48 Useful and Basic Japanese Phrases You Need to Know Before Coming to Japan

If you’ve recently moved to Japan, knowing all of the most useful and basic Japanese phrases is essential to tackle daily activities. But even if you’ve been practicing Japanese for a while, the thought of having to talk with a native speaker can be scary.

Thankfully, you can go into your first conversation armed with a ton of useful basic Japanese phrases. These key phrases are your first step to taking your Japanese to the next level. You might even know some of them already but remember: basic Japanese phrases are a solid foundation to build your skill.

Whether you’re in the early stages of learning Japanese or trying to review the basics, we’ve compiled 50 handy phrases that will serve you well in any Japanese conversation or when traveling in Japan. We’ll divide them based on themes so you can easily access and study them.

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Basic Japanese Phrases: Greetings, Introductions and Goodbye

1. 元気ですか (Ogenki deshita ka)? How are you?

Let’s start off with a greeting. Japan is a very polite country, where greetings are important. We 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, instead of stopping right there, you could say 元気ですか (ogenki desu ka) to ask your friends 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.

The word genki is written in Japanese kanji as 元気. This is a combination of two kanji that are nouns – and the word genki itself is a na adjective. 元 (げん, gen) means “beginning” or “origin”. 気 (き, ki) means energy, spirit or mood.

お元気ですか?
Ogenki desu ka
How are you?

元気です
genki desu.
I am well.

2. おはようございます (Ohayou gozaimasu): Good morning!

This is another basic greeting that most newcomers in Japan will probably pick up naturally. It’s a great way to engage with new people and be courteous. You can say this to anyone, as ohayou gozaimasu is a polite phrase. If you want to say “good morning” more casually, ommit the gozaimasu.

田中さん、おはよう!お元気ですか?
Tanaka-san, ohayou! Ogenki desu ka?
Tanaka-san, morning! Are you well?

3. こんにちは (Konnichiwa): Good afternoon!

Usually, it can be used as the Japanese word for saying “hi” or “hello”. However, what it actually means is “good afternoon”

4. こんばんは (Konbanwa): Good night!

Sounding similar to こんにちは (Konnichiwa), こんばんは (Konbanwa) is the Japanese greeting for “good evening”. According to NHK, the national public broadcasting organization in Japan, こんばんは should be used when the sun has already set and it has gotten dark usually at around 7 pm in summer and in winter time it will be around 5.30 pm.

5. お休みなさい (Oyasuminasai): Good night!

Generally, the Japanese expression for saying” good night is “おやすみ“(Oyasumi). However, it may be inappropriate to use it sometimes depending on the situation.

The phrase oyasuminasai literally means, “Please have a rest,” and it’s a bit different from konbanwa. Whereas こんばんは (konbanwa) can be used as a greeting when you meet someone at night, oyasumi is only used at the end of the way, before you go to bed and sleep.

Read more about the four time-based Japanese greetings here.

6. お久しぶりです (Ohisashi buri desu): It’s been a while

If you have not seen someone for quite some time, 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 last studied in a 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.

7. 初めまして (Hajimemashite): Nice to meet you

This is a standard greeting when you meet somebody for the first time. When somebody said to you hajimemashite, it’s usually followed by a short introduction. You can also apply this when you are making a jikoshoukai (self-introduction).

初めまして。コトです。アメリカからきました。
Hajimemashite. Koto desu. Amerika kara kimashita.
It’s nice to meet you. My name is Coto. I came from America.

8. もしもし (Moshi moshi): Hello

Moshi moshi (もしもし) is another greeting, but it’s strictly used for phone calls.

It’s a basic expression used by Japanese people when they pick up the phone. The word moshi is derived from the verb “to say” in humble Japanese: (申もうす).

The important thing to remember is that moshi moshi is primarily a casual expression, and you should use it with your friends and family. The common follow-up is, “Yes, this is (your name).” You can learn more about moshi moshi here.

もしもし、はいマイクです。
Moshi moshi, hai maiku desu.
Hello, yes this is Mike.

9. さようなら (Sayonara): Goodbye

One of the first words that you will learn when studying Japanese is さよなら (sayonara), the standard “Bye” or “Goodbye” in Japanese. It’s ubiquitous in phrasebooks and textbooks but as you might have noticed living in Japan, the Japanese people don’t use sayonara in everyday conversation that much.

What are other ways to say goodbye in Japanese? We’ve made a separate article on this, so kindly check it out, too!

