I had never been more nervous in my life.
Staying with an actual Japanese family as their homestay daughter seemed so scary to me at first.
Here I was, relatively new to Japan, having studied in Tokyo for a measly three months using mostly textbooks, and now I was expected to know how to behave when in a household of native Japanese people.
There were so many rules, many of which I wasn’t aware, not to mention the numerous words and phrases I had yet to learn.
My previous three months hadn’t taught me much about actual conversation, and I was a tiny bit terrified of the coming ordeal.
Lucky for you, I’ve used my learning experiences to put together this list of easy-to-learn words and phrases that will save you in a variety of everyday situations.
Chances are that you might stay in a Japanese household at some point, whether it’s because a friend has offered you a place to stay, or you’re participating in a culture exchange or homestay program.
And when that happens, whether you need to delicately handle cultural differences, explain that you’ve forgotten an important household rule or want to talk about food (particularly useful if you’re anything like me and you ALWAYS want to talk about food), these phrases have you covered.
13+ Useful Words and Phrases for a Fabulous Japanese Homestay
Meeting for the First Time
As with anyone, it’s important to make a good first impression, and what better to way to that than to introduce yourself properly in real Japanese? Here are some simple greetings to get you started.
1. よろしくお願いします (よろしく おねがいします)
This is the Japanese equivalent of “Nice to meet you,” although its literal meaning is more along the lines of “regards.” It’s also used in other situations. It’s nice and polite, and will make a good impression on your new family.
2. 私は＿＿＿＿です (わたしは＿＿＿＿です)
This means “I am _____.” You can first use this to tell them your name, e.g. 私はポールです (わたしは ぽーる です — I am Paul), but this sentence pattern can also be used for any adjectives.
For example, cold (寒い —さむい ), happy (嬉しい —うれしい ), sleepy (眠い — ねむい), and so on.
3. 私は＿＿＿＿から来ました (わたしは＿＿＿＿から きました)
This means “I’m from _____”. Simply use this to describe what country you’re from. Here’s a list of some countries in Japanese:
- United Kingdom — イギリス (いぎりす)
- United States of America —アメリカ (あめりか)
- Australia — オーストラリア (おーすとらりあ)
- Germany — ドイツ (どいつ)
- China — 中国 (ちゅうごく)
- Korea — 韓国 (かんこく)
Many others, such as Canada (カナダ/かなだ), France (フランス/ふらんす) and Spain (スペイン/すぺいん), sound almost identical in Japanese. If you’ve no idea how to say your country’s name, say it in English–chances are, they’ll understand where you mean.
Hint: It’s a good idea to prepare an おみやげ (gift) for your family for when you first meet them. This could be something from your country, or even something from the town you’re staying at. They will appreciate it.
Japanese Phrases for Mealtimes
An important scenario that you’ll definitely run into is eating food! Chances are that your homestay family will want to cook for you, have you try Japanese cuisine, and find out what you like and don’t like. Here are some lifesaving phrases for you to try during mealtimes, as well as vocabulary you might need.
いただきます is said before eating, and literally means “I will receive it.” Make sure you say this before you eat or drink anything at the table. Your family might say it all together or individually—but either way, make sure you say it audibly before you dig in.
It’s usually said right before you start to eat, so make sure everyone’s ready and sitting down before you say it, so as not to look impatient.
ごちそうさまでした means “Thank you for the meal,” and is said after eating to communicate that you enjoyed your meal and you’re ready to leave the table. Your family will appreciate you using both of the above phrases. You can also say this one as you’re leaving a restaurant.
If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Last Samurai,” you might recognize this phrase, meaning “second serving” or “extra helpings.”
You might hear this phrase rather than use it; your homestay mother will probably cook a lot of food, and be delighted to give you extras if you’re still hungry.
You can graciously accept an offer of a second serving by saying “はい、お願いします (はい、おねがいします — Yes, please)” or politely decline by saying “いいえ、結構です (いいえ、けっこうです — I’m fine, thank you)” or “お腹が一杯です (おなかが いっぱいです — I’m full).”
7. これが食べられません (これが たべられません)
Use this if you stumble across a food you don’t like. Its literal meaning is “I can’t eat this,” which is a little more polite than saying outright “これが好きではありません (これが すきでは ありません — I don’t like this).”
The meaning is the same, though, and will help your homestay parents understand if you’re not keen on a certain food. (And if it happens to be the infamous fermented soybean dish, 納豆 (なっとう), don’t worry, I don’t like 納豆 either!)
8. アレルギー (あれるぎー)
This means “allergy.” Pretty self-explanatory–use it when you’re allergic to something to explain why you’re not eating it.
More Mealtime and Kitchen Japanese Vocabulary
- Chopsticks — 箸 (はし)
- Plate — お皿 (おさら)
- Fork — フォーク (ふぉーく)
- Knife — ナイフ (ないふ)
- Spoon — スプーン (すぷーん)
- A drink — 飲み物 (のみもの)
- Rice — ご飯 (ごはん)
- Delicious — おいしい
- Breakfast — 朝ご飯 (あさごはん)
- Lunch — 昼ご飯 (ひるごはん)
- Dinner — 夕ご飯/晩ご飯 (ゆうごはん/ばんごはん)
- Salty — しょっぱい/塩辛い (しょっぱい/しおからい)
- Spicy — 辛い (からい)
- Sweet — 甘い (あまい)
Evenings and Social Time
Your homestay family will want to spend time with you and take you out, but there will definitely be times when you’re all relaxing at home, perhaps after dinner. Here are some phrases you might need, which include greetings for when you or others are leaving the house or coming home.
Everyone says this when they arrive home–it simply means “I’m back!” If you go out, say “ただいま” when you get back to let everyone know you’ve arrived home safely. If you want to, you can also say it when coming back from the bathroom; it tends to go down well.
This is said in response to “ただいま.” It means something like “Welcome back.” You can use this when someone else gets home, like when your homestay dad returns from work or when a sibling gets back from cram school.
11. お風呂に入ってもいいですか？ (おふろに はいっても いいですか？)
This means “May I take a bath?” In Japan, most families tend to take a bath every night, and you’ll be welcome to have one too if you ask.
If you’d prefer to take a shower (I did) you can just replace the word お風呂 (おふろ — bath) with シャワー (しゃわー — shower). Just make sure you don’t throw the bath water out when you’re done, as the family shares the hot water.
This simply means “Goodnight,” so say it to everyone before you go to sleep. You can also knock off the なさい to make it less formal.
13. 色々ありがとうございました (いろいろ ありがとうございました)
This phrase means “Thank you for everything,” and you can say this when you’re saying goodbye at the end of your stay. It shows your homestay family you’re grateful for everything they’ve done for you in a forward and polite way.
Generally, when a Japanese family opens up their home to a complete stranger–and a 外国人 (がいこくじん — foreigner) nonetheless, you can assume they’re probably going to be pretty nice people. So don’t panic too much about rules and phrases; just enjoy yourself.
I was relaxed with the Tamura family within about twenty minutes of hanging out at their house, and just sort of picked these phrases up along the way.
But armed with these phrases now, you can sound like a pro and shown you’ve put effort into it! This’ll win you some brownie points and give your first impression the absolute best shot it deserves.
Good luck, and 楽しんで下さい (たのしんで ください — enjoy yourself)!
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