If you are proficient in the English language, you can survive no matter where you travel in the world: there is usually always someone who can speak English. But be warned: in Japan, English might not always help you since the older generation generally does not speak it and the younger is not fluent enough to express/communicate properly. To be well prepared, it is good to know some basic expressions.
Oyahou gozaimasu (おはようございます) GOOD MORNING: It is what people say to greet each other in a polite way from early morning till before noon. In some companies, colleagues use this expression also to greet in the afternoon or at night if meeting the first time on that day. It would be translated to “It is very early”, in the most possible polite way to say. Learn the pronunciation here.
Konnichiwa (こんにちは）HELLO: This is a useful greeting and can be used throughout the whole day, from noon till late afternoon. Literally translated it means “this day”. It is a polite expression and will help you to connect with locals instantly! Always greet with a big smile.
Click here to hear it pronounced.
Sayonara (さよなら) GOOD BYE: Though this is the equivalent to “good-bye”, it is not used that often. If among friends, people tend to say “mata ne” (またね (see you) AGAIN) , while in a more formal setting people use “shitsurei shimasu” (失礼します “I am being impolite (by leaving)). Sayonara pronunciation here.
Arigatou gozaimasu (ありがとうございます）THANK YOU: This is super basic, and though it seems long and difficult to pronounce, try to memorise it and use it frequently. If you are not sure of the pronunciation, check out this guide on youtube.
○○wa doko desu ka? (○○はどこですか？）WHERE IS ○○?: This can be used when asking for specific things, like a hotel, a station or a product in a store, but it can also be used for addresses, if you have them written down in Japanese or know at least the areas name.
So now you know the very basics of greeting and can ask maybe a question, or two. Let’s learn also more crucial basics that will definitely help you when travelling around Japan and trying to communicate.
The affirmative is used as a basic reply. If someone asks your name or needs confirmation on a choice, “hai” will get you forward. The more polite way would be “hai, sou desu” (はい、そうです, “Yes, that’s true.”). It has the exact pronunciation as the English greeting “hi”.
The stress lies on the first syllable “ii-e”, and is a bit confusing to pronounce when your native language is English. It is pronounced “ee-eh”. It is actually rude to say no, even though you need to negate at times. Never shout or say it too strong, when it is necessary to use.
Shashin wo totte kuremasen ka? (写真を取ってくれませんか？) Could you please take a picture (of us)?
When travelling you will definitely take pictures. Sometimes, it is nice to be on it too, so if travelling in a group or by yourself, you will need to use this phrase. It is a bit long, but do not give up. It is pronounced “sha-sheen o totte kooramasen kha?”
When entering a restaurant, the waiters immediately ask you how many people are with you and whether you would like to have smoking or non-smoking seats. Learn the phrase that is true for you, and use it when being asked. Kinen is pronounced “keen-en”(NON-SMOKING) and kitten is “keetsu-en”(SMOKING).
What would be a basic language guide without numbers. The basics are pronounced “ee-chee”, “nee” and “sun”. When gestured, Japanese use the index finger pointing up for one, the peace sign for two and adding the middle finger would be three.