10 Useful Phrases To Know When Living In Japan
Updated: Aug 19
When travelling to Japan, I always familiarise myself with some basic phrases to allow me to communicate with locals. Whether it be greetings, numbers, question words, they always help me break the ice. I would like to offer some more useful phrases that helped me on a daily basis during my time there. They will be sure to separate the novices from the locals. My new book BECAUSE JAPAN covers a further 14 phrases so be sure to check them out!
1. GOMMENNE ごめんね (GO-MEN-NEH)
Gomenasai is the polite word for SORRY. Gomen is the less polite form. Adding a cheeky NE on the end takes the harshness off the latter and offers a hearty local apology for any error you're bound to make during your stay in the land of the rising sun. A daily essential for any ex-pat.
2. DAIJOUBU 大丈夫「だいじょうぶ」(DAI-JOH-BOO)
Literally translated to OK, this phrase can be used to say 'I'm ok', 'It's ok', 'That's ok', 'No thank you', 'Are you ok?', "Is this ok?' The possibilities are endless, but this very useful expression can be used in the exact way as its English counterpart. Simply add an infliction at the end to form a question.
3. MOYORI もより (MOH-YOH-REE)
This is the one work I would keep on my phone because I could never remember it. Moyori means NEAREST, and can be very useful when asking someone for the nearest bank, station or ATM. You can use it in the following format: もよりの＿＿＿＿＿はどこですか。MOYORI NO _____ WA DOKO DESU KA? You can insert the location or item in the space provided. For example もよりのATMはどこですか。"Where is the nearest ATM?" I found this particularly useful when wandering aimlessly around a shopping mall or supermarket.
4. NASHI なし (NAH-SHEE)
Adding the word WITHOUT to a restaurant order is very important; especially for those vegetarians and vegans out there. Simply saying にくなし NIKU NASHI (Without meat) will save you an awkward moment when they bring out that plate of raw salmon. I would use this saying for mushrooms キノコKINOKO whenever I ordered burgers.
5. FUKURO WO MOTTEIRU ふくろをもっている (FOO-KOO-ROH OH MOH-TEH-EE-ROO)
Japan loves their bags and it would enrage me every time I was given a bag for every item my shopping basket. So I started bringing along my own reusable bags and before I gave them my items I would say to the cashier I HAVE A BAG. This phrase became a part of my daily life and it was habitual for me to announce it each time I went into a store (even when I had forgotten to bring my own bag and ended up walking out with arms full of shopping!)
6. KEKKOU DESU けっこうです (KEH-KOH DESS)
This phrase is simply a softer version of the commonly taught いいえ IIE meaning NO. As with the above phrase, you can use it if the cashier asks if you want a bag, or if somebody asks if you want something in a shop or restaurant. Do you need any help? Would you like one of my chips? Please take a flyer. KEKKOU DESU. I never heard anybody using IIE during my time there to say NO and it baffles me why it is still taught in classes.
7. NARUHODO なるほど (NAH-ROO-HOH-DOH)
When somebody is telling you something, rather than replying with HAI or UN to signify YES, you can use NARUHODO which translates to I SEE. If somebody was explaining something to me I would interject at the right moment with an "AH NARUHODO" and it offered a more fluent and local response to the former.
8. TASHIKANI たしかに (TASH-KAH-NEE)
Very similar to NARUHODO, this phrase is used in conversation to tell the other person that you agree with them on that specific point. I like to translate it in my head as CERTAINLY.
9. IMI いみ (EE-MEE)
IMI translates to MEANING. I would use this in shops when I didn't understand what an ingredient or a word I didn't understand was. I would ask somebody いみはなんですか。IMI WA NAN DESU KA? What does this mean?
10. OSUSUME おすすめ (OH-SOO-SOO-MEH)
The most useful phrase when dining out and you're not sure what to try first. This very simple yet effective phrase translates to WHAT DO YOU RECOMMEND?