25 Essential Japanese Phrases for Travellers and Tourists
Getting ready to travel to Japan? You’ll need to know a few Japanese phrases before you go!
Learning even a few travel phrases in Japanese will break down a lot of barriers during your stay.
Japan is becoming more foreigner-friendly — you’ll notice updated signage includes English in main cities. And many Japanese people have spent some time learning English in school. But most people aren’t comfortable talking in English.
Japanese people know how hard it is to learn their language. They highly respect anyone who tries to learn and they appreciate your effort. Your willingness to try speaking Japanese will encourage them to try speaking the English they know. It’ll help you get by, and make your stay much more enjoyable.
Besides, it’s incredibly rewarding to visit a foreign country and connect with locals in their native language. And it shows a lot of respect for their culture, which the Japanese highly value.
So here are 25 essential Japanese phrases for all you travelers out there. All these phrases will be in formal, standard Japanese speech so they’re appropriate in any situation.
If you blast through these and you’re ready to learn more, check out JapanesePod101. It’s the best podcast for learning Japanese, with courses dedicated to learning Survival Japanese — everything you need to know in Japanese to get by. Plus, there are culture classes, beginner to advanced lessons, and more. It’s definitely my favorite for getting started.
Okay, let’s start speaking Japanese!
1. “Hello” in Japanese – こんにちは (Konnichiwa)
In Japanese, you can greet someone with こんにちは. It means “hello,” but there are many ways to greet someone in Japanese.
Konnichiwa also translates as “good afternoon,” so it’s best used during the day. In the morning, you can use おはようございます (Ohayou gozaimasu), and in the evening, こんばんは (konbanwa).
Konnichiwa actually means “This day is…” but it’s used now to say hello.
2. “Please” in Japanese – ください (Kudasai)
There are a couple of ways to say “please” in Japanese. The most universal one is ください. It means “please,” and you’d use it to ask a favor of almost anyone.
For instance, if you’re at a restaurant, you can say メニューをください (Menyu- o kudasai) to say “Please give me a menu.”
If you want to be more polite, you could use お願いします (Onegai shimasu). Either version of “please” is okay, but this one is better if you’re asking something of someone with higher status, or if you’re asking for a service. At a restaurant, both ください and お願いします are acceptable. Another example: if you’re ready for the check, you say お会計お願いします (o-kaikei onegai shimasu).
Unlike English, where “please” can be at the beginning or end of the sentence, it always comes at the end of the sentence in Japanese.
3. “Thank You” in Japanese – ありがとうございます (Arigatou gozaimasu)
To thank someone in Japanese, you say ありがとうございます. That’s the most common way.
But maybe you learned “thank you” was “Domo arigatou, Mr. Roboto.” from the song. どもありがとう does mean “thank you” as well, but more like “Thank you very much.” And it’s a little less formal without the ending ございます (gozaimasu).
4. “Excuse Me” in Japanese – すみません (Sumimasen)
When you want to get someone’s attention, you can say すみません, followed by your question or request.
You can also use this to ask someone (politely) to move, or even to apologize in place of “sorry.”
5. “Let’s Eat” in Japanese – いただきます (Itadakimasu)
いただきます is a unique Japanese phrase. It’s used like “let’s eat” in English or “bon appetit” in French. But it’s original meaning is “I humbly receive” and it’s always said before every meal, even when you eat alone. It’s a way to give thanks for the food, almost like saying grace.
When eating with others, it’s the signal to begin eating. You clap your hands together in a prayer position and say “いただきます！”
But, if you wanted to suggest grabbing a bite to eat, the polite way to ask would be 食べませんか (Tabemasen ka, “Would you like to eat?”).
6. “Thank You for the Food” in Japanese – ごちそうさまでした (Gochisousama deshita)
After a meal, you always say ごちそうさまでした. It means “thank you for the food,” and you’d say it to whoever treated you to your meal or cooked your food. Even if you paid for or made your own meal, you say this as an expression of gratitude to have food to eat.
7. “One” in Japanese – 一つ (Hitotsu)
There are two different ways to count in Japanese, but for most basic phrases you’ll need to know “one” as 一つ. Hitotsu is the universal counter for the number 1, meaning you can use it to specify how many of anything you want or have.
The phrase 一つをください (Hitotsu o kudasai) means “one, please.” You can use it to ask for one ticket, one pastry, one of anything while you’re out. Simply point and say Hitotsu o kudasai.
8. “Yes” and “No” in Japanese – はい (Hai) and いいえ (Iie)
To say “yes” in Japanese, you say はい and “no” is いいえ. Both of these are the polite, formal way to say them. However, you’ll more often hear うん (un) and ううん (uun) even though these are informal. Since you’re learning the basics, stick to hai and iie for now, but just know you may hear un and uun from others.
There’s another way to say “no” that’s more common because it’s less direct than iie. I’ll get to that in a moment.
