Learning Japanese is a huge shift from the comfort and ease of speaking your native language. You probably already know how to say hello (konnichiwa), goodbye (sayonara), and thanks (arigato), but you’ll need to be able to communicate more than just greetings and gratitude to live comfortably in Japan. Provided below is a helpful list of some practical Japanese terms and phrases that you’ll likely use in daily life.
〜お願いします （おねがいします）: onegai shimasu
Onegai shimasu means please. It is a phrase used often in Japanese when speaking to strangers, especially workers. This term is put at the end of what you’re asking for, which is similar to English. When ordering food for example, you can say “ケーキお願いします” (Cake please). It can also be used to call wait staff at a restaurant. In Japan, customers are expected to call out to their waiter when in need of something. At these times, it is appropriate to say, “お願いします！” to get an employee’s attention.
〜ありますか？ : arimasu ka?
Arimasu ka? means “do you have” or ”is there”. This phrase is great for when you need to ask someone about the availability of something, whether it be about Wifi, a shirt in your size, or a bathroom. This phrase is used after you state what you want or need. If you’re shopping for clothes, for example, you can ask, “スモールありますか？” (do you have a small?).
大丈夫です （だいじょうぶです）: daijyobu des
Daijyobu des is a phrase that means “it’s ok”. It is used as a polite way of declining an offer and to state that you are ok. For example, if someone offers you a drink or more food, you can say “大丈夫です“ to let them know that it’s okay.
現金のみですか？ （げんきんのみですか？）: gen-kin nomi desu ka?
Gen-kin nomi desu ka? means “is it cash only?” (gen-kin means cash). It is very common for Japanese establishments to be cash-only, so knowing this phrase can help if you’re looking for a place that will accept a card payment.
〜どこですか？: doko desu ka?
Doko desu ka? means “where is it?”. Use this phrase to ask about the location of any person, place, or thing. If you’re trying to get to Hachiko Statue in Shibuya, for example, you can ask someone, “ハチ公どこですか？“ (Hachiko doko desu ka?)
Wakarimasen means “I do not understand”. Although this phrase is not something you’ll want to use too often, there will undeniably be times when you just don’t know what is going on. Use it when things are not making sense to you – by just hearing this phrase, Japanese people will likely try to help you understand. Say, for example, that you’re trying to find the best route to Koenji. The station employee’s explanation of the train lines may not make sense, but until you tell him that you don’t understand, he’ll likely keep trying to describe the route. Once he knows that you don’t get it, he has the opportunity to change his technique to better fit your needs. Admitting to ignorance never hurt anybody and is often helpful for both parties involved.
These are just a few phrases that will ease your first few social linguistic interactions when living in Japan. Although learning Japanese may be difficult starting somewhere will certainly get the ball rolling. Hopefully these terms along with the knowledge of Japanese you gain in school will give you confidence in your language abilities. Practicing speech and acquiring a wider vocabulary will undeniably give you a culturally immersive experience Japan.
Best of luck!