20 Essential Japanese Phrases for Travelers to Japan

japan travel phrases

If you’re planning a trip to Japan and are concerned about the language barrier, we’ve got you covered with these essential Japanese phrases for travelers. In this guide, we’ll introduce you to a selection of key words and phrases, and explain why the Japanese language barrier is not as worrisome as you might think.

Download our Free Japanese Phrasebook:

Originally written in 2014, this post was updated and republished on November 1, 2019.

crocodile-tomare-stop-japanese-language

The Most Essential Japanese Words & Phrases for Your Trip to Japan

Learning Japanese may seem daunting, but don’t worry. You don’t need to learn any of these words or phrases to have a great time in Japan. However, making a little linguistic effort can go a long way, and it can be helpful to learn even a few words of the local language for your travels. We’ve narrowed it down to a small selection of key words and phrases, divided by category:

  1. The Basics: Key Japanese Words and Phrases
  2. Food and Drink: Eating Your Way Around Japan
  3. Now or Later: Time-Related Phrases in Japanese
  4. Getting Around Japan: Transportation-Related Phrases

Here is a quick look at the words and phrases you’ll find below:

Top 20 Essential Japanese Travel Phrases:

  1. Konnichiwa (こんにちは) – Hello
  2. Arigatou Gozaimasu (ありがとうございます) – Thank you
  3. Sumimasen (すみません) – Excuse me
  4. o Kudasai (をください) – I would like __, please
  5. wa Doko Desu ka? (はどこですか) – Where is __?
  6. Itadakimasu (いただきます) – An expression of gratitude for the meal you’re about to eat
  7. Omakase de (お任せで) – Used to order chef’s recommendation (often for sushi)
  8. O-sake (お酒) – General term for alcohol
  9. Nihonshu (日本酒) – Japanese sake
  10. Kinen Seki (禁煙席) – Non-smoking seat
  11. Ima Nanji Desu ka? (今何時ですか) – What time is it now?
  12. Nanji ni? (何時に?) – At what time?
  13. Asa (朝) – Morning
  14. Kyou (今日) – Today
  15. Ashita (明日) – Tomorrow
  16. ni Ikitai (に行きたい) – I want to go to __
  17. Tomete Kudasai (止めてください) – Stop, please
  18. Kippu (切符) – Ticket
  19. Shinkansen (新幹線) – Bullet train
  20. Dono Densha? (どの電車?) – Which train?

If you’re concerned about memorizing all these Japanese phrases, or want to learn even more words and phrases, download Boutique Japan’s Tiny Phrasebook for free. And for an introduction to how to say these words and phrases, see our bonus video to help you practice your Japanese pronunciation.

Basic Japanese Words and Phrases

Let’s start with a few of the most basic-yet-essential Japanese words and phrases. Even if you only remember how to say hello or thank you, you’ll find that Japanese people will appreciate your efforts.

1. Konnichiwa (こんにちは) – Hello

Let’s start with one you’ve probably heard before: the word for hello is konnichiwa. Konnichiwa is typically used during the day, and there are other phrases for good morning and good evening (ohayou gozaimasu, and konbanwa, respectively). But when you’re starting out, it’s best to keep things simple, and if you simply learn konnichiwa, you can use it throughout the day to say hello!

2. Arigatou Gozaimasu (ありがとうございます) – Thank you

In Japan, etiquette is no joke, and chances are you’ll be saying thank you a lot. The word for thank you in Japanese is arigatou gozaimasu. You can usually simply say arigatou, which is a little more casual but usually perfectly fine. In Japan, where politeness is such a key part of the culture, you’ll be saying arigatou gozaimasu a lot!

3. Sumimasen (すみません) – Excuse me

Excuse me is an important expression in any language, and Japanese is no exception. The word for excuse me in Japanese is sumimasen. Chances are you’ll also be using this one quite a bit, so if you can try and memorize it! It’s a doubly useful word, as it can be used both to get a person’s attention, and also to apologize.

4. o Kudasai (をください) – I would like __, please

Now that we’ve covered three basic essentials, we can move onto two key sentences that will hopefully help you a lot. First is “I would like , please.” This is useful in a variety of situations: at restaurants, in stores, and on many other occasions you’ll encounter while traveling. In Japanese, it’s o kudasai (simply fill in the __ [blank] with the item of your choice). To get the most out of this phrase, you may want to learn a few vocabulary words, such as water (mizu), beer (biiru), sake, and others you think you may need.

5. wa Doko Desu ka? (はどこですか) – Where is __?

Last but not least, we think it’s quite useful to be able to ask “Where is the ?” This is useful even if you can’t understand the answer because once you ask, people will be able to point you in the right direction, or even help you get to where you’re going! In Japanese, it’s wa doko desu ka? (simply fill in the __ [blank] with the place you’re trying to reach, such as the Ghibli Museum). One key vocabulary word that often goes along with this phrase for travelers is eki, which means station (for example, Shinjuku eki is Shinjuku station).

