Basic Japanese – Useful Words, Phrases and Expressions

Basic Japanese vocabularies & guide designed to help you greet, do self-introduction, ask for direction, order in restaurants, go shopping, etc. in Japan.

This is a handy dictionary of basic Japanese words and phrases divided into the following categories:

 Japanese alphabet

Basic Words and Phrases


Manner Phrases 


Asking for Direction





With these words and phrases, bypass any awkwardness and confusion a lanuage barrier can cause to ensure you enjoy your trip to the fullest! 

Japanese alphabet

Photo Credit: eiko via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: eiko via Flickr cc



Photo Credit: Alphabets alphabetical [CC­-BY-­SA-4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Hiragana & Katakana

Instead of the Roman alphabet, the modern Japanese writing system uses three different character sets in which each syllable is represented by a character: Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. Even though Hiragana and Katakana contain only 47 characters each, there are up to 2136 commonly used characters out of 50,000 Kanji in total. This is part of the reason Japanese is considered one of the hardest languages in the world to learn. 

Each of these character sets serves a special function in the Japanese language. Hiragana is used for inflectional endings and function words. Katakana is used for foreign names, words and sometimes for emphasis. Kanji is the logographic Chinese characters that were introduced into the Japanese language and mainly used for content words. 

Don’t worry, there is no need for you to memorize all of these character sets to survive in Japan.

Basic words and phrases

Photo Credit: Kikuko Nakayama via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Kikuko Nakayama via Flickr cc

These basic Japanese words and phrases will come in handy in a lot situations. 

  Phrase  Reading  Meaning
 1 はい  Hai  Yes
2 いいえ Iie  No 
これ Kore  This (for object)
それ Sore  That (for object)
あれ Are  There (for object) 
ここ Koko  Here (for location)
そこ Soko  That (for location) 
あそこ Asoko  There (for location) 
9 わたしはにほんごがわかりません Watashi wa Nigongo ga wakarimasen I don’t speak Japanese
10 えいごができますか/えいごをはなせますか Eigo ga dekimasuka / Eigo o hanasemasuka Can you understand English? / Can you speak English?
11 おはようございます Ohayougozaimasu Good morning
12 こんにちは Konnichiwa Hi / Good afternoon
13 こんばんは Konbanwa Good evening
14 さようなら Sayounara Good bye
15 なまえはなんですか Namae wa nandesuka What is your name?
16 どこからきましたか Doko kara kimashitaka Where are you from?
17 おくにはどちらですか Okuni wa dochira desuka What is your nationality?


The fact that you are a foreigner in Japan often triggers people’s curiosity. Enable yourself to answer simple questions or do a simple self-introduction using the following simple grammar.

 わたしは …です Watashi wa ….. desu I am …

Similar to English, fill in the blanks with nouns and adjectives to make a meaningful sentence. For instance, if your name is Mike, you can say “わたしはMikeです / Watashi wa Mike desu” (My name is Mike). You can also use this grammar form to talk about your occupation, nationality and so on. Below are some common adjectives and nouns that you can use with sample sentences. 

1. Common adjectives

   Adjective Meaning Sample Sentence Meaning
 1  かわいい / Kawaii Cute わたしはかわいいです / Watashi wa kawaii desu I am cute
 2  きれい / Kirei Beautiful わたしはきれいです / Watashi wa kirei desu I am beautiful
 3  かっこいい / Kakkoii Cool, handsome わたしはかっこいいです / Watashi wa kakkoii desu I am cool / handsome
 4 いそがしい / Isogashii Busy わたしはいそがしいです / Watashi wa ishogashii desu I am busy
 5  げんき / Genki Healthy, fine わたしはげんきです / Watashi wa genki desu I am healthy / fine
 6  うれしい / Ureshii Happy わたしはうれしいです / Watashi wa ureshii desu I am happy
 7  かなしい / Kanashii Sad わたしはかなしいです / Watashi wa kanashii desu I am sad
 8  せがたかい / Segatakai Tall わたしはせがたかいです / Watashi wa segatakai desu I am tall
 9  せがひくい / Segahikui Short わたしはせがひくいです / Watashi wa segahikui desu I am short
 10  わかい / Wakai Young わたしはわかいです / Watashi wa wakai desu I am young

