These are my top 10 survival phrases. Knowing these certainly won’t keep you completely out of trouble, but will allow you to make your journey in Japan much smoother. Pronunciation may be a little hard, but the Japanese have experience dealing with this!
Thank you – ありがとうございます (arigatō gozaimass)
This might be a pretty obvious phrase thanks to Japanese pop culture, but you can’t go to Japan and not say it. This is the formal version and shows deep respect, just be careful as the “r” pronunciation is halfway between an “l” sound. Say it after you receive anything or have someone do something for you, but you already knew that didn’t you?
Excuse me / sorry – すみません (sumimasen)
Another basic word to add to your arsenal. To ace the intonation, the accent rises slightly at the end of the word. You’ll here a lot of people say this to you, but don’t worry.
I see / I agree – そうですね (sōdessné)
This is has an extremely indefinite translation, but can be used in a wide variety of situations. It is a handy phrase to fill in conversations, meaning anything from “ahh I agree,” to “that’s true,” or “isn’t that so.” If you want to say something to show your conversation partner you’re listening and taking in the information, then this is the phrase to use.
Please / I’ll leave it to you – よろしくお願いします・お願いします (yoroshiku onegaishimass)
Often used as a formal version of please, you can also apply this phrase if someone is about to do something for you, or you want them to. For example, a random person says they will show you (more likely take you) to the place you’re looking for. If so, then you can say this to them.
I’m ok / All good – 大丈夫です (daijōbu dess)
Another phrase with infinite meanings. This can mean anything from “okay” to “I can do that” or “I understand Japanese,” depending on the context. If you want to reassure the other person that everything is under control, simply say this word. You’ll hear this a lot too.
Thank you for the meal – いただきます (itadakimass)
Part one of two phrases you use at meal times. This is said before you start eating and shows your respect to whoever cooked or prepared your meal. Almost every Japanese person says this.
Thank you for the meal / That was delicious – ごじそう様でした (gojisōsama deshita)
Part two is, unsurprisingly, said after finishing your meal. Once again, it is a sign of respect. Don’t forget to say it!
How much is this? – いくらですか (ikura desska)
A handy phrase for all shoppers and those looking for souvenirs. Japanese store owners and clerks will know that even if you ask this question in Japanese, you probably won’t understand the next sentence. So fear not, they always have a calculator to show you in numerals!
Where is the…? – …どこですか (〜dokodesska)
Chances are, if you’re wondering around the crowded streets of Tokyo or the narrow alleys in Kyoto, you’ll get lost. That’s where this comes into play. Saying the place or thing you’re looking for, followed by this phrase, and you should be halfway to finding your way. The English word for toilet is very well known, but maybe for your hotel you should carry their business card to show the person you ask. All receptions have them.
Job well done – お疲れ様です (otsukaresama dess)
Maybe not so necessary, but definitely an important one to understand. Saying this demonstrates that you recognise a person’s hard work. For you, say it if you specifically know the person and they have just finished working or doing a favour for you, like your tour guide. You might not get the opportunity to try this one out, but using it shows the ultimate respect.
What do you recommend – おすすめは？(osusume wa?)
Chances are, you might find yourself in a restaurant without an English menu. If there’s also no pictures to give you hints at what you might be ordering, you can ask this question to the waiter and they will recommend something. It’s usually something they feel is safe for foreigners or it’s actually the most popular order.