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Guest writer: Urusai_Uni#0007

Always wanted to travel in Japan but were worried about the language barrier? Don’t have time to learn a whole other language? Look no further! Here’s my personal top 10 phrases for getting around Japan.

Before reading this article, here’s a few things to remember! These are my personal top 10 and are by no means the only good phrases to learn. Another thing is that Japan is actually very English friendly, especially in tourist hotspots like Tokyo and Kyoto. If the language barrier is what’s keeping you from jumping into adventure, I hope this article helps you at least a bit! Now onto the list!

All images, unless otherwise stated, are courtesy of Urusai_Uni#0007


1. Sumimasen = excuse me

Sumimasen is by far one of the best words to learn on this list. From getting through a crowd to getting someone’s attention to apologizing for minor things like bumping into someone, sumimasen does it all! This one is especially good for navigating between people on a crowded train platform or for getting the attention of the clerk at the store you’re shopping for.

2. Gomennasai = I’m sorry

For things that a small “excuse me” won’t fix, a proper apology is in order. Examples might be knocking over a display or stepping on someone’s foot while walking. Gomennasai is only for pretty big infractions, and should be accompanied by bowing.

3. Arigatou gozaimasu = Thank you

This is one that many of us are already familiar with, but Arigatou gozaimasu is a formal way of saying thank you! You can use this in many situations such as to the clerk after paying for something, to someone who gave you directions, or to the person who checked your JR Pass on the was through the station (which you can read about here)

4. Hai and Iie = yes and no

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Hai and Iie (ee-eh) are just yes and no ShinjukuGodzillacompressedrespectively. Maybe the store clerk doesn’t know which item you’re pointing to that you want and suddenly yes and no become incredibly useful.

5. Kudasai = Please

Another one that might be useful for shopping, kudasai means please, specifically “please give to me”. When making wanting to purchase or look at something, pointing it out and saying kudasai will get the message across that you’re interested.

6. Ikura desuka? = How much?

One more in the same vein is Ikura desuka. This one will be useful if shopping at street vendors or markets where the prices may not be explicitly listed.

7. ___ wa dokodesuka? = Where is ___?

This one is best for asking directions like where is the train station (eki) or police box (kouban). If you’re able to pull up an address on your phone, or have it written down, it’d be super easy to just point and ask “doko desuka?”!

8. Wakarimasenn = I don’t understandKyotoStreetFlowerscompressed

Another self-explanatory one, wakarimasen simply means “I don’t understand”. Use it any situation it applies, from a stranger trying to talk to you to trying not to miss important information from hotel staff.

9. Watashi no namae wa ___. = My name is ___.

This one I feel is most useful for checking into say your hotel or for an event such a tour. It’ll be hard to do any of those things if no one knows who you are!

 10. Eigo (wo hanashimasuka?) = (Do you speak) English?

If all else fails, find someone who can help you! The most important part of this sentence is definitely Eigo, the word for English. Saying “Eigo OK?” or just “Eigo?” will usually get the point across. Of course, you can always just ask in English as well!



While not much, a little can go a long way and I hope that you’ll be able to utilize these words and phrases in the future. These are all easily used and understood, and are in Keigo, or polite form, so you won’t have to worry about saying something rude! Of course, I highly recommend studying Japanese for yourself as it’s a fun and complex language! This article on hiragana and katakana is a good start! 


Further Reading/Sources

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