2. Common occupations 

  Occupation Meaning Sample Sentence Meaning
1 がくせい / Gakusei Student わたしはがくせいです / Watashi wa gakusei desu I am a student
2 せんせい / Sensei Teacher わたしはせんせいです / Watashi wa sensei desu I am a teacher
3  しゅふ / Shufu Housewife わたしはしゅふです / Watashi wa shufu desu I am a housewife
4  いしゃ / Isha Doctor わたしはいしゃです / Watashi wa isha desu I am a doctor
5  かしゅ / Kashu Singer わたしはかしゅです / Watashi wa kashu desu I am a singer
6  うんてんしゅ / Untenshu Driver わたしはうんてんしゅです / Watashi wa untenshu desu I am a driver
7  さっか / Sakka Writer わたしはさっかです / Watashi wa sakka desu  I am a writer 
8 けいさつかん / Keisatsukan  Police   わたしはけいさつかんです / Watashi wa keisatsukan desu I am a police
9 かいしゃいん / Kaishain  Company employee   わたしはかいしゃいんです / Watashi wa kaishain desu I am a company employee
10 エンジニア / Enjinia   Engineer  わたしはエンジニアです / Watashi wa enjinia desu I am an engineer

3. Common nationalities



Sample Sentence  Meaning
1  アメリカじん / Amerikajin American  わたしはアメリカじんです / Watashi wa amerikajin desu  I am American
2 カナダ じん / Kanadajin  Canadian わたしはカナダじんです / Watashi wa kanadajin desu I am Canadian
3  イギリスじん / Igirisujin British わたしはイギリスじんです / Watashi wa igirisujin desu I am British
4  かんこくじん / Kankokujin  Korean わたしはかんこくじんです / Watashi wa kankokujin desu I am Korean
5  ちゅうごくじん / Chuugokujin  Chinese わたしはちゅうごくじんです / Watashi wa chuugokujin desu I am Chinese
6  たいわんじん / Taiwanjin Taiwanese  わたしはたいわんじんです / Watashi wa taiwanjin desu I am Taiwanese
7 タイじん / Taijin   Thai わたしはタイじんです / Watashi wa taijin desu I am Thai
8  ほんこんじん / Honkonjin  Hong Konger わたしはほんこんじんです / Watashi wa honkonjin desu I am Hong Konger
9  オーストラリアじん / Osutorariajin  Australian わたしはオーストラリアじんです / Watashi wa osutorariajin desu I am Australian
10  ドイツじん / Doitsujin  German わたしはドイツじんです / Watashi wa doitsujin desu I am German

Manner phrases

Because manners have always been a big part of Japanese culture, the Japanese have numerous formal/polite phrases that do not exist in other languages or are very hard to translate. These phrases are so common that you will hear them everywhere. Therefore, getting familiar with them will make it easier for you to fit in and understand better what is going on around you.

  Phrase Reading Meaning
1 ありがとうございます Arigatougozaimasu Thank you
2 すみません Sumimasen Excuse me
3  ごめんなさい Gomennasai I’m sorry
4  しつれいします Shitsureishimasu Excuse me
5  いただきます Itadakimasu I’m going to eat now / Let’s eat / I’m going to receive this food
6  ごちそうさまでした Gochisousama deshita Thank you for the meal 
7  おさきにいただきます Osaki ni itadakimasu Allow me to start first
8 どうぞよろしくおねがいします   Douzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu  Nice to meet you / Please take care of me
9  いってきます Ittekimasu  I’m going / See you later
10  いってらっしゃい Itterrashai  Go and come back / Have a safe trip
11  おかえり Okaeri  Welcome back / Welcome home
12 ただいいま  Tadaiima   I’m home

“Arigatougozaimasu”: Canadians are said to say “Thank you” way too much. Well, Japanese do that too. It is common to say thank you to everyone including the cashier after your purchase or the bus driver after you get off. Therefore, knowing how to express your gratitude in Japanese is definitely important!  

