Do you want to start speaking Japanese right this second?
Are you heading to Japan soon, desperately searching out useful phrases that you can use ASAP?
Maybe you’re on a quest to learn the secret expression that allows you to share all your thoughts and feelings without having to study grammar for hours.
If you’re nodding to yourself while reading this and thinking, “Yes. I am one of those people who needs some actual useful material under my belt,” then welcome to your solution! Let me introduce you to these incredibly common Japanese phrases, which you’ll be hearing and using on a constant basis, whether you’re chatting with your tutor, exploring new literature, or planning a trip to Kyoto.
Basic Japanese Phrases
These are the phrases you’ll want to memorize when you’re on the plane or waiting for your luggage at Narita Airport. They’ll help you greet your friends in Japanese, express how much you like listening to J-pop and can also act as an icebreaker of sorts!
おはようございます ohayou gozaimasu – Good morning!
こんにちは konnichiwa – Hello / Good afternoon!
久しぶり hisashiburi – It’s been a while.
じゃあまた jaa mata – See you!
お元気で o genki de – Take care.
お名前は何ですか？ o namae wa nan desu ka – What’s your name?
…です …desu – I’m…
好きです suki desu – I like it.
いいですよ ii desu yo – It’s good.
ダメです dame desu – It’s no good.
日本語で話しましょう nihongo de hanashimashou – Let’s talk in Japanese.
もう一度言ってください mou ichidou itte kudasai – Please say it again.
おはようございます – Good Morning
If you’d like to be more casual, you can just say おはよう[ohayou]！In work places, it’s pretty common to hear おはよう or おはようございます when someone is greeting a colleague for the first time that day — even if the clock reads 7:00 p.m.
じゃあまた – See You
If you’re not going to be waving your handkerchief in a heartfelt goodbye (where “さようなら” [sayounara] or “farewell” would be more appropriate), then じゃあまた is a great way to say “see you”! You can also use ではまた[dewa mata] which is slightly more polite. じゃあね (see ya) and じゃあまた明日ね (jaa mata ashita ne – see you tomorrow) are also quick and friendly phrases for parting. If you’re in Osaka, then be sure to try some 大坂弁 (oosaka ben – Osaka dialect) and say, ほなね[hona ne]!
お元気で (おげんきで) – Take Care
If “see you” is a little too casual for you, then you can say お元気で instead. This literally means “be healthy” and can be used to say, “Good luck!”
お名前は何ですか？(おなまえは なんですか？) – What’s Your Name?
This is a polite way to ask someone for their name. If お名前は何ですか？ is a little too lengthy for you, then you can also use お名前は[o namae wa]？ Sounding a bit vague can sound more polite. Take for example: “Who are you?” vs. “Your name…?” Or, “Where are you from?” vs. “Whereabouts are you from…?”
…です – I’m…
Get ready! I’m about to introduce the holy grail of Japanese words and phrases: です. Heck, you’re probably already using it. By using です, you can express some of your thoughts and dreams without having to study grammar for hours. です is the verb “to be”. It stays the same no matter the subject (think: it is, they are, I am). To say, “I am Tom” simply state your name and finish with です to get, トムです (tomu desu – I’m Tom).
Wanna take it to the next level? Follow an adjective with です to express how you’re feeling: 暑いです, (atsui desu – It’s hot/I’m hot). You can omit the subject if it can be implied by the context. So if your friend is late, say 遅いです (osoi desu – You’re late)! If something (or someone) catches your eye, use きれいです (kirei desu – It’s pretty).
Just to recap, if someone asks you your name, you can answer with “[insert your name] + です.” Voila! Why can’t everything be that easy?
好きです (すきです) – I Like It
Why not tell your host family how much you’re enjoying the traditional Japanese breakfast, or that you’re really into performance art like kabuki? To do this, you can use the phrase 好きです which means “I like it.” To be more specific, you can say whatever it is you like and add が好きです[ga suki desu]. I have a huge sweet tooth, so I’d say お菓子が好きです (okashi ga suki desu – I like sweets).
