Sometimes when we’re studying a language, we can get a bit too caught up in the grammar rules and flashcards.
Actually functioning in daily life—taking our language skills out into the real world, in front of native speakers—can be a totally different, totally scary thing.
In this post, we’ll show you how to pick up essential vocabulary that will help you navigate restaurants, stores, social situations and more.
Memorize these phrases, and not only will daily life in Japan get easier, but you’ll also open the door to communication with native speakers and get on track to fluency.
- Household Vocabulary
- Money and Shopping
- Eating and Cooking
- Special Dietary Requirements
- Greetings and Goodbyes
- Emergency Situations
- Useful Resources for Building Everyday Japanese Vocabulary
Let’s begin at the beginning—at home! It’s good to know some basic words and phrases to describe where you live and what kind of building you live in. Take note of these:
- House: 家 (いえ)
- Apartment: マンション (まんしょん)
- Living room: 居間 (いま) or リビングルーム (りびんぐるーむ)
- Kitchen: キッチン (きっちん) or 台所 (だいどころ)
- Bedroom: 寝室 (しんしつ), or most people tend to say ベッドルーム (べっどるーむ)
- Toilet paper: トイレットペーパー (といれっとぺーぱー)
- Feminine hygiene products: 生理用品 (せいりようひん)
- Toothpaste: 歯磨き粉 (はみがきこ)
- Toothbrush: 歯ブラシ (はぶらし)
- Shampoo and conditioner: シャンプーとコンディショナー (しゃんぷー と こんでぃしょなー)
- I live in (Tokyo): (東京)に住んでいます ((とうきょう)に すんでいます)
- Where do you live?: どこに住んでいますか？(どこに すんでいますか？)
- My address is _____: 私の住所は_____です (わたしの じゅうしょ は_____です)
Money and Shopping
In Japan, the currency is Japanese yen. 100 yen usually comes to around $0.90 to $1.10 USD. If you think of 100 yen as around a dollar when you go shopping, it’s a good way to keep track of your budget.
In shops in Japan, customer service norms require the employees to talk to you, but not directly; they address the customers with things like “welcome!” or “try the strawberries today, they’re half-price!” but you aren’t (usually) required to respond.
Here are some phrases you might hear in a Japanese shop or supermarket, and some handy words you might need.
- Yen: 円 (えん)
- Supermarket: スーパー (すーぱー)
- Convenience store: コンビニエンスストア (こんびにえんす すとあ) or コンビニ (こんびに)
- Post office: 郵便局 (ゆうびんきょく)
- Groceries: 日用品 (にちようひん), literally “daily necessities” or 買い物 (かいもの), meaning “things I’ve bought” or “things to buy”
- Basket: 買い物かご (かいもの かご)
- Shopping cart: ショッピングカート (しょっぴんぐ かーと)
- Free sample: 無料サンプル (むりょう さんぷる)
- Cash register: 会計 (かいけい) or レジ（れじ)
- Welcome: いらっしゃいませ
- Half-price: 半額 (はんがく)
- (This product) is on sale today: 本日は (_) がセールです (ほんじつは (_)が せーるです), or _いかがですか？ literally means “how is it?” and is often used to invite you to take a look at specific products or try a free sample
- I’d like…: ＿をください
- Do you have…?: ＿がありますか？
- Would you like a bag?: 袋に入れますか？(ふくろに いれますか？) (They’ll sometimes give you a bag automatically but will often ask if you would like one)
- Yes, please: はい、お願いします (はい、おねがいします)
- No, thank you: いいえ、結構です (いいえ、けっこうです)
- Number of bags: 一枚 (いちまい) — one, 二枚 (にまい) — two, 三枚 (さんまい)
- That’s (amount), please: (amount) になります
- Here’s your change (+ amount): (amount)をお返しいたします ((amount)をおかえしいたします)
Eating and Cooking
Although you should definitely try out as many restaurants and local cuisines as you can in Japan, you’ll likely be cooking for yourself at some point, even if it’s just toast. Here are some useful Japanese words if you plan on cooking.
- Ingredients: 材料 (ざいりょう)
- Cooking: 料理 (りょうり)
- Readymade meal/TV dinner: お弁当 (おべんとう)
- Rice (raw): 米 (こめ)
- Instant rice (for the microwave): レトルトご飯 (れとると ごはん)
- Vegetables: 野菜 (やさい)
- Fruit: 果物 (くだもの) or フルーツ (ふるーつ)
- Milk: ミルク (みるく) or 牛乳 (ぎゅうにゅう) / soy milk: 豆乳 (とうにゅう)
- Bread: パン (ぱん)
- Pasta: パスタ (ぱすた)
- Meat: 肉 (にく)
- Potatoes: じゃがいも
- Eggs: 卵 (たまご)
- Gram(s): グラム (ぐらむ)
- Kilogram(s): キログラム (きろぐらむ)
- (300) grams of (beef): (牛肉) を (300) グラム ((ぎゅうにく)を(300)ぐらむ)
- Large portion: 大盛り (おおもり)
- Medium portion: 中盛り (ちゅうもり)
- Small portion: 小盛り (しょうもり)
Even if you love cooking, you’d be wise to check out the local eateries in Japan, since there are so many types of food to explore. Eating out in Japan is a whole new experience in itself in terms of culture and etiquette, but for now, let’s check out these useful words and phrases to prepare for when you go.