“Sumimasen”, “Gomennasai”, “Shitsureishimasu”: Along with appreciating their gratitude, Japanese also apologize often for fear of having caused any trouble. The two most commonly used phrases to apologize are “Sumimasen” and “Gomennasai”. “Sumimasen” is normally used as “Excuse me”, to be used in situations such as when you want to stop someone to ask for direction, or to ask someone to move over so that you can pass. “Gomennasai” is used when you make a mistake and want to apologize. “Shitsureishimasu” is another phrase that means “Excuse me”. However, it is not likely that you will need to use this phrase or hear it often because it is mostly used in more formal situation.

“Itadakimasu”, “Osaki ni itadakimasu”, “Gochisousama deshita”: These are three phrases that you should remember when you have a meal with Japanese people. Before Japanese people start eating, they always say “Itadakimasu” to express their gratitude for the life (animal) given to make the meal and to the people who cooked it. In Japan, basic etiquette is to wait for everyone to settle at the table, get their food then say “Itadakimasu” together as a sign to start eating. In case you want to start first, it is necessary to say “Osaki ni itadakimasu” meaning “Allow me to start the meal before you”. To end the meal, the phrase “Gochisousama deshita” is said to the person who cooked the meal, which literally means “That was a feast / Thank you for the delicious meal”.  

“Douzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu”: This is one of the vaguest and hardest Japanese phrase to be translated into English. This phrase can be used in many different situations: when you meet a new person or a group of new people, when you start a meeting, when you ask someone to do something, etc. It generally means “Please take care of me”, “Please take care of this” or “Let’s work hard together and help each other”.  

“Ittekimasu”, “Itterasshai”, “Okaeri”, “Tadaima”: These are four common phrases you will hear when leaving your house or hotel and upon your return. As you are about to leave your house or the place you are staying, Japanese people will normally say “Itterasshai” to you, meaning “Have a safe trip”, “Have fun” or “Please go and come back”. It is good manners to say “Ittekimasu” meaning “I will go and come back” as you leave. When you come back to the place, expect to hear “Okaeri” (Welcome back) with the ideal response being “Tadaima” (I’m back / I’m home).


In order to survive in Japan, you should also learn about Japanese currency (Yen / 円 – read as “En” in Japanese). Japanese use both coins and notes.

1. How to count money and read prices

In Japanese, numbers are divided into unit, with the following 4 the most common: 10 (Jyu), 100 (Hyaku), 1000 (Sen), and 10000 (Man). The way to read numbers is to combine the number with each unit. For example, 20 (Nijyu) consisted of 2 (Ni) and 10 (Jyu); 850 yen is written as 八百五十 ( 800 + 50 = Happyaku gojyu en); or 13369 is written as 一万三千三百六十九円 (10,000 + 3,000 + 300 + 60 + 9 = Ichiman sanzen sanbyaku rokujyu kyu). There are a few exceptions in the way of reading 300, 600, 800, 3000, 8000 and 10000.

In Japan, the price of food is not always written in numbers but in Kanji, which can be confusing at times. The following table may be useful for you to figure out the price in that situation.

1 (一/Ichi) 10(十/Jyu) 100(百/Hyaku) 1,000(千/Sen) 10,000(一万/Ichiman)








































6 (六/Roku)









7 (七/Nana)









8 (八/Hachi)





























2. Papers

Photo Credit: Alan Levine via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Alan Levine via Flickr cc

Japan has three different currency notes: 10,000 yen (~97.3 USD), 5,000 yen (~48.6 USD) and 1,000 yen (9.73 USD) as of July 2016. 2,000 yen notes (~19.46 USD af of July 2016) used to be available but are quite rare nowadays.

3. Coins

Photo Credit: Thompson Sa via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Thompson Sa via Flickr cc

There are six different coins with different shapes and colors: 1 yen (~0.01 USD), 5 yen (~0.05 USD), 10 yen (~0.1 USD), 50 yen (~0.49 USD), 100 yen (~0.97 USD), 500 yen (~4.86 USD) as of July 2016. 5 yen is the only coin without a number written on it but two Kanji characters instead (五円). 

Asking for direction

Photo Credit: Pawel Loj via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Pawel Loj via Flickr cc

When you are in Japan, even when you manage to have WiFi, GPS or did research ahead of time, the chances of getting lost or having difficulties finding a certain place are quite high. The following words and phrases may be helpful in those situations.

