If you’re anything like me, you like to learn just a little bit of the local language whenever you’re travelling.
After all, learning how people communicate is one of the best ways to really start to understand a culture!
Having travelled to Japan many times, I’ve picked up a few basic Japanese words and phrases here and there, but just like everyone else, after awhile I forget 😅. So I need something to help me
Over these trips, I’ve come to realise which Japanese words and phrases I tend to use and hear often, and that's where this cheatsheet comes in handy. Of course, it’s not like you need it - most cities in Japan speak English pretty well, plus pointing at things always works, but it's nice to be a conscientious traveller anyway.
I’m sure you’ve heard that Japanese is a very difficult language to learn and study, and it is. But thankfully for us English speakers, Japanese has been romanised into what’s called “Romaji”, which if you’re not super serious about learning everything there is to know about Japanese language, is more than enough to babble some words to communicate what you need to say.
Of course, it’s not a replacement for learning actual Japanese though.
Romaji breaks down pretty easily into English letters you can start to pronounce, but there’s a bit of a catch with how they pronounce vowels.
Essentially, the vowels (A,E,I,O,U) are the same, but they’re pronounced differently. From there, you take the consonant that surrounds it and you can essentially pronounce the word (although the Japanese find consonants like “L”s etc difficult to pronounce).
It works like this:
A - Pronounced “Ah”. Like in “Far”.
E - Pronounced “Eh”. Like in “Edge”.
I - Pronounced “Ee”. Like in “See”.
O - Pronounced “Oh”. Like in “Moe”.
U - Pronounced “Oo”. Like in “Moo”.
So if you take the word “Sashimi”, it pronounces down into: Sahsheemee. Or if it’s the word “Atsui”, which means “Hot”, you would pronounce it as Ahtsooee.
Don’t worry, you’ll get it.
Here’s a list of common Japanese words and phrases
Yes - Hai
No - Iie (“iie”, pronounced “eeee-eh” …although you really don’t have to hold those first “e”s that long.)
Thank you - Arigatou
(A more polite way to say) Thank you - Arigatou gozaimasu
Thanks (but also can be used for hello or goodbye in the right context) - Domo
You’re welcome - Douitashimashite
Excuse me, sorry, pardon me or thank you for your trouble - Sumimasen
I am sorry - Gomennasai (give it some emotion)
After you (letting someone go first) - Dozo
That’s okay - Daijoubu desu
It’s good - Ii desu yo
That’s good - Ii ne (pronounced “eeee-neh”)
I’m well, thanks - Genki desu
Amazing - Sugoi (prepare to hear this a lot.)
Please - Kudasai (when casually requesting something), Onegaishimasu (for a more formal request)
Good morning - Ohayo gozaimasu
Good afternoon - Konnichiwa
Good evening - Konbanwa
Good night (time for sleep) - Oyasumi nasai
Nice to meet you - Hajimemashite
Bye - Jaa ne or Mata ne
Goodbye (won’t see them for awhile) - Sayonara
Convenience store - Konbini
Supermarket - Suupaa
Restaurant - Resutoran
Toilet - Toire
Bathroom - Tearai
Hotel - Hoteru
Airport - Kuukou
Station - Eki (pronouced “eh-ki”. E.g: Shibuya Eki = Shibuya station)
Taxi - Takushi (pronouced “Tah-koo-shi”, almost like the English “Taxi”)
Delicious - Oishii
Let’s eat, thanks for the food - Itadakimasu
Thank you for the food (after) - Gochisousama deshita
I’m hungry - Onaka ga sukimashita, Onaka suita (casual)
I don’t/ I cannot eat X - Taberaremasen (e.g: Sushi taberaremasen = I don’t eat sushi)
Cheers! - Kanpai! (give it some enthusiasm)
Water - Mizu (o mizu kudasai = Water, please!)
Beer - Bi ru
To drink - Nomimasu (combine with the “O” particle to show the object, E.g: biru o nomimasu = drink beer)
Ramen refill - Kaedama (you know, the important stuff)
English - Eigo (pronouced “eh-ee-go”)
Do you speak English? - Eigo ga hanasemasu ka?
Can you help me? - tetsudatte itadakemasu ka?
I don’t know - Shirmasen
Where is it? - Dokodesu ka? (tip: combine this before a place. E.g: Shibyua-eki wa dokodesu ka? = Where is Shibuya station?)
Do you have X? - X Arimasu ka? (e.g: Ramen ga arimasu ka? = Do you have ramen?)
Why? - Doushite
What - Nani
I understand - Wakarimashita
I don’t understand - Wakarimasen
To go - Ikimasu
To eat - Tabemasu
To do - Shimasu (e.g: o hanami o shimasu = to go cherry blossom viewing)
To speak - Hanashimasu
Amazing - Sugoi (prepare to hear this a lot.)
Happy - Ureshii
Okay - Daijoubu
Near - Chikai
Far - Tooi
Good - Ii (Pronounced “eeee”)
Bad - Warui
Fun - Tanoshii
Hot - Atsui
Cold - Samui
One - Ichi
Two - Ni
Three - San
Four - Shi
Five - Go
Six - Roku
Seven - Nana
Eight - Hachi
Nine - Ku
Ten - Juu
100 - Hyaku
1000 - Sen
10000 - Man
Yen - En (E.g: “Hyaku en”)
Did I miss anything?
These are the most common Japanese words and phrases I use whenever I go back to Japan. What are yours? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below!