“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” ~ Nelson Mandela.
Are you planning a trip to Japan? Worried about the language barrier? Don’t be! It’s easy to learn a few handy phrases in Japanese before your trip to get by — this is just as important as knowing what to pack for Japan. For quick reference, I’ve created this list of the most useful phrases in Japanese for tourists below so you don’t have to scour the internet putting together bits and pieces!
These are phrases I used daily on my trips to Japan. I’ll guarantee this will help you get the most out of your trip, as I’ve also created a super easy and FREE downloadable PDF cheat sheet of these phrases so you can use it offline when in Japan.
I’m a HUGE fan of being an invisible tourist when travelling (hence the name of this blog). So much so, I’ve even written a book to help you learn how to as well! In the book I explain how I’m a firm believer that it’s possible to blend in when abroad by learning some local lingo. It has to be one of the best ways to not stand out as a stereotypical tourist. Read on for more!
TIP: This guide covers everyday Japanese travel phrases that tourists will find useful when in Japan. For fascinating expressions and their meanings you can use at home, take a look at my guide to beautiful words in Japanese.
This post contains affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Notes on basic Japanese phrases for travelers and pronunciation
Of course, there are dozens more Japanese phrases for travel I could add to this list. However, the aim of this article is to help you learn the most effective phrases you’ll use on a daily basis as a tourist. There’s no need to become fluent in Japanese or be daunted by the task of learning THREE alphabets (if you don’t want to!)
I’ve got to admit though, being able to read Hiragana (the swirly one), Katakana (the pointy one used for “borrowed” or foreign words) and some basic Kanji (derived from Chinese) is SUPER helpful when you’re navigating your way around Japan. It’s even better when you can read what’s in some of the interesting Japanese foods at the convenience stores!
I’m so glad I learnt to read before my first trip (even if sometimes I didn’t know what I was reading but I could piece the puzzle together). More on this at the end of the article.
As a general rule with Japanese, pronounce the words by breaking them down into their syllables. In English and other Romance languages we tend to have letters that blend together to make some sounds. Japanese doesn’t really which makes pronunciation much easier!
Here’s my little guide for how to pronounce Hiragana and Katakana (my Japanese phrases cheat sheet PDF is further down the page).
Here are 20+ super useful phrases in Japanese for tourists & FREE cheat sheet
So, you’re ready to master basic Japanese phrases for travel? I highly recommend listening to some Japanese audio so you can get the hang of how to pronounce the words and phrases correctly to avoid locals looking at you like you’ve got two heads. Keep on reading as I’ve listed where you can find them at the end of this article!
Japanese is a very syllable-based, vowel-sounding language that’s easy for English speakers to pronounce without many exceptions. I’ll detail each useful phrase and the most appropriate time to use them below.
So, let’s dive into the most useful Japanese phrases for travellers:
1. Hello: Konnichiwa こんにちは
The famous word you’re probably already familiar with! Konnichiwa こんにちは is best used when meeting and greeting people.
2. Good morning: Ohayou gozaimasu おはようございます
Ohayou gozaimasu おはようございます is a bit self-explanatory. You’ll be greeted with this phrase in the morning by staff at your hotel, or in stores. It’s one of the most common expressions in Japanese you’ll hear.
Be sure to reciprocate the greeting, and slightly bow your head in return! But how much to bow? See my guide for using correct etiquette in Japan.
3. Good afternoon: Konnichiwa こんにちは
No, this isn’t a typo! To greet someone in the afternoon, konnichiwa こんにちは is also used. Well I guess that’s one less phrase you’ll have to remember now, heh.
4. Good evening: Konbanwa こんばんは
Kinda obvious, konbanwa こんばんは is useful if you’ve finished eating dinner at a restaurant and saying goodnight to the chef and staff as you leave, or greeting staff at your hotel when you return for the night.
5. Good bye: Sayonara さようなら
This is used as a final goodbye, when you know you may not see that person again. Handy to use if you’re following one of my itineraries for Japan!
