A Beginner Friendly Japanese Phrasebook

A Beginner-Friendly Japanese Phrasebook

Japan has only grown in popularity over the years. It’s famous for being an excellent travel destination, and anime merchandise can be found all over your average mall. Consequently, the demand for accessible Japanese language tools has also grown. If you don’t know where to start and are looking for some Japanese phrases you can try out right away – whether for travel or to make Japanese friends – this is the post for you!

In order to be as beginner-friendly as possible, intuitive Japanese pronunciation guides are located between / / marks (after the original Japanese changed to its alphabet counterpart, which is called “romaji”). While the guides below are not 100% accurate to certain sounds, they are close enough that if you follow them, you will be understood by many people.

For an easy-to-understand guide to learning the Japanese grammar necessary to put your phrasebook to its best use, click the image below.

Image

Greetings

Japanese phrases often have a casual and formal version. Just as in English, casual phrases tend to be shorter and formal phrases tend to be longer (think “thanks” vs. “thank you very much).

Although using the formal version would be more proper, if you find the long phrase too difficult you can use the casual version, since it still includes the full meaning. It’s also notable that in Japanese there is no “hello”; you have to match your greeting to the time of day.

Good morning (casual) = ohayou /oh hah yohh/
Good morning (formal) = ohayou gozaimasu /oh hah yohh goh zai mah ss/
Good afternoon = konnichiha /cone nee chee wah/
Good evening = konbanha /cone bahn wah/
Good night (casual) = oyasumi /oh yah sue mee/
Good night (formal) = oyasuminasai /oh yah sue mee nah sigh/
See you = mata ne /mah tah neh/
Let’s meet again (formal) = mata aimashou /mah tah eye mah show/
Goodbye (can imply you won’t meet again) = sayounara /sah yohh nah rah/
How are you? = o genki desu ka? /oh gehn key dehss kah?/
I’m good = genki desu /gehn key dehss/

“Otsukare” is typically said at the end of a work day as you or someone else heads out of the office. The response to it is also “otsukare”. You can also use this phrase when a friend tells you they just finished work or after completing a big project. (Fun fact: it more literally means “you are tired”.)

Nice work today (casual) = otsukare /oh tsoo kah ray/
Nice work today (formal) = otsukare sama desu /oh tsoo kah ray sah mah dehss/

Numbers 0-10

0 = rei /ray/
1 = ichi /ee chee/
2 = ni /nee/
3 = san /sahn/
4 = yon /yohn/

5 = go /goh/
6 = roku /roh koo/
7 = nana /nah nah/
8 = hachi /ha chee/
9 = kyuu /kyoo, or like the letter “Q”/10 = juu /joo/

Colors

red = aka /ah kah/
orange = orenji iro /oh rehn jee ee roh/
yellow = ki iro /kee ee roh/
green = midori /mee doh ree/
blue = ao /ow/
purple = murasaki /moo rah sah kee/
gray = hai iro /high ee roh/
brown = chairo /chai ee roh/

black = kuro /koo roh/
white = shiro /shee roh/
pink = pinku /peen koo/
peach (skin color) = hada iro /hah dah ee roh/
silver = gin iro /gheen ee roh/
gold = kin iro /keen ee roh/
color = iro /ee roh/
What color do you like? = nani iro ga suki? /nah nee ee roh gah ski?/
I like (color) = (color) ga suki /(color) gah ski/

Self-Introduction

Nice to meet you = Hajimemashite /hah jee may mah shee tay/
I’m (name) = (name) desu /(name) dehss/
I’m from America = amerika jin desu /ah meh ree kah jeen dehss/
I’m from Canada = kanada jin desu /kah nah dah jeen dehss/
I’m from the UK = igirisu jin desu /ee ghee ree sue jeen dehss/
I’m from Australia = oosutoraria jin desu /ohh sue toh rah ree ah jeen dehss/
I’m from the Philippines = firipin jin desu /fee ree peen jeen dehss
I like (thing) = (thing) ga suki desu /(thing) gah ski dehss/

The last two phrases in this list don’t have a true English equivalent (more literally they mean “please treat me well”), but they’re of great importance in Japanese culture. If you’re meeting someone for the first time and are expecting to have repeated contact with that person, such as a classmate or co-worker, it’s crucial to end your self-introduction with a “yoroshiku”.

