10 Useful Japanese phrases you should know

Maybe you have come over from our Beginner Japanese Phrases or Most useful Japanese Phrases article and thought, okay, I want to take my Japanese to the next level. What better to have more useful Japanese phrases under your sleeve?

In this article, we will introduce you phrases that are helpful in many situations, from learning in a classroom based environment to when you’re out and about on the streets of Japan.

1. 元気でしたか?

元気でしたか。
  • gennki deshitaka
  • Have you been well?/How have you been?

Let’s start off with a greeting. Japan is a very polite country, where greetings are important. I am pretty sure we all know the basic greeting of 「こんにちは」. But let’s take it up a notch higher, and impress your friends and teachers. After the simple greeting of 「こんにちは」, instead of stopping right there, you could say 「元気でしたか」, asking your friend or teacher if they have been well. It is a gesture of being concerned about others, and for you to engage with that by catching up with them.

2. お久しぶりです。

お久しぶりです。
  • o hisashiburi desu.
  • It has been a while since we met.

If you have not seen someone for quite sometime, you can say 「お久しぶりです」, which means it has been a while since we met. It is another way to ask how they have been and to express happiness to see them again after so long. The phrase 「お久しぶり」is not only limited to greeting someone, but can also be used to describe doing something you have not completed in a long time. For example, if you were to start studying again, which you have not done since university, you could say:

大学以来久しぶりに勉強します。
  • daigaku irai hisashiburi ni benkyou shimasu
  • It has been a long time since I have last studied in university

As formality exists within the Japanese language, one formal way to greet someone older than you, or in a workplace is:

ご無沙汰しております。
  • go busata shiteorimasu.
  • It has been a while since we met.

3. 聞きたい事がありまして、

When you are starting out in Japanese class, I am sure that you will be confused by a lot of the concepts the teachers are going through. When teachers introduce new concepts you are unfamiliar with, here is how you can raise questions:

聞きたいことがありまして…
  • kiki tai koto ga arimashite…
  • May I ask you a question?
質問があります。
  • shitsumon ga arimasu
  • I have a question

Though this phrase is really helpful in class to clear up any confusion, you can apply to your daily life as well. For example you could ask the train staff on how to get to places in confusing stations such as Shinjuku:

  • A:すみません。聞きたい事がありまして。(sumimasen. kikitai koto ga arimashite)
  • A: Excuse me, may I ask you a question?
  • B:はい。どうされましたか。(hai. dousaremashitaka.)
  • B: Of course, how may I help you?
  • A:ここから新宿東口に行きたいです。(kokokara shinjuku higashiguchi ni ikitaidesu)
  • A: I want to go to Shinjuku East Exit.
  • B:真っ直ぐ歩いて右に曲がりますと着きます。(massugu aruite migi ni magarimasuto tsukimasu)
  • B: Just walk straight and turn to the right, and you will arrive.

4. もう一度お願いします。

もう一度お願いします。
  • mou ichido onegaishimasu
  • Could you repeat that?

When you could not catch what the other person was saying, you could say “もう一度お願いします” to ask them to repeat. This phrase is quite helpful in classes, as you may want the teachers to repeat the sentence so that you can understand the concept more. Not only in class, but this is a great phrase to remember if you encounter any problem on the streets when getting around in Japan, such as asking for directions.

As of last year, Japan has started to charge the cost of plastic bags in shops. Sometimes you forget about it, and space out when the staffs are asking you if you need a bag. Here is how you could ask them to repeat:

  • Staff: 袋をご利用になりますか? (fukuro wo goriyou ni narimasuka?)
  • Staff: Would you like a plastic bag?
  • Customer: あ、もう一度お願します。(a, mou ichido onegaishimasu)
  • Customer: Could you repeat that?
  • Staff: 袋をご利用になりますか? (fukuro wo goriyou ni narimasuka?)
  • Staff: Would you like a plastic bag?
  • Customer: いいえ、大丈夫です。(iie, daijoubu desu)
  • Customer: No, thank you.

5. もう少しゆっくりお願いします。

もう少しゆっくりお願いします。
  • mou sukoshi yukkuri onegaishimasu.
  • Could you speak slowly?

When you are learning Japanese for the first time, it may be hard for you to completely understand what the teacher is saying, which in turn makes you confused of the concepts you are learning in class. If you want the teacher to slow down, you can ask them 「もう少しゆっくりお願いします。」. This means “Can you speak slowly?”.「もう少しゆっくり」means a little slower, and 「お願いします」means please. Though there is no word in the phrase that talks about speaking, the phrase is a more conversational phrase used in a casual manner. To be more grammatically correct you could say:

もう少しゆっくり話してください。
  • mou sukoshi yukkuri hanashite kudasai.
  • Could you speak slowly.

To take it outside of the classroom context, this phrase may come in handy maybe in your workplace, and you want your colleagues to slow down in explanations.

6. これは何ですか?

これは何ですか?
  • kore wa nann desuka
  • What is this?

When you are in a different country for travelling, for work, or for studies, there may be a lot of culture shock to your home country. You may encounter many unfamiliar things, such as food, mannerism, and language. This is a perfect phrase to ask anyone if you are unsure of anything.

If you do not know the name of the object, for example you can simply point and ask 「これは何ですか」。「これ」means this, and so it can be referred to anything. But if you do know the name of the object, simply replace the name of object with 「これ」. For example

けん玉は何ですか?
  • kendama wa nandesuka?
  • What is kendama?

7. 英語では何と言いますか?

英語では何と言いますか?
  • eigo dewa nannto iimasuka?
  • Could you translate this to English?

If you have absolute no idea of what the word or concept is in Japanese, you can ask your teacher 「英語では何と言いますか?」, which means what is this in English?

8. これをどうやって言いますか?

これをどうやって言いますか?
  • kore wo douyatte iimasuka?
  • How do you pronounce this?

Japanese learners often find kanji as their largest obstacle. If you ever come across a time where you have to read aloud a sentence and you do not know how to pronounce the kanji, you can ask the teacher 「これをどうやって言いますか?」.

9. この違いは何ですか

この違いは何ですか?
  • kono chigai wa nanndesuka?
  • What is the difference?

There may be many things you will be confused with when learning Japanese. Asking the difference is not only limited to when learning different grammar styles, but used in daily life as well such as:

おにぎりとおむすびの違いは何ですか?
  • onigiri to omusubi no chigai wa nandesuka?
  • What is the difference between onigiri and omusubi?

10. これをどうやって使いますか

これをどうやって使いますか?
  • kore wo douyatte tsukaimasuka?
  • How do you use this?

If there is a phrase you come across and you have absolute no idea how to use it, this phrase is very helpful. For example, onomatopoeias are very embeded in the Japanese language, and is helpful in describing and expressing yourself. However, there are a variety of them, and many of them are similar to each other. In the case that you are unsure of how to incorporate onomatopoeia in your sentence you could ask:

「ギリギリ」をどうやって使いますか?
  • “giri giri” wo douyatte tsukaimasuka?
  • How do you use “giri giri” (giri giri used for doing something last minute)

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