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  • Ash Watson

10 Useful Phrases To Know When Visiting Japan

Updated: Aug 19


It can sometimes be quite daunting to travel to a new country, especially if their native language isn't English. Personally I like to familiarise myself with some of the local language to help get me started (I also feel it's just polite). Most textbooks will give you the basics but I have compiled a list of my Top 10 Useful Phrases When Travelling to Japan. This list has some pretty common phrases and some you may not consider that useful but in hindsight will end up being the most useful of all. Let me know your thoughts in the comments down below.


1. ARIGATOU GOZAIMASU/ GOZAIMASHITA ありがとうございます/ ございました (AH-REE-GAH-TOH GOH-ZAH-EE-MASS/GOH-ZAH-EE-MASH-TAH)

THANK YOU is is another very ueach time you enter a restaurant and you will need to know how to answer correctly. Of course, you can use your fingers to signify how many people, but if you want to answer like a local you can use the correct counters as such: your way. Alternatively, you can use it to apologise for inadvertently bumping into somebody in the street. e in shops in Japan is that they don't use the correct form of ARIGATOU. When leaving a shop, you want to thank them for everything they have done for you, so you want to use the past tense of the phrase. Enter ARIGATOU GOZAIMASHITA. This phrase notifies the receiver that their job is complete and that you are happy with the outcome.


2. SUMIMASEN すみません (SOO-MEE-MAH-SEN)

One of the most useful phrases in the Japanese language. SUMIMASEN has a plethora of meanings, but most notably, EXCUSE ME, and SORRY. Usually you would use this phrase in a restaurant to summon the waiter, or you can say it if you need somebody to move out of your way. Alternatively you can use it to apologise for inadvertently bumping into somebody in the street.


3. ___WA DOKO DESU KA? __はどこですか (WA DOH-KOH DESS KAH)

WHERE IS____? is another very useful phrase when trying to navigate your way around the labyrinthine backstreets of Tokyo. All you need to do is to add in the vocabulary of the place you wish to find. For example: えきはどこですかEKI WA DOKO DESU KA? WHERE IS THE STATION? トイレはどこですかTOIRE WA DOKO DESU KA? WHERE IS THE TOILET?


4. IKURA DESU KA? いくらですか (EE-KOO-RAH DESS KA)

HOW MUCH IS IT? is yet another important phrase to add to your repertoire; especially as some items won't necessarily have a price tag on them in the more independent stores. It's a very easy and simple phrase to remember, and when I first started travelling around Japan, I would keep this written on a small piece of paper in my wallet at all times to help me remember.


5. KORE これ (KOH-REH)

KORE literally translates to THIS. It may not sound like a very useful phrase, but believe me it'll be a life saver. When ordering in a restaurant, instead of trying to pronounce everything on the menu, you can simply point to the item you want and say KORE on each dish. It is locally acceptable and it'll make you appear to know what you're doing even if inside you have no idea what you are ordering. Another great use for this work combines the phrase from number 4. これはいくらですかKORE WA IKURA DESU KA? HOW MUCH IS THIS?


6. SHASHIN WO TOTTE KUDASAI しゃしんをとってくだし (SHAH-SHIN OH TOH-TEH KOO-DAH-SAI)

Essential for those Instagrammers out there: CAN YOU TAKE MY PICTURE? is a great phrase that will help you converse with the locals and will ensure you come home with more than an album full of selfies.


7. NAN MEI SAMA DESU KA? HITORI/FUTARU/SAN NIN なんめいさま? ひとり/ ふたり/ さんにん (NAN MAY SAH-MAH DESS KA? HEE-TOH-REE/FOO-TAH-REE/SAN-NIN)

You will hear HOW MANY PEOPLE? each time you enter a restaurant and you will need to know how to answer correctly. Of course you can use your fingers to signify how many people, but if you want to answer like a local you can use the correct counters as such: ひとり HITORI. ONE PERSON. ふたり FUTARI. TWO PEOPLE. さんにん SAN NIN. THREE PEOPLE. よんにん YON NIN. FOUR PEOPLE. ごにんGO NIN. FIVE PEOPLE and so on. The only numbers to change from the norm are one and two.


8. OHAYOU GOZAIMASU おはようございます (OH-HAH-YOH GOH-ZAH-EE-MASS)

Not only will you say GOOD MORNING to your travelling partners, but each person you encounter before noon will greet you with OHAYOU GOZAIMASU. Thereafter it will be either こんにちは KONNICHIWA or if it is evening time you may hear こんばんはKONBANWA (GOOD EVENING).


9. ONEGAISHIMASU おねがいします (OH-NEH-GAI-SHEE-MASS)

Simple yet effective, ONEGAISHIMASU means PLEASE and you would use it the same way you would in English.


10. ___GA ARIMASU KA? __がありますか (___GAH AH-REE-MASS KAH)

DO YOU HAVE___? is a great phrase for those that are looking for something in particular in a shop or restaurant. As with number 3, all you need to do is add in the thing you are looking for. For example オレンジジュースがありますかORENJI JYUSU GA ARIMASU KA? DO YOU HAVE ORANGE JUICE? フシギダネがありますかFUSHIGIDANE GA ARIMASU KA? DO YOU HAVE BULBASAUR? (A very useful phrase to take with you to the Pokemon Center!)


For more stories and hilarious anecdotes on my time living in Japan, order your copy of my new book BECAUSE JAPAN NOW!