Japanese (日本語 nihongo) is spoken in Japan, and essentially nowhere else other than areas of Micronesia, Brazil, Peru, the United States and Taiwan where some use it as a second language, with sizeable Japanese-speaking foreign communities in South Korea and China. Japanese may be distantly related to Korean, but is entirely unrelated to Chinese, though it uses a large amount of imported Chinese vocabulary. The written form uses a combination of Katakana, Hiragana and Kanji characters which were all derived from Chinese characters.
Japanese is a language with many distinct dialects, and while standard Japanese (標準語 hyōjungo), which is based on the Tokyo dialect, is universally taught and understood, you may get an interesting reply from some when travelling around the country. The dialect you are most likely to encounter is the Kansai dialect, which is spoken in the region around Osaka and Kyoto (with slight dialectal differences between the two cities), and is often heard in the Japanese mass media. This might make it harder you to understand them if you have just started learning Japanese, though locals will usually be able to switch to standard Japanese if you ask them politely.
Japanese is not a tonal language like Chinese or Thai, and is comparatively easy to pronounce. The vowels are pronounced virtually identical to the "Italian way" and there are very few consonants that do not exist in English. All syllables are to be pronounced equal in length. Long vowels take the length of two syllables. Combinations like kya are treated like one syllable and are the only occurrence of glides (semivowels), all other syllables are to be pronounced rather separately.
Also avoid placing too much emphasis on particular words or syllables. Although Japanese does have a form of stress and intonation, it is significantly flatter than English. Word stress is much more subtle and neglecting it at this point should not interfere with meaning. Trying to keep your intonation flat will make your attempts to speak Japanese more comprehensible to local listeners. When asking questions, you can raise the tone at the end, as in English.
Japanese has only five basic vowels, but the distinction between short and long vowels is important. The sounds below are first given in romanized Japanese, then hiragana and finally katakana.
The short vowels are:
- a, あ, ア
- like 'a' in "palm"
- i, い, イ
- like 'i' in "marine"
- u, う, ウ
- like 'oo' in "hoop", but short (said without rounded lips)
- e, え, エ
- like 'e' in "set"
- o, お, オ
- like 'o' in "rope", but less round
Note that "u" is often weak at the end of syllables. In particular, the common endings desu and masu are usually pronounced as des and mas respectively. Also, the kana "do" and "to" are sometimes pronounced with a weak "o".
The long vowels are generally the same sound as the short vowels, only held approximately 60% longer. The long vowels, marked with a macron (¯) or by two adjacent vowels, are:
- ā, ああ, アー
- like 'a' in "father"
- ii or ī, いい, イー
- like 'ee' in "cheese"
- ū, うう, ウー
- like 'oo' in "hoop"
- ei or ē, えい, エー
- like the 'ay' in "pay"
- ō, おお, おう, オー
- stretch out the 'o' in "soap"
All descriptions above are approximations, it's best to practice with a native speaker.
With the solitary exception of "n" (ん・ン), consonants in Japanese are always followed by a vowel to form a syllable. Consonants and vowels are not freely combinable as in English, see table on the right for all possible syllables and note irregularities like し shi or ふ fu. Certain syllables can be marked with diacritics, which alters the pronunciation of the consonant part. The list below first gives the consonant part of the syllable in romanized Japanese, then the Japanese syllables that the sound occurs in first in Hiragana, then Katakana.
- k in かきくけこ・カキクケコ
- like 'k' in "king"
- g in がぎぐげご・ガギグゲゴ
- like 'g' in "go"
- s in さすせそ・サスセソ
- like 's' in "sit"
- z in ざずぜぞ・ザズゼゾ・づ・ヅ
- like 'z' in "haze"
- t in たてと・タテト
- like 't' in "top"
- d in だでど・ダデド
- like 'd' in "dog"
- n in なにぬねの・ナニヌネノ
- like 'n' in "nice"
- h in はひへほ・ハヒヘホ
- like 'h' in "help"
- p in ぱぴぷぺぽ・パピプペポ
- like 'p' in "pig"
- b in ばびぶべぼ・バビブベボ
- like 'b' in "bed"
- m in まみむめも・マミムメモ
- like 'm' in "mother"
- y in やゆよ・ヤユヨ
- like 'y' in "yard"
- r in らりるれろ・ラリルレロ
- no equivalent in English, a sound between 'l', 'r' and 'd', but close to a very soft 'r'
- w in わを・ワヲ
- like 'w' in "wall"
- sh in し・シ
- like 'sh' in "sheep"
- j in じ・ジ・ぢ・ヂ
- like 'j' in "jar"
- ch in ち・チ
- like 'ch' in "touch"
- ts in つ・ツ
- like 'ts' in "hot soup"
- f in ふ・フ
- no equivalent in English, somewhere between 'h' and 'f', but you will be understood if you pronounce it either way
- n, ん, ン
- short 'n', slides towards 'm' in some cases
- っ・ッ (small tsu)
- glottal stop; the following consonant is prepared, held and stopped for the duration of one syllable. For example, にっぽん nippon is pronounced "nip-(pause)-pon". (Note that the double consonants nn, mm, which are not written with っ, do not have this pause.)
- kon'nichiwa → kon-nee-chee-wa (not kounneeCHEEua)
- sumimasen → soo-mee-mah-sen (not sue my maysen)
- onegai shimasu → oh-neh-gigh shee-mahss (not ouneeGAY SHYmessu)
Katakana are used to write foreign and loanwords (except for those from Chinese, which are written in kanji) and are hence a good choice for travellers to learn. The katakana set of characters encompasses exactly the same sounds as hiragana; they only look different. The table on the left only reproduces the basic character set and diacritics (カ → ガ). Combinations (キャ) apply just as for hiragana. One additional sound though is ヴ vu and combinations like ヴェ ve based on it, accommodating additional foreign sounds. Every once in a while you may spot additional ingenious combinations or use of diacritics.
Since Japanese doesn't very well accommodate rapid successions of consonants, the katakana transcription can often only approximate the actual pronunciation of a foreign word. While some words like café (カフェ kafe) can be represented quite gracefully, other words like beer (ビール bīru) or rent-a-car (レンタカー rentakā) seem slightly strange to the native English speaker. Nonetheless, many English expressions and concepts are used in everyday life, as are a number of German, French, Dutch and Portuguese loanwords. In many cases, the original words are often abbreviated when used in Japanese, such as supermarket (スーパー sūpā), department store (デパート depāto), remote control (リモコン rimokon) or television (テレビ terebi). Oftentimes the exact meaning of a word has changed in Japanese (German: Arbeit → アルバイト arubaito is used only for part-time work) or a completely new meaning was invented (ワンマンカー wanmankā → "one-man car", trains and buses without an inspector, only one driver), but you can usually at least guess at the meaning. Due to post World War II American influences, by far the largest number of non-Chinese loan words in the Japanese language come from American English.
To identify a katakana word, it's usually helpful to repeat it out loud a few times and to leave out superfluous vocals, especially the 'u' in ス su and 'o' in ト to. That way ライス raisu quickly becomes "rice" and チケット chiketto becomes "ticket". Don't try too hard though, as sometimes original Japanese words are written in katakana as well, similar to the use of uppercase or italic letters in English. In addition, some words were not derived from English but from other languages such as German, French or Dutch.
Japanese sentence structure is very similar to that of Korean, so speakers of Korean will find many aspects of Japanese grammar familiar, and vice versa.
Unlike English, which uses the subject-verb-object syntax, Japanese syntax is subject-object-verb. Japanese uses postpositions instead of prepositions (Japan in and not in Japan). However, unlike many European languages, it has no gender, declensions or plurals. Nouns never decline while adjectives follow a generally standard conjugation pattern. However, verbs have extensive conjugation patterns and many Japanese lessons for foreign language learners are about getting these conjugations right. Verbs and adjectives also conjugate by politeness level, though, and in a rather peculiar way.
Japanese is an agglutinative language, meaning several morphemes which have purely grammatical functions are glued to the end of a word stem to express the grammatical function. The more the intended meaning differs from the basic form of the word, the more morphemes are glued together.
|Japanese verb and adjective conjugation|
見る miru, "to see"
|polite basic form
見ます mimasu, "to see" (pol.)
見ない minai, "to not see"
|pol. neg. form|
見ません mimasen, "to not see" (pol.)
見た mita, "seen"
|pol. past tense
見ました mimashita, "seen" (pol.)
|neg. past tense
見なかった minakatta, "not seen"
|pol. neg. past tense|
見ませんでした mimasendeshita, "not seen" (pol.)
見える mieru, "can see"
見えます miemasu, "can see" (pol.)
