During our hitchhiking and camping four weeks trip in Japan, I have talked to many people. In this article I’d like to share with you the most useful phrases I used that I was glad to know. If you haven’t read my previous article about this trip, click here to read it.
Ever heard legends about Japanese Enugurish? Ever heard that most of Japanese people can’t speak English? They are true! Some people can speak, especially in a big cities and on some places where a lot of tourists come (airport, famous sites, shops in Tokyo…) but in general, English is not a way to speak in Japan. Doesn’t matter if old or young people, some try, some start speaking Japanese right from the beginning. (They learn English in school though.) Even when some Japanese can speak, prepare for a very unique pronunciation. Sometimes I rather switched into Japanese where I understood more than from their English.
I am an anime fan. Always wanted to learn Japanese. Five years ago I got an opportunity to do so. One Japanese living in our country (huge thanks to him) started teaching Japanese for free. He taught me and some other people the grammar basics and basically made me start learning. Without him, I probably would have never started. It lasted two years and since then I have been learning on my own, using the Internet, some phrases books, mobile apps and flashcards. I do that only in my free time so it’s a slow process. (my dream is to be able to watch an anime without subtitles, now I can understand about 25% of sentences in one episode) I was really afraid that I won’t understand the local people. My expectations were that I’d be maybe able to ask for a ride when hitchhiking and say where do we come from. I was very surprised though. I was able to talk with them even about other things, anime, Japanese culture, food, our country, family etc.
Japanese are really kind and helpful. When I didn’t understand something, they were trying really hard to explain or use some easier words. Some brought up an English dictionary to show me the words. They were mostly trying to speak slowly, without any dialects and difficult expressions. Japanese really love to see that one is trying to adapt. When they saw that I speak Japanese a bit, they were so happy and saying the words of praise all the time. They were amazed just by hearing some basic words like arigatou or konnichiwa. Speaking Japanese completely changes your position and you are not just a random foreign tourist anymore.
So enough of the intro and background. One more thing, bow as much as you can. It is the most important gesture in Japan. Bow when thanking, apologizing, greeting, just keep bowing. Here are some most useful words and phrases that I used in Japan very often:
Thank youOne lady told us that this is the most important word in Japan, use it at every occasion, thank for everything! To sound more formal you can say Arigatou gozaimasu, to thank for something that has already happened say Arigatou gozaimashita. To express even more gratitude say Go shinsetsu ni arigatou gozaimashita (Thank you for your kindness.)
Dou itashi mashite
You’re welcomeMany Japanese just say something like Ie, ie, ie. Daijoubu. (No, no, no. It’s fine.) as a reply to thank you.
I am sorryThe most general sorry phrase. When you enter a room or are leaving too early, say Shitsurei shimasu (Literally: I am being impolite). Another general one is Gomen nasai (More used to express a regret). When you did something really bad or serious, you might want to use more formal Moushiwake arimasen. Maybe Yurushite kudasai - Please forgive me, might come in handy too. When you need to say: Sorry for bothering you, just use Ojama shite sumimasen
Kyouka sarete inai to wa shirimasen deshita.
I didn’t know it’s not allowed.Quite useful when hitchhiking and camping :D
… kara kimashita
We/I came from ...Learn how to say your country in Japanese. Many Japanese ask this. You might hear something like Doko kara kimashita ka?, Doko kara kita no? or when you hear a sentence with words like kuni or shushin it’s probably this case.
Watashi no namae wa ...
My name is ...Anata no namae wa nan desuka? (What is your name?)
Watashi ha … sai desu.
I am .. years old.Learn Japanese numbers! People often asked us like Nansai desuka? (How old are you?) or Otoshi ha ikutsu desuka?
… made nosete itte moraemasenka?
Would you take me to …?Our favorite hitchhiking (hitchihaiku suru - to hitchike) phrase. Use this pattern to ask for anything you need. ~te form of the verb plus moraemasenka or itadakemasenka is a good way to say a requests. (Shashin wo totte itadakemasenka? - Could you take a photo [of us]?) A useful hitchhiking phrase is also ... de oroshite mo ii no desu - You can drop us off at ...
Honto ni ii no desuka?
Is it really OK?Used this when someone was giving us something. We have used simple Ii desuka? (Is it OK?) many times. (showing the credit card if we can pay like that, before entering some places we were not sure we can enter etc.)
