250 Easy Japanese Words and Phrases to Rock Any Situation

Hey you!

Yeah, you. 

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 words and 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.

In our list of words below, we’ve included links to Forvo so you can hear the pronunciation of each phrase wherever possible. Sometimes, individual words are linked, instead. Just click on the links in the list to hear their pronunciation!

This post was updated on 9/15/2021 by Rhiannon Liou

Basic Japanese Phrases

easy japanese phrases to rock any situation

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

If you’d like to be more casual, you can just say ohayou.

In workplaces, it’s pretty common to hear ohayou or ohayou gozaimasu when someone’s greeting a colleague for the first time that day—even if the clock reads 7 PM.

こんにちは konnichiwa” — Hello / good afternoon

Konnichiwa can really be used any time of day as a general greeting, but it’s most commonly used between 11 in the morning and five in the afternoon.

久しぶり (ひさしぶり) hisashiburi” — It’s been a while

Use this phrase when you’re greeting someone you haven’t seen in a while.

お名前は何ですか?(おなまえは なんですか?) o namae wa nan desu ka?” — What’s your name?

This is a polite way to ask someone for their name.

If this phrase is a little too lengthy for you, then you can also use:

お名前は?(おなまえ は?) o namae wa?” — Your name is…?

This phrase is a bit more vague and 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 …desu” — I am… / It is…

Get ready! I’m about to introduce the holy grail of Japanese words and phrases: desu. Heck, you’re probably already using it. With desu, you can express some of your thoughts and dreams without having to study grammar for hours.

Though desu is technically a copula (a word that links the subject of a sentence to its complement), it might be easiest for beginners to just think of it as the equivalent of the English word “to be.”

Unlike “to be,” desu stays the same no matter the subject (think: it is, they are, I am). To say, “I’m Tom” simply state your name and finish with desu to get:

トムです。 (とむ です。) “tomu desu” — I’m Tom.

Want to take it to the next level? Follow an adjective with desu to express how you’re feeling:

暑いです。 (あつい 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! (おそい 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) suki desu” — 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 suki desu, which means “I like it.”

To be more specific, you can say whatever it is you like and add …が好きです (がすきです) “…ga suki desu.”

For example, I have a huge sweet tooth, so I’d say:

お菓子が好きです。 (おかしが すき です。) “okashi ga suki desu— I like sweets.

好きではありません (すきでは ありません) “suki dewa arimasen — I don’t like it

Maybe you’re trying nattou or another exotic dish. Hopefully, you’ll discover your new favorite snack, but just in case you don’t, you can use this phrase. Maybe just not in front of the person who cooked it for you…

いいですよ ii desu yo” — It’s good

Ii desu yo 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) dame desu” — It’s no good

If you’re being somewhat polite and want to say “It’s not good,” you need to say the following:

よくありません “yoku arimasen” — It’s not good (polite)

よくない “yokunai” — It’s not good (casual)

To say something is “no good,” you can just say dame. Although you can add desu to this word, to say “It’s no good,” it’s more common to add da (the casual form of desu) instead.

So dame da can be translated as, “It’s no good,” “It’s useless” or “It’s pointless.”

日本語話しましょう (にほんごで はなしましょう) nihongo de hanashimashou” — Let’s talk in Japanese

Native Japanese speakers are often all too happy to help you practice your language skills with them. Use this phrase to request that the conversation be held in Japanese.

もう一度言ってください (もういちど いって ください) mou ichido itte kudasai” — Please say it again

A useful phrase for any learner to know!

Common Japanese Words for Casual Conversations

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Want to sound like a native when you know minimal Japanese? There are a few common phrases you can use with friends in casual conversations.

よろしくね “yoroshiku ne” — Nice to meet you (casual)

One of the first introductory phrases you may have learned is:

よろしくお願いします。 (よろしく おねがい します。) “yoroshiku onegai shimasu” — Nice to meet you.

During a casual meeting between new friends, you can further shorten it to “yoroshiku ne.”

どうしたの“doushita no?” — What’s wrong?

If your friend seems troubled, you can casually ask “Doushita no?” to find out what’s troubling them.

やばい “yabai” — Awful or cool

While talking, your friend may mention they have an important test or date. Use yabai and depending on the context, it can mean “Awful” or “Cool.”

頑張って (がんばって) “ganbatte” — Do your best

When a friend needs extra support, you can simply say ganbatte. This simple word means either “good luck” or “do your best” to encourage them to work harder.

To make this encouraging term more formal for business situations, you can say:

頑張ってください (がんばって ください) “ganbatte kudasai” — Do your best (formal)

おめでとう“omedetou!” — Congrats!

Once your friend announces they’ve passed their exam, congratulate them by saying omedetou, or the formal variant:

おめでとうございます!“omedetou gozaimasu” — Congratulations (formal)

マジで? (まじ で?) “maji de?” — Really?

If your friend from the previous example informs you that they passed the exam with no mistakes, you can express your surprise with this casual phrase.

うそー“uso!” — No way!

This is another way to express surprise, which literally means “lie!”

Saying Yes and No in Japanese

japanese words

One of the most important things you’ll need to learn in Japanese is how to say “Yes” or “No.” There are multiple ways to agree or disagree in Japanese and which words you use will depend on the context of the situation.