Basic Japanese Phrases: Expressions for Politeness and Courtesy

10. すみません (Sumimasen): Excuse me

What if you are trying to slip through a crowd? Or unintentionally bump into someone? When you are making small “mistakes” and inconveniences, you can get away with saying すみません (sumimasen), which means, “Excuse me.” It can also mean, “I’m sorry.”

11. 失礼します (Shitsurei shimasu): Pardon me

The phrase “失礼します (shitsurei shimasu)” literally translates to “I’m being rude.” 失礼 means rude or unpolite. It is generally used under the same context as when you’re saying “sumimasen”, but shitsurei shmasu expresses more remorse and, in a way, feels more polite.

12. ごめんなさい (Gomennasai): I’m sorry

Both すみません (sumimasen), 失礼します (shitsurei shimasu) and ごめんなさい (gomennasai) can be interpreted as “excuse me” or “I’m sorry”. The word gomennasai is considered the dictionary form that means “I’m sorry,” and can be used as a formal apology. “Sumimasen” is a little more formal than “Gomennasai.” When you apologize to the higher or the senior, “Sumimasen” is used in general.

13. ありがとうございます (Arigatou gozaimasu): Thank you

Another most common Japanese phrase you need to know is how to say thank you and express gratitude. “Arigatou gozaimasu” is the most formal way to say this, but you can shorten the phrase to “arigatou” in casual situation.

This is a phrase to express thanks and gratitude. You can shorten the phrase to “arigatou” in a casual situation, but “arigatou gozaimasu” is more polite

14. どういたしまして (Dou itashimashite): You’re welcome

How about when you want to tell someone, “You’re welcome”? This is a phrase that is in every textbook and doesn’t require the great linguistic ability to know.

15. いただきます (Itadakimasu): Thank you for the meal

いただきます (itadakimasu) is said before a mealtime setting. You can think of it as the same as saying “Let’s eat,” “Bon appétit,” or “Thanks for the food.” “Itadakimasu” is essential when you start learning business Japanese because it directly translates as “I humbly receive.”

おいしそう!いただきます。
Oishisou! Itadakimasu.
It looks delicious! Thank you.

16. ごちそうさまでした (Guochisousama deshita): Thank you for the meal

If いただきます (itadakimasu) is what you say before a meal, ごちそうさまでした (guochisousama deshita) is said after you finish eating to show appreciation for the food — and the person who cooked it. It literally translated as “It was a great deal of work (preparing the meal).” Thus, it can be interpreted in Japanese as “Thank you for the meal; it was a feast.”

Japanese people say “Gochisousama” to restaurant staff. It’s not a rule, but it’s definitely customary as failure to say that will make you look impolite or even ungrateful.

17. 行ってきます (Ittekimasu): I’ll get going now!

Ittekimasu (行ってきます) consists of two verbs: いく (iku), which means to go, and くる (kuru), which means to come. You use 行ってきます when you are leaving to imply, “I’ll get going (but I’m coming back)!” Generally, this will be when you are going to school or work in the morning, but you can even use it when you’re going on a trip and saying goodbye to your family.

18. おかえりなさい (Okaerinasai): Welcome home

“Okaerinasai” means “welcome home” or “welcome back”. This Japanese phrase expresses the feelings of “I am back, safely” and “You have finally returned, welcome back”. It gives one a warm feeling that someone has been waiting for one’s safe return.

To learn more about ittekimasu, okaerinasai and other welcoming phrases, check out our more complete guide: Ittekimasu, Itterasshai, Tadaima and Okaerinasai!

18. お疲れ様です (Otsukaresama desu): Thank you for your hard work

In お疲れ様, you can find the root 疲れる (tsukareru) which translates into “be or to get tired”. However, the meaning of the expression is quite different. In the workplace, お疲れ様です expresses appreciation people’s hard work.

The closest English translation to otsukare sama desu would be “Thank you for your hard work”, “Good work” or more simply saying that “You’ve worked hard”.

19. 頑張ってください (Ganbatte kudasai): Do your best!

Ganbare (頑張れ) or ganbatte (頑張って)is a Japanese phrase that means “Come on!” “Let’s go!” or “Go for it!” in English. It has the meaning “Do your best” and it can be used to motivate your friends, coworker or favorite team in times of hardship.

Saying ganbare or ganbatte isn’t just preserved for special occasions, though. From a young age, Japanese people are exposed to the concept of ganbatte through various mundane activities: doing homework, studying for a test or fighting with a friend.

あ、明日彼女にプロポーズするんだ!
A, ashita kanojo ni puopozu surunda
I’m going to propose to my girlfriend tomorrow.

頑張って!
Ganbatte!
Do your best!

