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More Japanese[edit]

I had been thinking that the Japanese phrasebook lacked a degree of practicality, and I had some things to say about it. After reconsidering, it seems that most of what I want to say can fit into the framework of that phrasebook page.

Japanese Phrases Heard and Spoken[edit]

  • Irasshaimase Welcome. Fellow Japanese customers will reply with silence, but if this makes you feel awkward, a reply of "ohayo gozaimasu" (good morning) or "konnichiwa" (good day) or "konbanwa" (good evening).
  • atatakai ni Would you like it warmed up? This is referring the bento you just bought at the convenience store. The reply onegai shimasu is a nice way to reply yes, please.
  • fukuro iranai I don't need a bag. When you are checking out of the convenience store, concern for the environment may not be your first priority, but the checker usually is obligated to put even single item purchases into a bag.
  • saabisu desu It's a service, meaning its free. Restaurant staff will say this if you are lucky enough to have somethinng spontaneously delivered, and without charge.
  • kore This one. Works well when pointing at what you want.
  • densha ga mairimasu or densha ga kimasu. On the train platform, it is usually quite obvious from the flashing lights when a train is coming, but it might be slightly gratifiying to be able to hear this announcement "The train is coming."
  • orimasu I am getting off the train. Japanese immediately understand that they should step aside so you can get off the crowded train. sumimasen works well, too.

McDonald's Dialog[edit]

  • Irashaimase Welcome.
  • Kore to kore onegai shimasu I'd like this and this (while pointing at the picture menu).
  • setto desu ka Do you want the set?
  • Hai, kora onegai shimasu. Yes, with Coca-Cola please.
  • yoroshi desu ka. Will that be all?
  • Hai, kekko desu. replies "Yes, I'm fine."
  • kochira desu ka Is that for here?
  • Hai, kochira desu. Yes, for here.
  • Iie, teiku auto No, for take out.
  • shosho o-machikudasai Please wait a moment.

Nicer Restaurant[edit]

  • Ichimei/nimei sama desu ka Table for one/two people.
  • Hai, hitori/futari desu Yes, one/two people
  • kin'en desu ka? No smoking (section)?
  • Hai, onegai shimasu yes please.
  • itadakimasu This is said before the meal starts, whether in a restaurant or someone's home. It literally means "I receive it", it is a humble acknoledgement that of the effort of those who grew and prepared the food.
  • gochiso-sama deshita. Thanks for the meal, although the more literal meaning of "it was a feast" is often given. If the restaurant staff says "arigato gozaimasu" as you are leaving, your reply of "gochiso-sama deshita" is completely appropriate. In restaurants like Yoshinoya where you pay at the counter on your way out, you can say gochiso-sama deshita to indicate you are ready to pay your bill.

Reading and writing[edit]

Reading and writing Japanese are advanced skills which take years of work to gain much real proficiency. Japanese themselves use three different writing systems of various complexity, two of which (hiragana' and katakana) are syllabic and relatively easy to learn with 50 characters each, but the clincher is the set of over 2000 Chinese characters known as kanji. The set of hiragana characters is illustrated below.

Japanese writing uses three different systems. Kanji are the Chinese characters, there are more than 2000 daily-use characters. Hiragana and katakana are two phonetic scripts which have 50 characters each. However, it is only a slight exaggeration to say katakana is italicized hiragana—today, the primary use of katakana is to write words borrowed from foreign languages, much as foreign words are italicized when written in English.

Although students of Japanese, including Japanese children, begin by learning hiragana and katakana, it is arguablly more practical for the traveller to learn a few survival kanji. Knowing the meaning of a few kanji such as 男 (man) and 女 (woman) is practical, when you are looking for the bathroom, for example.

Much is made about the difficulty of learning the 2000 plus kanji, and so students of Japanese, including Japanese children, start with learning to read and write the hiragana and katakana writing system. However for the traveller, it is quite practical to learn a few kanji, which may prove invaluable. Kanji are short, often pictographs, and so it is comparatively easy to remember patterns.

For the traveller interested in learning some written Japanese, consider learning katakana. There is a huge number of foreign words, mostly from English, which are written in katakana. You can not only practice reading katakana, but develop a feeling for how Japanese render English. This can be a big help if you don't know the word for orenji juusu.

There are also several competing systems for rendering Japanese in the Latin alphabet, although the Hepburn system is the most common and is used on Wikitravel as well. Do not be surprised if you see these words romanized differently elsewhere.

  • The first best use of pattern matching is to find the station to get off of your train. Although in much of Japan the station name is written in English on the platform, usually the name is written in bigger characters and more frequently. If you can know the characters for your destination, is helplful for getting off at the right station.



  • Reading train and bus schedules. Most buses and trains have two schedules, the weekday and weekend/holiday schedule. To distinguish between the two
  • * 平日 weekday
  • * 土・日・休日 saturday, sunday, holiday
  • Train and bus reservations display boards. The symbols 〇、△、× can be used to indicate the there is lots, few, no seats remaining, respectively. These symbols are not kanji, technically.

Stores and Restaurants[edit]

  • Prices. Usually prices are written in arabic numbers, but occationally you'll see prices in Kanji, which are 〇、一、二、三、四、五、六、八、九。Zero, one, two and three are fairly obvious, leaving only six numbers to remember. Prices written this way are often written top-to-bottom, and a Japanese comma 、 separates the 1000s and 100s place. The character for yen 円 comes at the end of the price. So 一、二五〇円 is ¥1,250.
  • The toilet. 化粧室、トイレ. But more importantly, 女 is woman and 男 is man.
  • 営業中 Open for Business, posted in front of restaurants and stores. 準備中 In preparation, the restaurant will be opening soon.
  • 引・押 Pull, Push. How to open a door.
  • 入口・出口 Entrance, Exit.
  • 禁煙 No Smoking

Katakana English[edit]

Japanese are serious students of English, it is taught in schools, and it is used in advertising. However, not all English sounds can be pronounced by Japanese. One of the major uses for the katakana writing system is to render words borrowed from foreign languages (not so different how foreign words are sometimes italicized in English). English as used by Japanese has sometimes come to be called "Katakana English". Learning and using Katakana English, which mostly means pronouncing English using Japanese intonation, can be a great help. Although not recommended for teaching English or business communications, use of Katakana English may sound condescending, however when you need to communicate, you might need to use this to be understood.

Famously, Japanese have pronouncing 'R', which often comes out sounding a bit more like 'L'. In Japanese, there is a group of syllables which is usually romanized as ra, ri, ru, re and ro, but the pronunciation is perhaps somewhere in between an 'R' and an 'L'. One textbook actually romanizes these syllables as la, li, lu, le and lo, which looks strange to long-time Japanese students, but may be a more accurate way to understand how to pronounce these symbols.

English sounds which are also a problem for Japanese are 'B', 'V', 'W'. For example, a Japanese may tell you that he is worried about a uirisu, which sounds like perfectly good English to him, but leaves a native speaker befuddled. For both computers and colds, its a "virus".

That Japanese has an extensive vocabulary of words which have been imported into English is another aspect of Katakana English. Fortunately for the English speaker, these words are gradually replacing the traditional Japanese word in many cases. No longer do you need to know kudamono means fruit; just knowing how to render the word in Katakana English, fuurutu, is sufficient.