Saying “yes” in Japanese

The basic word for “Yes” in Japanese is hai, but there are several ways to express it either verbally or with expressions:

はい “hai”

そう “sou”

うん “un”

ああ “aa”

ええ “ee”

もちろん “mochiron” — Of course

そうです “sou desu” — That’s right

いいですよ “ii desu yo” — Okay

The Japanese use 相槌 (あいづち) “aizuchi,” which are simple words or gestures that all mean “Yes” to indicate you’re listening. These include phrases like sou, un, aa or ee.

Alternatively to one-word affirmatives, you can say mochiron, sou desu or ii desu yo to mean “that’s right.”

Another way to say “yes” is with non-verbal cues like nodding your head up and down or giving a thumbs up.

Saying “no” in Japanese (while saving face)

While there are several terms for saying yes in Japanese, saying “no” is much trickier. The basic word for “no” is いいえ “iie,” but there are more polite ways to express “no” to safeguard the listener’s feelings:

いいえ “iie”

ううん “uun”

いやー “iya”

だめ “dame”

ちょっと… “chotto…”

If you use chotto, remember to trail off at the end, as you’re basically saying “it’s a little…”

In business settings, two simple phrases to convey “no” without saying “no” are:

難しいです。 (むずかしい です。) “muzukashii desu” — It’s difficult.

考えておきます。 (かんがえて おきます。) “kangaete okimasu” — I’ll think about it.

While not outright saying “no,” they express a refusal to the listener without sounding impolite.

There are several non-verbal ways to express “no.” Rubbing the back of the neck, making an “X” with both arms or even taking in a deep breath all mean “no.”

The Most Common Japanese Nouns

How’s this for some study motivation: knowing the 100 most common Japanese words means you understand 50% of the language! By establishing a core vocabulary, you’ll have a solid foundation on which to build your house of Japanese knowledge. 

To help get you to that halfway point, here are 100 of the most common Japanese nouns, divided into handy categories.

People

名前 (なまえ) “namae” — Name

(ひと) “hito” — Person

男の人 (おとこのひと) “otoko no hito” — Man

女の人 (おんなのひと) “onna no hito” — Woman

お母さん (おかあさん) “okaasan” — Mother

お父さん (おとうさん) “otousan” — Father

お姉さん (おねえさん) “oneesan” — Older sister

お兄さん (おにいさん) “oniisan” — Older brother

おじさん “ojisan” — Uncle

おばさん  “obasan” — Aunt

お爺さん (おじいさん) “ojiisan” — Grandfather

お婆さん (おばあさん) “obaasan” — Grandmother

息子 (むすこ) “musuko” — Son

(むすめ) “musume” — Daughter

友達 (ともだち) “tomodachi” — Friend

学生 (がくせい) “gakusei” — Student

先生 (せんせい) “sensei” — Teacher

医者 (いしゃ) “isha” — Doctor

警察官 (けいさつかん) “keisatsukan” Police officer

Time

今日 (きょう) “kyoo” — Today

明日 (あした) “ashita” — Tomorrow

昨日 (きのう) “kinoo” — Yesterday

(あさ) “asa” — Morning

(ひる) “hiru” — Afternoon

(よる) “yoru” — Night

時間 (じかん) “jikan” — Time

(まえ) “mae— Before

(いま) “ima” — Now

(あと) “ato” — After

月曜日 (げつようび) “getsuyoubi” — Monday

火曜日 (かようび) “kayoubi” — Tuesday

水曜日 (すいようび) “suiyoubi” — Wednesday

木曜日 (もくようび) “mokuyoubi” — Thursday

金曜日 (きんようび) “kinyoubi” — Friday

土曜日 (どようび) “doyoubi” — Saturday

日曜日 (にちようび) “nichiyoubi” — Sunday

午前 (ごぜん) “gozen” — A.M.

午後 (ごご) “gogo” — P.M.