20. 気をつけて (Ki o tsukete): Be careful

The literal meaning is “be careful”. The expression is commonly said to someone leaving on a trip and conveys the idea that one is praying for the safe trip of another. However, this can get misused in a context where nothing is inherently dangerous about the activity that the other party is engaging in. By using 気を付けて (Ki o Tsukete) in such a context, it can be indirectly used to suggest that you’d hope for something dangerous to happen.

21. お願いします

On the other hand, おねがいします or お願いします comes from the word 願い・ねがい, which means “wish” or “hope“. When you use おねがいします, you are basically asking someone to humbly do you a favor. It can convey gratitude or thanks to the person or people you are saying it to, or it can be used to politely request someone else do something for you.

水をお願いします。
Mizu o onegaishimasu.
(A glass of) water, please.

What’s the difference between ください (kudasai) and おねがいします (onegaishimasu)? Learn here!

Basic Japanese Phrases for Special Occasions

22. お誕生日おめでとうございます (Otanjoubi omedetou gozaimasu): Happy birthday

Have a Japanese friend who’s on their birthday? Stick to the more casual version of this phrase: otanjoubi omedetou! If you’re wishing a happy birthday to people older than you (or someone you want to maintain a formal relationship), お誕生日おめでとうございます (Otanjoubi omedetou gozaimasu) will do.

23. あけましておめでとうございます (Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu): Happy new year!

You say あけましておめでとうございま to everyone on New Year. Keep in mind that the Japanese language has different versions of saying “Happy New Year” depending. Before the New Year (around December 20 to December 30), you will instead say よいお年を (yoi otoshi wo), which means “I hope you spend the rest of this year safely and well.

新年、けましておめでとうございます。
Shinnen, akemashite omedetou gozaimasu.
Happiness to you on the dawn of a New Year.

24. 乾杯 (Kanpai): Cheers!

The word kanpai consist of two kanji characters: ”乾” means empty the glass and ”杯”means sake cup

Putting these characters together makes the meaning “empty the glass you’re drinking.” The word “Kanpai” is exclaimed by Japanese people in events like work gatherings or nomikai (drinking event) to make a toast.

Japanese Phrases and Questions to Ask Clarification

What if you’re in the middle of learning Japanese — or just landed in Japan? A lot of times, people may assume that you are already fluent in the language and start talking Japanese at the speed of a bullet. When that happens, how do you ask them to slow down? Or ask for clarification?

While we’ve covered the Japanese essentials of asking questions and permissions, we’ll expand the list here.

25. 聞きたい事がありまして… (Kikitai koto ga arimashite): I have a question

When you are starting out in Japanese class, 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…
Kikitai koto ga arimashite…
May I ask you a question?

Alternatively, you can also use:

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
Excuse me, may I ask you a question?

B: はい。どうされましたか。
Hai. dousaremashitaka.
Of course, how may I help you?

A:ここから新宿東口に行きたいです。
Koko kara shinjuku higashiguchi ni ikitaidesu.
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.
Just walk straight and turn to the right, and you will arrive.

26. もう一度お願いします (Mou ichido onegai shimasu): Can 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:

袋をご利用になりますか?
Fukuro wo goriyou ni narimasuka?
Would you like a plastic bag?

あ、もう一度お願します。
A, mou ichido onegaishimasu.
Could you repeat that?

袋をご利用になりますか?
Fukuro wo goriyou ni narimasuka?
Would you like a plastic bag?

いいえ、大丈夫です。
Iie, daijoubu desu.
No, thank you.

27. もう少しゆっくりお願いします (Mou sukoshi yukkuri onegaishimasu): Can 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.
Please 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.

28. これは何ですか? (Kore wa nan desu ka): 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. Kore 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?

29. 英語では何と言いますか (Eigo de wa nan to 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?

30. これは、何と読みますか (Kore wa, nani to yomimasuka)? 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?
Kore o dou yatte iimasuka?
How do you pronounce this?

31. この違いは何ですか (Kono chigai wa nan desu ka)? 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?

32. 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”?

33. わかりません (Wakarimasen): I don’t know

Sometimes, it is better to be direct and say that you don’t understand something. わかりません (wakarimasen) technically means “I don’t understand”. You can also opt for “知りません” which directly translates to “I don’t know.”

Japanese Phrases to Introduce Yourself

In various contexts in Japan (such as school, work, parties, etc.) you will need to introduce yourself. What should you say? How do condense everything about yourself into just one or two minutes? These will be the basic phrases for jikoshoukai (self-introduction), but if you want to dwell further, head to this article.

34. お名前はなんですか (Onamae wa nan desu ka): What is your name?