I look forward to working with you (casual) = yoroshiku /yoh roh shee koo/
I look forward to working with you (formal) = yoroshiku onegai shimasu /yoh roh shee koo own eh guy shee mahss

Introductory questions

In Japanese it is actually more polite and natural to directly use someone’s name rather than address them as “anata” (you). If you’re meeting someone for the first time, add the honorific “san” to the end of their name. (Honorifics are expanded upon later in this article.)

Although it feels a bit strange at first, since in English it’s rude to talk about someone in the third person while they’re present, in Japanese it’s highly preferable.

What’s your name? = o namae ha? /oh nah my wah?/
Where are you from? = doko no shusshin desu ka? /doh koh no shoe. Sheen dehss kah?/
Are you from Tokyo? = toukyou jin desu ka? /tohh kyohh jeen dehss kah?/
Are you from Osaka? = oosaka jin desu ka? /ohh sah kah jeen dehss kah?/ (Naturally you can replace “Tokyo” and “Osaka” with the name of any other city/area)
What are your hobbies? = (person’s name)-san no shumi ha? /(person’s name)-sahn no shoo mee wah?/
Do you like (thing)? = (thing) ga suki desu ka? /(thing) gah ski dehss ka?/

Thank you / Excuse me / Sorry

If you remember no other word on this list, you should remember “sumimasen”!

When you’re looking for help, “sumimasen” will break the ice and make it more likely someone will help you, even if from that point on you need to use English. However, if you want to follow up and try asking a question in Japanese, these useful phrases will give you a useful item to practice.

Thank you (for something small) = doumo /dough moh/
Thank you (for something big) = arigatou gozaimasu /ah ree gah toe goh zye mahss/
Of course/No problem = mochiron /moe chee rohn/
You’re welcome = dou itashimashite /dough ee tah shee mah shtay/
Excuse me = sumimasen /sue mee mah sehn/
I’m sorry (for something big) = gomennasai /goh men nah sigh/

Directions

Realistically speaking, you’re not likely to be able to catch a list of detailed directions as a beginner. The good news is that, between modern technology and Japanese hospitality (where it’s not uncommon for someone to volunteer to walk with you all the way to your destination), you shouldn’t need to be able to understand anything too advanced.

If worse comes to worst, follow where the direction giver points, and then ask again from the closer location.

Where is (place)? = (place) ha doko? /(place) wa doh koh?/
Where is the bathroom? = toire ha doko? /toy ray wa doh koh?/
Where is the supermarket? = suupaa ha doko? /sue pah wa doh koh?/
Where is the convenience store? = konbini ha doko? /cone bee nee wa doh koh?/
Where is Tokyo Station? = toukyou eki wa doko? /tohh kyohh eh kee wa doh koh?/ (naturally you can replace “toukyou” with the name of any other station)

“Kore ha doko?” is extremely helpful if you are unable to read the name of the place you would like to go. Just point to the original Japanese name and ask that question.

Where is this? = kore ha doko? /koh ray wa doh koh?/

right = migi /mee ghee/
left = hidari /hee dah ree/
straight ahead = massugu /mah sue goo/
It’s on the right = migi ni arimasu /mee ghee nee ah ree mah ss/
It’s on the left = hidari ni arimasu /hee dah ree nee ah ree mah ss/
It’s straight ahead = massugu ni arimasu /mah sue goo nee ah ree mah ss/
Turn right at the corner = kado wo migi ni magaru /kah doh oh mee ghee nee mah gah roo/
Turn left at the corner = kado wo hidari ni magaru /kah doh oh hee dah ree nee mah gah roo/

Shopping

If you’re looking for a specific product or are just unsure how to pronounce the thing you’re looking for, ask your question about “kore” (this) as you show them a picture or point to the word in the original Japanese.

