Out of nowhere comes a twist you’d never have predicted—not in a million years.
The same thing can happen to unsuspecting Japanese learners.
You think you’ve got all the basics down… and then boom!
Upon finally getting the chance to study abroad or to take a well-deserved vacation to Japan, you might suddenly realize (to your complete and utter horror) that all those conjugations and new vocabulary words you learned were only just the very basics.
You may have no idea how to say most of the words and phrases you actually want to use.
I know, I’ve been there.
To help you be prepared for these curveballs, and save you from too much surprise, I’ve put together this handy list of seemingly random words for seemingly random situations! (Because really, when is life ever not random?)
If you want to add to this list on your own after reading—which isn’t a bad idea—here are some sources for finding even more (seemingly random) everyday words and phrases in Japanese:
Resources for Learning Everyday Japanese
Comic books. Pretty much any comic book will give you lots of useful phrases, but here are some of the most popular, with mostly modern colloquial language:
- “花より男子” (はなより だんご – “Boys Over Flowers”)
- “名探偵コナン” (めいたんてい こなん – “Cased Closed,” or “Detective Conan”)
- “宇宙兄弟”(うちゅう きょうだい – “Space Brothers”)
- “ワンピース” (わんぴーす – “One Piece”)
- “スラムダンク” (すらむだんく – “Slam Dunk”)
Comedies. Since comedy is such a huge part of Japanese culture, here are a few comedy shows that will help you get a better understanding of Japanese humor:
- “ダウンタウンのガキの使いやあらへんで!!” (だうんたうんの がきの つかいや あらへんで！！) — “Gaki no Tsukai” (Literally translated as ‘Downtown I’m Not an Errand Boy!’)
- “ニンゲン観察バラエティ 「モニタリング” (にんげん かんさつ ばらえてぃ「もにたりんぐ- “Ningen Kansatsu (‘Human Observation’) Variety Monitoring”)
- “エンタの神様” (えんたの かみさま – “The God of Entertainment”)
- “アメトーーク” (あめとーーく) – “Ame Talk”) “Ame” comes from the name of the comedians hosting the show.
FluentU. You’ll hear nothing but natural Japanese on FluentU.
That means you get to hear the language as it’s spoken by real native Japanese speakers.
Now that you’re well prepared to continue this journey alone, come along with me and I’ll take you through an average day in Japan!
45 Everyday Japanese Words and Phrases You Probably Forgot to Learn
On Your Morning Run
You’re on your morning run around the neighborhood, the pungent smell of ginkgo making you wince as you pass by an entire row of Maidenhair trees. “銀杏、臭っ!” (ぎんなん、くさっ！- Ginkgo, stinks!), you hear a girl in her high school uniform saying to her boyfriend, too preoccupied with the odor to appreciate the crisp autumn.
But before you know it, you burst out from the thick row of yellow trees, taking in a huge breath of fall. “空気が綺麗!” (くうきが きれい！- The air is fresh!) you think to yourself, as you’re suddenly exposed to the cool briskness of fresh air.
Your goal for the morning is to reach 一万歩 (いちまんぽ – 10,000 steps). Although your friends think it’s weird that you measure your morning runs by steps and not by kilometers, you find the 万歩計 (まんぽけい – pedometer), to be much more beneficial than simply looking at the overall distance.
As you near the end of your run and see your house at the end of the street, you start thinking of all the things you have to do that day. But first things first—a nice, hot morning shower.
Words and phrases for your morning run
- 銀杏 (ぎんなん) — Ginkgo
- 臭っ！(くさっ！) — Smelly, to smell bad. A different form of the word 臭い (くさい ) also meaning smelly/to smell bad. The small 「つ」after the adjective turns it into a much more improper way of expression.
- 空気 (くうき) — Air
- 綺麗 (きれい) — Beautiful. In this case, fresh.
- 一万歩 (いちまんぽ) — 10,000 steps
- 万歩計 (まんぽけい) — Pedometer
Additional words and phrases
If you’re out on a walk or run and see a really cute dog, you might want to pull out this next phrase:
- 可愛いですね、触ってもいいですか？ (かわいい ですね、 さわっても いいですか？) — Your dog is so cute, can I pet it?
- 朝シャン (あさ しゃん) — Morning shampoo. An abbreviation for the words 朝 (あさ) and シャンプー (しゃんぷー).
I’ll walk 2,000 steps today.
