Japanese 101

Learning even a little Japanese before your trip is a worthwhile endeavor (although I must confess that without reinforcement, I have lost almost everything that I learned). At the very least you should make an effort to learn Hiragana and Katakana, the two most commonly used character sets. Katakana is especially useful because it is used exclusively for writing foreign words (usually English). Once you’ve memorized the Katakana characters reading is just a matter of sounding out the syllables and trying to figure out what English word is being interpreted. Needless to say, this ability can be extraordinarily useful in restaurants.

Knowing just the bare minimum of Japanese we were able to safely navigate the subway system, purchase food (big deal), and exchange pleasantries with the people we met. The following won’t make you fluent in Japanese, but you’ll be able to say “please,” “thank you”, and “I’m lost” with absolute confidence.

Even if your Japanese is less than perfect, you can make up for many deficiencies by using the English versions of the above phrases — frequently and with sincerity. The Japanese place a great store on politeness, in any language, and will respond to your efforts in kind.

Finally, if some words sound familiar, it’s because they are. Many English words have been adopted into the Japanese language. So if you hear the word jazu, rest assured that you’re in line for a jazz club…

General Pronunciation Guide
A as in father
I as in machine
E as in yes
O as in go
U as in Flu

Long vowels are generally indicated by a rule over the vowel or double vowels (ii).

Consonants are generally pronounced as in English; the differences are subtle, and not easily explained. The best way to learn these pronunciations is to listen carefully to a language tape or Power Japanese.

Finally, all letters in a word are pronounced. At first, it feel awkward (and you’ll notice that native speakers tend to omit final sounds), but soon the words will flow.

Basic Words and Phrases
Japanese Word/Phrase English Translation
Anata You
Arrigato Gozaimasu Thank you
Domo Arrigato Gozaimasu Thank you
Dozo Please
Eigo English language
Eigo ga wakarimasu ka? Do you understand English?
Gomen Nasai Pardon me
Hai Yes
Hai, wakarimasu? Yes, I understand.
Iie No
Iie, wakarimasen No, I don’t understand.
Konban Wa Good Evening
Konnichi Wa Good Afternoon
Kudasai Please
Moshi Moshi Hello (greeting on telephone or when calling out to a stranger)
Nanji desu ka? What time is it?
Nihongo Japanese Language
Ohayo gozaimasu Good Morning (until about 10 a.m.)
Ryoogae suru To exchange money
Sayonara Goodbye
Sumimasen Excuse me
Toire wa doko ni arimasu ka? Where is the toilet?
Watakushi I (most commonly used version)
and courtesy of Wicked Japanese:
Mapputatsuni hiki sakuwayo I will tear you in half

 

Numbers
Japanese Word/Phrase English Translation
Ichi One
Ni Two
San Three
Shi (Yon) Four
Go Five
Roku Six
Shichi Seven
Hachi Eight
Ku Nine
Juu Ten
Months/Days of the Week
Japanese Word/Phrase English Translation
Ichi-gatsu January
Ni-gatsu February
San-gatsu March
Shi-gatsu April
Go-gatsu May
Roku-gatsu June
Shichi-gatsu July
Hachi-gatsu August
Ku-gatsu September
Juu-gatsu October
Juuichi-gatsu November
Juuni-gatsu December
Nichiyobi Sunday
Getsuyoobi Monday
Kayoobi Tuesday
Suiyoobi Wednesday
Mokuyoobi Thursday
Kin-yoobi Friday
Doyoobi Saturday
Heijitsu Weekday
Shumatsu Weekend
Kita North
Minami South
Higashi East
Nishi West

 

Restaurants/Hotels/Transportation
Japanese Word/Phrase English Translation
Resutoran Restaurant
Teishoku Set or complete meal
Gohan Rice
Mizu Water
Menyuu o misete kudasai Please show me a menu
Fooku o motte kite kudasai Please bring me a fork
Supuun o motte kite kudasai Please bring me a spoon
Naifu o … A knife
Oshibori Wet towel (usually hot)
Denpyoo o motte kite kudasai The check, please
Takushii Taxi
Ikura desu ka? How much is it?
[Hotel Name] made onegai shimasu. Please go to the [hotel name].
Eki Station
Kippu Ticket
Densha Train
Chikatetsu Subway
Hoteru Hotel
Ryokan Japanese Inn
Yoyaku Reservation
Furu-tsuki no heya wa arimasu ka? Do you have room with a bath?
Tatami Mat
Futon Japanese mattress
Yukata Bathrobe (light kimono)

 

 

Culture
Japanese Word/Phrase English Translation
Jinja Shrine
Otera Buddhist Temple
Torii A Gate – Usually a shrine entrance

Working In Japan

For some people a trip to Japan isn’t enough. Many would like to spend more time getting to know Japanese culture and living in the country on a long term basis. If that describes you, you’ll need to find a job. Below you’ll find some resources related to working in Japan.