9. “What’s Your Name?” in Japanese – お名前は何ですか (O-namae wa nan desu ka)
In Japanese, you can ask for someone’s name by saying お名前は何ですか. “Ka” is a question particle, so it takes the place of “?” at the end of a sentence in Japanese.
When replying, Japanese people say either only their last name or their last name and then first name. If you want to answer this question, you can simply say your name followed by です (desu). So here's how that exchange might look:
“お名前は何ですか。” (O-namae wa nan desu ka)
“たけうちなおこです。お名前は何ですか。” (Takeuchi Naoko desu. O-namae wa nan desu ka.)
“サカサスケイトリンです。” (Sakasasu Keitorin desu.)
In that example, the other person is Naoko Takeuchi (if only I was so lucky as to introduce myself to the creator of Sailor Moon!). But in Japanese, she’s known by her family name first: Takeuchi Naoko.
As a 外国人 (gaikokujin, “foreigner”), I could say my name as either Keitorin Sakasasu or Sakasasu Keitorin. Either way is fine.
After meeting someone, it’s respectful to say よろしくお願いします。(Yoroshiku onegai shimasu, “Nice to meet you.”)
10. “How are you?” in Japanese – お元気ですか (O-genki desu ka)
In Japanese, you can ask someone how they are with お元気ですか. But it’s more common to say お元気でした (O-genki deshita), which is past tense for asking someone “How have you been?” You don’t often ask how someone is doing in Japanese, but rather how they have been since you’ve seen them last (when it’s been a while).
11. “I’m Sorry” in Japanese – ごめんなさい (Gomen nasai)
To apologize in Japanese, you can say ごめんなさい (gomen nasai) or ごめんね (gomen ne). Gomen ne is more casual, but still quite common even in semi-formal situations. すみません (Sumimasen) works, too, or you could ask someone “Excuse me” and then follow with “Sorry” – ごめんね！
12. “What’s This?” in Japanese – これは何ですか (Kore wa nan desu ka)
Chances are, in Japan, you’ll stumble across some wild and totally different things. There are a lot of things unique to Japanese culture, from the toilets to the vending machines. So this is a good phrase to have ready!
If you don’t know what something is, ask これは何ですか and someone will explain it to you or help you out.
13. “I Don’t Understand” in Japanese – わかりません (Wakarimasen)
Still don’t know what that thing is? Or is someone trying to talk to you in Japanese, and you don’t follow along? Then reply with ごめんなさい。わかりません。(Gomen nasai. Wakarimasen).
Don’t be embarrassed to explain that you don’t understand. It won’t hurt the other person’s feelings — and you’re just starting out! It’s better to be honest than to run into trouble because you pretended to understand.
14. “What Does _ Mean?” in Japanese – は何意味ですか (*__ wa nan imi desu ka*)
Didn’t understand a certain word in particular? You can then ask “_は何意味ですか. “ Insert the word you didn’t understand into the blank.
For instance, if someone told you that thing in the vending machine is a 傘 (kasa), and you don’t know what kasa means, then you can ask 傘は何意味ですか (Kasa wa nan imi desu ka). The other person can either explain it’s for rain — “雨のためですよ” (Ame no tame desu yo) — or they’ll tell you “umbrella” if they know it in English.
15. “Say it Again More Slowly, Please” in Japanese – もう一度ゆっくり言ってお願いします (Mou ichido yukkuri itte onegai shimasu)
If you still don’t understand or can’t keep up, use this phrase. Japanese people talk very fast, and the words can run together easily. So if you didn’t understand because you need to hear it slower, say すみません、わかりません。もう一度ゆっくり言ってお願いします (Sumimasen, wakarimasen. Mou ichido yukkuri itte onegai shimasu).
Or, you could shorten it to ゆっくりお願いします (Yukkuri onegai shimasu). This is just “more slowly, please.”
16. “How do you say ?” in Japanese – _は日本語で何と言いますか (*__ wa nihongo de nan to iimasu ka*)
If you don’t know the word for something in Japanese, you don’t have to completely revert back to English! You can say _は日本語で何と言いますか and fill in the blank with the English word.
Using our umbrella example again, you could say “Umbrella は日本語で何と言いますか” and the other person can tell you it’s kasa.
17. “Do you speak English?” in Japanese – 英語を話せますか (Eigo wo hanasemasu ka)
You can ask someone if they speak English with 英語を話せますか. You could use this phrase with any language, and swap out eigo (“English”) for any other language. 日本語を話せますか (Nihongo wo hanasemasu ka) means “Do you speak Japanese?”
If you’re really trying to learn the language, not just get by briefly on a trip to Japan, then I would encourage you to keep trying to speak only in Japanese. This is your chance to learn and really speak! Don’t waste it by reverting back to English. You can always use phrases like the last one – “_は日本語で何と言いますか” – over and over again to learn how to say what you need!