You’re sitting in class, twirling your pen between your fingers and half-listening to the professor’s lecture on the history of math. Your phone vibrates, revealing a message on the screen. It’s your friend, Yuki.
She says her 三限 (さんげん – third period) has been announced as 休講 (きゅうこう – class cancellation), and since she now has time to kill, wants to もぐる in your next class, which means sit in on a class you’re not registered for.
When your tedious lecture ends you wait outside the classroom for Yuki. After a few minutes you see her waving and walk over. She asks you how you’re doing, noticing the dark circles under your eyes.
You say one word “徹夜” (てつや – all-nighter). She nods knowingly, saying she had to pull an all-nighter the previous night as well. Next week is finals week, and when you look around you realize everyone pretty much looks like zombies.
Thus, your next class is spent rather “productively,” at least for about a third of the students there. Looking around and seeing others nod off to sleep one by one, you end up in a state of 爆睡 (ばくすい – to be in a deep sleep), no less than 10 minutes into the lecture.
Words and phrases for at school
- 三限 (さんげん) — Third period
- 休講 (きゅうこう) — Class cancellation
- もぐる — Slang for “sitting in a class you’re not registered for.” Taken from the word 潜る (もぐる), meaning “to dive, to submerse/immerse oneself.”
- 徹夜 (てつや) — All-nighter
- 爆睡 (ばくすい) — To be in a deep sleep
Note: A similar word is 爆笑 (ばくしょう), meaning “to laugh hysterically.”
Additional words and phrases
- むずい — Slang for “hard” or “difficult.” Shortened version of 難しい (むずかしい), meaning “difficult.”
- 切る (きる) — Slang for “cutting/ditching class.” From the word 切る (きる), meaning “to cut.”
- パクる (ぱくる) — Slang for “copying.”
Note: A similar word is 口パク (くちぱく), meaning “lip syncing.”
(あしたの さんげん なくなったから、ゆきの じゅぎょうに もぐろっかな。)
My third period class tomorrow was cancelled, so maybe I’ll sit in Yuki’s [to kill time].
You see that your 同僚 (どうりょう – coworker), has been checking his watch every three minutes, his foot tapping impatiently against the floor as he waits for 5:00 p.m. to come along. You look at your own computer screen, at the numerous windows still reveal tasks that are yet to be done.
Wishing you had been more productive that morning, and secretly irritated at your 同僚 for having finished his day’s work so early, you suddenly hear him packing up to leave. You watch as he gets up from his chair and walks toward the door.
As he passes by your desk, he quickly bows his head and says, “お先に失礼します.” (おさきに しつれいします.), which roughly means “Excuse me, I have to/will leave now (before you).” You nod back, saying “お疲れ様です.” (おつかれさま です。), roughly meaning “Thank you for your hard work.”
An hour passes by and you’re still staring at your screen. Suddenly a small window appears at the top of your screen, notifying you of a new email delivered to your inbox. You click on it. “ご無沙汰しております” (ごぶさたしております – It’s been a while), it begins. Reading on you realize that it’s an important client you had worked with about a year ago, contacting you in hopes of working with you again on a new project.
You’re ecstatic, knowing that your boss will be pleased. You immediately reply, beginning with “昨年は大変お世話になりました.” (さくねんは たいへん おせわに なりました。),” roughly meaning, “Thank you for supporting me last year.” Knowing this can potentially be a great opportunity and maybe even a chance for a future promotion, you type each word with care, glad that something good happened during your otherwise excruciatingly long day.
Words and phrases for at work
- 同僚 (どうりょう) — Coworker
- お先に失礼します (おさきに しつれいします) — Roughly meaning “Excuse me, I have to/will leave now (before you).” It is a polite way to say goodbye to your coworkers when you leave the office before them.
- お疲れ様です (おつかれさまです) — Roughly meaning “Thank you for your hard work.” Said to people after they have finished or experienced something into which they put a lot of effort. (i.e. work, sports, after long plane/car rides, etc.)
- ご無沙汰しております (ごぶさたして おります) — A very polite way of saying 久しぶり (ひさしぶり) , and even more polite than お久しぶりです (おしさしぶりです), both meaning “long time no see,” or “it’s been a while.” A useful way to greet a client/customer/superior who you have not talked to or met in a while.
- お世話になっております (おせわに なって おります) — Although there is no direct English translation, it’s used in many different contexts and roughly means “I am grateful/indebted to you,” or “Thank you for always taking care of/supporting me.” Always used in the beginning of business calls and emails.