(ひ) “hi” — Day

(しゅう) “shuu” — Week

(がつ) “gatsu” — Month

 (とし) “toshi” — Year

Directions

(うえ) “ue” — Above

(した) “shita” — Below

(ひだり) “hidari” — Left

(みぎ) “migi” — Right

(なか) “naka” — Inside

(そと) “soto” — Outside

(きた) “kita” — North

(みなみ) “minami” — South

西 (にし) “nishi” — West

(ひがし) “higashi” — East

Places

/場所 (ところ/ばしょ) “tokoro/basho” — Place

(いえ) “ie” — House

部屋 (へや) “heya” — Room

学校 (がっこう) “gakkou” — School

病院 (びょういん) “byouin” — Hospital

(みせ) “mise” — Store

ホテル (ほてる) “hoteru” — Hotel

空港 (くうこう) “kuukou” — Airport

(えき) “eki” — Station

バス停 (ばすてい) “basutei” — Bus stop

入り口 (いりぐち) “iriguchi” — Entrance

出口 (でぐち) “deguchi” — Exit

(まち) “machi” — Town

都市 (とし) “toshi” — City

Vehicles

(くるま) “kuruma” — Car

電車 (でんしゃ) “densha” — Train

地下鉄 (ちかてつ) “chikatetsu” — Subway

自転車 (じてんしゃ) “jitensha” — Bicycle

飛行機 (ひこうき) “hikouki” — Airplane

タクシー (たくしー) “takushii” — Taxi

バス (ばす) “basu” — Bus

Food & Drink

食べ物 (たべもの) “tabemono” — Food

ご飯 (ごはん) “gohan” — Meal

朝ご飯 (あさごはん) “asagohan” — Breakfast

昼ご飯 (ひるごはん) “hirugohan” — Lunch

夕食/晩ご飯 (ゆうしょく/ばんごはん) “yuushoku/bangohan” — Dinner

(にく) “niku” — Meat

(さかな) “sakana” — Fish

果物 (くだもの) “kudamono” — Fruit

野菜 (やさい) “yasai” — Vegetable

飲み物 (のみもの) “nomimono” — Drink

お茶 (おちゃ) “ocha” — Tea

 (みず) “mizu” — Water

コーヒー (こーひー) “koohii” — Coffee

ビール/ (びーる/なま) “biiru/nama” — Beer

Other Useful Terms

(ふく) “fuku” — Clothes

(くつ) “kutsu” — Shoes

テレビ (てれび) “terebi” — TV

電話 (でんわ) “denwa” — Phone

携帯電話 (けいたいでんわ) “keitai denwa” — Cell phone

映画 (えいが) “eiga” — Movie

ゲーム (げーむ) “geemu” — Game

値段 (ねだん) “nedan” — Price

(はし) “hashi” — Chopsticks

(ほん) “hon” — Book

(いぬ) “inu” — Dog

(ねこ) “neko” — Cat

(とり)“tori” — Bird

Numbers and Quantities in Japanese

japanese words

How much is that coat? How many pieces of sushi do you want? Knowing your numbers is necessary when navigating the stores and restaurants of Japan!

Counting to 10 (and beyond) in Japanese

Like English, Japanese has two forms of counting: ordinal and cardinal. A cardinal number counts how many of something there are (one, two, three), while an ordinal number denotes the order or placement of something (first, second, third).

You’ll learn the ordinal numbers as you study, but knowing the numbers one through 10 is a good starting point for any learner. Here they are in Japanese, along with a few extras:

(いち) “ichi” — one

(に) “ni” — two

(さん) “san” — three

(し) “shi” — four

(ご) “go” — five

(ろく) “roku” — six

(しち) “shichi” — seven

(はち) “hachi” — eight

(きゅう) “kyuu” — nine

(じゅう) “juu” — ten

(ひゃく) “hyaku” — hundred

(せん) “sen” — thousand

Common Japanese counters

Counters are small words added after numbers to indicate the type of item being counted. There are many counters and you’ll have to become familiar with them as you study Japanese, but here are some key terms to get you started.

(にん) “nin” — People

(こ) “ko” — Small objects (such as soap, fruit, handbags)

(まい) “mai” — Flat objects (such as paper, CDs, clothing)

“tsu” — Misc. objects (orders of food, ideas; can also be used as a substitute for other counters)

(ほん) “hon” — long cylindrical objects (such as pencils, sticks or umbrellas)

(さつ) “satsu” — books

Here are a few more useful words to know when dealing with numbers:

いくつ “ikutsu” — How many…?

This is a general word to ask “how much” or “how many” of a numerical amount. It’s often used by shopkeepers and restaurant owners.

お菓子はいくつ欲しいですか?(おかしはいくつほしいですか?) “okashi wa ikutsu hoshii desu ka” — How many snacks do you want?

いくつ本を持っていますか? (いくつほんをもっていますか?) “ikutsu hon wo motteimasuka”— How many books do you have? 

It can also be used to ask someone’s age:

おいくつですか? “oikutsu desu ka?”— How old are you?

… (なん) “nan” — How many…?

Nan is a more specific way of asking how much of something there is. It works by combining nan with a counter, such as: 

本 (なんぼん) “nanbon” — How many long cylindrical objects?

人 (なんにん) “nannin” — How many people?

枚 (なんまい) “nanmai” — How many sheets?

多い (おおい) “ooi” — many

For example:

この駅は人が多いです。(このえきはひとがおおいです。) “kono eki wa hito ga ooi desu” — There are a lot of people at this station.

少ない (すくない) “sukunai” — few

For example:

このメニューは料理が少ないです。(このめにゅうはりょうりがすくないです。) “kono menyuu wa ryori ga sukunai desu” — This menu doesn’t have a lot of dishes. 

たくさん “takusan” — a lot

Takusan is similar to ooi, the notable difference being that takusan can function as a noun, adjective or adverb, while ooi is only an adjective. Here are some examples:

公園に花がたくさんあります。(こうえんにはながたくさんあります。) “kooen ni hana ga takusan arimasu” — There are lots of flowers in the park.

夜空にたくさんの星がキラキラしています。(よぞらにたくさんのほしがきらきらしています。) “yozora ni takusan no hoshi ga kira kira shiteimasu” — Lots of stars are twinkling in the night sky. 

少し (すこし) “sukoshi” — a little

Fun fact: Sukoshi is where the term “skosh” comes from! Maybe you’ve heard your parents or grandparents use it? Here are some examples of it in use:

コーヒーに砂糖を少しお願いします。(こーひーにさとうをすこしおねがいします。) “koohii ni sato wo sukoshi onegaishimasu” — A little sugar in my coffee, please.  