1. Basic sentences and words 

  Phrase Reading Meaning
1 すみません、…(location)…はどこですか Sumimasen…(location)… wa doko desuka Excuse me, where is …(location)… ?
2 すみません、…(location)…にいきたいんですが Sumimasen…(location)… ni ikitaindesuga Excuse me, I want to go to …(location)…
3 すみません、…(location)… にどうやっていきましか Sumimasen…(location)… ni doyatte ikimasuka? Excuse me, how to go to …(location)…
4  となり Tonari Next to 
5 まえ  Mae In front of 
6 うしろ  Ushiro At the back 
7 ひがし  Higashi  East 
8 にし  Nishi West 
9 みなみ  Minami South 
10 きた  Kita North 
11 ひだり  Hidari  Left
12 みぎ  Migi Right 
13 まっすぐ Massugu  Straight
14 しんご Shingo Traffic light
15 こうさてん Kousaten Crossing, intersection
16 …(location)…で…(direction)… にまがってください …(location)… de …(direction)… ni magatte kudasai Please turn …(direction: left/ right) … at …(location)…
17 まっすぐいってください Massugu itte kudasai Please go straight
18 すみません、もうちょっとゆっくりはなしてください Sumimasen. Mou chotto yukkuri hanashite kudasai Excuse me, would you please speak a little slower?
19 すみません、もういちどおねがいします Sumimasen. Mou ichido onegaishimasu Excuse me, would you repeat that please?
20 みちにまよってしまいました Michi ni mayotteshimaimashita I am lost

When you want to ask for location, always remember to start with “Sumimasen” (Excuse me)! Japanese people are so nice that if you cannot understand their instruction, sometimes they will even go out of their way to take you to your destination. Thus, don’t hesitate to ask 🙂

2. Common locations

  Phrase Reading Meaning
1 ちかてつ  Chikatetsu Subway 
2 コンビニ  Conbini  Convenience store
3 レストラン Resutoran Restaurant
4 たいしかん Taishikan Embassy
ぎんこう  Ginkou  Bank
6 ゆうびんきょく  Yuubinkyoku  Post office 
7 トイレ  Toire Toilet, washroom 
8  ATM Ei-ti-emu ATM 
9 ホテル  Hoteru Hotel 
10  こうばん Kouban Police box, small police office
11  スターバックス Sutabakkusu  Starbucks 
12  マクドナルド Makudonarudo Mcdonalds


Photo Credit: Prayitno via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Prayitno via Flickr cc

1. At the reception

As most of the time Japanese staff cannot speak any or much English, going to restaurants can be tricky. Hopefully, the following list of phrases and words can help. 

  Phrase Reading Meaning
1 いらっしゃいませ Irasshaimase Welcome
2 なんめいさまですか Nanmeisamadesuka? How many people are you going with?
3 あいていますか/いまえいぎょうちゅうですか Aiteimasuka? / Ima eigyouchuudesuka? Are you still open?
4 まちじかんはどれくらいですか Machijikan wa dorekurai desuka How long do I have to wait?
5 よやく  Yoyaku Reservation
6 きんえんせき Kinenseki Non-smoking seats
7 きつえんせき Kitsuenseki Smoking seats
8 まんせき Manseki The restaurant is full 
9 おまたせしました Omataseshimashita I’m sorry for keeping you waiting
10  ごあんないします Goannaishimasu I will guide you
11  あいている/おすきなおせきへどうぞ Aiteiru/Osukina seki e douzo Please feel free to sit at the empty seats or at the seats you like
12  テーブルのせき Teeburu no seki Seats at table
13 カウンターのせき Kauntaa no seki Seats at counter
14 ごちゅうもんがおきまりましたらおよびください Gochuumonga okimarimashitara oyobikudasai Please let me know when you have decided
15 ごちゅうもんよろしいですか/おきまりになりましたか Gochuumon yoroshiidesuka/Okimarininarimashitaka Are you ready to order? /Have you decided?
16 てんないでおめしあがりでしょうか Tennaideomeshiagarideshouka For here or to go?
17  もちかえり Mochikaeri To go / Takeaway / Takeout
18  こどものせき Kodomo no seki Baby seats

As soon as you walk in a restaurant, please wait at the entrance for the staff to greet you. They will ask you how many people you are with, if you reserved or not (depending on the restaurant and whether it is crowded at that time or not), and which seat you prefer (Smoking or non-smoking, table or counter, etc.). You can just show them the number of people with your fingers. Baby seats are normally available and will be offered should you need one.