見えない mienai, "can not see"
赤い akai, "red"
赤くない akakunai, "not red"
|neg. past tense|
赤くなかった akakunakatta, "was not red"
The hiragana syllables は ha, へ he and を wo are pronounced as wa, e and o respectively when used as a particle.
Japanese grammar generally employs a subject-object-verb order, but is very modular and flexible since the grammatical meaning of a word is expressed by the morphemes glued to its end and special marker particles. The two most important particles are the topic marker は wa and the object marker を o.
- I saw the movie.
- Watashi-wa eiga-o mimashita.
- I-[topic] movie-[object] seen.
It becomes a little more complicated if both objects and subjects are mixed within a sentence and the subject marker が ga is thrown in.
- I discovered that she likes tea.
Watashi-wa kanojo-ga ocha-o sukinakoto-ga wakatta.
- I-[topic] she-[subj.] tea-[obj.] like-[subj.] understood.
Students of the language can spend years wrapping their heads around the difference between the topic of a sentence (marked by は wa) and the subject of a sentence (marked by が ga). However, as a beginner, you can fairly safely always use は wa to mark the person doing the action and get your message across.
Some other useful particles are:
- の no
- possessive marker
- The mother's child
- haha no ko
- で de, に ni
- indicating places and times
- in Tokyo
- at 2 o'clock
- から kara, へ e, まで made
- from, towards, until
- From here towards Osaka until Nara.
- koko kara Ōsaka-e Nara-made
- と to, か ka
- and, or
- This and that.
- kore to sore
- This or that.
- kore ka sore
- か？ ka?
- question forming particle
- Are you going to Tokyo?
- Tōkyō ni ikimasu ka?
The verb "to be"
Japanese does not have an exact equivalent to the English verb "to be". Instead, the easiest way to form "A equals B" type expressions like "I am ..." or "This is ..." is the pattern A wa, B desu.
- 私は、山田です。 Watashi wa, Yamada desu ("I [am] Yamada.")
- これは、りんごです。 Kore wa, ringo desu ("This [is] apple.")
- それは、赤いです。 Sore wa, akai desu ("That [is] red.").
The word です desu here is not a verb, it's a polite copula (linking word), which can be omitted in colloquial speech or replaced with other copulas including でした deshita (polite past), でしょう deshō (polite suggestion) or だ da (plain). The topic indicated by は wa is also optional and is often implied by context:
- あなたはだれですか？ Anata wa dare desu ka? ("Who [are] you?")
- 山田です。 Yamada desu. ("[I am] Yamada.")
- これは何ですか？ Kore wa nan desu ka? ("What [is] this?")
- りんごです。 Ringo desu. ("[This is] an apple.")
- それは何色ですか？ Sore wa nani-iro desu ka? ("What color [is] that?")
- 赤いです。 Akai desu. ("[That is] red.")
The two verbs いる iru > imasu and ある aru > arimasu express the physical presence of a person or animal in the former case, or an object in the latter case. To say "A is located in B", use the pattern A ga B ni imasu/arimasu :
- 山田さんがここにいます。 Yamada-san ga koko ni imasu. ("Mr. Yamada is [physically located] here.")
- 本が棚にありますか？ Hon ga tana ni arimasu ka? ("Is there a book on the shelf?")
- はい、あります。 Hai, arimasu. ("Yes, [the book] is [on the shelf].")
Me, myself and I
More a cultural than a grammatical problem is the problem of addressing somebody. Even though there exist a multitude of words with the meaning "you", it is generally avoided to address somebody directly. The closest equivalent to "you" is あなた anata, but it's only used among close friends, or people of lower status than you. It is usually preferred to address somebody by name, title or status, applying appropriate honorifics.
Note that in Japan, it is generally rude to address people by first name, and last names are almost always used instead. The exception to this rule are children of elementary school age or younger, and friends you are very close to. When names are written in Japanese, they always follow the Eastern name order (like Chinese and Korean names), with the last name always written before the first name, which is contrary to common practice in English-speaking countries. This means that someone known as Taro Yamada in English will have his name written as 山田太郎 (yamada tarō) in Japanese.
- さん -san
- The most basic honorific, about equivalent to Mister or Miss (no distinction between the two in Japanese). 山田さん Yamada-san: Mister Yamada
- 様 -sama
- Politer than -san, used to address people ranking higher on the social ladder, such as your supervisor or boss, or even deities. It is also used by shop assistants to address customers.
- ちゃん -chan
- Usually used to address young children. Also used to address (usually female) close friends.
- 君 -kun
- Used to address young boys and male close friends.
- お客様 okyaku-sama
- "Honored Mr/Ms customer", used by hotel or shop owners to address you.
- 店長さん tenchō-san
- The way to address the owner of a shop, though not the other employees.
- お兄さん onīsan, お姉さん onēsan
- Literally "big brother" and "big sister" respectively, is used to address young people who you're having a hard time finding a better honorific for.
- お爺さん ojīsan, お婆さん obāsan
- "Grandpa" and "grandma", very popular to address old people. Cuter when used with -chan.
- 社長様 shachō-sama
- Used by employees to address the boss of the company.
- そちら sochira
- Means something like "on your side" and is used when absolutely no better honorific can be found.
There are also several different words for "I", with 私 watashi being the most commonly used. Grammatically it's often unnecessary to use the words "you" or "I" as the intended meaning is obvious from context, so they should generally be avoided. Sometimes people will also call themselves by their own name. When doing so they must not add any additional honorifics though; one only does this when addressing others.
There's no specific form for "we" or the plural "you". To address groups of people you add the plural particle たち -tachi to somebody within the group or the group designator.
- 私たち watashi-tachi
- lit. "the group around myself", meaning "we"
- 我々 ware-ware
- a less formal way of saying "we"
- あなたたち anata-tachi
- "the group around you", plural "you"
- 子供たち kodomo-tachi
- "a group of children", meaning "the children"
- 山田さんたち Yamada-san-tachi
- "the group around Yamada-san", everybody you'd associate with Mr. Yamada, based on context
Reading and writing
Reading and writing Japanese are advanced skills which take years of work to gain much real proficiency. Japanese people use three different writing systems of various complexity, two of which (hiragana and katakana) are syllabic and relatively easy to learn with 50 characters each.
The clincher is the set of Chinese characters known as kanji, roughly 2,000 of which are in daily use while many more exist. The components of kanji originated as pictures representing concepts, and even though kanji have since evolved dramatically and many have long since jettisoned any connection to the original concept, the meaning of a few simple kanji can still be guessed at (see below).
One difficulty in reading Japanese lies often in the fact that a kanji can have several different pronunciations. The kanji 人 for example has the meaning of "person", and by itself it may be pronounced hito. The kanji 大 means "big" (imagine a person with outstretched arms) and can be pronounced as dai or ō. Together they form the word 大人 "adult" (lit. big person), which is pronounced otona — a pronunciation that has no relation to dai, ō, or hito. In the word 外国人 gaikokujin ("foreigner", lit. outside country person) the same kanji 人 is pronounced jin. These pronunciations exist because a single kanji may be used to write one or more different words, or parts of words. These "readings" are normally categorized as either Sino-Japanese (音読み on'yomi, a Japanese approximation of the Chinese pronunciation of the character at the time it was introduced to Japanese) or native Japanese (訓読み kun'yomi, based on the pronunciation of a native Japanese word). Generally, kanji are read with their native Japanese reading when on their own (eg. 話, hanashi) and with Sino-Japanese readings when part of compound words (eg. 電話, denwa), though there are many exceptions.
While knowing Chinese will give one a huge advantage in tackling kanji, and someone who knows Chinese would generally be able to guess the meanings of new kanji with about 70% accuracy, one should still be careful. While most characters have similar meanings in both Japanese and Chinese, there are a few which have drastically different meanings. For example, the word 手紙, literally "hand paper", means "toilet paper" (shǒuzhǐ) in China, but "letter" (tegami) in Japan. In addition, many kanji used in Japanese have since become less used in Chinese (e.g. 犬 inu, meaning "dog"), meaning that while a native speaker of Chinese would likely recognize them, foreign language learners of Chinese may not be familiar with these characters as they are rarely used outside of idioms, proverbs and compound words. Moreover, the difference between Chinese and Japanese syntax means that different combinations of kanji can also result in drastically different meanings with amusing results. For instance, the kanji for the Japanese surname Inukai (犬飼), which means "someone who raises dogs" in Japanese, will be interpreted as "someone who was raised by a dog" by a Chinese speaker.