このカレーは少し辛いです。(このかれーはすこしからいです。) “kono karee wa sukoshi karai desu” — This curry is a little spicy. 

Time Phrases in Japanese

japanese words

When you have to catch that train or are checking the opening and closing times of that store you want to go to, knowing how to express time phrases is vital. These easy Japanese phrases will teach you how to ask for the time and understand the answers people will give you.

今何時ですか? (いまなんじですか?) “ima nanji desu ka” — What time is it?

If you want to make sure you get to your train on time, this phrase is vital. In casual situations, saying “Ima nanji?” will work just fine.

いつですか“itsu desu ka” — When is it?

This general phrase can be applied to a wide variety of situations, including:

映画はいつですか?(えいがはいつですか?) “eiga wa itsu desu ka — When’s the movie?

コンサートはいつですか?(こんさーとはいつですか?)“konsaato wa itsu desu ka” — When’s the concert?

どのぐらいかかりますか?“dono gurai kakarimasu ka” — How long does it take?

When wondering how long it takes to get to Shibuya from Shinjuku, this phrase is there to help you out.

When asking casually, you can say dono gurai kakaru. Replies will often use kakarimasu in their ending, meaning “it will take (this amount of time.)”

何時から何時までですか?(なんじからなんじまでですか?) “nanji kara nanji made desu ka” — From what time until what time…?

So you want to know just how late that cool-looking store is open? Use this to ask away!

You can get specific or cut it short with these variations:

あの店は何時から何時まで営業していますか?(あのみせはなんじからなんじまでえいぎょうしていますか?) “ano mise wa nanji kara nanji made eigyou shiteimasuka” — What are that store’s operating hours?

あの店は何時から何時までですか ?(あのみせはなんじからなんじまでですか?) “ano mise wa nanji kara nanji made desu ka” — Literally, “That store is from what hour until what hour?”

This can also be used to ask how long someone does something for. For instance:

仕事は何時から何時までですか?(しごとはなんじからなんじまでですか?) “shigoto wa nanji kara nanji made desu ka” — What are your working hours?

Now you know how to ask your host family about their schedule so you can spend time together!

…時です (じです) “…ji desu” — It’s … o’clock.

This plus a number is all you need to tell the time!

時です。(いちじです。) “ichiji desu” — It’s 1 o’clock. 

時です。(ろくじです。) “rokuji desu” — It’s 6 o’clock. 

…時間です (じかんです) “… jikan desu” — … hours.

After asking how long that movie’s going to last, or how long you’ll have to wait in line at Tokyo Disneyland, you’ll get this response. 

時間です。(いちじかんです。) “ichijikan desu” — It’s 1 o’clock. 

時間です。(にじかんです。) “nijikan desu” — Two hours.

…分です (ふんです) “…pun/fun desu” — … minutes.

Same as “…jikan desu,” but for minutes. 分 will sound different depending on the number that comes before it, with variations like: 

(いっぷん) “ippun” — one minute

(にふん) “nifun” — two minutes

(さんぷん) “sanpun” —  three minutes

With a little study, you’ll be able to tell the time in… well, no time!

Japanese Pronouns

Pronouns form the cornerstone of many easy Japanese phrases and are crucial to knowing who or what’s being talked about.

Japanese has a wide variety of pronouns you can use, helping you make your sentences more direct when you’re referring to yourself, your friend or that rude waiter!

(わたし) “watashi” — I (all genders)

Watashi is the basic first-person pronoun used by everyone throughout Japan, and the first way most people learn to say “I” in Japanese.

It’s the go-to in polite situations, where sometimes it’s pronounced watakushi for extra formality. Some female speakers may shorten it to atashi in casual settings.

(ぼく) “boku” — I (usually male)

Boku is mostly used by men and boys when they’re among friends. Nowadays, some girls use boku, as well, which gives off an air of tomboyish-ness.

(おれ) “ore” — I (male)

While boku is sometimes used by girls, ore is an exclusively male pronoun. It gives off a bit of a rough image, so it’s only used among close friends in casual situations.

When introducing yourself to your new host family, try to steer clear of ore to make sure you’re making a good impression on them!

自分 (じぶん) “jibun” — Myself / yourself / themselves

Jibun is used to refer to a sense of self. It can also take a variety of forms, like jibun no for one’s own (something), and jibun de to give a sense of “by oneself.”

It’s also a more polite way of referring to someone else—we’ll get into that below.

あなた “anata” — You

Anata translates to “you,” but it’s not used in the way it’s used in English. Most of the time, Japanese omits “you” altogether, favoring a person’s name instead. It can also be used as a term of endearment between couples.

(きみ) “kimi” — You

Kimi is largely used to talk to someone of lower status than yourself, such as a boss talking to their employees. It’s also used to add some pizzazz to writing, such as in the hit movie『君の名は。』(『きみのなは。』) “kimi no na wa” — “Your Name.”

(かれ) “kare” — He / him

While the Japanese language does favor using a person’s name over second or third person pronouns, using kare is perfectly okay. Plus, kare can be used to refer to someone’s boyfriend.

彼女 (かのじょ) “kanojo” — She / her

Same as kare, but for women. In the same way as kare, kanojo can also be used to refer to a girlfriend!

