Good morning, fellow Japanese learners!
How are you this fine day?
Have you awoken full of energy or did last night’s sleep leave something to be desired?
Have you found the right toothbrush, brushed your teeth, half-opened your eyes?
What did you have for breakfast?
Every morning is the start of a brand new day, but most of the time each morning seems pretty much like the previous one.
It’s called routine, people, and it’s the reason we have so many standard expressions and words associated with that first part of the day—expressions and words we use unconsciously in our native language.
But not in Japanese. We aren’t natural polyglots. Well, at least not all of us. If you’re planning to live with a Japanese homestay family, sack out in a hostel or have Japanese roommates in a Tokyo apartment, then you’ll need to know how to address people first thing in the morning, and how to talk about your morning routine.
So, here I have the perfect guide to help us avoid any awkward situations over the breakfast table.
An Introduction to a Typical Morning in Japan
Meet John. He’s an imaginary university exchange student in Hokkaido who just spent his first night with his host family, the Tanakas.
The Tanaka family consists of four people: Mr. Tanaka, Ms. Tanaka, their son Hiroshi (who’s about the same age as John) and their high school age daughter, Kyoko.
John is about to use everything he learned in those elementary Japanese lessons, every bit of grammar and vocabulary he mastered, to get through that first morning.
They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and we’d hate to see you go without it—or to have you lose your apetite—because of a bungling of Japanese expressions. Knowing a few key words and phrases to rock this situation is very important.
So, let’s follow John and learn a word or two about a typical Japanese morning.
Follow this series of immersive conversations carefully, and pay close attention to vocabulary and grammar usage, as well as when more formal and informal expressions are being used.
By following this morning in a Japanese homestay house, you’ll get a glimpse into everyday life in Japan—plus, all the common expressions you’ll need to get through.
1. Waking Up and Getting Ready
John half-opens his eyes, and sees that a sleepy Hiroshi is having the biggest あくび (yawn) he’s ever had in his life.
“清々しい 朝 ですね！” (すがすがしい あさですね！- What a refreshing morning) says Hiroshi. But John isn’t as amused as his new friend, because the alarm clock is still clattering and ringing away.
So, he tries to reach the alarm clock without success. As the ringing continues, John says, “目覚まし 時計 を 止めて ください！” (めざましどけいをとめてください！- Please stop the alarm clock!)
Hiroshi is now less refreshed than he seemed to be a moment ago, as he notes “布団 から 出られない 。” (ふとんから でられない。- I can’t get out of bed.) So, John continues to murmur his complaints while Hiroshi fights to pull his sheets off.
Once the alarm clock is properly turned off, their conversation turns their morning preparations. Listen in—they’re going to use tons of valuable Japanese expressions for talking about getting ready, cleaning themselves up and going to school.
“今日、僕達は 寝坊 できないよ。”
We can’t oversleep today.
だいがくの さいしょの ひですよ！
It is the first day of college!
What time is it?
It is seven o’clock!
Where is the toilet?
First go straight and then turn right here…
Then wash your face and brush your teeth.
I’ll just comb my hair.
As you can see, in the span of about 10 minutes after waking up, you’ll already need to be breaking out your knowledge of basic Japanese. In the simple conversation above, you can learn common expressions for self-care, directions and more.
We’re off to a good start this morning!
There’s only one thing left to do before breakfast. Change our パジャマ (ぱじゃま – pajamas) and get into some more appropriate 服 (ふく – clothes).
2. Saying Good Morning
John now needs to remember his first Japanese lessons. Luckily, his teacher, Ms. Suzuki, taught him which Japanese expressions to use in the morning. John stops at the top of the stairs, thinking about the importance of grammar and the distinctions between formal and informal speech.
“Remember John,” he recalls her saying, “There is a difference between the casual way of saying good morning and the more polite way. If you are saying good morning to one of your family members or a close friend, you can use おはよう, but if you’re talking to an unfamiliar neighbor, your boss or someone else you want to show respect to, you use おはようございます.”
John goes down the stairs with all the confidence in the world, knowing what to say. When he sees his host family preparing breakfast, he smiles and says, “おはようございます！”
3. Having the First Conversation of the Day
After that first “good morning,” the conversation begins.
Pay close attention to the phrases that everyone says, and which are part of Japanese etiquette to say. You should also watch out for the varying degrees of formality each family member uses with the others.
How does a wife ask a question to her husband, or to her children or foreign exchange student? How do children address the other family members? Read on, check out the language used, and see if you can figure this out along the way.
Now, the whole family chimes back to John with:
Good morning, John!
Mr. Tanaka smiles, and wants to know more about the new exchange student in the house. So, he says:
How are you?
And John replies:
I am fine, thank you.
John is already making a good impression, because Mr. Tanaka tells him:
あなたの にほんごは とてもじょうずですね。
Your Japanese is very good.
And John, ever polite, replies:
そんなこと ないです。たなかさんは とてもやさしいですね。
It is not really that good. You are very kind.