Kanji are mixed with hiragana and katakana in everyday writing for historical reasons. Japan adapted the Chinese hanzi system into man'yōgana, which is using the characters for their sounds rather than their meaning. Cursive form of man'yōgana was later on simplified into hiragana by women and its printed form into katakana by Buddhist monks. Until 1900 there were several hiragana characters to write each syllable. There are also several competing systems for rendering Japanese in the Latin alphabet, although the Hepburn romanization system is the most common and is used on Wikivoyage as well. Do not be surprised if you see these words romanized differently elsewhere.
Also note that there are many homophones in Japanese, i.e. words with different meanings that have the same pronunciation (like "there", "they're" and "their"). This can be confusing even to native speakers, to the extent that words have to be explained with an alternative reading or need to be drawn. These words may also employ a pitch-accent system to distinguish them, which speakers of non-tonal languages may have difficulty learning to understand.
|hashi||橋 "bridge"||端 "edge"||箸 "chopsticks"|
|noboru||登る "to climb"||昇る "to ascend"||上る "to go up"|
- Good afternoon.
- こんにちは。 Konnichiwa. (kon-nee-chee-wah)
- How are you?
- お元気ですか？ O-genki desu ka? (Oh-GEN-kee dess-ka?)
- Fine, thank you.
- はい、元気です。 Hai, genki desu. (Ha-ee, gen-kee dess)
- How about you?
- あなたは？ Anata wa? (Ah-nah-tah wa)
- What's your name? (lit. "Your name is...")
- お名前は？ O-namae wa? (Oh-nah-mah-eh wah?)
- My name is ... .
- ... です。 ... desu. (... dess.)
- Nice to meet you. (formal)
- 始めまして。どうぞ宜しくお願いします。 Hajimemashite. Dōzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu. (Hah-jee-meh-mash-teh dohh-zoh yoh-roh-sh-ku oh-neh-gah-ee shee-mah-ss)
- Please. (request)
- お願いします。 Onegai shimasu. (oh-neh-gah-ee shee-mahs)
- Please. (offer)
- どうぞ。 Dōzo. (Dohh-zoh)
- This person is ... . (when introducing somebody)
- こちらは ... Kochira wa ... (ko-chi-rah wah...)
- Thank you very much. (formal)
- どうもありがとうございました。 Dōmo arigatō gozaimashita. (doh-moh ah-ree-GAH-toh go-ZAh-ee-mah-shi-tah)
- Thank you. (less formal)
- ありがとうございます。 Arigatō gozaimasu. (ah-ree-GAH-toh go-ZAh-ee-mahs)
- Thank you. (normal)
- ありがとう。 Arigatō. (ah-ree-GAH-toh)
- Thanks. (informal)
- どうも。 Dōmo. (doh-moh)
- Thanks. (informal, Kansai)
- おおきに。 Ōkini (ohh-KEE-nee)
- You're welcome.
- どういたしまして。 Dō itashimashite. (doh EE-tah-shee mah-shteh)
- はい。 hai (High)
- いいえ。 iie (EE-eh)
- Excuse me.
- すみません。 Sumimasen. (soo-mee-mah-sen)
- I'm sorry.
- ごめんなさい。 Gomen nasai. (goh-men-nah-sah-ee)
- I'm sorry. (informal)
- ごめん Gomen. (goh-men)
- Goodbye. (long-term)
- さようなら。 Sayōnara. (sa-YOHH-nah-rah)
- Goodbye. (informal)
- じゃね。 Ja ne. (Jah-neh)
- I can't speak Japanese (very well).
- 日本語が（よく）話せません。 Nihongo ga (yoku) hanasemasen. (nee-hohn-goh gah (yo-koo) hah-nah-seh-mah-sen)
- Do you speak Japanese?
- 日本語が話せますか？ Nihongo ga hanasemasu ka? (ni-HON-go gah hah-nah-se-mahs-KAH?)
- Yes, a little.
- はい、少し。 Hai, sukoshi. (HIGH sko-shee)
- Do you speak English?
- 英語が話せますか？ Eigo ga hanasemasu ka? (EHH-goh gah hah-nah-seh-mahs-KAH?)
- Is there someone here who speaks English?
- 誰か英語が話せますか？ Dareka eigo ga hanasemasu ka? (dah-reh-kah EHH-goh gah hah-nah-seh-moss-KAH?)
- Please speak slowly.
- ゆっくり話してください。 Yukkuri hanashite kudasai. (YOO-kuree hanash-teh koo-dah-sah-ee)
- Please say it again.
- もう一度言ってください。 Mō ichido itte kudasai. (mo EE-chee-doh ee-te koo-dah-sah-ee)
- Please help!
- 助けて！ Tasukete! (tahs-keh-teh!)
- Look out!
- 危ない！ Abunai! (ah-boo-NIGH!)
- Good morning.
- お早うございます。 Ohayō gozaimasu. (oh-hah-YOH go-zah-ee-mahs)
- Good morning. (informal)
- おはよう。 Ohayō.
- Good evening.
- こんばんは。 Kombanwa. (kohn-bahn-wah)
- Good night (to sleep)
- お休みなさい。 Oyasuminasai. (oh-yah-soo-mee-nah-sigh)
- Good night (to sleep) (informal)
- お休み。 Oyasumi.
- I don't understand.
- 分かりません。 Wakarimasen. (wah-kah-ree-mah-sen)
- I am not Japanese.
- 日本人ではありません。 Nihonjin dewa arimasen. (nee-hon-jin deh-wah a-ree-ma-sehn)
- Where is the toilet?
- お手洗い・トイレはどこですか？ Otearai/toire wa doko desu ka? (Oh-teh-ah-rah-ee/toh-ee-reh wah DOH-koh dess kah?)
- 何？Nani? (nah-nee)
- どこ？ Doko? (doh-koh)
- 誰？ Dare? (dah-reh)
- いつ？ Itsu? (it-soo)
- どれ？ Dore? (doh-reh)
- どうして Dōshite (doh-sh'teh)
- どうやって？ Dōyatte (dohh-yah-teh)
- How much?
- いくら？ Ikura? (ee-koo-rah)
- What type of?
- どんな？ Donna? (dohn-nah)
What part of "no" don't you understand?
The Japanese are famously reluctant to say the word "no", and in fact the language's closest equivalent, いいえ iie, is largely limited to denying compliments you have received. ("Your Japanese is excellent! "Iie, it is very bad!"). But there are numerous other ways of expressing "no", so here are a few to watch out for.
- Leave me alone.
- ほっといてくれ。 Hottoitekure.
- Don't touch me!
- さわらないで！ Sawaranaide!
- I'll call the police.
- 警察をよぶよ！。 Keisatsu o yobu yo!
- 警察！ Keisatsu!
- Stop! Thief!
- 動くな! 泥棒！ Ugokuna! Dorobō!
- I need your help.
- 手伝ってください。 Tetsudatte kudasai.
- It's an emergency.
- 緊急です。 Kinkyū desu.
- I'm lost.
- 道に迷っています。 Michi ni mayotte imasu.
- I lost my bag.
- 鞄をなくしました。 Kaban o nakushimashita.
- I dropped my wallet.
- 財布をおとしました。 Saifu o otoshimashita.
- I'm sick.
- 病気です。 Byōki desu.
- I don't feel well.
- 具合がわるいです。 Guai ga warui desu.
- I've been injured.
- 怪我をしました。 Kega o shimashita.
- Please call a doctor.
- 医者を呼んでください。 Isha o yonde kudasai.
- Can I use your phone?
- 電話を使わせていただけますか？ Denwa o tsukawasete itadakemasu ka?
- I need a doctor.
- 医者に見てもらいたいです。 Isha ni mite moraitai desu.
- Is there a doctor who can speak English?
- 英語の出来る医者はいますか？ Eigo no dekiru isha wa imasu ka?
- Please take me to a doctor.
- 医者に連れていって下さい。 Isha ni tsurete itte kudasai.
- My wife/husband/child is sick.
- 妻・旦那・子供が病気です。 Tsuma/danna/kodomo ga byōki desu.
- Please call an ambulance.
- 救急車を呼んで下さい。 Kyūkyūsha o yonde kudasai.
- I need first aid.
- 応急手当をして下さい。 Ōkyū teate o shite kudasai.
- I need to go to the emergency room.
- 救急室に行かなければなりません。 Kyūkyūshitsu ni ikanakereba narimasen.
shorter: 救急室に行かないと。 Kyūkyūshitsu ni ikanai to.
- How long will it take to get better?
- 治るのにどの位かかりますか？ Naoru no ni dono kurai kakarimasu ka?
- Where is a pharmacy?