If you know you’ll be seeing the person again soon, ja matane じゃあまたね meaning “see you later” is more appropriate.
6. Please: Kudasai ください
You can use kudasai ください when you’re asking for something, for instance buying items from a convenience store or purchasing train tickets.
If you’re offering something, like allowing someone to enter a doorway before you, dozo どぞ” and an open hand will take your politeness to the next level.
When you’re wanting to say please in the context of asking someone to help you out, you can finish the sentence with onigashimas おねがいします instead.
7. Thank you: Arigato gozaimas ありがとうございます
You’ll hear and use this one A LOT in Japan. If you can only master one of the phrases in my article, let it be this! You can also use domo arigato どうもありがとう or simply domo どうも if you want to be super polite.
Much like other languages, there are different dialects in Japan. For instance in Kansai-ben (dialect of the Kansai region eg Kyoto, Osaka, Nara), if you’d like to delight locals there say okini おおきに with a long “o” sound instead!
8. How are you?: O genki des ka? お元気ですか?
You may be asked this by service people, or any friendly locals you encounter. This is a great one to use if you get talking to some locals at an izakaya (Japanese style pub). It’s a great ice-breaker to help you practice some Japanese.
9. I’m fine, thanks: Hai, genki des はい, 元気です
A polite way to answer “how are you?” to anyone who asks. They may go on to think that your Japanese vocabulary is larger than it seems!
10. Excuse me / Sorry: Sumimasen すみません
Sumimasen すみません is used for getting someone’s attention. Contrarily, gomennasai ごめんなさい is the more literal translation of “I’m sorry” but that’s more used as an apology. However, if you accidentally bump into someone sumimasen すみません is more commonly used.
You’ll definitely use this one a lot when exploring the famous sites in Japan!
11. My name is…: Watashi no namae wa … des 私の名前は…です
Simply insert your name where the dots are, for instance mine is “namae wa Alyse des.” You can actually ditch the watashi as this literally translates to “I am” rather than referring to your name, the context will be obvious.
This is a useful to know when introducing yourself to someone you’ve just met, or when checking into your hotel or accommodation.
12. Yes: Hai はい
13. No: Kekko des けっこうです
It’s pretty obvious when you would want to use hai はい, so no explanation needed here. However, no (literally iie いいえ) is a different story. Every other guide to Japanese for tourists will tell you to say “iie,” but I disagree.
Because Japanese people are so polite, they don’t really use the word “no” directly. They may say something that alludes to the meaning of no, but not say it specifically. You may need to read between the lines!
If you say “iie” (ee-eh) for no you may receive a strange look. You really need to draw out that “ii” sound otherwise the word ie means “house!” You’re not really meant to use it when refusing something. Chotto ちょっと meaning “it’s a little…” is a more correct way to say no in Japanese.
Reader’s Tip: Another handy replacement for “iie” is daijyobu desu 大丈夫です. It can mean “I’m good” or “no worries” without sounding disrespectful. A politer and more formal way to say it would be kekko desu けっこうです, so I have included this on my graphic.
14. I’d like…: … O kudasai …をください
Perfect to use in restaurants or when eating out, …o kudasai …をください this is a polite way to ask the food or item you wish to order. Just insert the word you need where the three dots are.
15. What is this?: Kore wa nan des ka? これは何ですか
This is one of the popular everyday Japanese phrases. It’s especially useful when shopping for food!
Remember to learn some possible responses like chikin チキン (chicken), beefu ビーフ (beef), porku ポーク (pork) or sakana 魚 (fish). Better yet, learn about these traditional Japanese snacks so you know what to expect in advance.
I’d also advise learning the names for the foods you are adverse to so you don’t order them by mistake!
16. How much is this?: Ikura des ka? いくらですか
Great little phrase to find out how much something costs. If you don’t know the names of numbers in Japanese when they respond, ask the shopkeeper to write it down.
You’ll likely need this one when purchasing souvenirs and things you can only buy in Japan, and it’s one of my most-used daily Japanese phrases.
