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Dreaming of visiting Japan? Before booking your ticket, you might want to learn a few Japanese expressions first.
Some might say that Japanese is a difficult language that takes a long time to learn. It is not as difficult as you might think, however, and it’s definitely a language worth learning.
Japan is a known economic power, which means learning to communicate with Japanese speakers is good for your business and your career. Japanese culture is also rich and fascinating and the best way to learn about it is to study the language.
The first thing you need to do if you want to learn Japanese is to memorize some common words and phrases. It’s also a good idea to learn some common Japanese expressions that can help you start and sustain basic conversations. Here are a few to start you off.
This is the most common Japanese expression that is used by great people. It is appropriate to use in the morning till around 6 in the evening.
Meaning: Good morning
If you are greeting a Japanese speaker in the morning, this is the expression that you should use. You can use this till about noon, after which “konnichiwa” is the better choice.
Meaning: Good evening
If you are meeting a Japanese speaker during the evenings, after around 6 or sunset, you can either use “Konnichiwa” or this phrase that means “good evening”.
Meaning: Hello (if you are answering a phone call)
This the greeting that Japanese speakers will use when they are answering a phone call. You can also use “moshi moshi” as a greeting if you are answering a video call, such as on Skype or if you are entering a Zoom meeting.
Meaning: Thank you
Politeness and respect are important in Japanese society. This is the most basic way that Japanese speakers express their thanks. Use it liberally.
Meaning: You’re welcome
Again, politeness is important is Japanese society, so it is important to acknowledge someone who said thank you by saying “douitashimashite”.
Meaning: I’m sorry or pardon me
You use this Japanese expression to apologize for a small slight or if you want to call someone’s attention to you. So, if you accidentally bump someone on the train, you say “sumimasen”. Also, if you want to get the attention of a waiter, say “sumimasen” first and when they turn to you that is when you make your request.
Meaning: I apologize
This is how you say “sorry” in Japanese for more grievous offenses. For example, if you knocked something over in a store and broke it, use “gomen nasai” instead of “sumimasen”. Also, if you want your apology to be more personal, if you think you have insulted a friend or shown disrespect to a teacher, use this.
Meaning: How are you?
This expression is what Japanese speakers use when they want to ask how they are doing.
Meaning: I’m good, thanks.
If someone asks you “Ogenki desu ka?” this is the appropriate response.
Meaning: What is your name?
If you are meeting someone for the first time, after you say “konnichiwa” you can use this Japanese expression to ask them what their name is.
Meaning: My name is
If someone asks you “namae wa nan desu ka”, you say this phrase and just insert your name in between “wa” and “desu”.
Meaning: I’m not very fluent in Japanese
As a new language learner, you will want to use this expression to tell Japanese speakers that they need to be a bit patient with you. Japanese are very helpful people, so they should be happy to oblige.
Meaning: I speak a little Japanese
Another Japanese expression that you can use to say that you are just learning the language.
Meaning: I don’t understand
You can use this Japanese expression to convey confusion. If you didn’t quite catch what someone said, you can say this.
Meaning: Please go a little slower
If you didn’t understand what was said because the speaker was talking too fast, you can say this.
Meaning: Could you say that one more time?
If you just didn’t catch what was being said, you can ask the speaker to repeat themselves by using this phrase.
Meaning: Can you help me?
If you need help, you can say this to a Japanese speaker.
Meaning: Are you okay?
If a Japanese speaker thinks that you need help or look unwell, they will use this phrase to inquire about your wellbeing and see what they can do for you.
Meaning: What happened?
If a Japanese person thinks you were in trouble, they might ask this. This is also used similarly to the English expression, “what did I miss?” If you went to the bathroom and think something happened while you were gone, you can ask your companions “doushitanda?”
Meaning: Is that so?
This is a general Japanese expression that is often used to politely comment on something that someone says. It’s similar to “really” in the sense that it’s used to indicate that the speaker is listening and is telling you to “go on” with what they were saying.
This is Japanese expression is similar to “sou desu ka” in meaning, but its usage is a little different. You can say “honto” if you are surprised by what someone said. When you say this, you are asking for clarification that what think you heard is true.
