Irasshaimase! (いらっしゃいませ), or "welcome!" to your guide to Japanese travel phrases.
If you're planning a trip to Japan or simply interested in learning Japanese, this guide to using and understanding Japanese travel phrases is a must-read.
You don't need to learn the entire language before you make the trip of a lifetime. Still, knowing some key phrases, cultural differences and mannerisms will make Japan more accessible for English speakers.
First, we'll discuss the Japanese language and writing styles. Then, we'll cover some essential Japanese travel phrases, including "please", "thank you", "excuse me" and "I don't understand Japanese". Formality in Japanese will be explained, followed by restaurant vocabulary and etiquette.
Next, we'll cover certain phrases related to transport and travel, followed by pronunciation tips for common phrases used in Japan. Finally, we will answer frequently asked questions about Japanese phrases and travel to Japan.
The Japanese Language
Japanese words can be written in symbols or in Romanized characters, so beginners can still read and write before they learn the Japanese script.
However, when you learn Japanese characters you can better understand the nuances of the language.
Kanji are Chinese characters taken from the Chinese script and used in Japanese writing. This writing system was introduced to Japan in the 4th or 5th century, as Japan had a talking system but no means to write it down. Kanji are complex symbols that represent words or ideas.
However, Kanji characters are used along with the more recently created syllabic scripts of Hiragana and Katakana, which represent sounds.
Some people find these scripts easier to read as the symbols are simpler. Hiragana is generally used to represent Japanese words, while Katakana represents foreign words imported into the Japanese language.
While it is possible to write everything in Hiragana or Katakana, i t w o u l d l o o k l i k e t h i s. So, it is better to replace words with Kanji when possible. Japanese people use the three scripts interchangeably, as they are needed.
10 Essential Japanese Phrases
- Konnichiwa (こんにちは) – Hello/ good afternoon
- Ohayo Gozaimasu (おはよう ご ざ い ます) - Good morning
- Konbanwa (こんばんは) - Good evening
This phrase is made up of Ohayo (おはよう), meaning "early" and Gozaimasu (ご ざ い ます) meaning "is"/"am"/"are". So, its literal translation is "it is early".
As you can see below, Gozaimasu can be added to Arigatou, meaning "thank you", to make it more polite.
- Arigatou (Gozaimasu) (ありがとう (ご ざ い ます)) – Thank you (polite way)
- Onegaishimasu (お願い し ます)/ Kudasai (くだ さい) - Please
- Sumimasen (すみません) – Excuse me
- Hai (はい) - Yes/ I understand
- Iie (いいえ) - No
- Nihongo ga wakarimasen (日本語がわかりません) - I don't understand Japanese
- Gomen nasai (ごめんなさい) - I'm sorry
Formality In Japanese
Social hierarchy, or your rank compared to others, determines how you will talk to someone in Japanese.
The generally accepted pecking order puts parents above children, teachers above students, customers above shopkeepers, bosses above employees, and elders above younger people.
Moreover, familiarity plays a part in how formal or informal you are with someone. Families will speak more casual Japanese with one another, while strangers use formal terms. Good friends drop formalities entirely and use slang to communicate.
Japanese words are conjugated based on formality. Formal Japanese can be divided into three categories: polite language, honorific language, and humble language.
There is also an informal way of communicating in Japanese, but when you learn Japanese, you often learn the formal first as the conjugation is easier.
Gozimasu and Arigatou
You do not need to worry too much about this as an absolute beginner. Just remember that you can make simple adjustments such as adding gozimasu (ご ざ い ます) to ohayō (おはよう) when saying "good morning" to make it more formal, or to arigatou (ありがとう) to say "thank you" the formal way.
Domo arigato (共 ありがとう) "thank you so much" is also formal. This is a phrase many westerners are familiar with due to the song Mr Roboto by Styx!
Arigato or domo used in isolation are two ways to say "thanks", informally. Use the latter two with friends and family.
Onegaishimasu and Kudasai
Finally, let's revisit when we use Onegaishimasu (お願い し ます) and Kudasai (くだ さい) for "please".
- Kudasai is the more familiar term, while onegai shimasu is more polite and honorable.
- So, you can ask for water, for instance, by using Kudasai (ください) or onegai shimasu (を お願い し ます), depending on who you are talking to. For example:
- Mizu o onegai shimasu (水を お願い し ます) - I would like water, please (formal)
- Mizu o kudasai (水 お ください) - Give me water, please (informal)
Kudasai is a familiar request word that you use when you know you are entitled to something.