- 薬局はどこですか？ Yakkyoku wa doko desu ka?
- I'm allergic to ... .
- 私は ... アレルギーです。 Watashi wa ... arerugii desu.
- 抗生物質 kōsei busshitsu
- アスピリン asupirin
- コデイン kodein
- dairy products
- 乳製品 nyūseihin
- food coloring
- 人工着色料 jinkō chakushokuryō
- 菌類 kinrui
- 味の素 ajinomoto
- キノコ kinoko
- ピーナッツ pīnattsu
- ペニシリン penishirin
- 花粉 kafun
- 魚介類 gyokairui
- ゴマ goma
- 貝類 kairui
- tree nuts, fruits or berries
- 木の実 kinomi
- 小麦 komugi
- ... hurts.
- ... が痛い。... ga itai.
- Feeling unwell.
- 気分が悪い。 Kibun ga warui.
- Having a fever.
- 熱があります。Netsu ga arimasu.
- Coughing a lot.
- 咳がでます。Seki ga demasu.
- Feeling listless.
- 体がだるい。Karada ga darui.
- Feeling nauseated.
- 吐き気がします。Hakike ga shimasu.
- Feeling dizzy.
- めまいがします。 Memai ga shimasu.
- Having the chills.
- 寒気がします。Samuke ga shimasu.
- Swallowed something.
- 何かを呑んでしまいました。 Nanika o nonde shimaimashita.
- 出血です。 Shukketsu desu.
- Broken bone.
- 骨折です。Kossetsu desu.
- He/she is unconscious.
- 意識不明です。Ishiki fumei desu.
- 火傷です。 Yakedo desu.
- Trouble breathing.
- 呼吸困難です。Kokyū konnan desu.
- Heart attack.
- 心臓発作です。Shinzō hossa desu.
- Vision worsened.
- 視力が落ちました。Shiryoku ga ochimashita.
- Cannot hear well.
- 耳がよく聞こえません。Mimi ga yoku kikoemasen.
- Nose bleeds a lot.
- 鼻血がよくでます。Hanaji ga yoku demasu.
Japan has more than its fair share of natural disasters.
- 吹雪 (fubuki)
- 地震 (jishin)
- 洪水 (kōzui)
- 地滑り (jisuberi)
- 津波 (tsunami)
- 台風 (taifū)
- Volcano eruption
- 噴火 (funka)
While Arabic (Western) numerals are employed for most uses in Japan, you will occasionally still spot Japanese numerals at eg. markets and the menus of fancy restaurants. The characters used are nearly identical to Chinese numerals, and like Chinese, Japanese uses groups of 4 digits, not 3. "One million" is thus 百万 (hyaku-man), literally "hundred ten-thousands".
There are both Japanese and Chinese readings for most numbers, but presented below are the more commonly used Chinese readings. Note that, due to superstition (shi also means "death"), 4 and 7 typically use the Japanese readings yon and nana instead.
Down for the count
When counting objects, Japanese uses special counter words. For example, "two bottles of beer" is ビール２本 biiru nihon, where ni is "two" and -hon means "bottles". Unlike in English, where counter words are often optional or non-existent, in Japanese they're mandatory whenever you count something (e.g. 車２台 kuruma ni-dai, two cars; 台 dai counts machines). Alas, the list of possible counters is vast, but some useful ones include:
Note how many counters change form depending on the previous number: one, two, three glasses are ippai, nihai, sanbai respectively. There are also a few exceptions: one person and two people are hitori and futari. 20 years old is usually pronounced hatachi. You'll still be understood if you get these wrong though.
For numbers from one to nine, an old counting system is often used which applies to virtually any object you may want to count, without the need to attach a specific counter:
It is always a good idea to use a specific counter whenever possible, but using the generic numbers above is often equally acceptable. This system is rarely used anymore for numbers greater than nine.
Where they exist, the character(s) after the slash are used in financial contexts, such as when writing cheques and printing banknotes.
- ゼロ (zero) or 〇 (maru) / 零 (rei) in finance
- 一 / 壱 (ichi)
- 二 / 弐 (ni)
- 三 / 参 (san)
- 四 (yon or shi)
- 五 (go)
- 六 (roku)
- 七 (nana or shichi)
- 八 (hachi)
- 九 (kyū)
- 十 / 拾 (jū)
- 十一 / 拾壱 (jū-ichi)
- 十二 / 拾弐 (jū-ni)
- 十三 / 拾参 (jū-san)
- 十四 / 拾四 (jū-yon)
- 十五 / 拾五 (jū-go)
- 十六 / 拾六 (jū-roku)
- 十七 / 拾七 ( jū-nana)
- 十八 / 拾八 (jū-hachi)
- 十九 / 拾九 (jū-kyū/jū-ku)
- 二十 / 弐拾 (ni-jū)
- 二十一 / 弐拾壱 (ni-jū-ichi)
- 二十二 / 弐拾弐 (ni-jū-ni)
- 二十三 / 弐拾参 (ni-jū-san)
- 三十 / 参拾 (san-jū)
- 四十 / 四拾 (yon-jū)
- 五十 / 五拾 (go-jū)
- 六十 / 六拾 (roku-jū)
- 七十 / 七拾 (nana-jū)
- 八十 / 八拾 (hachi-jū)
- 九十 / 九拾 (kyū-jū)
- 百 (hyaku)
- 二百 / 弐百 (nihyaku)
- 三百 / 参百 (sambyaku)
- 六百 (roppyaku)
- 八百 (happyaku)
- 千 (sen)
- 二千 / 弐千 (ni-sen)
- 三千 / 参千 (san-zen)
- 一万 / 壱万 (ichi-man)
- 百万 (hyaku-man)
- 一億 / 壱億 (ichi-oku)
- 十億 / 拾億 (jū-oku)
- 一兆 / 壱兆 (itchō)
- 〇・五 (rei ten go)
- 〇・五六 (rei ten go-roku)
- number _____ (train, bus, etc.)
- _____番 (____ ban)
- 半分 (hambun)
- less (few)
- 少ない (sukunai)
- more (many)
- 多い (ōi)
- 今 (ima)
- 後で (atode)
- 前に (mae ni)
- before ___
- ___ の前に ( ___ no mae ni)
- 朝 (asa) (colloquial) / 午前 (gozen) (formal)
- 昼 (hiru or o-hiru) / 正午 (shōgo)
- 昼 (hiru or hiruma) (colloquial) / 午後 (gogo) (formal)
- evening before sunset
- 夕方 (yūgata)
- night or after sunset
- 夜 (yoru)
- midnight or past 12AM
- 真夜中 (mayonaka)
Clock times are formed as Chinese numeral plus 時 ji, for example, goji 5時/五時 for five o'clock. The exception is four o'clock which is pronounced yoji (四時) instead of shiji. You will be understood if you simply substitute gozen 午前 for "AM" and gogo 午後 for PM, although other time qualifiers like 朝 asa for morning and 夜 yoru for night may be more natural. The 24-hour clock is also commonly used in official contexts such as train schedules. TV schedules occasionally use a modified 24-hour clock, with late night showtimes counted from the previous day, e.g. Monday at 26:00 indicates Tuesday at 2:00 AM.
- six o'clock in the morning
- 朝6時 (asa rokuji)
- nine o'clock AM
- 午前9時 (gozen kuji)
- 正午 (shōgo)
- one o'clock PM
- 午後1時 (gogo ichiji.)
- two o'clock PM
- 午後2時 (gogo niji)
- 夜12時 (yoru jūniji), 零時 / 0時 (rēji), 24時(nijū yo ji)
Confusingly, the Japanese words for "N days" (long) and "Nth day" are the same, so eg. 二日 futsuka means both "two days" and "the second day of the month". (See #Days of the month for the full list.) You can tag on -間 kan at the end, eg. futsukakan 二日間, to clarify that you mean "two days long". The exception is 一日, which is read ichinichi to mean "one day/all day", but tsuitachi to mean "first day". Also note that 一日間 ichinichikan is not used, and the term for a duration of one day is simply 一日 ichinichi.
- _____ minute(s)
- _____ 分 (fun or pun)
- _____ hour(s)
- _____ 時間 (jikan)
- _____ day(s)
- _____ 日間 (nichikan or (k)kakan, see note above, except for 一日 (one day))
- _____ week(s)
- _____ 週間 (shūkan)
- _____ month(s)
- _____ ヶ月 (kagetsu)
- _____ year(s)
- _____ 年間 (nenkan)
- 今日 (kyō)
- 昨日 (kinō)
- the day before yesterday
- おととい (ototoi)
- 明日 (ashita) (colloquial) / 明日 (asu) (formal)
- the day after tomorrow
- あさって (asatte)
- _____ days after tomorrow
- _____ 日後 (nichigo or (k)kago, see note above)
- this week
- 今週 (konshū)
- last week
- 先週 (senshū)
- next week
- 来週 (raishū)
Days of the week
The days of the week are named after the sun, the moon and the five elements of Chinese philosophy.