  • Teach In Japan
    An information packed eBook about finding a teaching job in Japan. Valuable advice from an author who started as a teacher and ended up running his own school.

Key Regions in Japan

The country of Japan consists of a series of islands. The country is bordered by the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Sea of Japan on the other. Honshu is the largest island and contains most of the major cities in the country. It consists of five major regions.

    • Chubu – Located in the middle of the island and dominated by the Japanese Alps. On either side of the mountains are two regions: Hokuriku, on the Sea of Japan side, and Tokai, on the Pacific Ocean side. Key cities are Niigata and Kanazawa on the Hokuriku side and Nagoya and Shizuoka on the Tokai side.  
    • Chugoku – This region includes the cities of Hiroshima and Okayama. 
    • Kanto – On the Pacific side of Honshu. This large area includes Tokyo, Kawasaki, Yokohama, Yokosuka, and coastal plain areas. 
    • Kansai, also known as Kinki, region – This region is the historical center of Japan and closer the Sea of Japan side of the island. Key cities include Kobe, Kyoto, and Osaka.
    • Tohoku – This region is located on the north-east part of the island. Key cities include Sendai and Fukushima. 

Only Honshu is divided into regions. Hundreds of other islands are included in the country of Japan, though most are very small. Larger, more populous islands include:

    • Hokkaido – Hokkaido is located just above Honshu. Key cities include Sapporo and Hakodate.
    • Kyushu – Kyushu is the most southern of the main islands. Key cities include include Fukuoka and Nagasaki.
    • Okinawa – Okinawa extends toward Taiwan and is part of the Kyushu region. In addition to United States military facilities, the key city is Naha.
    • Shikoku – This small island includes the cities of Matsuyama and Takamatsu. Shikoku is a frequent destination for Buddhist pilgrims.

The Traditional Climb Up Fuji-San

Mt Fuji

Located a little over 50 miles outside of Tokyo, Mount Fujican be seen from higher hotels like the Park Hyatt, though that is more the exception than the rule. The sky must be clear to see the grandeur — it’s better to make the trip outside of Tokyo to truly appreciate the beauty of Fuji-san.

Tradition holds that the best time to be at the top of the mountain is when the sun rises. The sunrise is also known as Go-raiko. This means that climbers must arrive before dawn, which is at approximately 4:30 in the summer. The climb can take five to eight hours. Some do this by climbing most of the way the previous afternoon, spending the night at a way station along the route, and finishing the trip in the early morning. Others start their climb at midnight. How you approach your climb depends on your style.

Most climbs begin at the fifth station at Kawaguchi-ko, possibly because buses from Tokyo stop here. There are other fifth stations associated with other paths up the mountain. If you’re driving (and we don’t recommend that), the road ends at Kawaguchi. You will then climb the 10-station Yoshida trail. Hard-core climbers can start at the very bottom of the mountain, of course. You’ll pick up the trail at the point where the shops and restaurants end — just follow the crowds.

You will climb a series of switchbacks. Mt. Fuji has separate trails for ascending and descending, so the whole process is very orderly. There are shops and huts along the route that are open 24-hours if you need hot soup or a break. There are also futons available for naps. When you reach the summit, you might succumb to the urge to send a postcard to friends and family. Luckily, there’s a post office right there for you.

After the sun rises, you will then circumnavigate the crater before beginning your descent. You will pick up the Gotemba-guchi trail by the post office (just in case you waited to send that postcard, you have another chance) and start your way down. Some would suggest that this where the fun really begins: think giant sand slide. After the stately procession to the top and reverent viewing of the sunrise, the climb down is like entering a playground. People run, jump, and slide their way to the bottom. The descent takes an hour or two, depending on how athletic and bold you are. Go down at your own pace.

The region surrounding Fuji-san has developed a program to encourage tourists and visitors. You can join the The Mount Fuji Welcome Card program, which gives foreign tourists discounts of about 10 percent on services at 211 facilities, such as hotels, restaurants and museums in the Fuji, Hakone and Izu regions. The card can be printed out by visiting via the Web site at Mount Fuji Welcome Card.