(きょうは どうしても はずせない ようじが あるので、おさきに しつれいします。)
I have an important appointment today, so I’ll be leaving early.
On the Train
You’re off to see your relatives for a big family get-together, and since your aunt’s house isn’t too far from your workplace, you use your 定期 (ていき – commuter’s pass) to get on the train. Glad to see an empty seat, you sit down and pull out the 文庫本 (ぶんこぼん), which is the smallest and most common-sized book sold in Japan, and is always in your bag.
At the third stop you see an elderly woman with a cane getting on, and seeing that there aren’t any more open seats, you stand up and say, “どうぞ、座って下さい.” (どうぞ、すわってください. – Please, have a seat.) The woman smiles and thanks you, and you spend the rest of the way to your aunt’s 最寄駅 (もより えき – closest station), standing near the doors and reading your 文庫本.
But by the time you get there the train is packed, and you end far from the doors and having to push your way through the crowd, repeating the words “すみません、降ります.” (すみません、おります. – Excuse me, I’m getting off), until you finally make it out onto the platform.
Words and phrases for on the train
- 定期券 (ていきけん) — Commuter’s pass. A necessity to anyone with a daily commute. More often people will omit “券” and simply say “定期”
- 文庫本 (ぶんこぼん) — The smallest and most common-sized book sold in Japan.
- どうぞ、座って下さい(どうぞ、すわって ください) — “Please, have a seat.” Said when giving your seat to someone. Although most people will gladly take your seat and appreciate your kindness, there will be people that prefer to stand.
- 最寄り駅 (もより えき) — The closest station. Used primarily when giving directions.
- すみません、降ります (すみません おります) — “Excuse me, I’m getting off (this is my stop).” Useful when you’re trying to get off of crowded trains.
- 痴漢です！(ちかん です！) — “There’s a molester!” Unfortunately, this is a necessary phrase to remember in case you see someone getting molested on the train, or, if you are ever a victim of a molester. This happens more often than most people would think, and in fact most Japanese girls have been a victim of a molester at least once.
- 落し物 (おとしもの) — Lost item. Useful for when you find a forgotten item on the train, or when somebody drops something during their rush to catch a train.
Excuse me, you dropped this!
At a Restaurant
Your 社長 (しゃちょう – president or CEO of a company) takes you out to lunch and you’re a little bit nervous, hoping he won’t call you out on anything you could possibly be held accountable for. Knowing you need to be on your best and most polite behavior, you ask your waiter “お冷を二つ、いただけますか?” (おひやを ふたつ、いただけますか? – May I have two glasses of water, please?), after you both have sat down.
You look down at the menu and notice that both the prices and actual food are drastically different from what you normally eat for lunch, which is usually ラーメン (らーめん – ramen) at ラーメン二郎 (らーめん じろう), which is a ramen restaurant that has a cult following, near the office. It’s your favorite ラーメン place, where like a lot of other restaurants, your ラーメン is heavily “customizable,” meaning you can choose the hardness of the noodles, the thickness of the soup and what kind of toppings you want.
But the food menu in your hands now lists expensive lunch meals of sashimi and grilled fish. You decide to order the sashimi meal. After you’ve both finished and had a quick post-lunch smoke, your 社長 waves his hand and calls the waiter, saying “お勘定をお願いします.” (おかんじょうを おねがいします. – May I have the check, please?)
Even though eating with him is always nerve-racking, it always comes with the perk of not having to pay for lunch.
Words and phrases for at work
- 社長 (しゃちょう) — President or CEO of a company
- お水/お冷 (おみず/おひや) — Water; both are used interchangeably
- ラーメン — Ramen
- ラーメン二郎 (らーめん じろう) — A ramen restaurant that has a cult following. The reasons for their popularity are their oily soup and enormous topping portions you can enjoy, depending on how you customize your order. In this way, each ramen restaurant has different ways of ordering a bowl of ramen, and each restaurant has a culture that is uniquely their own.
- お勘定/お会計/チェック (おかんじょう/おかいけい/ちぇっく) — Check/bill; used interchangeably. However, チェック is most likely used the least when speaking to waitstaff.
(さきに おひやを いただけますか？)
May I have a glass of water first (before ordering)?