For instance, asking a friend or peer for something, or making a request from someone of a lower rank than you. Take a look at the following phrases:
- Mō yamete kudasai (もうやめて くだ さい) - Please stop
- Chotto matte kudasai (ちょっと 待って くだ さい) - Wait a minute, please
- Kutsu o nuide kudasai (靴を脱いで くだ さい) - Please remove your shoes
- Shio o watashite kudasai (塩を渡して くだ さい) - Pass the salt, please
If you are speaking to a teacher, elder, or boss in Japan and don't understand something, you can ask: Mou ichido onegai shimasu (もう一度お願いします) - Could you repeat that, please?
As well as language, gestures also play a part in formality and respect in Japanese culture. One such gesture is the bow, and it matters how deep you bend!
A short bow at 15° is appropriate for a casual greeting. A 30° bow is good for greeting strangers and bosses, while a 45° bow conveys deep respect or an apology.
10 Food & Drink Basic Phrases in Japanese
- Menyū (メニュー) - Menu
- O-sake (お酒) – General term for alcohol (not to be confused with the below)
- Nihonshu (日本酒) – Japanese saké (rice wine)
- Bīru (ビール) - Beer
- Mizu (水) - Water
- Gohan (ご飯) - Rice
- Misoshiru (みそ汁) - Miso Soup
- Sushi (すし) - Sushi
- Mochi (餅 ) - Mochi (a traditional Japanese glutinous rice cake)
- ___ o Kudasai (をください) – I would like __, please
___ o onegai shimasu (を お願い し ます) - I would like ___ please
In addition to food and drink, you might want to know how to ask for other specific services in a Japanese restaurant.
- Kin'en seki (禁煙席) - Non-smoking seat
- Kurejittokādo wa tsukaemasu ka? (クレジットカードは使えますか) - Do you accept credit cards?
Japanese Restaurant Etiquette
It is not enough simply to know a few polite phrases in Japanese. You will also need to understand a bit about restaurant etiquette.
In many Japanese restaurants, there are low tables with cushions, rather than or in addition to western-style tables and chairs.
Cushions will be placed on tatami floors, which are a traditional kind of mat flooring in Japanese restaurants. You should never wear shoes or slippers on tatami flooring, and avoid stepping on anyone's cushion except your own.
Japanese Restaurant Vocabulary in Context
When the food comes, it is customary to wait for everyone's meals to arrive, then say:
- Itadakimasu (いただきます) - "I gratefully receive (this meal)"
You should say this before starting to eat. This is similar to the French "bon appetit".
However, if a dish is best eaten hot and it arrives before the others, the following phrase can be used:
- Osaki ni douzo (お先 に どうぞ) - "Please go ahead"
Other useful Japanese resturant phrases include:
- Daijyoubu Desu (だいじょうぶです) - "I'm fine now" (this is a polite way to decline something from a waiter offering you more water or food).
You can conclude the meal by saying the phrase:
- Gochisousama deshita (ごちそうさま でした) - "Thank you for the feast."
This expresses gratitude to the chef and for the ingredients of the meal.
At the end of your meal, you should use the following:
- Okaikei wo onegaishimasu (お会計 を お願いします) - "The check, please."
Manners in Convenience Stores
The following piece of vocaulary will be useful:
- Konbini (コンビニ) - Convenience store
In Japan, simple things like unfolding your bills before you hand them over to the cashier and not throwing down your coins are considered polite as they make the worker's job easier.
Customer service in Japan is famously excellent, so treat the clerk with respect and kindness, as you should in any other foreign country.
10 Transportation-Related Phrases to Get Around Japan
- ___wa doko desu ka (は どこ です か) – Where is __?
- Eki (駅) - Train station
eg. Eki wa doko desu ka (駅 は どこ です か) - Where is the train station?
- Basu noriba (バスのりば) - Bus stop
- Dono Densha (どの電車)/ Dono basu (どのバス) – Which train?/ Which bus?
- (Tōkyō) ni ikitai ( ([東京) に行きたい) – I want to go to (Tokyo)
- Kippu (切符) – Ticket
- Katamichi kippu (片道切符)/ Kaeri no kippu (帰りの切符) - One-way ticket/ return ticket
- Hoteru (ホテル) - hotel
- Toire ( = トイレ) - Bathroom / toilet
- Ikura desu ka (いくら です 化) - How much is it?
Japanese travel phrases in context
Now, you can start to put some of the words we have learned together to create a proper phrase.
- Hiroshima e no kaeri no kippu o onegai shimasu, ikura desu ka (広島への帰りの切符をお願いします、いくらですか) - "I would like a return ticket to Hiroshima, how much is it?"
These essential Japanese travel phrases will come in handy when visiting Japan, as an estimated 70% of the population does not speak English.
You'll find more people with some level of English in the top destinations, such as Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, while you might hit a language barrier in smaller towns.
Basic Japanese Phrases and Pronunciation in Japanese
An important phrase you will likely say a lot is desu ka (です か).