Meaning: That’s okay
This is a general Japanese expression that you can use to answer questions. If, for example, a salesperson says that they don’t have the shirt in red, but they do have it in blue, but you are not interested, you can say “dijoubu desu”.
Meaning: That’s good
If someone tells you some good news, you can respond with this phrase. It is also used to express approval. So, if someone suggests sushi for lunch and you think that that is a good idea, you can say this phrase to indicate agreement.
Meaning: Oh, good.
If someone tells you some good news, maybe when you were dreading some bad news, you respond with this Japanese expression. It’s like exclaiming, “what a relief” in English.
Meaning: Long time no see.
If you are meeting up with a group of Japanese friends, you can use this phrase to express happiness to see them.
Meaning: Let’s dig in!
Here’s a handy tip about Japanese dining etiquette, say “Itadakimasu” before digging into your food.
Meaning: That was delicious
This is the proper way to say thank you to your host for a good meal. It’s also generally said after a meal to signal to everyone that the meal is done.
Meaning: I am in your debt
This is another way to say thank you in Japanese. It is like saying “I own you”. You use it to thank a friend who has done you a favor or someone who has really helped you out, like the businessman who helped you figure out how to buy a train ticket.
Meaning: Great job
Japanese business culture has its own rules and it’s important to be respectful to your colleagues and to those who are above you in the organizational chart. If you want to politely acknowledge someone’s contributions to a project, you can use this expression to say good job.
If you want to congratulate a Japanese speaker, acknowledge their accomplishments or a milestone, you can say this.
Meaning: Happy birthday!
If what you want to congratulate someone for is becoming another year older and wiser, this is what you say. It is the Japanese expression for “happy birthday”.
Going out drinking with your new Japanese friend or co-workers? Well, you should know how to say “cheers” in Japanese and this is “kanpai!”
Meaning: Well, see you.
The formal way to say goodbye in Japanese is usually “sayonara” but this is the more common and slightly informal way that Japanese speakers say goodbye.
Meaning: Good night
If you are parting from a group of Japanese speakers during the evening, you use this phrase to say goodbye.
Meaning: Help me!
If you find yourself in trouble in Japan, this is the expression that you can use to draw people’s attention to the fact that you need help.
Meaning: Please call the police
If the help you need will come from the police, you can say this.
Meaning: Please call an ambulance
If you suspect that you need to be brought to a hospital, you can say this.
This is a Japanese question word. Aside from asking “what”, however, this phrase is used in other ways as well. You can say “nani” to express disbelief, similar to “honto”. It’s also shorthand for “wakarimasen” as you can say it if you didn’t understand something that you just heard.
Meaning: I did it!
This is a cute little Japanese expression of triumph or victory.
If you hear this from a Japanese speaker, they are saying that they just saw something cute or that they think something is cute.
Meaning: I knew it would happen.
This Japanese expression is used to say that your suspicions or hopes were correct. If you suspected that Mary was into Sam and they become a couple, you can say “yappari”.
This is a Japanese expression that is similar to an English speaker saying “wow”. Saying “sugoi” means that you are amazed or in awe of something or someone.
Meaning: I’m home
If you are staying with a Japanese family, it is polite to say this phrase when you enter the house after being gone.
Meaning: Welcome back
This is the common response to “tadaima”. It can also be used to respond to a greeting from someone who has been away. For example, if a co-worker returned from vacation, you can say this when you see them.
Meaning: I’m going
If you are leaving a place or a group of people, you can say this to inform the other people there of your imminent departure
Meaning: Please excuse me for leaving
This is a more formal way to say “ittekimasu”. Use this in a formal setting, such as a business meeting.
If you want to quickly gain fluency in any language, you need to find lists of common phrases and expressions in that language. Memorizing expressions will help you get a better feel of how native speakers construct sentences and will help you get a better feel of the grammar rules.
If you are in a hurry, if your business trip to Japan is a week or so, memorizing Japanese expressions and phrases can help you get around. If you really want to gain fluency, however, it’s best to fit in a few sessions with an online native Japanese-speaking tutor.
Download this free PDF of the Japanese expressions that we discussed here and go through them with your tutor. Make sure that you also ask your tutor about more expressions and phrases that you should know to help you better communicate with Japanese speakers
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