11 super useful phrases for traveling in Japan

Planning your dream vacation in Japan? Want to find ways to elevate your travel experiences to the next level while also learning something new? Great news, our lovely team at Wanderplans will provide the tools you need to make your next visit to Japan extra-memorable!

The most common source of challenge for foreign visitors in Japan is the language barrier: the inability to communicate with locals when touring Japan. While English may be spoken and understood in many tourist hotspots and major cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya, Japanese people often experience difficulties with verbal communications in English. Let's admit it, English is difficult even for us native speakers! Therefore, as polite and courteous guests visiting someone else's home, we ought to make every effort to make ourselves understood using the dominant language of the Japanese people and culture.

Here are 10 super useful Japanese phrases that you may find helpful when visiting Japan:


1. こんにちは

Casual greetings in Japanese, the equivalent of "Hello" or "Good day!" and "Good evening!" Use "Konnichiwa" (Good day) during daytime, and after the sun is gone, use "Konbanwa" (Good evening). 


2. ありがとうございます
(Arigato gozaimasu)

Thank you very much! Japanese people love saying thank you, there's no such thing as saying too much "thank you" in Japan! For foreigners, the shorter and more casual form "Arigato" is also acceptable, but the longer form is more polite, professional, and courteous. 


3. よろしくお願いしま
(Yoroshiku onegaishimasu) 

The literal translation is "please be nice to me", and it is the Japanese equivalent to "nice to meet you". This is a useful phrase when exchanging names or business cards in social situations. 


4. お願いします


The polite way to say "yes please" in Japanese, especially if someone else is offering to help. For example, at the convenience store, "would you like a bag?" "Yes please." However, "Onegaishimasu" is not used when answering "yes" as an affirmative confirmation. "Is your name John?" "Yes please!" (Onegaishimasu) will leave the questioner confused, instead a short and direct "hai" or "so desu" should be used to say "Yes. (That is correct)"


5. 大丈夫です
(Daijoubu desu)

The polite way to say "no thanks" or "it's okay". Would you like some ketchup with your fries? No thanks, daijoubu desu. This phrase can also be turned into a question to check if someone is okay, by simply adding a "ka?" at the end. Daijoubu desu ka? Are you okay? If you see a person hurt or not feeling well, you can ask "Are you okay? Daijoubu desu ka?" 


6. すみません

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Sumimasen is the polite Japanese way to say, "please excuse me", and it is an extremely useful phrase that can be used in many ways. Either to start off a conversation politely, or to apologize for a rather minor inconvenience caused to another person.  To ask for assistance or favors, it is best to always start with "Sumimasen" prior to making your request.

In a different context, if you have caused slight inconveniences upon others around you, you can apologize by saying sumimasen with a very subtle bow. Accidentally bumped into another person on a crowded train? No biggie, you can apologize politely! However, for inconveniences or errors leading to more serious consequences, please use "ごめんなさい" (gomenasai) rather than "すみません" (sumimasen) to reflect proper understanding of the gravity of the situation. For example, if you break something that doesn't belong to you, or if you accidentally hurt someone else, please use "gomenasai" to deliver a proper apology. 


7. お会計をお願いします
(Okaikei o onegaishimasu)

"May I have the bill please?" When dining out in restaurants or Japanese style pubs known as "Izakaya". Remember, gratuities are never expected in Japan, and may even be considered rude in traditional Japanese restaurants. However, with that said, you may choose to tip your server when dining in a Western style restaurant or pub catered to foreigners, but that's only at your discretion and it is not an expectation.


8. これはいくらですか?
(Kore wa ikura desu ka?) 

"How much is this?", a useful phrase when going shopping. Though, in most cases, Japanese shops show printed price tags on every item, and price bargaining is not a common practice. With that said, it’s possible to stumble upon a shop without printed price tags from time to time.


9. 英語のメニューくれませんか?
(Eigo no menu kuremasen ka?) 

May I have an English menu? Many restaurants in big cities such as Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka offer English menus, especially if the restaurant is catered to foreigners and tourists. With that said, do not expect every restaurant to offer English menus. If nothing else works out, most restaurants often feature replica models of the food items served, or at least feature pictures of their most popular dishes in their menus.


10. 手伝ってくれませか?
(Tetsudatte kuremasen ka?)

"Can you please help me?" This can come in handy if you need immediate assistance from passersby in your surroundings. Japanese people are generally friendly and helpful, and they will offer assistance in any situations, especially in an emergency. 


11. トイレ使ってもいいですか?
(Toire tsukatte moidesu ka?)

The classic "May I use the bathroom?" that you had to practice and ask every day during elementary school, here's the Japanese version! However, with that said, most Japanese businesses reserve bathrooms for their own customers only, the best way to find a bathroom is by finding a train station or a convenience store if you are away from the city center.

Hopefully these phrases will enrich your experience while traveling in Japan! Japanese is a fun but complex language to learn, and it is a never-ending learning process even for most native Japanese speakers. Japanese as a culture appreciates foreigners making every little bit of effort to try speaking their language, even if words are mixed up and mispronounced. After all, it's really about showing respect to the Japanese culture and traditions by the end of the day. So please be brave and give it a try! To explore exciting destinations all over Japan, custom-tailored to your personal interests, please visit Wanderplans.com and use our friendly exploration tools for planning your future visit to Japan!