Worried about the language barrier in Japan? Learn these 24 essential Japanese phrases for tourists to help you!
Whether you’re travelling to Japan in the future or if you simply want to start learning some basic Japanese, you’ve come to the right place. Even though Japanese may seem very intimidating because it’s a completely different writing system than English, it’s still very doable to learn some of the basics before your trip. When I travelled to Japan for the first time, I barely spoke any Japanese and I got by perfectly fine – but I do recommend learning the following phrases before your trip!
Useful Basic Japanese Phrases For Tourists
- Hello: Konnichi wa (こんにちは)
- Good morning: Ohayou gozaimasu (おはやうございます)
- Good evening: Konbanwa (こんばんわ)
- Goodbye: Sayōnara (さようなら)
- Thank you: Arigatō gozaimasu (ありがとう ございます)
- Excuse me: Sumimasen (すみません)
- Sorry: Gomen (ごめん)
- I don’t understand: Wakarimasen (わかりません)
- I don’t speak Japanese: Nihongo ga hanasemasen (にほんご が はなせません)
- Please: Onegai shimas (おねがいします)
- You’re welcome: Dōitashimashite (どういたしまして)
- Yes/No: Hai/iie (はい/いいえ)
- Do you speak English?: Eigo o hanasemasu ka? (えいごをはなせますか)
- Can you translate this to English, please?: Kore o eigo ni yakushite kudasai (これを英語に訳してください)
- How are you?: O genki desu ka (お元気ですか)
- I’m fine: Genki desu (元気です)
- Nice to meet you: Hajimemashite (はじめまして)
- My name is…: Watashi no namae wa … desu (わたしのなまえは…です)
Japanese Phrases For Travelling
- How much does this cost?: Kore wa ikura desu ka? (これはいくらですか?)
- What is this?: Kore wa nan desu ka? (これは何ですか?)
- I would like…: … o onegaishimasu (… お願いします)
- The menu, please: menyuu, kudasai (メニューください)
- Can I have the bill, please?: okanjou wo onegai shimasu (お勘定をお願いします)
- Cheers!: Kanpai (かんぱい)
Japanese Writing Systems
One thing that intimidates most people when they start learning Japanese is the different writing systems. Rather than with English (where there is only one writing system), Japanese has three: Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. When you are starting to learn the language, it’s best to stick with Hiragana.
Hiragana: The “round” one. Hiragana is a phonetic alphabet and mainly used for function words and other native Japanese words that aren’t covered by Kanji. But because Kanji is very tough to learn, Hiragana is also used in children’s books and perfect for those who are new to the language.
Katakana: The “pointy” one. Another phonetic alphabet, but this one is used for loan words from other languages (like han-ba-ga for hamburger).
Kanji: Kanji are Chinese characters and are used for nouns, stems of adjectives and stems of verbs. There are about 2000 kanji characters, so it takes a long time to master them all! Often, the hiragana pronunciation is written above difficult kanji – making it a bit easier to learn/read.
Want to learn more Japanese?
There are endless ways to learn Japanese, especially with the internet at our fingertips. I would personally recommend using the textbook Japanese For Busy People or Genki. These are the books I used when I studied Japanese at university and I still use them to improve my language skills.
You can also check out apps like Duolingo and Memrise, which can help you get started! Check out my articles on how to start learning Japanese for more info.
If you aren’t looking to learn an entire language, you can also get a Japanese phrasebook. This can help you when you are in Japan and need a phrase quickly to ask someone something. Taking one of these with you can be a huge help! I personally recommend the one from Lonely Planet.