And Mr. Tanaka is very kind, continuing the conversation to learn more about John:
How do you like Japan so far?
John still can’t quite believe that he’s spending time with his Japanese host family, but he’s over the moon. So, he replies pleasantly:
Japan is a wonderful country. I really like it.
So far, so good. Living with a homestay family is turning out splendidly. Everyone has been very kind and interested so far, and all this casual conversation is great for practicing Japanese.
4. Eating Breakfast
Breakfast is going smoothly—but the food hasn’t been prepared yet. That’s the next step to sailing through this typical morning in a Japanese household. This section will introduce you to some friendly questions and expressions related to family mealtimes, as well as common food and drink words.
Now Ms. Tanaka looks over to the table while rummaging around the cabinets for breakfast foods.
Are you hungry?
Hiroshi responds enthusiastically:
Yes! Of course!
But now John has hit his first roadblock in the conversation. He didn’t quite catch the meaning of Ms. Tanaka’s question, so he says:
I don’t understand.
John knows that, while living and studying in Japan, there are going to be certain times when he won’t understand what he’s being told. He’s still far from Japanese fluency, but he just needs to be honest when these moments arise. That’s when わかりません comes into play. Literally meaning, “I don’t understand,” John—and you!—can use this phrase to explain that clarification is needed.
So, Hiroshi explains to him in English what his mother told them. John is relieved since he was also rather hungry!
John also recalls that the word はい (yes) is used very frequently in Japanese. It’s a great way to answer affirmatively while sounding polite and showing your appreciation. So, Hiroshi repeats the original question in Japanese (“お腹空いた？”) and John answers happily by saying “はい!”
Now we’re talking! Ms. Tanaka moves the conversation forward by asking another question related to breakfast:
John, what would you like to eat?
Is it okay if I eat this toast?
It is perfectly fine!
The other kids at the table have some other preferences. First, Kyoko notes what she would like to eat:
I want to eat fruits.
Meanwhile, Hiroshi has a different food in mind:
I want to eat cornflakes.
Now Ms. Tanaka turns to her husband, who’s reading this morning’s 新聞 (しんぶん – newspaper), and asks:
How about you?
おむれつと べーこんが いいな。
An omelet with bacon will be nice.
As this unfolds, John notices an odd, bean-like food sitting on a plate in the middle of the table. He can’t identify it, so he asks Hiroshi:
What is this?
Hiroshi, noticing this dish, is nearly drooling and helps himself by placing some on top of his steamed rice. 納豆 is a common Japanese breakfast plate, fermented soybeans with a really strong smell and taste. John tries a little too, and finds it rather savory—though he’s certainly never tasted anything like it before!
Ms. Tanaka looks over and asks:
What do you want to drink?
I want to drink milk.
Then Kyoko and her father both give the same answer:
I want orange juice.
John is still feeling a bit shy, and wary of his Japanese usage, so he very politely answers:
わたしも おれんじじゅーすが ほしいです。ありがとうございます！
I want some orange juice, too. Thank you very much!
There’s a pretty high-tech coffee maker beside the microwave. Ms. Tanaka must really love her コーヒー (こーひー – coffee). She pours and serves everyone else’s drinks, then patiently waits on hers to be prepared by the machine. She lets everyone know:
I am going to drink coffee.
When the food’s all ready and Ms. Tanaka has finally taken her seat at the table, everyone says “いただきます” and starts eating.
After everyone finishes eating, the customary “ごちそうさまでした” is said by everyone before they all get up and leave the table. Once again, John hears his teacher’s voice talking inside his head, lecturing him on the importance of these two words during meal time.
“Just before you start eating a meal you say, ‘いただきます,’ and when you’re finished you say, ‘ごちそうさまでした.’ It’s part of Japanese etiquette and, thus, very important to remember these two words. いただきます simply means, ‘thanks for the food. I’ll start eating now’ and ごちそうさまでした roughly means ‘thanks for the food. I am done eating.'”
5. Leaving the House
We’re just about ready to head off to school. To leave the house and have a proper exchange with everyone in it, we’ll need to know some common expressions related to time, as well as a few more polite expressions that are necessary to use when following Japanese etiquette.
Hiroshi reaches for his messenger bag and asks:
What time is it now?
Kyoko giggles, knowing that they’re all late, and says:
It’s eight o’clock.
John is already aware that if you’re leaving the house, you say “いってきます.” If you’re the one staying home, you say “いってらっしゃい” to whoever’s leaving the house.
So, John, Hiroshi and Kyoko stumble out the door with their backpacks, all shouting:
Meanwhile, Mr. and Ms. Tanaka say:
As they all hurry off, Hiroshi asks John:
Are you excited?
John answers honestly:
So so. I am nervous.
With a reassuring pat on the shoulder, Hiroshi says:
Everything is okay! Let’s work hard today!
This is going to be just one of many wonderful Japanese mornings.
Re-read these immersive conversations, internalize all those great expressions, and start every morning in Japan the right way.
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