Survival Japanese

Survival Japanese

Key Words and Phrases for Traveling Japan

Mount Fuji
Just like climbing Mt. Fuji, while learning Japanese may seem difficult at first, with a litttle bit of effort and determination, you'll eventually reach your goal!

Japan is a fascinating country with a unique culture and a rich history, making it a popular travel destination for millions of tourists every year. While many Japanese people in urban areas can speak basic English, this is not the case for everyone – especially in the countryside!

Knowing some of the language will make a world of difference in helping you make the memories of a lifetime. Whether you’re trying to order food, ask for directions, or simply introduce yourself, our guide to basic survival Japanese will give you the confidence you need to interact with the locals and immerse yourself in the rich culture.

Japanese greetings

Greetings and Basic Expressions

Greetings are an essential part of Japanese culture. Knowing how to greet someone is a great way to start a conversation and make new connections. Making a slight bow while saying any of these greetings is a sure way to show your respect and knowledge of Japanese culture, and can go a long way in making a positive impression on the locals you meet.

Japanese greetings

1. Sumimasen (すみません) - Excuse me/I’m sorry

The very first thing you’ll want to learn in Japanese is how to apologize. Sumimasen is a versatile Japanese phrase that can be used to mean “excuse me” or “I’m sorry.”

For example, if you need to get someone’s attention, you can say sumimasen to do so.

If you accidentally bump into someone, you can say sumimasen to apologize.

If someone goes out of their way to help you with something, you can even say sumimasen to thank them.

Basically, when in doubt, sumimasen it out!

Japanese greetings

2. Arigatou Gozaimasu (ありがとうございます) - Thank you

Arigatou gozaimasu is the most common way to say “thank you” in Japanese. It is a polite and respectful way to express gratitude and can be used in any situation, whether you are thanking a shopkeeper, a friend, or someone you are meeting for the first time.

Other variations include arigatou gozaimashita (past tense), arigatou (casual), doumo (polite casual),  and doumo arigatou gozaimashita (polite formal).

Japanese greetings

3. Douitashimashite (どういたしまして)- You’re welcome

This is a polite phrase used to respond to “thank you.” When someone says arigatou gozaimasu (thank you very much), you can reply with douitashimashite to acknowledge their thanks and express that you were happy to help them.

Japanese greetings

4. Konnichiwa (こんにちは) - Hello

Konnichiwa is the most common way to say hello in Japanese and is used during the daytime from around 10 am to 6 pm. It is a polite and formal greeting that can be used in any situation, whether you are meeting someone for the first time or greeting a shopkeeper. As with other greetings, it is polite to accompany this greeting with a bow.

Next time you enter a shop or restaurant in Japan, try greeting the staff with konnichiwa!

Japanese greetings

5. Ohayou Gozaimasu (おはようございます) - Good morning

Ohayou gozaimasu is the greeting used for “good morning.” It is a polite and respectful greeting that can be used in any situation. As with other greetings, a bow is customary when saying this phrase.

A good time to use this phrase is either when you are greeting your guide before beginning your day or when you are checking out of your hotel in the morning!

Japanese greetings

6. Konbanwa (こんばんは) - Good evening

Konbanwa is the greeting used for “good evening”, typically from around 6 pm to midnight. It is a polite and respectful greeting that can be used in any situation, whether you are meeting someone for the first time or greeting someone you know. As always, it is appropriate to accompany this greeting with a bow.

If you are checking into your hotel at night or are eating dinner at a restaurant, konbanwa is the way to go to greet the staff!

Japanese greetings

7. Hajimemashite(はじめまして) - Nice to meet you

When meeting someone for the first time, it is appropriate to use the phrase hajimemashite. This phrase is a formal way of greeting someone and is only used the first time you meet them.

You can also use it to introduce yourself to others, followed by your name.

For example, “Hajimemashite, watashi wa Jon desu” (はじめまして、私はジョンです) means “Nice to meet you, I’m John.”

Japanese greetings

8. Gochisousama deshita (ごちそうさまでした)- Thanks for the meal

This is a polite phrase used to thank the host for the meal. It literally translates to “it was a feast”, and can be used in both formal and informal situations. When you finish a meal at a restaurant or at someone’s house, you can say gochisousama deshita to show your appreciation.

Try using it when you leave a restaurant, by shouting it back to the staff so that they know you appreciated the meal!

Japanese greetings

9. Mata ne (またね)- Bye/See you later

Mata ne is the casual way to say “bye” or “see you later” to someone who you plan to see again soon. It is often used among friends or acquaintances as a friendly and informal way to end a conversation or a meeting. Since this greeting is casual, you can wave your hand instead of bowing.

Try saying mata ne to any friends you make on your trip to let them know that you are hoping to see them again in the future!

Japanese greetings

10. Sayounara (さようなら) - Goodbye

Sayounara is the formal way to say “goodbye” in Japanese. It is a polite and respectful way to end a conversation or a meeting. However, it is considered formal and feels quite final, so it may not be necessary in many situations.

Think of sayounara as a phrase to be used whenever you are saying goodbye for a long time and don’t know when you will see the other person again. For example, leaving your guide at the airport when you return home to your country may warrant a sayounara, whereas saying bye to your friend with the intention of seeing them very soon would be when to use mata ne.

Feeling Ready?

Traveling to a non-English speaking country like Japan might feel like a daunting challenge, but rest assured, your time here will be unforgettable and the memories you make during your adventure will last a lifetime!

Remember, no one here expects your Japanese to be perfect! However, any effort you put into learning the language will be greatly appreciated, and locals will be impressed by your willingness to go out of your comfort zone and try something new in unfamiliar lands.

Take it to go!

Download our phrasebook as a PDF, print it off, and take it with you in case you forget on the road!

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