Maybe you’re trying nattou or another exotic dish. Hopefully you’ll discover your new favorite snack, but just in case…you can say, 好きではありません [suki dewa arimasen] to express, “I don’t like it.” Maybe just not in front of the person who cooked it for you…
いいですよ – It’s Good
いいですよ can be used in a ton of different situations. Think of it as a gentle way to say, “It’s all good.” You’ll often hear いいよ [ii yo] (especially from females). You can treat it as saying “It’s fine,” “Go right ahead,” “Don’t worry about it” and “no problem.”
ダメです (だめです) – It’s No Good
If you’re being somewhat polite and want to say “It’s not good,” you need to say よくありません[yoku arimasen] which is “It’s not good,” in normal-polite form, or よくない, as in, “It’s not good” in casual form.
To say something is “no good,” you can use ダメ (です). Although you can add です to this word, to say “It’s no good,” it’s more common to add だ (the casual form of です) instead. So ダメだ [dame da] can be translated as, “It’s no good,” “It’s useless” or “It’s pointless.”
Please, Thank You and Apologies in Japanese
Being polite and humble is so, so important when you’re learning another language. The following phrases and expressions will help you ease into conversation with anyone and everyone you interact with, or alleviate any tension at school or in the office.
ありがとうございます arigatou gozaimasu – Thank you.
どういたしまして douitashimashite – You’re welcome.
問題ないよ mondai nai yo – No problem.
ください kudasai – Please (requesting)
どうぞ douzo – Please (offering)
お疲れ様です otsukaresama desu – Thank you for your efforts.
失礼します shitsurei shimasu – Excuse me (for my rudeness).
すみません sumimasen – Excuse me.
ごめんなさい gomen nasai – I’m sorry.
ありがとうございます – Thank You
We all know the phrase ありがとう, yet it’s always a bit nerve-wracking to use it for the first time. When being polite it’s best to use ありがとうございます as a general way to express your gratitude, while ありがとう is a quick and friendly way to say “thanks!” A friend might just thank you with どうも (doumo – thanks), and you’ll see あり[ari], the abbreviated form of ありがとう, often enough on Japanese message boards.
ください – Please (Requesting)
There are a few different ways to say “please” in Japanese. The word ください is used when making requests as in, please hurry (急いでください – isoide kudasai) or can I please have a coffee? (コーヒーをください – koohii o kudasai).
どうぞ – Please (Offering)
A common way to offer something is by using the word どうぞ (douzo – please). This is like saying, “Please go ahead.” Whether you’re ushering someone through the door before you, or offering a coworker some delicious snacks, どうぞ will definitely come in handy.
お疲れ様です (おつかれさまです) – Thank You for Your Efforts
If you haven’t heard your coworkers use this a thousand times already… then you must not be in Japan yet! The expression お疲れ様です is often said when you, or someone else, finishes their work as a parting sentiment. Although it’s translated as “thanks for all your hard work today” or “thank you for your efforts,” you can think of it as saying, “That’s a wrap for the day.”
失礼します(しつれいします) – Excuse Me for My Rudeness
Another office-related expression, 失礼します, is used when you’re leaving a room. It’s similar to saying “Sorry to have bothered you” or “Sorry that I interrupted.” Really, it’s just a polite way to excuse yourself from a room. You can also end a formal or polite phone call with 失礼します.
すみません – Excuse Me, I’m Sorry, Thank you
This is your three-in-one go-to expression! Learn this, memorize it, treat it like it’s your baby. The word すみません is often used to say “Excuse me” (if you need help getting directions or need to squeeze by someone) and “Sorry” (when you accidentally nudge someone on the subway).
It can also be said as a “thank you” when you’ve troubled someone (Think: “Thanks for letting me put you out”). This is used a lot when climbing into a cab: すみません。成田空港までお願いします (sumimasen. narita kuukou made onegaishimasu – “Thanks (for stopping). To Narita Airport, please.”)