Getting To Mount Fuji From Tokyo

By Bus:

From Tokyo, you can catch a bus from the Shinjuku station. You will be taken to the fifth station (Kawaguchi-ko). A one-way ticket is approximately $30 USD, though this can vary with exchange rates. Shinjuku is reachable via Tokyo’s various subway lines. There are also shuttle buses from Kawaguchi-ko that connect with other stations/trails around the mountain. The trip approximately 2.5 hours.

By Train:

Catch the limited-service JR Chuo Main Line at Shinjuku Station and transfer at Otsuki Station. Take Fujikyu to Kawaguchi-ko Station. Take a bus from Kawaguchi-ko Station to the 5th station of Mt. Fuji. The trip is about 2.5 hours.

Climbing Tips

There is a Japanese proverb that states only a fool climbs Mount Fuji twice. And real fool climbs the mountain unprepared. Do your homework before ascending the mountain.

Despite the fact that the mountain rises 12,389 feet or 3,776 meters (how in the world do they know this for sure?), the climb is relatively easy. However, the final stages do get steep, so be prepared for a workout. There are chains along the path for support.

During peak climbing times — July and August comprise the “official” season — the paths are packed with people of all ages. Comfortable walking shoes are the best choice for the climb. Expect thin air as you climb. If you get dizzy or sick from altitude sickness, stop. Do not push yourself just to prove a point. The mountain will be there next time.

Before your climb make sure you have sturdy shoes, rain clothes, flashlights and batteries (especially if climbing at night), sunscreen and sunglasses, and, yes, toilet paper. It can get cold even in the hottest of summer. The height of the mountain means chilly weather year-round. Temperatures can drop to a freezing 5 degrees C in the summer. That’s really cold. Be prepared. If you wish, bring a walking stick along, or purchase one at the fifth station. You can get stamps along the route to commemorate your climb.

Take frequent breaks and bring water. Higher altitudes require more water, and you want to have plenty on hand. While there are food stations along the way, it doesn’t hurt to have something to eat with you.

If there is a worst-possible time (other than off-season) to climb the mountain, it would be Obon week in mid-August. This Buddhist holiday translates to long lines on the climbing trail. Great for people-watching, frustrating if you want to get to the top in time for sunrise. At the end of the climbing season, the Japanese celebrate the Fire Festival of Yoshida, a major festival.

If you climb out of season (which is illegal), remember that many of the services are closed, though fifth-station businesses remain open year-round and some huts on the trail might be open. Expect freezing temperatures and snow. Out-of-season climbs are very dangerous.

Resources:

Mount Fuji at WikiTravel
Getting to the top in Japan – Japan Times (Registration Required)

About Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji, or Fuji-san, the highest mountain in Japan, straddling the boundary between the Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures. West of Tokyo, it can be seen from that city on a very clear day. The Pacific Ocean can be seen from the mountain. The mountain is located in Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park.

Surrounding the mountain are five lakes: Kawaguchiko, Yamanakako, Saiko, Motosuko, and Shojiko. The lakes provide excellent views of the mountain. A volcano that last erupted in 1707 (the Edo period), Fuji also fuels hot springs such as the famous springs of Hakone. The mountain is at low risk of erupting.

Fuji-san is a frequent subject for Japanese art. Ukiyo-e painter Hokusai’s masterpiece is known as 36 views of Mt. Fuji. It is also featured in literature.

Mount Fuji

Perhaps no image is more closely associated with Japan than Mt. Fuji. The distinctive shapeis both iconic and revered — and climbing the mountain is a rite of passage for citizens of Japan.

  • About Mount Fuji
    Mount Fuji, or Fuji-san, the highest mountain in Japan, straddling the boundary between the Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures. West of Tokyo, it can be seen…
  • Climbing Tips
    There is a Japanese proverb that states only a fool climbs Mount Fuji twice. And real fool climbs the mountain unprepared. Do your homework before…
  • Getting To Mount Fuji From Tokyo
    By Bus: From Tokyo, you can catch a bus from the Shinjuku station. You will be taken to the fifth station (Kawaguchi-ko). A one-way ticket…
  • The Traditional Climb Up Fuji-San
    Located a little over 50 miles outside of Tokyo, Mount Fuji can be seen from higher hotels like the Park Hyatt, though that is more…

Honshu

Honshu is the largest island in Japan. Major cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto are located on Honshu. Honshu is also home to Mount Fuji.

  • Mount Fuji
    Perhaps no image is more closely associated with Japan than Mt. Fuji. The distinctive shapeis both iconic and revered — and climbing the mountain is a rite of passage for citizens of Japan.