- 日曜日 (nichiyōbi), abbreviated 日 (nichi)
- 月曜日 (getsuyōbi), abbreviated 月 (getsu)
- 火曜日 (kayōbi), abbreviated 火 (ka)
- 水曜日 (suiyōbi), abbreviated 水 (sui)
- 木曜日 (mokuyōbi), abbreviated 木 (moku)
- 金曜日 (kin'yōbi), abbreviated 金 (kin)
- 土曜日 (doyōbi), abbreviated 土 (do)
Days of the month
The 1st through the 10th of the month have special names:
- First day of the month
- 1日 (tsu'itachi)
- Second day of the month
- 2日 (futsuka)
- Third day of the month
- 3日 (mikka)
- Fourth day of the month
- 4日 (yokka)
- Fifth day of the month
- 5日 (itsuka)
- Sixth day of the month
- 6日 (mu'ika)
- Seventh day of the month
- 7日 (nanoka)
- Eighth day of the month
- 8日 (yōka)
- Ninth day of the month
- 9日 (kokonoka)
- Tenth day of the month
- 10日 (tōka)
The other days of the month are more orderly, just add the suffix -nichi to the ordinal number. Note that 14, 20, and 24 deviate from this pattern.
- Eleventh day of the month
- 11日 (jū'ichinichi)
- Fourteenth day of the month
- 14日 (jū'yokka)
- Twentieth day of the month
- 20日 (hatsuka)
- Twenty-fourth day of the month
- 24日 (nijū'yokka)
Months are very orderly in Japanese, just add the suffix -gatsu to the Sino-Japanese ordinal number.
- 1月 (ichigatsu)
- 2月 (nigatsu)
- 3月 (sangatsu)
- 4月 (shigatsu)
- 5月 (gogatsu)
- 6月 (rokugatsu)
- 7月 (shichigatsu)
- 8月 (hachigatsu)
- 9月 (kugatsu)
- 10月 (jūgatsu)
- 11月 (jūichigatsu)
- 12月 (jūnigatsu)
- 春 (haru)
- 夏 (natsu)
- Rainy season
- 梅雨 (tsuyu, bai'u)
- 秋 (aki)
- 冬 (fuyu)
Writing time and date
Dates are written in year/month/day (day of week) format, with markers:
In Japanese, the year is read as an ordinary number with exception of "9 as the last digit". 1999 was "one thousand nine hundred ninety-nine", sen kyū-hyaku kyū-jū ku nen). It can sometimes be abbreviated to the last two digits (i.e. "ninety-nine", kyū-jū ku nen), while pronouncing it kyū-jū kyū nen refers to "for the duration of 99 years", rather the year.)
Note that Imperial era years, based on the name and duration of the current Emperor's reign, are also frequently used. 2020 in the Gregorian calendar corresponds to Reiwa 2 令和2年, which may be abbreviated as "R2" or 令2. Dates like "02/03/24" (Reiwa 2, March 24) are also occasionally seen. Meiji, Taishō, Shōwa, and Heisei are used by elderly people or popular on signboards at historical sights. To convert the year into Gregorian calendar:
- Reiwa 令和 (1 May 2019 –)
- add 2018 to the year in Reiwa, i.e. Reiwa 3 nen 令和3年 is 2021.
- Heisei 平成 (8 January 1989 – 30 April 2019)
- minus 12 from the year in Heisei and add 2000, i.e. Heisei 12 nen 平成12年 is 2000 in Gregorian calendar.
- Shōwa 昭和 (25 December 1926 – 7 January 1989)
- plus 1925 to the year in Shōwa, i.e. Shōwa 45 nen 昭和45年 is 1970 in Gregorian calendar.
- Taishō 大正 (30 July 1912 – 25 December 1926)
- plus 1911 to the year in Taishō, i.e. Taishō 9 nen 大正9年 is 1920 in Gregorian calendar.
- Meiji 明治 (28 October 1868 – 30 July 1912)
- minus 33 from the year in Meiji and add 1900, i.e. Meiji 33 nen 明治33年 is 1900 in Gregorian calendar.
Many of the English words for colors are widely used and understood by almost all Japanese. These are indicated after the slash.
Note that some Japanese colors are normally suffixed with -iro (色) to distinguish between the color and the object. For example, 茶 cha means "tea", but 茶色 chairo means "tea-color" → "brown".
- 黒 / ブラック (kuro / burakku)
- 白 / ホワイト (shiro / howaito)
- 灰(色) / グレー (hai(iro) / gurē)
- 赤 / レッド (aka / reddo)
- 青 / ブルー (ao / burū)
- 黄(色) / イエロー (ki(iro) / ierō)
- 緑 / グリーン (midori / guriin)
- 橙 / オレンジ (daidai / orenji)
- 紫 / パープル (murasaki / pāpuru)
- 茶(色) / ブラウン (cha(iro) / buraun)
Bus and train
- バス (basu)
- 電車 (densha)
- metro / subway
- 地下鉄 (chikatetsu)
- tram / streetcar
- 路面電車 (romendensha)
- light rail
- ライトレール (raito rēru)
- bullet train
- 新幹線 (shinkansen)
- How much is a ticket to _____?
- _____ までいくらですか? (_____ made ikura desu ka?)
- One ticket to _____, please.
- _____ まで一枚お願いします。(_____ made ichimai onegaishimasu.)
- Where does this train/bus go?
- この電車・バスはどこ行きですか? (Kono densha/basu wa doko yuki desu ka?)
- Where is the train/bus to _____?
- _____ 行きの電車・バスはどこですか? (_____ yuki no densha/basu wa doko desu ka?)
- Does this train/bus stop in _____?
- この電車・バスは _____ に止まりますか? (Kono densha/basu wa _____ ni tomarimasu ka?)
- When does the train/bus for _____ leave?
- _____ 行きの電車・バスは何時に出発しますか? (_____ yuki no densha/basu wa nanji ni shuppatsu shimasu ka?)
- When will this train/bus arrive in _____?
- この電車・バスは何時に _____ に着きますか? (Kono densha/basu wa nanji ni _____ ni tsukimasu ka?)
- How do I get to _____?
- _____ はどちらですか? (_____ wa dochira desu ka?)
- ...the train station?
- 駅...? (eki...)
- ...the bus station?
- バス停...? (basu tei...)
- ...the airport?
- 空港...? (kūkō...)
- 街の中心...? (machi no chūshin...)
- ...the youth hostel?
- ユースホステル...? (yūsu hosuteru...)
- ...the _____ hotel?
- _____ ホテル...? (hoteru...)
- ...the _____ embassy/consulate?
- _____大使館/領事館...? (_____ taishikan/ryōjikan...)
- Where are there a lot of _____
- _____が多い所はどこですか? (_____ga ooi tokoro wa doko desu ka?)
- 宿...? (yado...)
- レストラン...? (resutoran...)
- バー...? (baa...)
- ...sites to see?
- 見物...? (mimono...)
- Where is _____?
- _____はどこですか? (_____ wa doko desu ka?)
- Is it far from here?
- ここから遠いですか? (Koko kara tooi desu ka?)
- Please show me on the map.
- 地図で指して下さい。 (Chizu de sashite kudasai.)
- 道 (michi)
- Turn left.
- 左へ曲がってください。 (Hidari e magatte kudasai.)
- Turn right.
- 右へ曲がってください。(Migi e magatte kudasai.)
- 左 (hidari)
- 右 (migi)
- in front of the _____
- _____の前 (_____ no mae)
- behind the _____
- _____の後ろ (_____ no ushiro)
- straight ahead
- まっすぐ (massugu)
- towards the _____
- _____ へ向かって (e mukatte)
- past the _____
- _____ の先 (no saki)
- before the _____
- _____ の前 (no mae)
- Watch for the _____.
- _____が目印です。 (ga mejirushi desu.)
- 交差点 (kōsaten)
- traffic light
- 信号 (shingou)
- 中 (naka)
- 外 (soto)
- 北 (kita)
- 南 (minami)
- 東 (higashi)
- 西 (nishi)
- 上り (nobori), also used for trains heading towards Tokyo
- 下り (kudari), also used for trains coming from Tokyo
- タクシー! (takushī!)
- Take me to _____, please.
- _____までお願いします。 (_____ made onegaishimasu.)