Do you have this? = kore ha arimasu ka? /koh ray wah ah ree mahss kah?/
Where is this? = kore ha doko? /koh ray wa doh koh?/
Do you have (thing)? = (thing) ha arimasu ka? /(thing) wah ah ree mahss kah?/
Where is (thing)? = (thing) ha doko? /(thing) wa doh koh?/
How much is it? (casual) = ikura /ee koo rah?/
How much is it? (formal) = ikura desu ka /ee koo rah dehss kah?/

Although the culture has been shifting and some places have started to charge a few yen extra to get a plastic bag, Japan is still infamous for using too much plastic. If you’d like to refuse the bag and reduce waste, these following phrases will be of help.

I don’t need a bag (casual) = fukuro ha iranai /foo koo roh wah ee rah nye/
I don’t need a plastic bag (formal) = biniiru bukuro ha irimasen /bee nee roo boo koo roh wa ee ree mah sehn/

Honorifics

Honorifics are words attached to the end of names to show respect or imply a certain relationship.

There are no real English equivalents to honorifics, which means each needs a more thorough cultural explanation. Whether you refer to someone by first or last name also implies a certain relationship. Typically Japanese people are referred to by their last name, which implies a more distant and formal relationship.

If you’re on a first name basis with a Japanese person, this means your relationship is more close and casual. 

(Name)-san /sahn/: Roughly equivalent to Mr. and Ms./Mrs., this is the most universal honorific and always a safe choice.(name)-kun /koon/: Usually used to refer to a same age or younger male friend, especially for teenagers and younger. This can also be used by a boss to refer to subordinates of any gender, implying their lower position, although this is less common. 

(Name)-chan /chahn/: Usually used to refer to a same age or younger female friend, especially for teenagers and younger. This honorific has a rather cutesy connotation.

(Name)-sama /sah mah/: This is only used for those of an especially exalted position, such as for the “tennou-sama” (emperor) or “kami-sama” (God). The most common usage of this honorific is when businesses refer to customers. They may address you as “o kyaku sama” (/oh kyah koo sah mah/) or by your name + sama. Amongst friends this honorific is also often used as a joke; if you refer to yourself with “sama”, you are playing up an arrogant character. If your friends use “sama” for you, they are either trying to butter you up or are mocking you for acting arrogant.

No honorific: Dropping an honorific entirely implies a rather close relationship. This is the most common choice for adult friendships, since “kun” and “chan” can come off as childish.

Interjections

Japanese conversation tends to include more interjections than English conversation. People will actively react to what’s being said (or shown) with an exclamation or expression of interest/support.

Practicing these short interjections is a great way to break the ice and start to make you feel more comfortable interacting with Japanese people.

That’s good = ii ne /eee neh/
Wow/Amazing = sugoi /sue goy/
That’s wonderful = subarashii /sue bah rah shee/
That’s too bad = zannen /zahn nehn/
You’re kidding/No way = uso /oo soh/
Seriously? = maji? /mah jee?/
That’s right = sou /sohh/
Exactly, right? = desho? /deh show?/
I see = naruhodo /nah roo hoh dough
Is that so = sokka /soh. Kah/
So then, (to make a comment or change the subject) =  ja /jah/
Um = eeto /ehh toe/
Um (but with a softer, more feminine feeling) = anou /ah nohh/
Cute = kawaii /kah wah eee/
Pretty = kirei /kee ray/
Cool = kakkoii /kah. Koh eee/
Delicious = oishii /oy shee/

Image

Try These Japanese Phrases Out!

This list, while far from everything you may encounter on a trip to Japan, is a great starting point to learning Japanese. The best way to try out all these phrases, both with speaking and listening, is to do so with a real person.

On Wyzant you can search for a Japanese tutor who will work with you 1-on-1 and help you towards your goals, whether you just want enough Japanese to survive specific situations, or want to go deeper in your learning. You’ll be able to get advice, responses, and reactions in real time, which helps you start using Japanese fast.


Latest Posts

Scroll to Top