I’ve got a little guide to numbers further down the page to help you out. Thankfully after World War II, Japanese people adopted using the same Hindu-Arabic numerals we do in the Western world!
17. Enjoy the meal: Itadakimas
18. Cheers! Kanpai!
From a young age, Japanese children are always taught to give thanks before their meals. You may notice locals even when dining on their own will say itadakimas いただきます before eating.
While English has adopted the French phrase bon appetit to say before meals, itadakimas いただきます translates to “I humbly receive” and is usually said when quietly clapping hands together once.
If going out drinking with locals, saying kanpai かんぱい and a clinking together of glasses is the norm. It’s our equivalent of “cheers” before a toast and translates to “dry cup!”
19. The bill / check, please: Okaikei wo, onegaishimas
Once you’ve finished your meal in a restaurant, say this handy phrase to your waiter for the bill/check to be brought over to you for payment.
If you’d like to show your gratitude to who prepared the food, you can say gochi so samedeshita ご馳走様です which means “thank you for the meal.” It can also mean, “It tasted good!”
20. Do you accept credit cards?: Kurejittokado wa tsukaemas ka?
While credit cards and things like Apple Pay are widely accepted, cash is king in Japan and usually the preferred way to pay for smaller things. If you’re spending big on a particular item, this is a handy phrase to check you don’t need to withdraw cash to carry out your purchase.
21. Where is the toilet?: Toire wa doko des ka?
When nature calls, this is an essential phrase in Japanese to know! If you’re looking for something else other than a toilet, you can replace the word for toilet toire トイレ with the thing you’re after. For instance, eki 駅 (train station) would be “eki wa do ko des ka?” .
22. Can you speak English?: Eigo wa hanasemas ka?
The word for English eigo 英語 is pronounced more like “air-go”. Most Japanese people will politely shake their head in response to this question, despite having learnt some English at school. Generally speaking, they tend to be a little shy in practicing their English because they aren’t fluent.
But you’ll soon find their definition of not speaking English is different to yours! In my experience, the people I encountered who said they couldn’t speak much English spoke well enough to get their message across.
In major cities like Tokyo and Osaka, English will be more widely understood, but not so much the further south you go towards Hiroshima. Just keep your sentences short, simple, clear and it’s likely you’ll be understood.
23. Can you translate this for me?: Yakushite, kudasai?
Great for asking a native speaker to translate a paper map, tickets, or anything else you can’t seem to understand in its context.
24. I don’t understand: Wakarimasen 分かりません
If Japanese is all getting a bit much for you, this is a good phrase to use. You may need to throw in a few hand gestures from here!
25. Help: Taskete たすけて
If you’re in need of help from locals, this is the word to use. It’s particularly useful if there’s an emergency and you need assistance.
Brief introduction to numbers
Luckily for English-speakers, the Arabic numerals we all know and use in the Western world are widely used in Japan. This makes reading numbers easy for us! Their pronunciation is different, though.
You may see the traditional numbers used throughout the country, especially at temples, shrines and they are sometimes used at market stalls. In terms of price, you’ll notice the 円 symbol for Japanese yen rather than ¥ that we tend to use in the West.
If you’re in a store asking for a quantity of something, it’s good to be able to pronounce numbers 1 through 10 so you can get by. If all else fails, at least you can write it down!
TIP: Some guidebooks and other blogs may teach you to say shi for the number four. I recommend to not do this; the word “shi” has a negative connotation as it’s associated with death in Japan.
Additional resources to learn Japanese for tourists
As explained in my detailed guide to learning any language for travel, to learn simple phrases in Japanese my favourite app that helped me learn Hiragana and Katakana was Memrise. It’s free to use, while it does come with a premium version I never purchased it as the free option provided what I needed.
If you’re a book lover like me, you may want to use a phrasebook to study some extra phrases. Sure, these days it’s all too easy to use language apps like Google Translate to do all the hard work (but where’s the fun in that?!)