If you go to a self-service restaurant or shop like Mcdonalds or Starbucks, everything will be far less complicated as they will only ask if you want to takeout or to eat in. 

2. Ordering

  Phrase Reading Meaning
1  メニューをください Menyu o kudasai  Please give me the menu
2  えいごのメニューはありますか Eigonomenyu wa arimasuka Do you have English menu?
3  しょうしょうおまちください Shoushou omachikudasai Please wait for a while
4 … をください  … o kudasai I want … / Please give me … 
5 いじょうです/けっこうです  Ijo desu / kekkou desu That’s all / No, thank you 
6  でんぴょう Denpyou Bill
7  ティッシュ Tisshu Tissue 
8  おしぼり Oshibori Wet towel 
9  おはし Ohashi Chopstick 
10  おさら Osara Bowl 
11  スプーン Supuun Spoon 
12  つまようじ  Tsumayouji Toothpick
13 これにはおにくがはいっていますか Kore ni wa oniku ga haiteimasuka Is there any meat in this?
14  ぶたにく Butaniku Pork
15  ぎゅうにく Gyuniku Beef
16  とりにく Toriniku Chicken

In many Japanese restaurants, there is a bell on the table or at the counter that you can ring to call the staff. When there is no bell, you can grab the staff’s attention by giving a sign and saying “Sumimasen”.

3. Common drink names

The drinks menus in Japan are mostly in Japanese so these common drink names may help you out.

Tips: If you order coffee or tea, the staff will ask: “コーヒーはいつおもちいたしましょうか / Koohii wa itsu omochiitashimashouka?” meaning “When would you like to have your coffee?”. You can answer “しょくぜんにおねがいします/Shokuzen ni onegaishimasu” (I would like to have it before the meal) or “しょくごにおねがいします/Shokugo ni onegaishimasu” (I would like to have it after the meal).

  Phrase Reading Meaning
1  ソフトドリンク  Sofutodorinku Softdrink  (non-alcohol)
2 ドリンクバー Dorinkubaa Drinkbar
3 のみほうだい Nomihoudai All you can drink
4 コーヒー   Koohii Coffee 
5 なまビール  Nama biru  Beer 
6 おさけ Osake Sake 
7 おひや  Ohiya  Cold water 
8  おみず Omizu Water
9  おゆ Oyu   Hot water
10  ジンジャーエール  Jinjaa eeru Ginger ale
11  コーラ  Koora  Cola
12 オレンジジュース  Orenji jyusu Orange juice 
13  ヨーグルト  Yooguruto Yogurt

4. Paying

  Phrase Reading Meaning
1  おさらをおさげしてもよろしいですか  Osara o osageshitemo yoroshiidesuka?  May I take your plate?
2  おかいけいおねがいします   Okaike onegaishimasu Check please
3  りょうしゅうしょください  Ryoshusho kudasai  Please give me the receipt
4  クレジットカードでしはらえますか  Kurejitto kaado de shiharaemasuka? Can I pay by credit card?
5  おかいけいはべつべつでおねがいします Okaikei wa betsubetsude onegaishimasu We’d like to pay seperately
6  おかいけはごいっしょでおねがいします Okaikei wa goissho de onegaishimasu We’d like to pay together

After they bring all of the food out, they will leave a bill (でんぴょう/Denpyo) on the table which you will then have to take to the reception to pay after your meal. Some restaurants ask you to pay at the table but are not very usual.


