Useful Phrases for Travelling in Japan
Many of our Japanese students enjoy travelling around Japan and using the language they have learned with us to talk to the locals and learn more about their culture. Some of them make new friends, apply for new jobs or simply enjoy exploring the beautiful environment that Japan has to offer.
Below we have included a list of the most useful phrases to learn before visiting Japan. We hope you find it helpful. If you have any suggestions for phrases we have missed, or you are interested in learning more from one of our expert teachers, please use the contact form at the bottom of the page to let us know :)
Greeting in Japanese
One of the first things you will need to learn in order to interact with Japanese speakers is how to greet them. This shows that you are friendly and want to try and imrpove your Japanese.
Japanese culture places a lot of importance on manners and respect so learning to do this correctly can help to make a really good first impression.
This is a polite way to say hello to anyone you meet in Japan. You will probably also hear it said to you when walking into hotels, restaurants or bars.
I am ( name )
"Watashi wa _____ desu"
To take your greeting a step further, you can introduce yourself. For example, somebody named Michael would say “Watashi no namae wa Michael desu”.
Nice to meet you
Unlike some of the phrases in this list, Hajimemashite translates very well into English. Use it when meeting someone new to express respect.
Responding in Japanese
It is also important to know how to answer basic questions in Japanese and let people know your thoughts.
Expressing thanks and learning how to politely say no are very important in every language but are used in Japanese more than most.
Responding in Japanese can help to show locals you are making an effort to speak their language and will be greatly appreciated by all.
Used for agreement or confirmation. This can be confusing as the same pronounciation in English means "hello".
You will hear this a lot from people in service roles: waitresses, hotel staff, cleaners etc. and should endeavour to use it back when appropriate. For a more casual response, you can also shorten the phrase to just “arigato”.
No thank you
This phrase doesn’t translate exactly, but can be used to turn down street sellers, taxi drivers or anyone offering you something you don’t want. As with a lot of Japanese, it's a polite expression and means you can say no without offending the offerer.
“Sumimasen” roughly translates to “excuse me” in English, although in Japanese it has a range of uses. For example, it can be used to say thank you for small actions, apologise for bumping into someone or get a waiters attention.
≈Let's work together
This can mean both please and thank you and is used when asking someone to do something for you or after they already have. For example if someone offers you a bag in a convenience shop, you can reply "hai, onegaishimas" if you do want it.
I don't understand
If you use these Japanese phrases well, some people may actually begin conversing with you in Japanese. This is a great way to practise the language but if you are ever in a situation where you don’t understand what was said, you can reply "wakarimasen".
Travelling Around Japan
Whether you're visiting Japan for a holiday, business trip or otherwise, we highly recommend travelling around and seeing some of the sites.
Japan boasts a wealth of large, technologically advanced cities, temples and natural beauty.
Public transport is exceptionally clean, convenient and easy to navigate. The phrases below will give you everything you need to get out and explore!
Where is _____?
"_____ doko deska?"
Asking directions is a very useful skill when travelling in Japan. Although apps and signs can be helpful, you can also save a lot of time by asking one of the locals. For example you can ask “Eki wa doko desuka? to locate the nearest train station.
Is there _____?
"_____ Ari masuka?"
This phrase is very useful when enquiring about things you need to find. For example, you can walk into a shop and say “ATM ari masuka?” to ask whether they have an ATM or cash machine.
How much is it?
"Kore, ikura desu ka?"
When shopping in Japan, prices can be confusing as you're dealing with unfamiliar currency. However, it is always important to know how much money you’re spending when out and about.
Public transport in Japan is very clean and convenient. For journeys to more remote locations, a bus may be better than a train. Bus stops are known as “Bastei” in Japanese so if you are unable to find one you can always ask someone nearby.
Japan has a sprawling network of very efficient trains capable of transporting you across the country in style. Their train stations are called “Eki” and are located in all major cities and most tourist attractions.
Train / Bus Ticket
A very useful phrase to know if travelling around Japan and using public transport, kippu can refer to train or bus tickets and you may hear this phrase spoken over public announcement systems or written above buildings.
A useful phrase in any language.
Japan is a cash based society and many places do not accept credit card payments. The term for cash is Genkin and we recommend you make sure to take enough with you!
Do you take credit card?
"Kadode idesu ka?"
If you do happen to run out of cash or would prefer to pay by card, you can ask the waiter or hotel receptionist whether they take credit cards by using the above phrase.
Japanese food is incredible and available in a lot of varieties. Whether you are into sushi, noodles or desserts, there is definitely something for you to enjoy.
Sometimes ordering food in foreign countries can be intimidating but the below phrases should make it a lot easier.
Remember, if you are really struggling, most restaurants in tourist areas have pictures and you can order by pointing at what looks good.
Restaurants are everywhere in Japan, but if you wish to enquire after a specific venue or ask somebody's recommendations, then this is a good phrase to learn.
Japanese food often contains meat or seafood but they also have a number of delicious vegetarian dishes available. You can use this phrase to ask about certain dishes or combine it with the previous one to find a vegetarian restaurant.
When travelling around Japan, there are times when you will be in a rush and don't have time to sit down in a restaurant. To request food to go, you can say "Mochikaeri de" along with your order.
"oishii" literally translates to "delicious in English and is used to describe food, unlike the next phrase, which is used to show gratitude.
≈That was delicious
Unlike "oishii", this phrase is not used descriptively, but rather to show respect to someone who has served you food. It is a way of expressing gratitude and complimenting the chef.
I humbly receive
"Itadakimasu" is used before eating to show appreciation to the person who has prepared your food. If you say this to someone in Japan, they will be very happy so try to use it as much as possible.
Can I have the bill?
Very useful. Use it when you finish eating and want to pay. You can also combine it with the universally recognised air writing gesture that seems to mean bill in every language.
Can I have a menu?
Requesting a menu is always interesting in new countries. We recommend you try as many of the local delicacies as possible.
Can I have a knife & fork?
"Foku to Naifu kudasai?"
Chopsticks aren't for everyone. While we do recommend learning to use them either before you go or while in Japan, if you really struggle most restaurants will be happy to provide you with a knife and fork.
The Last Resort
We recommend trying to speak in Japanese as much as possible during your trip. This will help to maximise your learning and deepen your understanding of the Japanese culture.
Forcing yourself to operate outside your comfort zone will also be perceived positively by Japanese people and they will respect you for it.
However, in emergencies or if you simply cannot communicate something important using your Japanese knowledge, you can use the below...
Do you speak English?
We left this one until last on purpose, because now you know most of the phrases you need to travel around Japan without having to use it! However, if the situation does occur where you need to ask something in English, then this is the best way.
Now you have learned some key phrases, why not check out some of LingoClass' Japanese courses and practise using them with like-minded people?