Useful Japanese Phrases Every Traveler Should Know
Arm yourself with these must-know phrases before you take that next trip to Japan
First-time travelers to Japan often fear the language barrier. Afraid of getting lost in translation? While it may sometime pose as a problem, the Japanese are known to go the extra mile. Although you don’t have to, learning some Nihongo could ease up on the communication concerns. You probably already know how to say Thank you (Arigatou!) and Good Day (Konnichiwa), and those sure go a long way, but save these Nihongo phrases on your phone, and you’re good to go!
Sometimes pronounced as “sumasen,” this word translated directly means “excuse me.” Accidentally hit someone on the train? “Sumimasen.” Need to call a waiter? “Sumimasen.” It’s a catch-all word that covers catching someone’s attention, a casual apology, excusing oneself from a conversation, and all things in between.
Kore arimasu ka?
If you’re in Japan for shopping, keep a photo album of your list. Before heading to Don Quixote, Loft or Tokyu Hands, practice this phrase in your head. “Kore arimasu ka?” (pronounced ko-re arimaska?) directly translates as “This, do you have?”
__________ onegai shimasu!
At some point during your trip, you’re going to need something. Whether you need more water or your bill after dinner, here’s the formulaic way to ask. Mizu (water), onegai shimasu. Okanjou (bill), onegai shimasu. This simple phrase translates to “please,” used particularly when asking for something.
__________, doko desu ka?
While most tourist spots have much-needed English signage, some more obscure areas just aren’t that tourist-friendly. If you’re lost or Google Maps isn’t cooperating, this is all the Nihongo you need to know. Follow any location with the question “doko desu ka?” to ask where a certain place is. “Shinsaibashi, doko desu ka?” You’ll find your bearings again in no time.
If you’re being checked on by your server, this is a quick way to let them know that you’re fine and that everything is okay. It’s a casual friendly way of saying everything is good. Turn the tables around and want to ask them if all is good? Turn the phrase into a question and say, “Daijoubu desu ka?”
Eigo ga hanasemasu ka?
If you’re having trouble remembering these phrases, it might be a good idea to start out by asking if they speak English. More often than not, they’ll gesture “little” and say “Chotto” which means “a little bit.
When all else fails? This is all you need to say. Let them know you don’t understand or speak Nihongo.
Pro tip: Here’s an additional pronunciation tip! Some vowels are dropped by native speakers, such as the “U” in “su,” and the “I” in “shi.”
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