- How much does it cost to get to _____?
- _____ までいくらですか? (_____ made ikura desu ka)
- Take me there, please.
- そこまでお願いします。 (soko made onegaishimasu.)
- Do you have any rooms available?
- 空いてる部屋ありますか? (Aiteru heya arimasu ka?)
- How much is a room for one person/two people?
- 一人・二人用の部屋はいくらですか? (Hitori/futari-yō no heya wa ikura desu ka?)
- Is the room Japanese/Western style?
- 和室/洋室ですか？ (Washitsu/yōshitsu desu ka?)
- Does the room come with...
- 部屋は ... 付きですか? (Heya wa ___ tsuki desu ka?)
- シーツ...? (shītsu...)
- ...a bathroom?
- 風呂場...? (furoba...)
- ...a telephone?
- 電話...? (denwa...)
- ...a TV?
- テレビ? (terebi...)
- May I see the room first?
- 部屋を見てもいいですか? (Heya o mite mo ii desu ka?)
- Do you have anything quieter?
- もっと[静かな]部屋ありますか? (Motto [shizuka na] heya arimasu ka?)
- 広い...? (hiroi...)
- きれいな...? (kirei na...)
- 安い...? (yasui...)
- OK, I'll take it.
- はい、これで良いです。(Hai, kore de ii desu.)
- I will stay for _____ night(s).
- _____ 晩泊まります。(____ ban tomarimasu.)
- Do you know another place to stay?
- 他の宿はご存知ですか? (Hoka no yado wa gozonji desu ka?)
- Do you have [a safe?]
- [金庫]ありますか? ([Kinko] arimasu ka?)
- 戸棚...? (todana...?)
- Is breakfast/supper included?
- 朝食・夕食は付きますか? (Chōshoku/yūshoku wa tsukimasu ka?)
- What time is breakfast/supper?
- 朝食・夕食は何時ですか? (Chōshoku/yūshoku wa nanji desu ka?)
- Please clean my room.
- 部屋を掃除してください。 (Heya o sōji shite kudasai.)
- Please wake me at _____.
- _____ に起こしてください。 (____ ni okoshite kudasai.)
- I want to check out.
- チェックアウトです。(Chekku auto (check out) desu.)
- Do you accept American/Australian/Canadian dollars?
- アメリカ/オーストラリア/カナダドルは使えますか? (Amerika/ōsutoraria/kanada doru wa tsukaemasu ka?)
- Do you accept British pounds?
- イギリスポンドは使えますか？ (Igirisu pondo wa tsukaemasu ka?)
- Do you accept credit cards?
- クレジットカードは使えますか？ (Kurejitto kaado (credit card) wa tsukaemasu ka?)
- Can you change money for me?
- お金両替できますか？ (Okane ryōgae dekimasu ka?)
- Where can I get money changed?
- お金はどこで両替できますか？ (Okane wa doko de ryōgae dekimasu ka?)
- Can you change a traveler's check for me?
- トラベラーズチェックを両替できますか？ (Torabarāsu chekku (traveler's check) wo ryōgae dekimasu ka?)
- Where can I get a traveler's check changed?
- トラベラーズチェックはどこで両替できますか？ (Torabarāzu chekku (traveler's check) wa doko de ryōgae dekimasu ka?)
- What is the exchange rate?
- 為替レートはいくらですか？(Kawase rēto wa ikura desu ka?)
- Where is an automatic teller machine (ATM)?
- ATM はどこにありますか？ (ATM wa doko ni arimasuka?)
What are they yelling at me?
Most Japanese restaurants show their appreciation for customers by loudly greeting them in unison. Expect to hear the following:
If your meal was good, thank the chef or staff with Gochisōsama deshita when leaving, and you'll get an extra-hearty thank you in return!
- I'm hungry.
- お腹がすきました。 (Onaka ga sukimashita.)
- A table for one person/two people, please.
- 一人・二人です。 (Hitori/futari desu.)
- Please bring a menu.
- メニューを下さい。 (Menu wo kudasai.)
- Can I look in the kitchen?
- 調理場を見てもいいですか？ (Chōriba wo mite mo ii desu ka?)
- Is there a house specialty?
- お勧めはありますか？ (O-susume wa arimasu ka?)
- Is there a local specialty?
- この辺の名物はありますか？ (Kono hen no mēbutsu wa arimasu ka?)
- Please choose for me.
- お任せします。 (O-makase shimasu.)
- I'm a vegetarian.
- ベジタリアンです。 (Bejitarian desu.)
- I don't eat pork.
- 豚肉はだめです。 (Butaniku wa dame desu.)
- I don't eat beef.
- 牛肉はだめです。(Gyūniku wa dame desu.)
- I don't eat raw fish.
- 生の魚はだめです。(Nama no sakana wa dame desu.)
- Please do not use too much oil.
- 油を控えて下さい。(Abura wo hikaete kudasai.)
- fixed-price meal
- 定食 (teishoku)
- à la carte
- 一品料理 (ippinryōri)
- 朝食 (chōshoku) / 朝ご飯 (asagohan)
- 昼食 (chūshoku) / 昼ご飯 (hirugohan)
- light meal/snack
- 軽食 (keishoku) / おやつ (oyatsu)
- 夕食 (yūshoku) / 晩ご飯 (bangohan)
- Please bring _____.
- _____ を下さい。(_____ wo kudasai.)
- I want a dish containing _____.
- _____が入ってるものを下さい。 (____ ga haitteru mono wo kudasai.)
- 鶏肉 (toriniku) / チキン (chikin)
- 牛肉 (gyūniku) / ビーフ (bīfu)
- 豚肉 (butaniku) / ポーク (pōku)
- マトン (maton) / 羊肉 (yōniku)
- ラム(肉) (ramu(-niku)) / 子羊 (kohitsuji)
- 魚 (sakana)
- ハム (hamu)
- ソーセージ (sōsēji)
- チーズ (chīzu)
- 卵 / 玉子 (tamago)
- サラダ (sarada)
- (fresh) vegetables
- (新鮮な)野菜 ( (shinsen-na) yasai)
- (fresh) fruit
- (新鮮な)果物 ( (shinsen-na) kudamono)
- パン (pan)
- トースト (tōsuto)
- 麺類 (menrui)
- パスタ (pasuta)
- cooked rice
- ご飯 (gohan)
- raw rice
- 米 (kome)
- スープ : (sūpu)
- 豆 (mame)
- May I have a glass/cup of _____?
- _____ を一杯下さい。 (____ wo ippai kudasai.)
- May I have a bottle of _____?
- _____ を一本下さい。 (_____ wo ippon kudasai.)
- コーヒー (kōhī)
- green tea
- 緑茶(ryokucha) / お茶 (ocha)
- black tea
- 紅茶 (kōcha)
- ジュース(jūsu) / 果汁 (kajū)
- ミルク (miruku) / 牛乳 (gyūnyū) (The latter specifically refers to cow's milk.)
- 水 (mizu)
- ビール (bīru)
- red/white wine
- 赤/白ワイン (aka/shiro wain)
- Do you have _____?
- _____ はありますか? (_____ wa arimasu ka?)
- お箸 (o-hashi)
- フォーク (fōku)
- スプーン (supūn)
- 砂糖 (satō)
- 塩 (shio)
- black pepper
- 胡椒 (koshō)
- soy sauce
- 醤油 (shōyu)
- 灰皿 (haizara)
- Excuse me, waiter? (getting attention of server)
- 済みません (sumimasen)
- (when starting a meal)
- It was delicious. (when finishing a meal)
- ご馳走さまでした。 (Gochisōsama deshita.)
- Please clear the plates.
- お皿を下げてください。 (Osara o sagete kudasai.)
- The check, please.
- お勘定お願いします。 (O-kanjo onegaishimasu.) / 会計お願いします。 (Kaikei onegaishimasu)
On the phone
- 電話 denwa
- Mobile phone
- 携帯(電話) kētai(denwa)
- Telephone number
- 電話番号 denwa bangō
- Phone book
- 電話帳 denwa chō
- Answering machine
- 留守番電話 rusuban denwa
- Hello (only on the phone)
- もしもし moshi moshi
- May I speak to ... .
- ... をお願いします。... wo onegaishimasu.
- Is ... there?
- ... はいらっしゃいますか？ ... wa irasshaimasu ka?
- Who is calling?
- どなたですか？ Donata desu ka?
- One moment, please.
- ちょっとお待ちください。 Chotto omachi kudasai.
- ... is not here right now.
- ... は今いません。 ... wa ima imasen.
- I will call you again later.
