Basic Japanese survival phrases
Top five essential Japanese phrases
- Konnichiwa (kon-nee-chee-wa)
The most common greeting in Japan and the closest translation for ‘hello’ in English. You can use konnichiwa throughout the day but if you want to impress the locals with your ability to both speak Japanese and also recognise the time of day, try switching it up a bit to ‘ohayou’ (pronounced like the US state, Ohio) which means ‘good morning’, ‘konbanwa’ which means ‘good evening’ or even ‘oyasumi’ which means good night.
- Arigatou (ah-ree-gah-toh)
Sounding somewhat similar to the French word for cake (gateaux), we’re sure you won’t forget the Japanese word for ‘thank you’. Use it in the exact same way you’d use it in English and add the word ‘gozaimasu’ (goh-zai-mas) to the end to create ‘arigatou gozaimasu’ or ‘thank you very much’.
- Sumimasen (soo-mee-ma-sen)
Perhaps one of the most commonly used words in the Japanese language, ‘sumimasen’ is a useful word for when you want to say, ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘excuse me’. Bumped into someone on the street? – ‘sumimasen’. Forgot your room key somewhere and need the help of the hotel staff to get back into your room? – ‘sumimasen’.
- Osusume (oh-soo-soo-meh)
Loosely translated to “what’s your recommendation?”, ‘osusume’ is a useful word for when you’re stuck with what to order at a restaurant. Perhaps the menu is all in Japanese and there are no pictures for you to point at what you want, or maybe you just want to know what the chef’s special is so you can try the best local dishes. ‘Osusume’ will help you out.
- Kanpai (can-pie)
Perhaps the most useful words for the rugby-fuelled social situations you find yourself in while in Japan, ‘kanpai’ is the Japanese word for ‘cheers’ and can be used in the exact same way as the English.
Extra supplementary phrases
Once you’ve mastered the above top five survival phrases, chances are you’d like to delve a little further into the Japanese language and try broadening your vocabulary. Below are 11 phrases we’ve put together to really help get the conversation flowing.
Used mostly when asking for a favour from someone, ‘onegaishimasu’ means ‘please’ but with more a hint of ‘I’m asking you to do this favour for me, please’. It can be used as it is (unlike the other word for ‘please’, ‘kudasai’) and is common in work situations, restaurants and anywhere that you’d ask for something but want to be a bit more polite. ‘Would you like water?’- ‘onegaishimasu’- ‘(yes), please’, ‘Can you take me to the station, onegaishimasu?’. Don’t worry too much about where to fit it into a sentence.
With a similar meaning to ‘onegaishimasu’, ‘kudasai’ also means ‘please’ but can only be used when asking for a service that you’re already entitled to, for example ordering a drink ‘bee-roo koo-da-sai’, - ‘beer, please’ or buying a ticket at the train station, ‘Tokyo ma-de no kih-poo koo-da-sai’ – ‘a ticket to Tokyo, please’. As it can only be used for a request that you’re entitled to ask and not necessarily a favour, ‘kudasai’ can only be used in service situations and must be used alongside a verb or noun, unlike ‘onegaishimasu’ which can be used by itself. If you mix them up, don’t worry. Japanese people are very forgiving of language mistakes and will always try their best to help you.
A very useful word for when you’re just stuck for what to say. Meaning both ‘I’m OK’ or ‘it’s OK’, ‘daijoubu’ can be used when you want to express the fact that you’re fine for whatever reason, or also just reply negatively to a question such as ‘Do you need a plastic bag?’- ‘daijoubu’ – ‘no, it’s okay’. It’s pretty much used the same way as the English phrase so use freely.
Pronounced like the English words ‘hi’ or ‘high’, ‘yes’ in Japanese is used exactly as you would use it in English so no need to worry about situational or contextual issues here. One of the best words to use in any language as it opens up all sorts of opportunities and experiences such as, ‘would you like extra cheese on your pizza?’ – ‘hai!’ ‘Do you want to go to the fanzone early and make sure we get a good spot?’- ‘hai!’ Again, let’s try and level it up a bit by adding an ‘onegaishimasu’ or an ‘arigatou’ to create a ‘yes, please. Thank you’.
Now that we’ve covered ‘yes’ in Japanese, let’s take a look at the Japanese word for ‘no’ and how to use it correctly. Japanese people tend to refrain from saying ‘no’ as it can sound too direct, so they often opt for ‘daijoubu’ or ‘it’s OK’ instead. However, there are times when it’s necessary to use ‘iie’. Use it when you want to emphasise a ‘no’ in a friendly situation.
Doko desu ka (doh-koh des-ka)
‘Doko desu ka?’, pronounced ‘doh-koh des-ka’, is the best way to ask where something or someone is in Japanese and essentially means ‘where is it?’. In its simple form, ‘doko’ just means ‘where’ and the ‘desu ka’ is a more polite way of making the listener aware that you’re asking a question and can be omitted if you’re feeling a bit more friendly or just forgot how to say the whole phrase.
Nan desu ka (nan-des-ka)
‘Nan desu ka?’ or ‘What is it?’ – the go-to phrase for when you and your mates are glancing over the Japanese-only menu trying to figure out what you want based on the pictures alone. This phrase will really help you out in a situation where you just want further clarification about something.
Ikura desu ka (ee-ku-ra-des-ka)
If only all things in life were free. Unfortunately, they’re not and so we need to ask the price of things to determine whether or not you really want to buy them. ‘Ikura desu ka?’ is the simplest way of asking ‘how much is it?’ in Japanese and will likely be very handy for all those trips to the pub and the sushi place you’ve had your eye on since you arrived.
Itsu desu ka (ee-tsoo-des-ka)
In case you forget what time the match starts or what time you need to leave your hotel to get the bus to the airport, then ‘Itsu desu ka?’ or ‘when is it?’ will help you in this situation. If you want to get even fancier, ‘nan ji desu ka’ (nan-ji-des-ka), meaning ‘what time is it?’, will be just as useful.
Eigo dekimasu ka (ey-goh-deki-mas-ka)
Come to a wall with your Japanese and want to find out if the other person speaks English? ‘Eigo dekimasu ka?’ is the easiest way to ask while still being polite and we’re sure will prove to be a very useful phrase during your time in Japan where English speakers can be hard to come by outside of tourist hot spots.
Nihongo dekimasen (nee-hon-goh-deki-mas-en)
The fool-proof get-out-of-jail card for when you really need it. Use ‘nihongo dekimasen’ or ‘I can’t speak Japanese’ when you’re in a tricky situation and can’t understand what someone is saying. The small percentage of non-Japanese living in Japan means that most Japanese people will assume you’re a tourist and will more often than not be very patient with you and will try their best to communicate in a way that you can understand.
And there you have it. Some everyday phrases that will be useful for your trip to Japan during Rugby World Cup 2019. Keep them to hand and why not practice a little before you arrive or even try some of these out on the plane? Preparation is key to any trip and we’re confident that these phrases will make communication flow that little bit smoother for you during your time here.