18. “Where is ?” in Japanese – _はどこですか (*__ wa doko desu ka*)
If you’re lost or looking for something, and all the signs are in kanji that you can’t read yet, then ask someone for help with “_はどこですか.” Some words you might want to fill in the blank with:
- トイレ (toire) – Bathroom
- 駅 (Eki) – Train station
- 地下鉄 (Chikatetsu) – Subway
- バス停 (Basu tei) – Bus stop
- ホテル (Hoteru) – Hotel
- 地図 (Chizu) – A map
- 入口 (Iriguchi) – Entrance
- 出口 (Deguchi) – Exit
- レストラン (Resutoran) – Restaurant
19. “How Much is This?” in Japanese – これはいくらですか (Kore wa ikura desu ka)
When you’re out shopping, you can find out the price of something by asking これはいくらですか. Keep in mind yen — represented by 円 (en) in Japan — is like counting pennies. If someone said 1000 yen (sen en in Japanese), that’s actually about $10.
20. “It’s a bit…” in Japanese – ちょっと… (Chotto…)
Ah, yes. The universal phrase, ちょっと. Chotto means “a little” or “a bit.” As a phrase by itself, it shows hesitation, and means “It’s a bit… (inconvenient, not good for me).”
You’ll hear this phrase used in place of no (iie) more than you hear a direct “no.” One thing you’ll learn is that Japanese is not a very direct language, and relies heavily on context and body language.
So, if you asked how much something was with “これはいくらですか” and it was too expensive, you can say “Aaa… chotto…” to say “Ah, that’s a bit pricey.” To be more direct, you could say ちょっと高い (Chotto takai), “It’s a bit expensive.” You may be able to score a cheaper price by being direct, but directness like that isn’t considered polite.
21. “What do you recommend?” in Japanese – おすすめは何ですか (Osusume wa nan desu ka)
If you don’t know what’s good at a restaurant or shop, you can ask someone おすすめは何ですか to get their opinion.
This is a nice phrase to know because then you can ask locals what’s good around here, where you should eat, or what the house specialty is. It’s a good way to truly experience the country!
22. “Does this go to __?” in Japanese – これは＿＿に行きますか (Kore wa _ ni ikimasu ka)
This is another helpful phrase to know if you plan on using any of the public transportation. The train system can be especially confusing, so if you’re not sure you’re hopping on the right line, ask! “これは＿＿に行きますか” will get a yes or no answer from someone. Fill in the blank with the destination of where you want to go.
23. “Do you have ?” in Japanese – ＿＿はありますか (* wa arimasu ka*)
If you’re looking for something, you can use the phrase “＿＿はありますか” to ask. But this is also helpful if you’re at a restaurant and you’re wondering if they can meet your dietary needs. For instance, if you’re vegetarian, you could ask ベジタリアンメニューはありますか (Bejitarian menyu- wa arimasu ka).
If you can’t eat something specific, use the phrase “は食べられません。” ( wa taberaremasen) For example, I can’t eat gluten. So I could say グルテンは食べられません。(Guruten wa taberaremasen.) If it’s an allergy, you can say にアレルギーがあります。 (* ni arerugi- ga arimasu.*)
Here’s a few things you may not be able to eat:
- 肉 (niku) – Meat
- 牛肉 (gyuuniku) – Beef
- 豚肉 (butaniku) – Pork
- 鶏肉 (toriniku) – Chicken
- ピーナッツ (pi-nattsu) – Peanuts
- 小麦 (komugi) – Wheat
- 卵 (tomago) – Eggs
- 大豆 (daizu) – Soy
- 魚 (sakana) – Fish
- 貝類 (kairui) – Shellfish
- 乳製品 (nyuuseihin) – Dairy
24. “Can you take my picture, please?” in Japanese – 写真を撮ってもらえますか (Shashin wo totte moraemasu ka)
Of course, you’ll want to capture your journey to Japan! So if you’re walking about and need someone to take your picture, you can politely ask them for the favor with 写真を撮ってもらえますか. Or you could simplify it with 写真ください？ (Shashin kudasai?)
25. “I’ll have a beer to start, please” in Japanese – とりあえずビールをください (Toriaezu bi-ru wo kudasai)
This classic phrase is a must-know. Anytime you go out in Japan, you’ll hear people say とりあえずビールをください, or just とりあえずビール (Toriaezu bi-ru)! It’s such a set phrase, everyone picks it up quickly. Drinking culture is a big part of Japan, and it’s rude to turn down a drink. Usually, everyone starts off the first round with beer, which is why this phrase is so common. When it’s time to toast, say かんぱい！(Kanpai, “Cheers!”)
Enjoy Your Trip to the Land of the Rising Sun with these Japanese Phrases!
These Japanese phrases will help you put the right foot forward during your stay in Japan, and help you have a deeper cultural experience.
Can you think of any other helpful Japanese phrases for travelers to know? Share them in the comments! 気を付けて (Ki wo tsukete) — or “Be safe!”