Photo Credit: Takashi Hososhima via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Takashi Hososhima via Flickr cc

1. Useful words and phrases

  Phrase Reading Meaning
1  … サイズはありますか … saizu wa arimasuka Do you have size … ? 
2 サイズ Saizu Size
3  … はどこにありますか … wa doko ni arimasuka Where is  … ?
4  … をさがしています … o sagashiteimasu I am looking for …
5 ちょっとちいさいです  Chotto chiisaii desu  A bit small
6 ちょっとおおきいです  Chotto ookii desu A bit big 
7 ほかのいろはありますか  Hoka no iro arimasuka Do you other colors? 
8 … はありますか  … wa arimasuka Do you have …?
9 …がほしいんですが … ga hoshiin desuga I want …
10 ざいこぎれ Zaikogire Out of stock
11 そのしょうひんをとりあつかいません Sono shouhin o toriatsukaimasen We don’t have that item
12 しちゃくしつはどこですか Shichakushitsu wa doko desuka  Where is the changing room?
13  きてみてもいいですか Kite mite mo ii desuka Can I try this on?
14 …はいくらですか … wa ikura desuka How much is …?
15 やすい Yasui Cheap
16  たかい Takai Expensive
17 バーゲンセールちゅう  Baagenseeru chuu We are having sale
18  セールひん Seeru hin Items on sale

2. Common colors

  Phrase Reading Meaning
1 くろい Kuroi Black
2 しろい Shiroi White
3 あかい Akai Red
4 あおい Aoi Blue
5 みどり Midori Green
6 きいろい Kiiroi Yellow
7 むらさき/パープル Murasaki/Paapuru Purple 
8 ちゃいろ Chairo Brown


Photo Credit: Kentaro Ohno via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Kentaro Ohno via Flickr cc

1. Common means of transportation

  Phrase Reading Meaning
1  バス Basu Bus
2 タクシー  Taxi  Taxi
3 でんしゃ  Densha  Train
4 じどうしゃ  Jidousha  Car
5 バイク  Baiku  Motorbike
6 じてんしゃ  Jitensha  Bike
7 あるく  Aruku  Walk
8 ひこうき  Hikouki  Airplane
9 ふね  Fune  Ship
10 フェリー  Ferii  Ferry

2. Useful words and phrases

  Phrase Reading Meaning
1  のりかえ Norikae  Transfer
2  のります Norimasu To ride
3 おります Orimasu To get off
4 … 行き/ゆき … yuki Bound for …
5 … 方面 … houmen Toward …
6 入口   Iriguchi  Entrance
7 出口  Deguchi  Exit
8 駅  Eki Station
9 次の電車/次の駅   Tsugi no densha / Tsugi no eki Next train / Next station 
10 のりば  Noriba Boarding place
11  みどりのまどぐち Midori no madoguchi JR Ticket Office
12 改札口 Kaisatsuguchi  Ticket gate 
13 きっぷ  Kippu   Ticket
14 きっぷはどこでかえますか  Kippu wa dokode kaemasuka  Where can I buy the ticket? 
15 …にとまりますか   … ni tomarimasuka Does this stop at …? 
16 …まではいくらですか … made wa ikura desuka  How much money does it take to go to … ? 
17 …まではどれくらいかかりますか  … made wa dore kurai kakarimasuka  How long does it take to go to …?
18 …行きですか  … yuki desuka  Does this bound for … ? 
19 ICカード   Aishi kaado Rechargeable card to pay fare
20  定期券 Teikiken Commuter pass


Here are some useful phrases and words in case of emergencies, though hopefully you won’t need them!

  Phrase Reading Meaning
1 けいさつをよんでください Keisatsu o yondekudasai Please call the police!
2 だれかたすけてください Dareka tasuketekudasai Someone please help me!
3 たいしかんにれんらくしたいです  Taishikan ni renraku shitai desu I want to contact the embassy
4 きゅうきゅうしゃをよんでください Kyuukyuusha o yonde kudasai Please call the ambulance!
5 べんごしとそうだんしたいです Bengoshi to soudan shitai desu I want to talk to a lawyer
6 …をなくしました … o nakushimashita I lost …
7 …をぬすまれました … o nusumaremashita My … was stolen
8 …をわすれました … o wasuremashita I forgot …
9 パスポート  Pasupooto Passport
10 さいふ  Saifu Wallet
11 かぎ Kagi Key

Please click here for the list embassies and contact number.

Japanese emergencies number: dial 110 for police; dial 119 for fire & ambulance.

Linh Duong

Hello from Compathy Magazine! I'm Linh Duong. We truly hope we can be your most trusted travel companion :)

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