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Ten Simple Japanese Phrases that will Make Your Trip to Japan Easier

Dec 18, 2018

Japanese is a difficult language for native English speakers. The differences between Japanese and English are vast, so it takes years of intensive study before someone can be considered fluent.

No one expects you to study for years before coming to Japan for a trip though! Even if you are not fluent in Japanese, you can still get around most parts of Tokyo with English. However, if you want to communicate with the locals more smoothly, here are ten phrases that we think might help you in your travels around Japan.

A Note on Japanese Pronunciation

All Japanese words include what English speakers recognize as a vowel. Unlike English, where “a” can be pronounced in a variety of ways (such as “ah” as in “apple” or “ay” as in “cake”), Japanese vowel sounds are the same in every word.

Japanese vowel pronunciation: 
A – Ah (as in “Augmented”)
E – Eh (as in “Everybody”)
I – E (as in “Egypt”)
O – Oh (as in “Orange”)
U – Ooh (as in “Crude”)

It’s difficult to convey pronunciation with text, so check out this cute song on Youtube to listen for yourself. Now let’s get on to the phrases!

Getting Around

1) Sumimasen 
Excuse me
This is a great way to get people’s attention. If you need to ask someone for directions or information, this is the perfect opener!

2) OO wa doko desu ka?
Where is OO?
If you’re looking for something, this is a simple way to ask. Most Japanese people can understand simple English vocabulary, so saying something like “Station wa doko desu ka” would be understandable (the Japanese word for station is “eki” if you do want to say that!)

3) Arigato (gozaimasu) 
Thank you (very much)
After you have gotten the information you need, it is of course nice to say thank you!

Shopping

4) (Kore wa) Ikura desu ka?
How much (is this)?
Starting this phrase with a “sumimasen” would be the perfect way to ask about the price of an item!

5) Menzei dekimasu ka? 
Can I get tax-free service?
People with a temporary visitor visa (90 days or less) are eligible for tax-free service. Tax-free service in Japan is only available when you spend 5,000 yen at one time, so please don’t ask this question if you’ve spent less than that! You also must bring your original passport so the staff can check your visa.

Eating

In restaurants in Japan, the wait staff will not come unless you call them over. Get the staff’s attention by raising your hand and calling out “sumimasen” when you are ready to order. Some restaurants will have a button you can use to get their attention, so check to make sure that there isn’t one before calling out.

6) OO to OO to OO kudasai.
OO and OO and OO please.
The best way to order in Japan is by pointing at the menu item you would like and saying the name. It’s common for Japanese people order like this so the staff doesn’t make a mistake! If you’re ordering more than one item, you can connect them with “to” (and). Don’t forget that “to” is pronounced like “toe” and not “two”! When you’ve told the wait staff your final request, finish it off with a “kudasai” for maximum politeness.

7) (Toriaezu) Ijou desu.
That’s all (for now).
Once you have ordered, the wait staff will likely ask “Ijou desu ka?” (Is that all?) If you’re finished ordering, tell them “ijou desu”. If you think you’ll be ordering more later, add “toriaezu” (for now) to let them know you might be calling them again soon.

8) Oishikatta (oishii) 
It was delicious (This is delicious)
After you have eaten the meal, if you enjoyed it you can tell the staff “oishikatta” to let them know you enjoyed the meal. Note that this is past tense though – if you’re in the middle of eating, “oishii” would be more appropriate.

Other Phrases

9) Ii ne! 
Nice!
On Facebook in English-speaking countries, people “like” posts. In Japan, they “ii ne” posts. If you think something is great, let them know with a hearty “ii ne!”

10) OO shushin desu. 
My home country is OO.
You will likely be asked what country you are from. If you want to tell people when you are from use this phrase!

Don’t be afraid to communicate directly with the locals! Tokyo is an especially welcoming place for tourists. As long as you are doing your best to respect your surroundings, you’re sure to have a great time!

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