 …たち “tachi” — “…And company” (pluralizes pronouns)

In Japanese, saying “we,” “you all” or “they” is as simple as adding -tachi to the end of the pronoun.

“We” can be expressed as:

たち (わたしたち) “watashi tachi

たち (ぼくたち“boku tachi

たち (おれたち“ore tachi

“You all” is expressed:

あなたたち“anata tachi

たち (きみたち) “kimi tachi

自分たち (じぶんたち“jibun tachi

You can also add tachi to the name of a person in the group you’re talking about:

佐助たち (さすけたち) “sasuke tachi— Sasuke and company

To say “they” for women use:

彼女たち (かのじょたち“kanojo tachi — they (a group of women)

Kare is an exception, taking a different form when referring to a group of men:

彼ら(かれら) “karera” — they (a group of men)

これ “kore” — This

Used to refer to something close to the speaker.

それ “sore” — That

Used to refer to something close to the listener.

あれ “are” — That (over there)

Used to refer to something far from both the speaker and the listener.

Basic Japanese Question Words

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Once you’re in Japan, you’ll need to find your way around. While many people you meet will be friendly and helpful, knowing some of the essential Japanese question words will go a long way towards getting your questions across.

(なに) “nani” — What

When traveling to Japan, you’ll run into things you’re unfamiliar with, like food. To ask what something is, use the question word nani, which translates to “What?”

Nani can be used alone or in a sentence. When placed before desu, the word nani drops its -i and becomes, simply, nan. For example:

これはですか?(これは なん ですか?) “kore wa nan desu ka” — What is this?

どこ “doko” — Where

Need directions? Doko is used when asking for a location.

If you’re looking for a restroom, you can ask someone:

トイレはどこですか?(といれは どこ ですか?) “toire wa doko desu ka” — Where is the toilet?

If you don’t know the word for the place you’re looking for, another helpful option is pointing to it on a map and asking

どこですか? (どこ ですか?) “doko desu ka” — Where is it?

(だれ) “dare” — Who

If you’re seeing someone new for the first time, you may want to know who that person is. You can ask by saying “Dare?”

If you’re referring to a specific person, you can add further context:

彼女はですか? (かのじょは だれ ですか?) “kanojo wa dare desu ka” — Who is she?

いつ “itsu” — When

If a friend tells you the sequel of your favorite show is out soon, you may ask “itsu?” which is the Japanese question word for “when.” Itsu can be used alone, depending on the context, or in a sentence.

どうして “doushite” — Why

Doushite is the question word for “Why?” It can be used by itself in a conversation, or as an interjection. If you need to ask politely, say it as “doushite desu ka?”

But, if you’re with friends or family, you can use the casual form なんで “nande,” instead.

なぜ “naze” — Why

This is pretty similar to doushite, but a bit more formal. Naze is also used to ask the reason behind something, while doushite has a nuance of “how” to it. 

いくら “ikura” — How much

While out and about in Japan, you may spot something that catches your eye. Ikura is the question word for “How much?”

どちら “dochira” and どれ “dore” — Which One?

If a friend has asked you to pick up some snacks for a party, you’ll need to know how to pick out the right item.

In the Japanese language, there are two words you can use, dochira and dore, which both mean “which one?”

If choosing between two things, use dochira.

When choosing from more than three things, use dore.

Please, Thank You and Apologies in Japanese

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Being polite and humble is so, so important when you’re learning another language. The following phrases and expressions will help you ease into a 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

We all know the phrase arigatou, yet it’s always a bit nerve-wracking to use it for the first time.

When being polite, it’s best to use arigatou gozaimasu as a general way to express your gratitude, while arigatou is a quick and friendly way to say “thanks!”

A friend might just thank you with:

どうも “doumo” — thanks

You’ll also see あり “ari,” the abbreviated form of arigatou often enough on Japanese message boards.

どういたしまして douitashimashite” — You’re welcome

Although this is technically the correct response to “thank you,” it’s rarely used these days in casual Japanese conversation. Opt instead for the following phrase!

問題ないです (もんだい ない です) “mondai nai desu” — No problem

This phrase is used pretty much the same way as it is in English. 

ください “kudasai” — Please (requesting)

There are a few different ways to say “please” in Japanese. The word kudasai is used when making requests as in these examples:

急いでください。 (いそいで ください。) “isoide kudasai” — Please hurry,

コーヒーをください。 (こーひーを ください。) koohii o kudasai — Can I please have a coffee?

どうぞ “douzo” — Please (offering)

A common way to offer something is by using the word douzo. This is like saying, “Please go ahead.”

Whether you’re ushering someone through the door before you, or offering a coworker some delicious snacks, douzo will definitely come in handy.

お疲れ様です (おつかれさま です) “otsukaresama desu” — 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 otsukaresama desu 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) “shitsurei shimasu” — Excuse me (for my rudeness)

Another expression commonly heard in the office, shitsurei shimasu 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 this phrase.

すみません “sumimasen” — Excuse me, O’m sorry

This is your three-in-one go-to expression! Learn this, memorize it, treat it like it’s your baby.

The word sumimasen 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。 (すみません、なりた くうこう まで おねがい します。) “sumimasen, narita kuukou made onegaishimasu” — Thanks (for stopping), to Narita Airport, please.