- 後でまた電話します。 Ato de mata denwa shimasu.
- I got the wrong number.
- 間違えました。 Machigaemashita.
- The line is busy.
- 話し中です。 Hanashichū desu.
- What is your phone number?
- 電話番号は何番ですか？ Denwa bangō wa nanban desu ka?
Sake, known in Japanese as 日本酒 nihonshu, has a vocabulary all its own. Here is a brief introduction.
- Do you serve alcohol?
- お酒ありますか? (O-sake arimasu ka?)
- Is there table service?
- テーブルサービスありますか? (Tēburu sābisu arimasu ka?)
- A beer/two beers, please.
- ビール一杯・二杯下さい。(Biiru ippai/nihai kudasai.)
- A glass of red/white wine, please.
- 赤・白ワイン一杯下さい。(Aka/shiro wain ippai kudasai.)
- A mug (of beer), please.
- (ビールの)ジョッキ下さい。((Bīru no) jokki kudasai.)
- A bottle, please.
- ビン下さい。 (Bin kudasai.)
- _____ (hard liquor) and _____ (mixer), please.
- _____ と _____ 下さい。(_____ to _____ kudasai.)
- 日本酒 (nihonshu)
- Japanese liquor
- 焼酎 (shōchū)
- ウイスキー (uisukii)
- ウォッカ (wokka)
- ラム (ramu)
- 水 (mizu)
- club soda
- ソーダ (sōda)
- tonic water
- トニックウォーター (tonikku wōtā)
- orange juice
- オレンジジュース (orenji jūsu)
- cola (soda)
- コーラ (kōra)
- with ice
- オンザロック (onzarokku (on the rocks))
- Do you have any bar snacks?
- おつまみありますか? (O-tsumami arimasu ka?)
- One more, please.
- もう一つください。 (Mō hitotsu kudasai.)
- Another round, please.
- みんなに同じものを一杯ずつください。 (Minna ni onaji mono o ippai zutsu kudasai.)
- When is closing time?
- 閉店は何時ですか? (Heiten wa nanji desuka?)
O, honorable prefix!
Nearly any Japanese word can be prefixed with the respectful tags o- (お) or go- (ご or 御), often translated with the unwieldy four-syllable word "honorable". A few you might expect — o-tōsan (お父さん) is "honorable father", and a few you might not — o-shiri (お尻) is "honorable buttocks". Most of the time, they're used to emphasize that the speaker is referring to the listener, so if someone enquires if after your honorable health (お元気 o-genki) it's proper to strip off the honorific and reply that you are merely genki. However, for some words like gohan (ご飯) "rice" and ocha (お茶) "tea", the prefix is inseparable and should always be used. In this phrasebook, the prefix is separated with a hyphen if it's optional (o-kane), and joined to the word if it's mandatory (oisha).
- Do you have this in my size?
- 私のサイズでありますか？ (Watashi no saizu de arimasu ka?)
- How much is this?
- いくらですか？ (Ikura desu ka?)
- That's too expensive.
- 高過ぎます。 (Takasugimasu.)
- Would you take _____?
- _____円(で)はどうですか？ (_____ yen (de) wa dō desu ka?)
- 高い (takai)
- 安い (yasui)
- I can't afford it.
- そんなにお金を持っていません。 (Sonna ni okane wo motteimasen.)
- I don't want it.
- 要りません。 (Irimasen.)
- You're cheating me, aren't you?
- 騙してるでしょう？ (Damashiteru deshō?) Use with caution!
- I'm not interested.
- 興味ありません。 (Kyōmi arimasen.)
- OK, I'll take it.
- はい、それにします。 (Hai, sore ni shimasu.)
- Can I have a bag?
- 袋を貰えますか？ (Fukuro o moraemasu ka?) or 袋をください (Fukuro o kudasai)
- Do you ship (overseas)?
- 海外へ発送出来ますか？ (Kaigai e hassō dekimasu ka?)
- I need...
- ___が欲しいです。 (____ ga hoshii desu.)
- 眼鏡 (megane)
- 歯磨き粉 (hamigakiko)
- ...a toothbrush.
- 歯ブラシ (ha-burashi)
- タンポン (tampon)
- 石鹸 (sekken)
- シャンプー (shampū)
- ...pain reliever. (e.g., aspirin or ibuprofen)
- 鎮痛剤 (chintsūzai)
- ...cold medicine.
- 風邪薬 (kazegusuri)
- ...stomach medicine.
- 胃腸薬 (ichōyaku)
- ...a razor.
- 剃刀 (kamisori)
- ...an umbrella.
- 傘 (kasa)
- ...sunblock lotion.
- 日焼け止め (hiyakedome)
- ...a postcard.
- 葉書 (hagaki)
- ...postage stamps.
- 切手 (kitte)
- 電池 (denchi)
- ...writing paper.
- 紙 (kami)
- ...a pen.
- ペン (pen)
- ...a pencil.
- 鉛筆 (empitsu)
- ...English-language books.
- 英語の本 (eigo no hon)
- ...English-language magazines.
- 英語の雑誌 (eigo no zasshi)
- ...an English-language newspaper.
- 英字新聞 (ēji shinbun)
- ...a Japanese-English dictionary.
- 和英辞典 (waē jiten)
- ...an English-Japanese dictionary.
- 英和辞典 (ēwa jiten)
- Are you married?
- 結婚していますか? (Kekkon shiteimasu ka?)
- I am married.
- 結婚しています。 (Kekkon shiteimasu.)
- I am single.
- 独身です。 (Dokushin desu)
- Do you have brothers and sisters?
- 兄弟はいますか? (Kyōdai wa imasu ka?)
- Do you have children?
- 子供はいますか? (Kodomo wa imasu ka?)
Talking about your own family
In Japanese, it's always important to use less respectful terms for your own family and more respectful terms for another's family. Note also that the words for older/younger brother/sister are different.
- 父 (chichi)
- 母 (haha)
- Older Brother
- 兄 (ani)
- Older Sister
- 姉 (ane)
- Younger Brother
- 弟 (otōto)
- Younger Sister
- 妹 (imōto)
- 祖父 (sofu)
- 祖母 (sobo)
- 叔父/伯父 (oji)
- 叔母/伯母 (oba)
- 夫 (otto) / 主人 (shujin)
- 妻 (tsuma) / 家内 (kanai)
- 息子 (musuko)
- 娘 (musume)
- 孫 (mago)
Talking about another's family
- お父さん (otōsan)
- お母さん (okāsan)
- Older Brother
- お兄さん (onīsan)
- Older Sister
- お姉さん (onēsan)
- Younger Brother
- 弟さん (otōtosan)
- Younger Sister
- 妹さん (imōtosan)
- おじいさん (ojīsan)
- おばあさん (obāsan)
- おじさん (ojisan)
- おばさん (obasan)
- ご主人 (goshujin)
- 奥さん (okusan)
- 息子さん (musukosan)
- お嬢さん (ojōsan)
- お孫さん (omagosan)
- I want to rent a car.
- レンタカーお願いします。 (Rentakā (rent-a-car) onegaishimasu.)
- Can I get insurance?
- 保険入れますか? (Hoken hairemasu ka?)
- Do you have a driver's license?
- 免許証を持っていますか? (Menkyoshō wo motteimasu ka?)
- stop (on a street sign)
- 止まれ／とまれ (tomare)
- one way
- 一方通行 (ippō tsūkō)
- 徐行 (jokō)
- road blocked
- 通行止め (tsūkōdome)
- no parking
- 駐車禁止 (chūsha kinshi)
- speed limit
- 制限速度 (seigen sokudo)
- gas (petrol) station
- ガソリンスタンド (gasorin sutando)
- ガソリン (gasorin)
- 軽油/ディーゼル (keiyu / diizeru)
In Japan, you can legally be incarcerated for twenty-three (23) days before you are charged, but you do have the right to see a lawyer after the first 48 hours of detention. Note that if you sign a confession, you will be convicted.
- I haven't done anything (wrong).
- 何も(悪いことを)していません。(Nani mo (warui koto wo) shiteimasen.)
- It was a misunderstanding.
- 誤解でした。 (Gokai deshita.)
- Where are you taking me?
- どこへ連れて行くのですか？ (Doko e tsurete yukuno desu ka?)
- Am I under arrest?
- 私は逮捕されてるのですか？ (Watashi wa taiho sareteruno desu ka?)
- I am a citizen of ____.
- ____ の国民です。 (____ no kokumin desu.)
- I want to meet with the ____ embassy.
- ____ 大使館と会わせて下さい。 (____ taishikan to awasete kudasai.)
- I want to meet with a lawyer.