- Menu: メニュー (めにゅー)
- Dessert: デザート (でざーと)
- Drinks: 飲み物 (のみもの)
- Check: 会計 (かいけい)
- (When you first arrive) How many people?: 何名様ですか？ (なんめいさま ですか？)
- One: 一人 (ひとり)
- Two: 二人 (ふたり)
- Three: 三人 (さんにん)
- Four: 四人 (よにん).
- (To get the server’s attention) Excuse me: すみません or お願いします (おねがいします)
- I’d like the _____ please: _____をください
- Can I have the check, please?: お会計をお願いします (おかいけいを おねがいします)
Special Dietary Requirements
Due to religion or personal beliefs, some people have special dietary requirements that can make them reluctant to eat out. This may be even more true in Japan, if you feel like you can’t explain these requirements in Japanese.
One good thing to know is that many restaurants are becoming more friendly toward dietary restrictions. For example, there are many halal restaurants found in Japan and there are often vegetarian choices in local and chain restaurants.
Here are some useful words so that you’ll have no problem explaining your dietary requirements to the servers, and you can chow down with peace of mind.
- Gluten-free: 無グルテン (む ぐるてん) or グルテンフリー (ぐるてん ふりー)
- Vegetarian: ベジタリアン (べじたりあん)
- Vegan: ビーガン (びーがん)
- Dairy-free: 乳製品無し (にゅうせいひん なし) or 乳製品抜き (にゅうせいひん ぬき)
- Alcohol: お酒 (おさけ)
- Is there _____ in this?: これに _____ が入っていますか？ (これに _____ が はいって いますか？)
- How many calories are in this?: これは何カロリーですか？ (これは なんかろりー ですか？)
Greetings and Goodbyes
Having some friendly greetings and goodbyes in your toolbox will help you make friends and get familiar with your new neighbors or local shopkeepers in Japan—all of which is vital to getting that true immersion experience!
- Good morning/afternoon/evening: おはよう(ございます) / こんにちは / こんばんは
- How are you?/I’m fine: お元気ですか？ (おげんきですか？) / 元気です (げんきです)
- Thank you: ありがとう(ございます)
- See you later: またね or じゃあね
- Cheers! (Before everyone drinks): 乾杯！(かんぱい！)
Japan is a relatively safe country, but emergencies can happen anytime and anywhere. It’s better to be prepared than caught unaware. Hopefully, you’ll never have to use the following words or phrases, but please keep a note of them just in case.
- Police: 警察 (けいさつ)
- Police box (small police station): 交番 (こうばん)
- Ambulance: 救急車 (きゅうきゅうしゃ)
- Fire truck: 消防車 (しょうぼうしゃ)
- Hospital: 病院 (びょういん)
- Please call the police: 警察に電話してください (けいさつに でんわ してください)
- Please help me: 助けてください (たすけて ください)
- I’m injured: 怪我しました (けが しました)
- I’ve lost my wallet: 財布をなくしました (さいふを なくしました)
- My _____ was stolen: 私の _____ が盗まれました (わたしの _____ が ぬすまれました)
Useful Resources for Building Everyday Japanese Vocabulary
To prepare for daily life in Japan, it’s important to get familiar with the latest movies, TV shows and web content. FluentU is a language learning platform that helps you explore interesting videos and actually learn from them.
The program pulls videos from real Japanese sources, like movie trailers, music videos and news clips, and helps you review vocabulary and grammar in context.
Each video comes with interactive subtitles that provide definitions, example sentences and other videos that use a given word.
FluentU also turns each video into a vocabulary quiz and flashcard set to help you drill the new words you’ve picked up. There’s also progress tracking so FluentU can suggest new content based on what you’ve already learned.
If you want to get some practice before a trip to Japan, or are looking to keep up your skills after returning, Tandem will give you authentic conversations with native speakers no matter where you’re located.
Tandem is a language exchange app that connects you with people from all over the world, including Japan. You can send texts, audio messages and photos just like you already do with your phone—and there’s also a built-in language correction tool that lets native speakers fix mistakes in your messages in a friendly way.
It’s a fast, flexible, immersive way to practice your Japanese—and maybe even make some new friends!
White Rabbit Japan
How about a wasabi-flavored Kit Kat with your Japanese learning? White Rabbit Japan is a Tokyo-based exporter of both Japanese language-learning tools and Japanese products ranging from home decor items to cool tech accessories to the famously crazy varieties of Japanese Kit Kats.
Japanese learners will find neatly designed language tools such as practice workbooks, graded readers, flashcard sets and much more. There’s even a Nintendo DS game that’ll help you practice your kanji. Plus, there’s material for all proficiency levels targeted to a range of learning goals such as listening comprehension or grammar.
All in all, White Rabbit Japan is a fantastic place to find resources no matter what your level or learning objectives, plus some fun explorations of the culture and entertainment world of Japan.
Hopefully, this guide will make things a little easier as you get used to your new lifestyle! Living in Japan is an incredible experience, so be sure to use Japanese as often as you can and soak up all the culture and history.