ごめんなさい – Sorry
Among family members, friends and in casual situations, ごめんなさい replaces すみません when saying sorry. You can use the less formal ごめん[gomen] and ごめんね [gomen ne] among those who are close to you.
Japanese Phrases for Grabbing a Bite
All right, so now you’ve said your “It’s been a while” and “Thank you” when your host family picked you up at the airport. That means it’s time to talk about what’s really important: food!
お腹が空いています onaka ga suite imasu – I’m hungry.
まだ食べていません mada tabete imasen – I haven’t eaten yet.
メニュー、お願いします menyuu, onegaishimasu – Please bring me a menu.
メニュー、お願いできますか？menyuu, onegai dekimasu ka – May I have the menu?
それは何ですか？ sore wa nan desu ka – What’s that?
これを食べてみたいです kore o tabete mitai desu – I’d like to try this.
…をください …o kudasai – I’d like…
…がありますか？…ga arimasu ka – Do you have…?
…付きですか？ …tsuki desu ka – Does it come with…?
…が食べられません …ga taberaremasen – I can’t eat…
…アレルギーがあります …arerugii ga arimasu – I’m allergic to…
おいしいです oishii desu – It’s delicious!
まずいですmazui desu – It’s terrible.
お腹が一杯です onaka ga ippai desu – I’m full.
お勘定/お会計、お願いします okanjou/okaikei, onegaishimasu – Check, please.
いただきます itadakimasu – Let’s dig in!
ごちそうさまでした gochisousama deshita – Thanks for the meal.
お腹が空いています (おなかが すいています) – I’m Hungry
This literally means your stomach has become empty. If you’re with your friends, you can say お腹が空いた [onaka ga suita] which is slightly less formal. You’ll also hear お腹減った [onaka hetta] and the masculine 腹減った [hara hetta] among peers. Lastly, if you’d like to say something short and cute you should try, お腹がペコペコ [onaka ga pekopeko] which is an onomatopoeia that means your stomach is growling.
…をください – I’d Like…
Do you remember how to say please when making a request? State whatever you’d like to order, and follow it with をください. For example, コーヒーをください (koohii o kudasai – I’d like a coffee, please) is my morning catchphrase!
…が食べられません (…がたべられません) – I Can’t Eat…
All you vegetarians and vegans out there! Learn this phrase. Love this phrase. You can add any word at the beginning of the phrase. 肉 [niku] is “meat” so if you’re on a strict veg diet, be sure to say, 肉と魚が食べられません (niku to sakana ga taberaremasen – “I can’t eat meat and fish.”)
…アレルギーがあります (…あれるぎーがあります) – I’m Allergic to…
Allergies can be a bit tricky to talk about. State whatever you’re allergic to and add アレルギーがあります. You can also use the phrase above this one to give examples of what you can’t eat. Lastly, just to be safe rather than sorry, you can ask …が入っていますか？ […ga haite imasu ka?] which means, “Are/Is there any … in it?”
For example: 卵が入っていますか？ (tamago ga haitte imasu ka? – Are there any eggs in it?)
おいしいです – It’s Delicious
If you’re out with the guys, you’ll probably hear the word うまい [umai] being sung as you feast. A casual and manly way to say something is delicious is うまい. For everyone else, おいしい is a wonderful way to say something tastes great. If you’re just eyeballing a slice of cake, then おいしそう[oishisou], meaning “It looks delicious,” could be useful too!
いただきます – Let’s Dig In
This is used before digging into your meal. Although いただきます is often translated as “Let’s dig in” or “Bon appetite,” the meaning is much deeper than that. To thank everything and everyone that’s contributed to the dish in front of you, you thank them with いただきます at the beginning of every meal.
ごちそうさまでした – Thanks for the Meal
After you’ve finished that scrumptious bowl of squid-ink noodles, you can end your meal with ごちそうさまでした. Like いただきます, ごちそうさまでした is a fixture at every meal.
Shopping in Japanese
With the streets brimming with food stalls and vendors, the high-end boutiques lining Ginza, and the ultra-cool and unique souvenir shops, there is no way to avoid shopping while traveling through Japan.