Out Drinking with Friends
It’s been a long Friday and you’re on your way to the local bar, ready to drink the night away with your friends. All college freshmen, you and your friends have learned a few more ways to enjoy your beers and various array of spirits. You’re the last one to arrive, and a コール (こーる) begins the moment you sit down, which is a type of chant that occurs at the drinking table among friends.
The spotlight of the コール is placed on you, since you ended up being ten minutes late. The special コール calls for 一気 (いっき), which means to chug your entire drink all at once, something your week was stressful enough to make you do with joy. You chug your beer—kindly ordered for you beforehand—and then throw back a friend’s shot of whiskey when you’re done.
“おいおい、あんま無理すんなよ!” (おいおい、あんま むり すんなよ！- Hey, hey! Don’t push yourself too hard!), another friends says, both amused at your enthusiasm for alcohol and a little bit worried about the speed at which you’re downing the drinks.
You put the now-empty glass down, grinning from ear to ear, already feeling buzzed. Your friends are thoroughly entertained and the drinking party officially starts. It’s been a long day, but you have a feeling it’s going to be one heck of a night.
Words and phrases for drinking with friends
- コール (こーる) — A type of chant that occurs at the drinking table among friends
- 一気 (いっき) — To chug your entire drink all at once. It can also be a コール (ex. 一気！一気！) that forces one person to chug his/her drink as everyone cheers him/her on.
Note: There are various issues surrounding how young people drink in Japan, as many aren’t aware of their alcohol tolerance level and drink far too much at once, ultimately dying of alcohol poisoning. In Tokyo alone, over 10,000 people are hospitalized every year due to alcohol poisoning, and over 90 people under 35 lose their lives.
- おいおい — “Hey hey!” It’s a relatively masculine phrase, used more often by men.
- あんま — Used interchangeably with あんまり or あまり, all roughly meaning “too much.” It can also mean “not really,” such as when asked if you are hungry or not.
- 無理/無茶 (むり/むちゃ) — Impossible/absurd.
(のみかいで こーる ばっか やるから、けっこう きついんだよね．．．)
All we are do are drinking calls so it’s pretty rough…
Telling a Funny Story
You’ve recently met a new group of friends and, to your luck, just heard your brother tell a hilarious joke that morning. Of course you totally forget that you’re terrible at telling jokes, and decide to steal your brother’s joke for the sake of impressing your new friends.
Little did you know that they would be a pretty tough crowd to please. You’re nearing the punchline, but as you look around your friends’ faces, they still look far from impressed. You start to panic. You end up telling the joke completely wrong.
You stop talking, and your friends keep staring expectantly. When you make a vague gesture indicating that you’re done, one of them says, “オチは?” (おちは – Where’s the funny part?) Feeling your face burn, your brain turns to jello and you look down, embarrassed.
Luckily, your other friends don’t seem to mind. “ドンマイ!” (どんまい！- Don’t worry!) they say as they pat you on your shoulder, laughing. They even go on to joke that they’ll let this disastrous attempt at being funny go just this once, the reason being that you’re always ノリが良い (のりが いい), meaning you’re humorous and willingly go along with other people’s jokes.
Words and phrases for telling a funny story
- オチは？ (おち は？) — “What’s the point?” or, more precisely, “Where’s the funny part?”
- ドンマイ！(どんまい！) — A literal abbreviation of the English words “don’t mind.” It means “don’t worry,” and is often used as a way of cheering somebody up after a mishap.
- ノリが良い/悪い (のりが いい/わるい) — Although no direct English translation exists, ノリ can be described as humor, or groove. When someone is described as ノリが良い, it means they are humorous and willingly go along with other people’s jokes.
Additional words and phrases
- ノリツッコミ (のり つっこみ) — One of the many styles of Japanese humor used by comedians and in daily conversations. ノリツッコミ is when somebody begins saying something completely absurd, then humorously but deftly corrects themselves and makes a joke of their idiocy before anyone else does.
- 空気を読む (くうきを よむ) — “Reading the room.” Directly translated as “reading the atmosphere.” Not only used during fun conversations, but in virtually every situation you might come across in Japan, such as at meetings and on dates.
- __並みに___じゃん (__なみに__じゃん) : “You’re as — as —.” (“You’re as hilarious as Chris Rock,” “You crack jokes like a pro,” etc.)
And your point is…?
Note: で？is a shorter version of それで？and sounds more harsh.
Now you’re all set for a wide range of everyday situations. What else might you need to say on an average day in Japan?
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