Japanese people are some of the worst English speakers in the world, so it’s best the learn a few key phrases before you visit Japan. There will be times when you are trying to communicate with someone who has absolutely no English ability.
Having said that, one of the great things about Japan is that it’s such a visual culture. Most menus have pictures of all the items. Another great thing is the number of loan words, usually from English. For example, take out is ‘teeku auto’ and convenience store is ‘konbiniensu sutoa’. Give it a try and it may actually be a Japanese word!
The below are all you really need, as in a hotel or youth hostel there will be English speakers to help you out.
Yes = hai
No = iie
Thank you = arigatou
Hello = konichi wa
Good morning = ohayou gozaimas
Good evening = konban wa!
Good night = oyasumi nasai
I don’t understand = wakarimasen
Excuse me/sorry = sumimasen
In a shop or restaurant
This please = kore o kudasai
What do you recommend? = nani o osusume?
Where is the toilet? = toire ha doko des ka?
How much is it? = ikura des ka?
Please write that down = kaite kudasai
Where is the _____? = ______ wa doko des ka?
What does that say? = nan to yomimas ka? (good for when a countryside bus or train sign has no English!)
Does someone here speak English? = eigo ga hanaseru hito imas ka?
Can you show me on a map? = mappu ni misete kudasai
Please tell me when we get to ______ = ______ ni tsuku toki ni oshiete kudasai (good for buses/trains with no English)
Other useful words
Train station = eki
Bus = basu
Train = densha
Hotel = hoteru
Youth hostel = yuusu hosuteru
Restaurant = resutoran
Police box = koban
Looking for more? Get the Super Cheap Japan book!
The book has even more handy Japanese phases, tips on how to use services that are often only for Japanese speakers and vital translations for saving you loads of money on your trip to Japan.