Knowing some Japanese phrases beforehand will save you having to use pocket wifi or data roaming when exploring your Japan tourist destinations and you’ll get a more authentic exchange with locals. Getting your hands and ears on some Japanese audio will help you be well on your way to being an invisible tourist in Japan!
As you can probably guess from the photo above, I have loads of books that helped me prepare for my first trip to Japan and subsequent visits. You definitely don’t need this many but I found each helped me in a different way, which I explain below.
AJALT Japanese for Busy People
(latest prices, order here →)
Recommended by the university where I studied a short course in Japanese, Japanese for Busy People was is a really helpful book as it doesn’t go into a crazy amount of detail. Just the situations you would normally use Japanese to survive as a tourist (or there on a business trip).
The book has exercises so you can test your knowledge and also includes some notes about Japanese culture (I’ve also written my own article about do’s and don’ts when visiting Japan). A 70-minute audio CD covers the pronunciation from exercises from the book, which is also great.
Berlitz Japanese Phrasebook and Audio
(latest prices, order here →)
After using Lonely Planet phrase books exclusively for years I was introduced to Berlitz phrasebooks by a paid language course I took at my community college. Although the content is very similar to Lonely Planet’s (more below) I found some of the Berlitz phrases were more simplified, which made them easier to say and remember. The phrasebooks are also compact and cover most travelling situations.
Chineasy by Shaolan
(latest prices, order here →)
Overwhelmed by the thought of 2000+ Kanji? Chineasy is going to be your best friend! Although this book is to help you learn Chinese, it’s a game changer when learning Kanji (as this is derived from Chinese).
The pronunciation of the symbols may be different than Japanese, but this this book is awesome because it easily breaks down the Kanji into simple pictures to help you remember what they mean. If you forget how to say them at least you’ll be able to read the basics and know what they mean, which is perfect if you’re a visual learner like me.
You can even take it one step further and play the Chineasy Memory Card Game – what a fun way to learn Kanji!
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Lonely Planet Japanese Phrasebook and Audio
(latest prices, order here →)
With their strong reputation Lonely Planet is the industry leader when it comes to learning language for travel. This Japanese phrasebook covers almost every situation you’d expect when travelling and provides the phonetics of foreign words. As with Berlitz, this book is compact and pocket-sized so it’s perfect for on the go. It makes it easy to brush up on your Japanese phrases on the plane before you get there (without having to rely on pocket wifi)!
TIP: Specifically for Japanese – The Lonely Planet audio is useless for a beginner. The native speaks the Japanese phrases so fast and it’s very difficult for a beginner to determine what’s been said. Berlitz audio is a much better alternative, so I’d highly suggest Berlitz.
Lonely Planet Small Talk Asia
(latest prices, order here →)
This is a handy little phrasebook if you’re planning on visiting Japan as well as other Asian countries. Small Talk Asia covers the basic survival phrases you’ll need in Japanese, as well as Cantonese, Korean, Lao, Thai, Vietnamese and more. At the beginning of each chapter is a super useful table about how to pronounce vowels and how they can change the meanings of words if not spoken correctly. Very handy to know!
Concluding learning easy phrases in Japanese for tourists
If you’ve made it this far, you must be really keen to learn Japanese so I wish you the best on your learning journey. Now you’re set to visit Japan with the basic phrases you’ll need, as well as how to pronounce them and the best context to use each. I hope you’ll also find my free PDF cheat sheet helpful, too!
Hungry for more? I’ve have written about loads of tips and tricks for Japan, focused around how to be an invisible tourist while you’re there. If it’s your first trip or revisiting, my popular travel blog for Japan includes do’s and don’ts for etiquette, detailed itineraries, hidden gems, city guides, places you must visit in Japan and much more. Why not take a look while you’re here?
If you found this helpful or know someone who is planning a trip to Japan, please share it around as it really helps me in return! You can also come and join me on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and TikTok for more Japan inspiration!
Until next time,
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