This indicates a question when placed at the end of a sentence. So, let's make sure you can say it correctly, as it may not be pronounced as you'd expect.
You want to pronounce desu like “dess.” Remember, the “u” sound at the end is dropped.
This happens a lot with words that end with “u” sounds, including:
- Arigatou Gozaimasu (ありがとう ご ざ い) - "thank you" (which is pronounced "arigatou gozaimas").
We have already seen desu ka in the phrase ikura desu ka, "how much is it?", and wa doko desu ka, "where is it?".
It is also used in the following key Japanese phrases:
- O genki desu ka (お元気 です 化) - How are you?
(Pronounced "o genki dess ka").
- Nani desu ka (何ですか なにですか) - (polite) What?
- Sou desu ka (そうですか) - Is that so?/ Really?
The response, Sou desu (そうです), pronounced "so dess", means "that is so" or "yes, really".
- Kore wa na ndesu ka (これ わ なん です か) - What is this?
You can create many more Japanese phrases for asking questions by using desu ka, so try to remember this pronunciation as it will get you a long way.
Basic Greetings Tourists Should Know in Japan
If you only have a short time before your trip to Japan, at the very least learn these simple greetings and make sure you know the dos and don'ts of public affection.
- Kon'nichiwa, watashinonamaeha ___ (こんにちは、私の名前は) - "Good afternoon, my name is ___"
- Konbanwa, hajimemashite (こんばんは、はじめまして) - "Good evening, nice to meet you."
- Namae wa nandesu ka? (名前はなん です か) - "What is your name?"
Making Friends in Japan
Now that you know how to greet Japanese people appropriately, you can start to build a relationship with them.
Generally, when you meet people while traveling abroad, you ask:
- Eigo o hanashimasu ka? (英語を話せますか) - "Can you speak English?"
- Anata wa doko no kuni no shusshindesu ka (あなたはどこの国の出身 です か) - "Which country are you from?"
- Doko no shusshindesu ka? (どこの出身 です か) - "Where are you from?" (more simple phrase).
- Anata wa doko ni sun deru nodesu ka? (あなたはどこに住んでるの です か) - "Where do you live?"
If you would like to become friends or make a date, you might want to gauge the person's interests:
- Anata wa (eiga ga) sukidesuka? (あなたは (映画が) 好き です か) - "Do you like (the cinema)?"
Travel Tips for Japan
Remember Japanese manners! This includes restaurant etiquette, limiting public displays of affection, using polite language, and respecting the culture.
You cannot expect everyone in the world to speak your language, but by using a simple Japanese phrase here and there you can show that you are willing to try and meet them halfway.
Choose the season wisely. Visit Japan in Winter for the ski season, or in Spring for unforgettable views of cherry blossoms.
Or, choose an Autumn trip to avoid tourist crowds and peak travel seasons. The same applies to Summer, though this is typhoon season, which puts a lot of tourists off.
What is Ryokou?
Ryokou (旅行) is a Japanese noun meaning "travel" or "trip".
Broken down, 旅 is the kanji character meaning "travel", "trip", or "journey", and 行 is the kanji character used to express the act of going or visiting.
Use this next phrase if you want to impress your new Japanese friends by using their local language:
- Watashi wa ryokou ga sukidesu (私は旅行が好きです) - "I love traveling".
If you're studying Japanese so you can take a trip to Japan, this is undoubtedly true!
How to Learn Japanese Naturally
If you are looking for additional resources for learning Japanese, check out Lingopie.
This is an online streaming platform that is designed to get you speaking Japanese and learning Kanji with ease through immersion in Japanese TV and movies.
Lingopie provides an authentic and natural way to learn other languages and makes learning Japanese fun.
This is a great tool for busy people who cannot sit through hours of Japanese classes every week.
Simply relax in the evening and watch half an hour of Japanese TV. Allow your brain to absorb the language naturally and pick up useful phrases and pronunciation.
And if you want to keep binge watching awesome shows check out our other Japanese articles. We listed 9 Japanese Movies on Netflix that can help your studies and we also did a guide to learning Japanese with anime! We also recommend you to check out our free guide "Best way to learn Japanese".
Summing up: Basic Travel phrases in Japanese
Now you can travel to Japan armed with some useful Japanese phrases and a basic understanding of the culture and mannerisms of the country.
You will be able to conduct yourself appropriately while dining, make your way around train stations, and if you speak slowly and clearly, begin to build relationships.
Remember, nobody will expect you to speak Japanese fluently, but if you can use these simple phrases, your travels will be simplified.
The average Japanese native speaker is unlikely to speak English fluently. You may hit a language barrier, but if you remember your polite gestures and restaurant etiquette, you can still do very well in Japan and impress the locals.
Hopefully, this guide has given you some travel inspiration. Have a wonderful time on your trip and good luck on your path to learning Japanese!