- 弁護士と会わせて下さい。(Bengoshi to awasete kudasai.)
- Can it be settled with a fine?
- 罰金で済みますか？ (Bakkin de sumimasu ka?)
Note: You can say this to a traffic cop, but bribery is highly unlikely to work in Japan.
Typical Japanese expressions
Four syllable words
If words can be shortened, Japanese will inevitably shorten them. Two by two syllables is often the sweet spot, and sometimes it's hard to guess where those came from.
- そうですね。 Sō desu ne.
- "That's how it is, isn't it?"
General agreement. Especially old people can be heard going sō desu ne back and forth quite a few times.
- （大変）お待たせしました。 (Taihen) omataseshimashita.
- "I have made you wait (terribly) long."
Used as an excuse after any amount of downtime, even just seconds. Often also used as a starter to get things going again.
- お疲れさまでした。 Otsukaresama deshita.
- "It's been honorably tiresome."
To colleagues in the sense of "you gave it all, good work", but more generally at the end of almost any activity.
- 頑張って！ Ganbatte!
- "Give it your best!"
Meant to be encouraging and motivating. 頑張れ！ Ganbare! in stronger cheering.
- いただきます。 Itadakimasu.
- "I will receive."
To yourself before starting to eat or when accepting something offered to you.
- 失礼します。 Shitsurei shimasu.
- "I will trouble you." or "I will be impolite."
When entering your superiors room or an unfamiliar house, when trying to get someone's attention or generally when interrupting someone.
- 失礼しました。 Shitsurei shimashita.
- "I have troubled you." or "Excuse my impoliteness."
When leaving your superiors room or an unfamiliar house or generally as "Sorry to have bothered you, carry on."
- 大丈夫。 Daijōbu.
- "It is alright."
For general reassurance. Used with desu ka? to inquire if something or somebody is alright.
- 凄い！ Sugoi!
- "Great!", "Incredible!"
Very popular amongst girls and greatly overused.
- 可愛い！ Kawaii!
- "How cute!"
- ええぇ〜 Eee~
Almost a standard reaction to any kind of news. Can be lengthened indefinitely and is hence useful to stall for time when thinking about a real answer.
- ウソ！ Uso!
Doesn't necessarily accuse one of lying, usually used in the sense of "Seriously?!"
Japanese makes extensive use of honorific language (敬語 keigo) when talking to people of higher status. Keigo is famously difficult to master and even Japanese salespeople often need to take special courses to learn to speak correctly. As a foreigner, you will generally not be expected to use keigo, but it is very commonly used in situations like salespeople talking to customers and public announcements, so having at least passive familiarity with the most common keigo verbs and constructs will come in very useful.
When talking to someone of higher status than yourself, it is important to use a respectful form (尊敬語 sonkeigo) when talking about the other person. Generally, this follows the pattern お～になる(o ~ ni naru), where ～ represents the stem of the basic polite form: eg. to read, 読む(yomu), basic polite form 読みます(yomimasu) becomes お読みになる(o-yomi-ni-naru). The naru at the end follows the normal conjugation patterns for naru, most commonly becoming narimasu (present) or narimashita (past). The main exceptions are listed below:
- To see: 見る becomes ご覧になる (goran-ni-naru).
- To eat/drink: 食べる/飲む becomes 召し上がる (meshi-agaru).
- To come/go/be at a place: 来る/行く/いる becomes いらっしゃる (irassharu). (basic polite form いらっしゃいます irasshaimasu and not いらっしゃります)
- To know: 知る becomes ご存知だ (gozonji-da).
- To give (to yourself): くれる becomes 下さる (kudasaru). (basic polite form 下さいます kudasaimasu and not 下さります)
- To do: する becomes なさる (nasaru). (basic polite form なさいます nasaimasu and not なさります)
- To say: 言う becomes おっしゃる (ossharu) (basic polite form おっしゃいます osshaimasu and not おっしゃります)
When talking about yourself to someone of higher status than you, it is important to put yourself down by using a humble form (謙遜語 kensongo). Generally this follows the pattern お～する (o ~ suru), where ～ reprents the stem of the basic polite form: eg. to borrow, 借りる(kariru), basic polite form 借ります (karimasu) becomes お借りする (o-kari-suru). The suru at the end follows the usual conjugation pattern of suru, most commonly becoming shimasu (present) or shimashita (past); for an extra helping of humility, the verb 致す itasu > 致します itashimasu can be substituted. The main exceptions are listed below:
- To see: 見る becomes 拝見する (haiken-suru).
- To come/go: 来る/行く becomes 参る (mairu).
- To eat/drink/receive: 食べる/飲む/もらう becomes いただく (itadaku)
- To give: あげる becomes さし上げる (sashi-ageru).
- To do: する becomes 致す (itasu)
- To know: 知る becomes 存じる (zonjiru)
- To say: 言う becomes 申し上げる (mōshi-ageru)
- My name is: いう becomes 申す (mōsu)
The third type of keigo is called simply "polite language", or teineigo (丁寧語). Whereas respectful and humble language refer to the subject (you and I), teineigo is used to simply imply respect to the listener. An example:
- りんごをご覧になりますか？ Ringo wo goran ni narimasuka?
- Can you see the apple? (respectful)
- りんごを拝見します。 Ringo wo haiken shimasu.
- I see the apple. (humble)
- 彼もりんごを見ます。 Kare mo ringo wo mimasu.
- He also sees the apple. (polite)
In fact, the desu copula and the -masu form taught to beginning students of Japanese are both examples of teineigo. A few verbs and adjectives have special teineigo forms:
- to be
- aru (ある) → gozaimasu (ございます)
- to die
- shinu (死ぬ) → nakunaru (亡くなる)
- ii/yoi (いい/良い) → yoroshii (よろしい)
Country and territory names
Country and territory names in Japanese are generally borrowed from their English names and written in katakana. The names of languages are generally formed by adding 語 (go) to the end of the country name. Some of the main exceptions are as follows:
- 日本 Nihon/Nippon , 日本国 Nihon-koku
- 中国 Chūgoku
- China (or, confusingly, Western Honshu)
- 台湾 Taiwan
- 香港 Honkon
- Hong Kong
- 韓国 Kankoku
- South Korea
- 北朝鮮 Kitachōsen
- North Korea
- ドイツ Doitsu
- イギリス Igirisu, 英国 Eikoku (written)
- United Kingdom
- インド Indo
- タイ Tai
- フランス Furansu
- イタリア Itaria
- イスラエル Isuraeru
- アメリカ Amerika, 米国 Beikoku (written)
- United States of America (not the whole American continent)
- 南アフリカ Minami-afurika
- South Africa
- オランダ Oranda
- The Netherlands
- ベルギー Berugī
- ハンガリー Hangarī
- エチオピアー Echiopia
- アラブ首長国連邦 Arabu-shuchōkoku-rempō
- United Arab Emirates
- 豪州 Gōshū , オーストラリア Ōsutoraria
For those who want proof of their proficiency in Japanese, there is the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT, 日本語能力試験), which is endorsed by the Japanese government, and serves as the Japanese-language equivalent of the TOEFL and IELTS. The test is conducted at 5 levels, with level N5 requiring only a basic level of proficiency to pass, and N1 requiring near-native proficiency. Only reading and listening is tested, and there is no oral examination. Many private Japanese-language courses are geared towards preparing students for this exam.
- WWWJDIC — English-Japanese-English dictionary including sentence translation, kanji lookup and place/personal name dictionary
- Tae Kim's Guide to Japanese Grammar — Comprehensive online/printable grammar guide building up from casual Japanese using first principles (as opposed to working sideways from polite phrasebook Japanese)
- Japanese LinguaLift — Learn, review, and practice Japanese in one easy to use package.
- L-Lingo Japanese — A free 40 lesson online learn Japanese application
- Charles Kelly's Online Japanese Language Study Materials — A collection of online study aids and quizzes
- Learn Japanese by listening — Some Japanese lessons in mp3.
- Listen to the pronunciation of Japanese Phrases — Audio Pronunciation of Japanese Phrases.
- Learn to speak Japanese - One at a Time — Daily Japanese lessons.
- Jisho.org — Another English-Japanese-English dictionary, but, with a deceptively powerful bookmarklet to assist reading kanji on websites.
- Denshi Jisho The best resource for japanese electronic dictionaries
- 100 top resources to learn Japanese
- Remembering the Kanji 1 by James W. Heisig (1977) — Extremely well-known book detailing just the meanings of most kanji and mnemonics to assist with retaining those meanings. Follow-up texts cover Chinese onyomi readings and all that again for less common naming kanji.