Eating Your Way Around Japan: Food and Drink Phrases

For many travelers, Japanese food is a top priority! From classic Tokyo sushi restaurants to the legendary food culture of Okinawa, there’s a lot to take in. For alcohol aficionados, Japan also offers sake, Japanese whisky, shochu, and other traditional beverages. While you don’t need to speak any Japanese to enjoy eating and drinking in Japan, these key words and phrases will help you make the most of your culinary experiences.

6. Itadakimasu (いただきます) – An expression of gratitude for the meal you’re about to eat

Certainly not required, but if you say itadakimasu before you begin eating, whether in a restaurant or at a person’s home, they will surely be impressed with your manners. Essentially, this phrase expresses humility and thanks for the meal you are about to enjoy.

7. Omakase de (お任せで) – Used to order chef’s recommendation (often for sushi)

If you’re a passionate sushi enthusiast, you probably already know the meaning of omakase. When you tell a chef omakase de, you’re letting them know that you’re placing the meal in their hands. Especially for travelers with adventurous palates, this is the best way to experience a meal at a Tokyo sushi shop, for example. However, the phrase is not only used at sushi restaurants, and can often be used at other types of establishments as well.

8. O-sake (お酒) – General term for alcohol

Technically osake, this word has tripped many non-Japanese speakers up! While in English the word sake means, well, sake, in Japanese the word sake — more politely, osake — refers to alcoholic beverages in general.

9. Nihonshu (日本酒) – Japanese sake

See above for the distinction between sake and nihonshu!

10. Kinen Seki (禁煙席) – Non-smoking seat

Encountering cigarette smoke is somewhat of an unavoidable aspect of traveling around Japan. This being said, most of our travelers are quite averse to smoke, and fortunately it’s possible to travel around Japan without smoke becoming too much of a nuisance. In some places, such as restaurants, you may have a choice between the smoking and non-smoking sections. Kinen means non-smoking, and seki means seat: put them together and you’ve just conveyed that you’d like to be seated in the non-smoking area!

Time-Related Phrases in Japanese

Time-related phrases can be extremely helpful in certain travel situations, and below you’ll find a few of the most practical Japanese words and phrases on this topic.

11. Ima Nanji Desu ka? (今何時ですか) – What time is it now?

Chances are you’ll have a watch or cell phone on you, but once in a while you may need to ask a stranger for the time. The basic phrase is simply nanji desu ka?, which means “What time is it?” People also commonly say ima nanji desu ka?, which simply means “What time is it now?” (Ima means now.)

12. Nanji ni? (何時に?) – At what time?

This is a particularly useful phrase while traveling. It can be helpful when purchasing rail tickets, making meal reservations, or arranging tickets to events. By adding the preposition ni, you can be assured of much more clarity!

13. Asa (朝) – Morning

This one is fairly self-explanatory: asa means morning. While it’s no surprise that a food-loving culture like Japan has multiple words for breakfast, one of the most common is asagohan (gohan literally means rice, but is more generally used to mean food).

14. Kyou (今日) – Today

Words like today and tomorrow can be particularly useful when buying train tickets, for example.

15. Ashita (明日) – Tomorrow

When pronouncing the word for tomorrow, ashita, the i is virtually silent, so it ends up sounding more like ashta. If you need to express the day after tomorrow, the word is asatte.

Getting Around Japan: Transportation-Related Phrases for Travelers to Japan

For some travelers, one of the biggest concerns about not speaking the language is the prospect of getting around the country, navigating the trains, and trying to avoid getting lost. Fortunately, Japan has an incredibly efficient and easy-to-use rail network, and you can read all about it in our guide to train travel and getting around Japan. Here are some key Japanese words and phrases to help you on your way.

16. ni Ikitai (に行きたい) – I want to go to __

On its own, ikitai means “I want to go.” To express that you’d like to go somewhere, use the phrase ni ikitai (simply fill in the [blank] with the place you’re trying to reach). For example, Kyoto ni ikitai means “I want to go to Kyoto.”

17. Tomete Kudasai (止めてください) – Stop, please

Tomete means stop, and is particularly useful in taxis. The kudasai here means please, and makes the phrase much more polite.

18. Kippu (切符) – Ticket

Kippu means ticket (as in train tickets). As you can easily imagine, when purchasing rail tickets, it can be very useful to be able to tell the ticket agent that you’d like a ticket to a certain place! Made means until or to (in this case, to your destination). For example, Osaka made means to Osaka. Thus, Osaka made no kippu means ticket to Osaka. Put it all together with kudasai (for politeness) and you have Osaka made no kippu o kudasai.

