40 Survival Japanese Phrases for Basic, Everyday Situations

When learning Japanese, consider what situations you want to be fluent in, whether that’s at the gym or in a job interview, when you’re shopping for clothes or opening a bank account, etc.

When I first thought of moving to Japan, the only words I knew were こんにちは (hello), 三菱 (みつびし – Mitsubishi), and 任天堂 (にんてんどう – Nintendo), though the last one doesn’t really count.

I’d like to offer some “survival Japanese” words and phrases needed for anyone to become on-the-street fluent in Japan.

Pronounced in the correct intonation, these can do wonders for communication.


Greetings and Hellos

Good morning

Good afternoon

Good evening

Good night

How are you?
お元気ですか ?(おげんきですか?)

It’s ______, isn’t it?
Small talk in Japan as in the rest of the world can be initiated by subtly commenting on everyday occurrences like the weather:

暑いですね? (あついですね?) –  It’s hot, isn’t it?
寒いですね? (さむいですね?) –  It’s cold, isn’t it?
良い天気ですね? (いいてんきですね?) –  Great weather, isn’t it?

I’m back!


Goodbyes are very situational in Japan. Though most are familiar with さようなら (goodbye), it’s rare to hear that outside of long goodbyes, for which one party may not see the other for months or years. Katakana English has even infiltrated casual goodbyes, with many women using バイバイ (ばいばい – bye-bye) amongst their friends.

I used most of the following for casual and formal situations, respectively:

Casual goodbyes (among friends, family)

バイバイ (ばいばい)

Good night

Formal goodbyes (among coworkers)

Thank you for a hard day’s work
お疲れ様でした (おつかれさまでした)

Excuse me for leaving before you
お先に失礼します (おさきに しつれいします)

I’m going out
行ってきます (いってきます)

Please come back safely

Goodbye (i.e. I won’t see you for a long time)

Asking for Something

Even the most inept language learner will probably peruse a Japanese phrasebook for a few days in the country and discover quickly that ください (please) is an easy word to pronounce for requests. I’m not against using this “please” at all; on the contrary, it’s a necessary part of the Japanese language and commonly spoken by locals.

However, it requires more than simply one word to ask for something specific. Although the Lawson convenience store worker might take it in stride if you were to simply respond to his query to heat up your bento box with “ください,” and if you were to ask for one pastry by pointing and saying “ください,” you might be understood, but you would definitely be mistaken for a non-native speaker. Consider the following:

Please do…

Please speak slowly.

One, please.
一つください (ひとつ ください。)

As an alternative, you can use:

Please (perform this action)
お願いします (おねがいします)

May I take your order? / A coffee, please.
ご注文はお決まりですか? (ごちゅうもんは おきまりですか?) / コーヒー、お願いします。(こーひー、おねがいします。)

Is a coffee, ok? / Please.
コーヒーでいいですか?(こーひーでいいですか?) / お願いします。(おねがいします。)

This can be used on its own as a request for both actions and objects without necessarily requiring a verb or noun for clarification.

If you’re simply trying to get attention, you can use the following:

Excuse me

This is a polite way of calling someone over (and, in this writer’s opinion, much better than the “you, you, you!” we hear in Southeast Asia).

With the transaction completed, should you just say your goodbyes? Of course not. There are probably chapters upon chapters in any language textbook about the proper way to say “thank you,” but a few phrases will do for new learners:

Thank you (casual)

Thank you (formal)
ありがとうございます, present
ありがとうございました, past

Thank you very much (formal)
どうもありがとうございます, present
どうもありがとうございました, past


We’ve previously summarized aizuchi (相づち, あいづち – back-channeling), the words and sounds necessary to show that one is listening to Japanese conversation. What I would like to expand upon is how useful these phrases are, even if you can’t understand what you’re listening to.

I’ve been able to get through entire conversations over the phone using:

Hello (when answering a call)

Yes (also said to show you’re listening)

Although this doesn’t make it any easier to understand what’s going on, putting native speakers at ease by making them believe you understand provides solid listening practice and opportunities to practice your 相づち.

For example:

1. If you’re asked a question, cock your head to the side and suck air through your teeth.
2. It’s perfectly alright to interrupt people mid-sentence with へー?(oh?) or うそ!(no kidding!)

相づち accounts for a huge percentage of Japanese spoken in public.

On the Street

Where is the _____?
____ はどこですか?
… train station?
駅 (えき)
… bathroom?
トイレ (といれ)

How much is this?

What time is it?
何時ですか? (なんじですか?)

Cheers! (for making toasts)
乾杯! (かんぱい!)

What is this/that?
これは何ですか? (これはなんですか?), when referring to something close to you
それは何ですか? (それはなんですか?), when referring to something close to the listener
あれは何ですか? (あれはなんですか?), when referring to something far away from speaker and listener

In Japan, nothing is said in response to someone sneezing or coughing, with the possible exception of:

お大事に (おだいじに), i.e. I hope you feel better

However, there is no equivalent to “God bless you” when you may hear someone sneeze in public, even between friends. In fact, with face masks prevalent among sick people going to work, you may even notice sneezers avoiding people’s eyes to not draw attention to themselves. Although sneezing is considered a necessary disturbance, blowing one’s nose is extremely coarse.


While it could take a lifetime to become fluent in Japanese for every situation (even for a native speaker!), these phrases should help you get through your basic, everyday situations in Japan.

And if you need a little extra help with any of them, listen to native speakers. Plug them into a pronunciation dictionary like Forvo or look up related videos on YouTube. FluentU also has immersive content, showing you how phrases are used in Japanese media.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

P.S. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

  FluentU Ad

Good luck!

And One More Thing...

If you love learning Japanese with authentic materials, then I should also tell you more about FluentU.

FluentU naturally and gradually eases you into learning Japanese language and culture. You'll learn real Japanese as it's spoken in real life.

FluentU has a broad range of contemporary videos as you'll see below:


FluentU makes these native Japanese videos approachable through interactive transcripts. Tap on any word to look it up instantly.


All definitions have multiple examples, and they're written for Japanese learners like you. Tap to add words you'd like to review to a vocab list.


And FluentU has a learn mode which turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples.


The best part? FluentU keeps track of your vocabulary, and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It'll even remind you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You'll have a 100% personalized experience.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe