Japanese 101

The most intimidating thing about traveling to Japan is the language barrier. After taking four years of Japanese in school, we were so happy to finally put that knowledge to use during our trip to Tokyo, Japan. But during the trip, much less Japanese was required than expected. Good news! You don’t need to know much Japanese to get around in Japan!

Over the years, Japan has become more tourist friendly. Most restaurants will have an English menu or at least pictures for you to see what the dish looks like so you’re not ordering blindly. At most attractions you’ll find signs directly translated into English or multiple languages, and all transportation signs have the Japanese words romanized as well.

If you need to ask someone for directions, Japanese people are super helpful and will typically go out of their way to assist you even if they don’t understand English. But knowing a few useful Japanese phrases will go a long way. Here are 15 useful Japanese phrases to know before traveling to Japan

Useful Japanese Phrases

We’ll start with the basics and move onto the more difficult stuff.
Treat letters that are in parenthesis as silent. 




Good morning

Ohayou gozaimasu
O-ha-yō(u) go-zai-mas(u)

Good evening




Thank you

Arigatou gozaimasu
A-ri-ga-to(u) go-zai-mas(u)

Nice to meet you


Excuse me


I’m sorry

Gomen nasai
Go-men na-sai

I don’t understand


Do you speak English?

Eigo o hanasemasu ka?
Ei-go o ha-na-se-mas(u) ka?

How much is it?

Ikura desu ka?
I-ku-ra des(u) ka?

I like _________. // I like ice cream
_________が好きです // アイスクリームが好きです

_________ ga suki desu // aisukurimu ga suki desu
_________ ga su-ki des(u) // ai-su-ku-rī-mu ga su-ki des(u)

_________, please. // Ice cream, please.
_________をください // アイスクリームをください

_________ o kudasai // aisukurimu o kudasai
________ o ku-da-sai // ai-su-ku-rī-mu o ku-da-sai

Where is _________? // Where is the toilet
_________はどこですか? // トイレはどこですか?

_________ wa doko desu ka? // Toire wa doko desu ka?
_________ wa do-ko des(u) ka? // Toi-re wa do-ko des(u) ka?

Please and thank you

Yoroshiku onegaishimasu
Yo-ro-shi-ku o-ne-gai-shi-mas(u)

If you use this term, Japanese people will love you. There really isn’t a direct translation of yoroshiku onegaishimasu, but please and thank you sums it up fairly well. Use this phrase to formally thank someone, or even as a formal “nice to meet you” after introducing yourself. 

Consider taking a language lesson while visiting Tokyo, Japan! We had the chance to check out EBISU Japanese Language School and did a brief 1-hour level one lesson. Even though we already knew some Japanese, it was quite refreshing to review! We recommend doing the lesson at the beginning of your trip so that you have the chance to apply and use what you learned during the reminder of your trip. For more information, visit their website.

Did you find these phrases useful?

Comment below!

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  1. Thank you so much. This is so helpful. I am the most nervous about needing to learn Japanese, but this definitely helps. Especially writing out the pronunciations. Will come in handy when we go to Japan in 2020

  2. I love Japan! I went there in December 2016, then again in April, looking to go again in December 2017. <3 I will say, I didn’t really speak to random people on the street, but I appreciated that most menus have pictures.

    At bars, the younger crowd knew a smattering of English or were fluent, and I assume as part of gearing up for Olympics 2020 there is a lot more romaji and English translation on signs. That being said, definitely less so the further out you travel from Tokyo. Thanks for the sharing!

    1. Haha, seems like you can’t get enough of Japan! Me neither 😉 I’m going back this fall!

  3. I only know Hello, Bye and Good evening, and I guess another important phrase I need to know is "
    Do you speak English." I have heard it is hard to travel in Japan if you do not speak Japanese, but glad it is not the case.

  4. Wakarimasen is my favorite Japanese phrase! My boyfriend could have used this when he visited Japan last year. I think he just resorted to pointing and hoping people spoke English. 😛

    Thanks for the helpful post!

    1. I love saying wakarimasen! A lot of Japanese words/phrases are honestly just so fun to say.

  5. Hi! Great idea! It is always useful to know a bit of language when you arrive in a country! And the pronunciation tip helps a lot!! 🙂

    1. Thank you! The pronunciation is necessary since every vowel over there is pretty much a different syllable.

  6. Thanks so much for the essential phrases – my husband and I are traveling to Japan next week (he for business, me tagging along). The trip came up quickly so we haven’t had time to do much research and planning – I will practice the phrases as much as I can to get ready!

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