ごめんなさい gomen nasai” — I’m sorry

Among family members, friends and in casual situations, gomen nasai replaces sumimasen when saying sorry. You can use the less formal gomen and gomen ne among those who are close to you.

Japanese Phrases to Express “I Don’t Understand”

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When learning any new language, you’re bound to run into unfamiliar words or phrases. There may be times you can understand a phrase as written, but hearing it out loud is another story. Luckily, there are multiple ways to express “I don’t understand” in Japanese.

分かりません (わかりません) “wakarimasen” — I don’t understand (formal)

There are two ways to express that you don’t understand something in Japanese. The most formal phrase that works in any situation is wakarimasen.

If you’re around friends, you can use the casual variant, wakaranai.

もう一度言ってください (もう いちど いって ください) “mou ichido itte kudasai” — Please say that again

If you’ve misheard your friend or colleague, you can ask them to repeat what they said by using the phrases:

すみません、もう一度お願いします。 (すみません、もう いちど おねがい します。) “sumimasen, mou ichido onegai shimasu” — Excuse me, one more time please.

ゆっくりお願いします (ゆっくり おねがい します) “yukkuri onegai shimasu” — Slowly, Please

While learning Japanese, some spoken phrases may be harder to understand than reading them in print. If you’d like someone to repeat what they said at a slower pace, the formal way to ask is yukkuri onegai shimasu.

聞こえませんでした (きこえません でした) “kikoemasen deshita” — I didn’t hear that

If you didn’t hear what your friend or co-worker said, use this phrase to let them know.

Japanese Phrases for Grabbing a Bite

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Okay, now that we’ve gotten the formalities out of the way, it’s time to talk about what’s really important: food!

お腹が空いています (おなかが すいて います) “onaka ga suite imasu” — I’m hungry

This literally means your stomach has become empty.

If you’re with your friends, you can say onaka ga suita which is slightly less formal. You’ll also hear onaka hetta and the masculine hara hetta among peers.

Lastly, if you’d like to say something short and cute you should try onaka ga pekopeko, which is an onomatopoeia that means your stomach is growling.

まだ食べていません (まだ たべて いません) “mada tabete imasen” — I haven’t eaten yet

For a more casual version, go ahead and say mada tabeteinai.

メニュー、お願いします (めにゅー、おねがい します) “menyuu, onegai shimasu” — Please bring me a menu

You can also opt for the more formal version:

メニュー、お願いできますか? (めにゅー、おねがい できますか?) “menyuu, onegai dekimasu ka?” — May I have the menu?

それは何ですか? (それは なんですか?) “sore wa nan desu ka” — What’s that?

If you see a person eating something you’re not familiar with, use this phrase to ask what it is. You can also use it to ask what things are in general—perfect for getting new words! 

これを食べてみたいです (これを たべて みたい です) kore o tabete mitai desu” — I’d like to try this

See something that’s caught your eye on the menu? You can comment on it with this! 

をください “…o kudasai” — 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 …o kudasai. For example:

コーヒーをください。 (こーひーを ください。) “koohii o kudasai — I’d like a coffee, please.

That’s my morning catchphrase!

がありますか“…ga arimasu ka” — Do you have…?

As a reply, you’ll simply hear arimasu.

付きですか? (…つき ですか?) “…tsuki desu ka” — Does it come with…?

If you want to know if certain foodstuffs are included with your order, use this to ask away. For example:

フライドポテト付きですか?(ふらいどぽてとつきですか?) “furaido poteto tsuki desu ka” — Does it come with fries? 

が食べられません (…が たべられません) …ga taberaremasen” — I can’t eat…

This is a good phrase for vegetarians, vegans and other people with dietery restrictions to learn.

You can add any word at the beginning of the phrase. Niku” is “meat” and sakana is “fish,” so if you’re on a strict veg diet, you can say:

肉と魚が食べられません。 (にくとさかなが たべられません。) “niku to sakana ga taberaremasen” — I can’t eat meat and fish.

アレルギーあります (…あれるぎーが あります) “…arerugii ga arimasu” — I’m allergic to…

Allergies can be a bit tricky to talk about. State whatever you’re allergic to and add this phrase to the end to inform your listener of your allergies.

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 “…ga haitte imasu ka?” which means, “Are/Is there any … in it?” For example:

が入っていますか? (たまごが はいって いますか?) “tamago ga haitte imasu ka?” — Are there any eggs in it?

おいしいです! “oishii desu!” — 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, which is a casual and manly way to say something is delicious.

For everyone else, oishii is a wonderful way to say something tastes great. If you’re just eyeballing a slice of cake, then oishisou, meaning “It looks delicious,” could be useful too!

まずいです “mazui desu” — It’s terrible

Hopefully, you won’t need to use this phrase!

お腹一杯です (おなかが いっぱい です) “onaka ga ippai desu” — I’m full

Is your friend trying to make you try one more dish? Say this to let him know you can’t eat another bite! 

お勘定/お会計お願いします (おかんじょう/おかいけい、おねがい します) “okanjou/okaikei, onegai shimasu” — Check, please

If you want to split the bill, you can opt for one of these phrases: 

割り勘にしてください。 (わりかんにしてください。) “warikan ni shite kudasai” —  Split the check, please.

