (ポイントカードはお持ちですか? pointo kaado wa omochi desu ka? Do you have a point card?) when you do not need these additional services, you can say "けっこうです kekkou desu".

7. To ask for the price, say いくらですか? ikura desu ka?
8. When requesting for something, always add either ください kudasai or お願いします onegaishimasu at the end of the sentence. They mean "please".

9. Decided on something to buy, and would like to ask for a new piece? Here, use "新品がありますか? shinpin ga arimasu ka?" This phrase means "Do you have a new piece?"

10. A useful word for shopaholics would be 割引 waribiki, which means discount. The word for "sale" is セル, but shops often use the English word "SALE", in caps, too. :) 半値 han ne/ 半価 han ka = half price!

11. Sometimes you will spot the word "限定 gentei" on packagings, especially for food items. It means these products are only for the season or area. For example, special matcha flavoured kit-kats for Kyoto or sakura-flavoured prawn crackers only for spring season.

Getting around...

12. どこ? "Doko" which means where is probably one of the most useful word.

Eg. Where is the train station?
eki wa doko desu ka?

駅 eki = train station
So the basic structure would be _____ はどこですか? where you insert the place you would like to go in the blank. You can replace that with pointing a certain location on a map as well.

13. And other useful words for getting around
  • ホテル hoteru = hotel
  • お手洗い otearai / トイレ toire = toilet
  • 駅 eki = station
  • バス亭 basu tei = bus stop
  • タクシー takushii = taxi
  • 地図 chizu = map
  • レストラン resutoran = restaurant
  • コンビニ konbini = convenience store
  • 販売機 hanbaiki = vending machine
  • 新幹線 shinkansen = bullet-train
  • 電車 densha = train

14. And when seeking directions, besides remembering the gestures, you can try to catch these keywords as well:
  • ますぐ masugu = go straight
  • 左 hidari = left
  • 右 migi = right
  • 前 mae = in front
  • 後ろ ushiro = behind
  • 向こう mukou = opposite, across from here
  • 次の信号 tsugi no shingou = the next traffic light

15. The 3 important words to remember when boarding trains:
  • 発 hatsu = depart from
  • 着き tsuki = arrive at
  • 行き yuki = going in the direction of

That's all for this post! Do drop a comment if you have other phrases you would like to know. I will try my best to help. :) Have fun exploring Japan for the first time! :D

P.S: Getting interested in the Japanese language? You can pick up some basic grammar structures here.

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