It’s OKAlso can use Ii as OK. Tondemo arimasen can be used as a reply to sorry to express that nothing has happened.
HelloKonbanwa - good evening, Ohayo gozaimasu - good morning, Oyasumi nasai - good night. Greet people everywhere! They are really happy to hear a tourist greeting them in Japanese.
GoodbyeKyou tsukete/Ogenki de - take care, Yoi tabi wo - Have a good journey
I am savedI used this when someone took us after a long time of waiting for a car while hitchhiking to express the gratitude. A good ones are always Kansha shimasu/Arigatai desu - I am grateful.
Shitsurei ni naritakunai
I don’t want to be impoliteFor example when someone offered us a food.
Yoroshiku onegai shimasu
Thanks in advance/take a good care of meSay this when accepting something like a ride. When somebody introduces himself and you introduce yourself, say Douzo yoroshiku onegai shimasu - pleased to meet you. To express accepting something you can also use Deha, enryou naku itadakimasu - So I accept this without any refrains
I am accepting this AKA Thanks for the foodWhen receiving the food or before starting the eating. When you’ve finished the food say Gochisousama deshita - Thanks for the meal
Sore wo itadakanakute mo yokatta desu
It was not necessaryIn a polite meaning like: You really didn’t have to do it for us.
You’re embarrassing meThe most ultimate and mind-blowing phrase ever!!! When Japanese praise you, especially about the language Nihon go ga jouzu. - Your Japanese is good!, use this instead of arigatou. When I said this, they were about to explode of excitement. They usually started laughing or did that shocked anime like sound heeeeeee. It is one of the most humble and polite phrases in Japanese and they don’t expect any gaijin to know it. Even more formal is Osore irimasu.
Ashita wa ashita no kaze ga fuku
Tomorrow will blow the tomorrow’s windLeave tomorrow for tomorrow. Another fancy phrase that I have used many times to amaze the locals. Especially when they were asking about our plans etc. Prepare that they’ll ask you about where you’ve been so far and where else do you go.
Nihon ga suki desu
I love JapanSay it! Say it!!! My favorite sentence was also Nihon no rekishi to bunka ga suki desu. - I love Japanese history and culture. Ki ni irimashita - I have enjoyed it
Dokugaku de benykou shimasu
I self-study JapaneseI usually said the whole sentence with my story that Nihonjin ha watashi ni nihon go wo oshiete hajimeta... - A Japanese started teaching me Japanese language...
Watashi no sukina anime ha ...
My favorite anime is ...Neon Genesis Evangelion. Make sure to know the Japanese name of your favorite anime though. They don’t usually know the English ones.
I am fine/No thank youWhen refusing for example a bag in a shop. Fukuro ga hitsuyou desuka? - Do you need a bag?
… e ikitai. Kono michi/hou ha tadashii desuka?
I want to go to …. Is this road/direction right?Also a good one is … e douyatte ikeba ii desuka? - How do we get to …? … wa doko desuka? - Where is it? They might answer something like Koko kara asoko e itte, ichibanme no kousaten ni migi ni magatte, massugu itte... - From here, go over there, turn right at the first crossroad, then go straight… Good to know the basic direction words.
Nihon ni … kan imasu/taizai shimasu.
I am staying in Japan for ...Take a look at how to express time intervals. Kan suffix can be used like nishuukan - for two weeks. When for example referring to the days in a month, first 10 days have a special terms (tsuitachi, futsuka…).
Nokori/ato ... nichi desu.
Just … days left.Also can be used for minutes or hours or whatever you need.
How much does it cost?Usually prices are written in arabic numerals though.
Ima nanji desuka?
What time is it now?Kyou wa nannichi desuka? - What is the date today?
I didn’t noticeShirimasen deshita - I didn’t know
Wakarimasen deshita. Mou ichido itte kudasai.
I didn’t understand, please say it again.Mou sukoshi yukuri hanashite kudasai - Please speak a bit slowly. Motto kantanna kotoba wo tsukatte kudasai. - Please use more simple words. Kono kotoba ha dou iu imi desuka? - What does this word mean?
Sorry for making you wait for meOmachi shite kudasai - Please wait.
Kore wo onegai shimasu
Please this oneCan be used in a shop to show what you want.