別々でお願いします。(べつべつでおねがいします。) “betsubetsu de onegaishimasu” — We’ll pay separately, please.

いただきます “itadakimasu” — Let’s dig in

This is used before digging into your meal.

Although itadakimasu 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 itadakimasu at the beginning of every meal.

ごちそうさまでした “gochisousama deshita” — Thanks for the meal

After you’ve finished that scrumptious bowl of squid-ink noodles, you can end your meal with gochisousama deshita. Like itadakimasu, this phrase is a fixture at every meal.

Survival Japanese: Vocabulary for Travel

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Now that you’ve had something to eat, it’s time to start exploring! These handy phrases will give you what you need to get around Japan and, in case of an emergency, ask for help. 

すみません、地下鉄/はどこですか?(すみません、ちかてつ/えきはどこですか?) “sumimasen, chikatetsu/eki wa doko desu ka” — Excuse me, where’s the subway/station?

Trains and subways are the primary mode of transportation in Japan, so you’ll need to use this to figure out where you’re supposed to board. 

この電車は…駅に止まりますか?Does this train stop at…station?

To find out if the train you’re looking at goes to Shibuya or Shinjuku, use this to ask for guidance. If you’re on a bus, you can ask:

このバスは…に行きますか?(このばすは…にいきますか) “kono basu wa…ni ikimasu ka” — Does this bus go to…?

タクシーのりばはどこですか?Where is the taxi platform?

Although expensive, taxis are a handy way of getting where you need to go if the trains aren’t running or if you don’t trust yourself to navigate. 

…まで連れて行ってください。Please take me to…

If you’re going to your hotel, a restaurant or the place you agreed to meet your friends, use this phrase to tell the taxi driver where you want to go. It may also serve you well to have the address written down somewhere and hand it to them. 

予約をしたいのですが。(よやくをしたいのですが) “yoyaku wo shitainodesuga” — I’d like to make a reservation.

Use this phrase to check into a hotel or a restaurant. If you’ve made a reservation in advance, you can say:

予約しています。(よやくしています。) “yoyaku shiteimasu — I have a reservation.

チェックアウトは何時ですか?(ちぇっくあうとはなんじですか?) “chekkuauto wa nanji desu ka” — What time is checkout?

Be sure to use this phrase so you know when you need to leave your room!

道に迷ってしまいました。(みちにまよってしまいました。) I’m lost.

Uh-oh, looks like you got a bit turned around! Not to worry, a friendly passerby will be sure to help you out if you tell them this.

たすけて“tasukete” — Help!

This is used for emergencies, like in an accident or you’re in real danger. To ask for everyday help, you can say:

手伝ってくれませんか?(てつだってくれませんか?) “tetsudatte kuremasen ka” — Could you help me? 

警察/救急車を呼んでください。(けいさつ/きゅうきゅうしゃをよんでください。) “keisatsu/kyuukyuusha wo yondekudasai” — Please call the police/ an ambulance.

Bad things happen when we least expect them, and they happen in Japan, too. This phrase will get you the help you need.

Here’s a useful note: the emergency numbers in Japan are 119 for an ambulance and 110 for the police. 

Japanese Phrases for Social Gatherings

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Show your friends and colleagues you know how to have fun with these phrases during social gatherings.

食べましょう (たべましょう) “tabemashou” — Let’s eat

When planning a fun day out with friends, there are a few casual phrases to use when discussing plans. If you decide to have lunch, state tabemashou!

飲みましょう (のみましょう) “nomimashou” — Let’s drink

You can also suggest grabbing a drink by using this phrase.

行きましょう (いきましょう) “ikimashou” — Let’s go

Once your plans are decided, it’s time to head out by saying this one!

やったー“yatta” — Yay!

Are you excited that you’ve made plans to meet up? This word, expressed enthusiastically, will get that point across.

乾杯! (かんぱい!) “Kanpai” — Cheers!

Once the party has begun, it’s essential to clink your glasses together and say kanpai!

You say this phrase before drinking, not after.

嬉しいです (うれしい です) “Ureshii desu” — I’m happy

Meeting up with friends is a fun experience. Express your joy at your gathering with this phrase, before or after you’ve had a few drinks.

お代わりください (おかわりを ください) “okawari o kudasai” — Refill, please

Once you’ve started drinking and want a refill, state okawari o kudasai.

大丈夫です (だいじょうぶ です) “daijoubu desu” — I’m fine

If you’re done drinking for the night, it’s fine to use the phrase of many meanings, daijoubu desu.

This is another polite way to respectfully say “no.” If the music is too loud, you can also use a non-verbal cue for “no” by covering your glass if someone wants to give you a refill.

Shopping in Japanese

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With the streets brimming with food stalls and vendors, the high-end boutiques lining Ginza and the ultra-cool and unique souvenir shops, there’s no way to avoid shopping while traveling through Japan.

いらっしゃいませ “irasshaimase” — Welcome

You will hear a chorus of irasshaimase! 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.

これは何ですか?(これは なんですか?) “kore wa nan desu ka” — What is this?

This phrase will work no matter what you’re asking about.

これは何というものですか? (これは なんという もの ですか?) “kore wa nan to iu mono desu ka” — What’s this called?