You can politely say your name with the to-be verb “desu”, or the verb “to say” (言います). In a more formal context, such as an interview, you should use a more formal structure. Keep in mind that Japanese people are used to giving their family name first and their given name second.

わたしの名前はコトです.
Watashi no namae wa koto desu.
My name is Coto.

35. アメリカから来ました (Amerika kara kimashita): I am from America

If you are noticibly from another country, people might be curious to know your nationality. The next step of your jikoshoukai is to introduce your country and eventually your city.

You can also tell where you are from with the word for origins (出身, しゅっしん) or an even easier way would be to give your nationality by adding jin (人, じん) after a country’s name.

パリ出身です。
Pari shusshin desu.
I am from Paris.

ドイツ人です。
Doetsu jin desu.
I am German.

Common Japanese Replies in Conversations

36. そうですか (Sou desu ka): Is that so?

Let’s start with its most basic form: そうです. The expression is used to give affirmation to a statement said by your conversation partner. It can both be a fact or an opinion. そうです (sou desu) means “It is so” or “That’s right.” Sometimes, it can also mean a simple “yes”. 

When you ad the ka at the end, it becomes, “Is that so?”  When said in a rising intonation, it becomes a question, which is often used in sentences to indicate doubt or ask for assurance.

37. 大丈夫です (Daijoubu desu): It’s alright

大丈夫 is similar to the word “All right” or “Okay” in English – but in addition to this, there are many ways that you can use it in Japanese. Check out 20 ways to use daijoubu here.

Common Japanese Questions

38. Doko desu ka? (どこですか): Where is it?

You can add more context to this question. For example, if you are looking for the toilet, you can say:

トイレはどこですか.
Toire wa doko desu ka.
Where is the toilet.

39. Itsu desu ka? (いつですか): When is it?

Itsu” is an indefinite pronoun which native speakers often use to make “when” questions in Japanese

お誕生日はいつですか.
Otanjoubi wa itsu desu ka.

40. Doushite? (どうして): Why?

どうして (doushite) has two main meanings: to ask why or for what reason and to ask how or the method.

どうして日本に来ましたか
Doushite nihon ni kimashita ka.

41. Dochira desu ka? (どちらですか): Which one is it?

Dochira has the same meaning as “which”. However, this is often used as “where” in formal speech. You may be often asked about where you are from by a Japanese. The common phrase for this question will be:

お国はどちらですか。
Okuni wa dochira desu ka.
What is your country?

Japanese Phrases for Ordering Food, Making Requests and Reservations

42. 予約をしたいです (Yoyaku o shitai desu): I want to make a reservation

Reservation or booking in Japanese is 予約 and to book or mo make a reservation is 予約をする.  When you call a restaurant, you could start with:

すみません、予約よやくをしたいんですが。
Sumimasen, yoyaku o shitain desu ga.
Excuse-me, I’d like to make a reservation.

43. テーブル席をお願いします (Teeburu seki o onegaishimasu): The table, please

Depending on the restaurant you’re booking, you could give your seat preference, be it on the table, counter or in the private room. You can request the table by saying this phrase.

44. メニューをください (Menyuu o kudasai): The menu, please.

45. 注文をお願いします (Chuumon o onegaishimasu): I’d like to order.

Once you’ve decided on a meal, you can say this to the staff.

46. お会計をお願いします (Okaikei o onegaishimasu): Check please

Most Japanese restaurants (notably fast food chains) will give you the bill alongside the meal. You shouldn’t take offend in this as this is just a form of convenience. In some cases, however, you might need to request the bill after you finish eating.

47. ちょっと待ってください (Chotto matte kudasai): Please wait a moment.

Chotto matte kudasai means please wait a moment in polite form. The Japanese expression chotto matte (ちょっと待って) is the less formal version, so you should refrain from using this to strangers, older people and colleagues.

What are the four basic Japanese greetings?

They are ohayou gozaimasu (good morning), konnichiha (good afternoon), konbanwa (good evening) and oyasumi nasai (good night).

How do you say "thank you" in Japanese?

The most basic form of “thank you” in Japanese is arigatou gozaimasu.

How do you say "Do your best!" in Japanese?

頑張ってください (Ganbatte kudasai) means “Do your best!” and is used to motivate your friends, peers and coworkers in times of hardship.

Conclusion

Like Japanese culture, we’re just scraping the surface. Learning the Japanese language that you can actually use in real life can be tricky. If you want to earn more, Coto Academy offers lessons from beginner to advanced.

If you are interested in learning with us, contact us here or fill out the application form!


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