いらっしゃいませ irasshaimase – Welcome.
これは何ですか？kore wa nan desu ka – What is this?
これは何というものですか？kore wa nan to iu mono desu ka – What’s this called?
これはいくらですか？kore wa ikura desu ka – How much is this?
…がありますか？ …ga arimasu ka – Do you have…?
ちょっと (高い) です chotto (takai) desu – It’s a bit (expensive).
他の色がありますか？ hoka no iro ga arimasu ka – Do you have another color?
それを頂きます sore o itadakimasu – I’ll take it.
クレジットカードは使えますか？ kurejitto kaado wa tsukaemasu ka – Can I use my credit card?
包んでいただけますか？ tsutsunde itadakemasu ka – Can I have it gift wrapped?
いらっしゃいませ – Welcome
You will hear a chorus of いらっしゃいませ when you enter a convenience store, or really, any shop. After a day or two in Japan, you’re guaranteed to be hearing it in your sleep too.
ちょっと高いです (ちょっとたかいです) – It’s a Bit Expensive
If you haven’t started your adventure towards learning Japanese adjectives, then some essential shopping vocabulary is:
- 安い yasui – cheap, easy
- 高い takai – expensive, high
- 高くない takakunai – inexpensive
クレジットカードは使えますか？ (くれじっとかーどは つかえますか？) – Can I Use My Credit Card?
If you’d like to use a traveler’s check, then replace クレジットカード with トラベラーズチェック [toraberaazu chekku]. Your Suica (スイカ suika) card and Pasmo (パスモ pasumo) card, which are rechargeable cards you can use on Japanese trains, can also be used to pay for taxis or your groceries at select stores. You can ask スイカは使えますか ？(suika wa tsukaemasu ka – “Can I use my Suica?”)
Japanese Goodbyes: Farewell, Friend. Let’s Keep in Touch.
Saying goodbye is never easy, especially if you’re saying it to a loved one or new friend with whom you’ve shared your travel experiences. Let them know how much you care with one of the following farewells:
手紙書くよ tegami kaku yo – I’ll write you letters.
着いたら、電話します/メールします tsuitara denwa shimasu/meeru shimasu – I’ll call/email you when I arrive.
メアドを教えてもらえますか？meado o oshiete moraemasu ka – Could I have your e-mail address*?
またすぐに来ますよ mata sugu ni kimasu yo – I’ll be back soon.
来てくださいね kite kudasai ne – Come visit me.
メアドを教えてもらえますか？ (めあどをおしえてもらえますか？) – Could I Have Your E-mail Address?
If that’s a little too long to memorize, you can ask メルアドを教えて [meruado o oshiete] which is like saying, “Can I get your e-mail address?”
*When someone asks for your 携帯のメアド [keitai no meado] or 携帯のメルアド [keitai no meruado], they’re asking for your “cell phone e-mail address.” In Japan, rather than sending an SMS (text message) to someone’s phone, you send messages using your mobile e-mail address.
So say your phone carrier is SoftBank. Then you’ll have a mobile e-mail address, like email@example.com. This is used to communicate and send messages, rather than your phone number.
来てくださいね (きてくださいね) – Come Visit Me
If you sincerely want someone to visit you, you can add 私の家では、いつでもあなたを歓迎しますよ (watashi no ie dewa, itsumo anata o kangei shimasu yo – You’re always welcome in my home). If you’re writing a letter, you can try for a longer phrase like [ここ/私の家では、] あなたはいつでも大歓迎されることを忘れないでください ([koko/watashi no ie dewa] anata wa itsudemo daikangei sareru koto o wasurenaide kudasai – Please don’t forget that you’re always welcome [here/in my home]).
And there you have it! With these phrases you’ll be able to make small talk with new friends, or show others that you’re sincerely interested in learning Japanese. Just by incorporating a few of these phrases into daily life or conversation, you’ll be sure to hear 日本語が上手ですね (nihongo ga jouzu desu ne – You’re good at speaking Japanese)!
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