Similar to the phrase above. 

これはいくらですかkore wa ikura desu ka” — How much is this?

If the item you want doesn’t have a price tag on it, simply ask the store clerk this question.

ちょっと高いです (ちょっと たかい です) “chotto takai desu” — It’s a bit expensive

If you haven’t started your adventure of learning Japanese adjectives, then some essential shopping vocabulary is:

安い (やすい) yasui” — cheap, easy

高い (たかい) “takai” — expensive, high

高くない (たかくない) “takakunai” — inexpensive

がありますか? (ほかの いろが ありますか?) “hoka no iro ga arimasu ka” — Do you have another color?

Maybe that shirt would look better in blue rather than red. Use this to ask away.

それを頂きます (それを いただきます) “sore o itadakimasu I’ll take it

Say this, and the clerk will be overjoyed they’ve made a sale!

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?) “kurejitto kaado wa tsukaemasu ka” — Can I use my credit card?

If you’d like to use a traveler’s check, then replace kurejitto kaado with:

トラベラーズチェック (とらべらーず ちぇっく) “toraberaazu chekku” — traveler’s check

Your Suica (スイカ / すいか “suika”) card and Pasmo (パスモ / ぱすも “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? (すいかは つかえますか?) “suika wa tsukaemasu ka” — Can I use my Suica?

包んでいただけますか? (つつんで いただけますか?) “tsutsunde itadakemasu ka” — Can I have it gift wrapped?

Perfect for wrapping up those souvenirs for your friends and family back home! 

Japanese Slang

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Every language has its own unique slang, and Japanese people fling around plenty of their own in conversations! When you’re making friends, you’ll hear tons of these terms going back and forth.

Many slang terms are written in katakana, which marks them as being casual words.

So impress your new pals by jumping right in with these common Japanese slang terms!

ウケる (うける) “ukeru” — Funny, hilarious

Used in situations when something funny happens. Say your friend Kentaro made a great joke—by saying ukeru, you’ll let him know he struck your funny bone.

(ちょう) “chou” — Super

This word is used to add emphasis, like the words “super,” “really” or “very.” You could say, for example, that something is chou ukeru, or very funny.

ダサい (ださい) “dasai” — Lame

This one’s usually used to refer to things that are uncool or not fashionable.

キモい (ださい) “kimoi” — Gross

Kimoi is a contraction of these two words:

気持ち (きもち) “kimochi” — feelins

悪い (わるい) “warui” — bad

It’s used when you see something disgusting, or that gives you the creeps. Try it out the next time you see a spider in the bathtub!

ガチ (がち) “gachi” — Totally, really, seriously

Gachi implies that something actually took place, or was really as intense as the speaker claims.

半端ない (はんぱない) “hanpa nai” — Crazy, insane

Hanpa nai means that something is awesome or insane, but in a good way. After getting off an epic roller coaster, hanpa nai is perfect for describing that thrill!

Japanese Goodbyes: Farewell, Friend. Let’s Keep in Touch.

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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:

メアド教えてもらえますか?(めあどを おしえて もらえますか?) “meado o oshiete moraemasu ka” — 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 (めるあど を おしえて) “meruado o oshiete” — Can I get your e-mail address? (Literally, “teach me your email”)

When someone asks for your keitai no meado or 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 xxxxx@softbank.ne.jp. This is used to communicate and send messages, rather than your phone number.

手紙書くよ (てがみ かくよ) “tegami kaku yo” — I’ll write you letters

Maybe you’re into snail mail! It’s a great chance to practice writing Japanese.

着いたら、電話します/メールします (ついたら, でんわ します/めーる します) “tsuitara, denwa shimasu/meeru shimasu” — I’ll call/email you when I arrive

Let your new friends know you’re safe when you touch down in your home country.

またすぐに来ますよ (また すぐに きますよ) “mata sugu ni kimasu yo” — I’ll be back soon

After your trip to Japan, I’m sure you’ll want to head back as soon as possible!

遊び来てくださいね (あそびに きて くださいね) “asobi ni kite kudasai ne” — Come visit me

If you sincerely want someone to visit you, you can add this additional phrase:

私の家では、いつでもあなたを歓迎します。 (わたしの いえでは、いつでも あなたを かんげいしますよ。) “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 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。([ここ/わたしの いえ では、] あなたは いつでも だいかんげいされる ことを わすれないで 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].

じゃあ、また“jaa, mata!” — See you!

If you’re not going to be waving your handkerchief in a heartfelt goodbye (where さようなら “sayounara” — farewell would be more appropriate), then “jaa, mata!” is a great way to say “see you!”

You can also use these options:

ではまた “dewa mata” — a slightly more polite way to say bye

じゃあね “jaa ne” — See ya

じゃあまた明日ね (じゃあ また あした 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 大阪弁 (おおさか べん) “oosaka ben”Osaka dialect and say:

ほなね hona ne”! — See ya

お元気で (おげんきで) o genki de” — Take care

If “see you” is a little too casual for you, then you can say o genki de, instead. This literally means “be healthy” and can be used to say, “Good luck!”

 

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! (にほんごが じょうず ですね!) “nihongo ga jouzu desu ne!” — You’re good at speaking Japanese!

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