Top 10 Most Useful Japanese Phrases When Traveling in Japan

Here’s a valuable guide to the most useful Japanese phrases and words. Most of them are very basic, and some obvious, but these are the words you’ll want to know.

If you’re traveling to Japan and don’t know the Japanese language, it’s usually not too big of a problem. Many people speak a tiny bit of English and knowing just a few Japanese words and phrases can go a long way.

10.Gambatte/Gambare

The Japanese phrase for “Good Luck” “Do your best” “Word Hard” and anything like that. If you happen to do any kind of activity that requires personal effort on your part while staying in Japan, you’ll definitely hear this. You can add “Ne?” to the end to make it sound a little less command like and more like “Good Luck eh.”

9.Ano…/Eito…

Ok, these aren’t really Japanese words. Actually they’re about equivalent to the English “um…” but much more useful. Part of getting along in Japanese society involves being indirect, and these words can do just that. Add “Ano…” to the beginning of one of your requests and you’ll definitely get the “wow, you sound Japanese” compliment. Sometimes it’s to the point where I can say “Ano…” and rub my hand behind my neck and the lady I’m talking to will go “Oh! is this your seat? I’m very sorry for taking it. Here you go!” It really happened.

8.Itai!

The Japanese word equivalent to our “Ouch!” and another extremely useful word. I haven’t tried it but I’m not sure if you can get attention in Japan by screaming “Ouch!”. But if you scream “Itai!” or one of it’s derivatives like “I-t-t-t-t-t-t” or “Iteee!” you’ll definitely be able to get attention. Hey, it could save your life.

7.Nanji desu ka?

The simple Japanese phrase for “What time?” If you want to say “What time is it (now)?” then just add the word for now “Ima” do the beginning. Simple isn’t it? Also, if you’re with someone who you feel as though you can talk a casual tone with feel free to drop the “desuka”.

6.Itadakimasu/Gochisousama Deshita

These two Japanese phrases are used before and after meals. “Itadakimasu” is used before eating and is kind of like “Bon Appetit” but much more common. “Gochisousama Deshita” or just “Gochisousama” is used after. These phrases are less about the translation and more about the application.

5. Daijoubu (Desu)

The Japanese phrase “Daijoubu” (Desu for politeness) means roughly “alright” or “ok”. It has many useful applications, however. First, of course, you can assure people you’re alright, or it’s alright. It can also means “no thank you” when wanting to decline food. Saying no directly in Japanese language is not common so use this instead.

4.______wa doko desu ka?

Ah, it finally came out. This extremely useful Japanese phrase means “Where is the____?” So “Toire wa doko desu ka?” means “Where is the toilet/restroom?” They don’t get much more practicle than this.

3.Ohayou Gozaimasu/Konnichiwa/Konbanwa/Oyasuminasai/ Sayounara

These are all greetings. “Ohayou Gozaimasu” is like good morning, “Konnichiwa” like “good afternoon”, “Konbanwa” like “good evening” and “Oyasuminasai” like “goodnight”. “Sayounara” is of course “goodbye”. There’s not much else to say, just make sure you use them at their appropriate times. Morning ends at noon and evening starts at about 5 or 6 P.M.

2.Arigatou

The “thank you” word. If you’re traveling in Japan, be sure to use this a lot. It’s expected in Japan to thank people for everything that they do for you, EVERYTHING. Ignore this at your own social dismay. The words “Domo” and “Gozaimasu/Gozaimashita(past tense)” are added for politeness and highly reccomended.

1.Sumimasen

This is the most important word in Japanese. It’s meaning is simple: “Excuse me”. However, it also means “I’m sorry” “Thank you” and is a polite “Hello”. This is your word to use for anytime you want to ask someone for anything including people at restaurants, stores, and basically anyone who’s not a close friend. Use this instead of “arigatou” if the person did something for you that involved any sort of self-sacrifice. Use this word, and use it often.

Honorable Mentions:

Kawaii

This word, meaning cute, is one of the words I debated putting on this list or not. The reason I had such a hard time decided is this simple fact. Japan is home to the cute society. Especially if you’re a girl this Japanese word will serve you well to know so that you can fit in with the masses.

Moshimoshi

This is what people say when they call/answer the phone. Why, you ask? It comes from the Edo Period Japanese word “Mosu” or ‘to talk”. This is one of the most common things to hear in Japan. The main reason it didn’t make the list is that if you’re at the point where you can in Japanese on the phone, you don’t need this list. Still, I feel compelled to mention it.