19. Shinkansen (新幹線) – Bullet train

Ah, the shinkansen. One of the utter joys of traveling around Japan is the world-famous shinkansen (bullet train). Whether you have the well-known Japan Rail Pass or not, if you’re doing any domestic travel within Japan, chances are you’ll end up on the incredible (and incredibly pleasant) shinkansen for at least one if not more of your journeys. Enjoy, and grab a bento and some nihonshu (see above) for the ride!

20. Dono Densha? (どの電車?) – Which train?

Wondering which train you need? Imagine you’re in Kyoto Station, headed for Tokyo. You’re on your shinkansen’s departure platform, but you see two trains. You show your ticket to a friendly Japanese person and ask, dono densha? They take a look at your ticket and the two trains, and point you to the right one. And you’re on your way – happy travels!

Download our Free Japanese Phrasebook PDF

For those of you who want to learn even more Japanese for travel, we’ve created the Boutique Japan Tiny Phrasebook. Our Tiny Phrasebook features carefully selected Japanese words and phrases designed to help you get the most out of your trip to Japan. You’ll find all of the words and phrases featured above, and many more! The phrasebook is a beautifully designed PDF.

Bonus Video: Practice your Japanese Pronunciation

One of the best things about Japanese is that it’s surprisingly easy to pronounce. Unlike several other languages throughout Asia, Japanese is not a tonal language. In the video below, we go over basic pronunciation for some of the most useful Japanese words and phrases for your trip to Japan.

Do you need to speak any Japanese to travel around Japan?

Absolutely not. You can travel to Japan without learning any of these words and have a great time. The language barrier is a common myth that shouldn’t get in your way. Most Japanese people speak at least a little bit of English. These days, all Japanese students study English for a minimum of six years in secondary school, and many students — as well as adults — also take English-language classes after school or on weekends.

English-language fluency is not widespread, so most people you meet probably won’t be fluent in English, but almost everyone you meet will know at least a few English words – and many will know anywhere from hundreds to thousands.

Sometimes you may find that the people you meet are hesitant to try their English on you, but you’ll likely find that you can communicate in basic English in a huge variety of situations while traveling around Japan.

The Japanese Written Language

You may also be worried about the written language. The good news is that you don’t need to be able to read or write Japanese to enjoy Japan. Japanese people don’t expect you to be able to read the Japanese language, and you’ll find English-language signage throughout the country. This is especially true in places frequented by travelers, such as sightseeing spots, shopping areas, train stations, airports, and often even on the street.

Despite Japan’s travel-friendliness, every visitor to Japan at some point finds themselves in a situation in which linguistic communication is simply not possible, and sign language and gesturing are required. Getting lost in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language is a fear of many would-be travelers, but if you had to pick a country in which to get lost, you couldn’t do much better than Japan! Japan is by far one of the safest countries in the world, with crime rates that are astonishingly low compared to places like the US and most of Europe. And Japanese people will often go to surprising lengths to help tourists.

Why Learn Any Japanese if You Won’t Need it?

Almost everyone who has visited Japan has a similar story of a random act of kindness and generosity from a Japanese stranger (or a tale of a camera or passport left on a train being miraculously returned). So you can rest assured that even if you forget all of the words and phrases we’ve shown, you’ll be in good hands with the wonderful people of Japan. But aside from the fact that it’s a rich and fascinating language, learning even just one or two Japanese words or phrases will help endear you to the Japanese people you meet during your trip and enhance your overall travel experience. Japanese people tend to be extremely appreciative of visitors who take the time to learn even just a word or phrase or two, and if you try, then chances are you’ll be greeted with encouragement.

We hope you’ve found our guide to Japanese words and phrases for travelers helpful. Arigatou gozaimasu!

Japanese language barrier signs Fushimi Kyoto Japan

Conclusion

Traveling to Japan can be an incredible experience, even if you don’t speak the language. While it may seem daunting at first, the language barrier shouldn’t deter you from exploring all that Japan has to offer. Most Japanese people have some basic knowledge of English, and with a few key phrases, you can easily navigate your way around the country and interact with locals.

Learning a few basic Japanese words and phrases, such as hello, thank you, and excuse me, can go a long way in showing respect to the Japanese people you meet on your journey. Additionally, knowing how to ask for directions, order food, and purchase tickets will make your trip much smoother and more enjoyable.

Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try speaking some Japanese during your travels. The Japanese people appreciate the effort and will likely respond with enthusiasm and helpfulness. And remember, even if you do encounter a language barrier, Japan is a safe and welcoming country where you’re likely to receive assistance from kind strangers.

So go ahead and immerse yourself in the rich culture and beautiful landscapes of Japan. Whether you’re exploring the bustling streets of Tokyo, visiting ancient temples in Kyoto, or indulging in mouthwatering Japanese cuisine, knowing a few key phrases will enhance your experience and create lasting memories. Enjoy your trip to Japan!

Related Posts

© 2024 themedipia - WordPress Theme by WPEnjoy