How are you?Hai, genki desu. Anata ha? - I am fine, what about you?
Oai dekite ureshikatta desu
I am glad that I could have met youIf you by any chance meet someone famous, you can say Ome ni kakarete kouei desu. - It is an honor to meet you
Passpoto wo haiken shite mo ii desuka?
Can I see your passport?Police sometimes check if you’re legally in Japan, or when a highway police escorts you from the highway cause hitchhiking is not allowed there. Yeah happened to us but it turned into a cool conversation with the cops in the car :-). Generally you can say ~te form of verb + mo ii desuka to say: is … allowed/OK? Doko de kippu wo kaeba ii desuka? - Where can I buy the ticket?
Jikan ga arimasen/arimasu
I don’t have/have timeOr Isoide imasu - I am in a hurry. Useful might be also Maniaimasen deshita - I didn’t make it (in time)
… wa ikaga desuka?
What about ...Moshi oiya de nakereba.../Moshi yokattara... - If you don’t mind...
Otetsudai shimashou ka?
Can I help you?Nanika hoshii/osagashii/hitsuyou desuka? - Do you want/are you looking for/do you need something?
Really?You can also say Odoroita/Bikkuri shita to say: I am surprised
Shikata ga arimasen
It can’t be helpedZannen desu ne - Too bad (expressing a regret) or Zannen nagara... - Unfortunately...
Watashi no nihon go wa machigai darake deshou
My Japanese is full of mistakesOr Watashi no nihon go wa mada warui desu ne - My Japanese is still bad.
sentence + (desu) kedo/desuga/
… but...When using but at the end of the sentence, it’s implying a polite refusal or uncertainty. Use this when you don’t want to directly refuse someone or when you are not sure about something.
Onaka ga suita
I am hungryWe didn’t say this to anyone but many people have asked us so. Onaka ga ippai means I am full. Nodo ga kawaita - I am thirsty.
Futan ni naritakunai
I don’t want to become a burden (to you)I made up a sentence Mendou ni naritakunai which Japanese people understood too but the former one is probably more correct.
Here you go/Go aheadSay this when giving something to someone or when letting someone go ahead of you or when holding a door for someone. When giving a present, a good phrase is Tsumaranai mono desu ga, kore wo uketotte kudasai - It’s nothing special but please accept this
Keitai wo juuden shitai desu
I want to charge up my phoneWhen you find some lonely toilets in an abandoned corner of a forsaken park, that’s a good place to do so! :D
Kankou kyaku desu
I am a touristWhen somebody asks you why you came in Japan. I also said something like Nihon juu otabi wo shimasu - We’re on a journey through Japan
Kono chikaku ni otoire/kouen ga arimasuka?
Is there any toilet/park around here?Don’t worry though, it’s everywhere. Especially toilets!
Chotto shitsumon/onegai ga aru
I have a question/favor to askGood way to start when you want to ask something.
Dore gurai kakarimasuka/hanarete imasu ka?
How long will it take/far is it?They use kilometers.
Tenki wa dou narimasuka??
How will the weather be?Ame ga futte iru - It’s raining. Tenki wa ii desu. - The weather is nice. Samui/atsui - Cold/warm (note that when referring to objects, more appropriate words are tsumetai/atatakai)
Welcome (only in shops)You'll probably never use it but you'll hear it all the time. Shop assistants say this to anyone who enters the shop to greet this person. I usually responded by a short bow or by Konnichiwa. I once entered a shop and one guy at the entrance said this to me, then another guy a bit further away shouted the same and then another guy somewhere form the other side of the shop shouted that. Pretty funny and cool! :D
Enjoy itI said this to some friendly old people who were about to play golf in the park. They were very pleased! Note also ... wo tanoshimi ni shitte imasu. - I am looking forward to ...
As I said, I am still learning Japanese and have a long way to go. If you found any mistakes, please let me know and I’ll fix them. Please try to speak as much polite as you can. Japanese will forgive you for not being polite since you are a gaijin but they are very pleased to see that you can speak in a formal way. Use masu forms and refrain from using anime expressions like baka etc. Also these are only some general sentences you’ll probably need. Important is to work on vocabulary to learn as much words as possible to be able to start a nice conversation. Don’t count only on some phrases you mindlessly learn, try to understand the grammar behind it too. Good luck with your Japanese!