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