For someone going to Japan for the first time, the Japanese language can seem scary.

The Japanese ideograms, writing system, and alphabet is very different from the one we know. The pronunciation is sometimes complex. For a beginner, it's true that to speak or even to write Japanese can first appear daunting.

In this article, we will not be exploring how to learn the Japanese language but how to master certain tools in order to create a link with the language and its native speakers.

Because, although it is possible to easily find English speakers in big cities like Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto, it will be much more difficult when you leave Japanese megacities.

One indicator (the EF English Proficiency Index) even ranks Japanese in the low numbers, with the country as 39th and behind countries like Spain or the United States.

In order to communicate and do basic calculations in Japan it is essential to have some basic notions of the language.

We have concocted a short Japanese vocabulary guide for those wishing to visit Japan and learn about the culture or for those aiming to settle and live in Japan to study there.

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Hello in Japanese

hi-japan
One of the first Japanese words to learn is "hello"!

In a country like Japan, which puts certain notions like politeness and ritual at the forefront, a first impression when you are greeting someone is very important. Japanese culture is very rich and when you travel to Japan, it is essential to know some of its basics in order not to step on the locals' toes.

There are many ways to say hello depending on the context or the time of day. To greet someone in Japanese that we meet for the first time, it is customary to use the formula "Haijimemashite" (は じ め ま し て て) which can be translated as "Pleased to meet you."

To say hello in the morning, we use "Ohayo Gozaimasu" (お 早 う ざ ざ ざ ま ま す) or simply "Ohayo" with relatives or friends. Small detail, the term "Ohayo Gozaimasu" is used when greeting office colleagues, whatever the time of day.

It is also possible to use the famous "Konnichiwa" (こ ん に ち は and 今日 は in Kanji), which is more versatile and can be used at any time of the day. You can therefore use it in the afternoon.

You can also use "Osu" (お す) with friends, which is a less polished form.

Don't forget that learning Japanese could bring all sorts of advantages! For one, did you know that Japanese-speakers are the Internet's 3rd largest language group?

The Japanese make up the third largest language community on the Internet, after only English and Chinese speakers. An estimated 88 million Japanese, or 9.6% of the world's online population, are connected to the Internet. Knowing Japanese can connect you to these people in an instant. They may just be future friends or acquaintances, business associates, or even the market that you or your future employer hopes to target.

And also, let's not forget that the Japanese are innovators. Considering that Japan is geographically isolated island nation that is densely populated and poor in natural resources makes the strength of the Japanese economy seem even more impressive. The Japanese have relied on their creativity and scientific know-how to succeed not only economically but also in ecology- and effiency-oriented ways.

The Japanese are known as high tech leaders in fields such as optical media, semiconductor manufacturing, industrial robotics, and fermentation processes. Their drive for innovation has made the Japanese the world leaders in patent filings at 420,000 applications annually.

Also, Japanese cultural exports are exploding.

From anime to sushi bars, karaoke to manga, bonsai to origami, Japanese culture has become part of international culture. A knowledge of the language will give you direct access to Japanese film, animations, and comic books, give you insight into the special terminology used in your favorite martial art, help you understand the cultural basis for kamikaze training and the origin of the samurai warrior, and develop your ability to order sashimi like a native at your favorite Japanese restaurant!

And, come on: knowing Japanese will set you apart from the crowd.

The majority of people who learn a foreign language choose a European language like Spanish, French, German, or Italian. Choosing a less commonly learned language will pop out on your resume and differentiate you from the crowd.

Goodnight in Japanese

After 6 PM you should say "Konbanwa" (こ ん ば ん は and 今 晩 は in Kanji) that can be translated to "good evening."

And, finally, if you want to wish someone a good night, use "Oyasumi" (お 休 み) or "Oyasumi nasai" (おやすみなさい), which is a more polite formula.

Again, what you use will depend on the formal or informal side of the situation and the context, especially the person to whom you want to wish a good night.

 

japanese-language
There's nothing better than making new friends to improve in the Japanese language!

Goodbye in Japanese

There are many possible variations to say goodbye depending on the context and the person:

If it's strictly professional, it is possible to use "Osakini shitsurè shimass'" (お 先 に 失礼 し ま す) to apologize for leaving before the person you are addressing. Knowing some idiomatic expressions is very important when you want to work or simply travel to Japan.

Here, again, some variants exist.

We can use "onégaïshimass" (お 願 い し ま) to say "please." It is possible to use "ungai-itashimass" for a more honored and polite version.

We can also use "kudasaï" to say please.

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Mohan
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Thank You in Japanese

The best known way to say thank you is "aligatô" which can be said as "aligatô gozaimasu": (あ り が が う う ざ ざ ざ ま す す) to say "thank you very much."

Other possibilities exist such as:

  • O-sewani nalimash'ta (お 世 話 に な り り り し し た): thank you for your help,
  • Ôkini (大 き に): a form of thank you only used in the Kansai area,
  • Sumimassen (す み ま せ ん): thanks, with apologies.

To answer "thank you," most will say "dô itashimash'té" (ど う い た し ま し て), which is the transcription of  "no problem," or "nothing" or "please" American.

Have a Nice Meal in Japanese

japan-stay
Several commonly used phrases in Japanese can be helpful during your stay in Japan.

In some cases you will find the host who invites guests over to eat will use one of the following formulas (the first having a more polite character):

  • "Dozo Omeshiagari Kudasai" (ど う ぞ 召 し が が が く く さ さ さ い い),
  • "Meshiagare" (召 上 が れ).

In Japan, however, one will say "Itadakimasu" (頂 き ま す). It contains a certain gratitude toward those who allowed the meal to be at the table (the people who prepared it, the farmers, or even nature).

I Love You in Japanese

The most literal and academic way of translating "I love you" in Japanese (which still makes sense) is to say this Japanese sentence: "Watashi ha anata ga suki desu" (私 は あ な た が 好 き で す).

Indeed, we find the component "I", expressed by "watashi" (私), "anata" which can be translated as "you" and the notion of love in "suki desu" which is "to love."

Nevertheless, this transcription is very coded and formal, which is why we can frequently hear "daisuki" (大好 き) or "daisuki da" (大好 き だ).

Telling The Time in Japanese

When trying to learn Japanese and to speak Japanese, telling or asking for the time in the Japanese language is one of the first lessons a Japanese beginner will learn (Japanese courses New York City).

To ask the time, we will use "ma (wa) nan'ji déss'ka?" (今 (は) 何時 で す か). An English-Japanese dictionary would translate this by "what time is it currently?"

japan-work
"Excuse me, do you have the time, please?" is very common in Japan.

Indeed, "nan'ji" refers to "what time? "and "Ima" means "now." We use "froms'ka" so that the idea expressed as a question.

If you want to tell someone the time or understand someone's answer to your question, it is important to know the difference between A.M (midnight to noon) and P.M (from noon to midnight). The Japanese use:

  • Gozèn (午前): morning,
  • Gogo (午後): afternoon.

For example, "ima wa gozèn go-dji soon" (今 は 午前 5 時) means that it is currently 5 o'clock in the morning.

To master the time correctly, it is important to familiarize yourself with the Japanese numerals, which can sometimes be expressed in Arabic numerals but also on occasion with kanji. Keep in mind that the kanji 時 (dji) designates the hour, whereas 分 the minute.

Animals in Japanese

Here are the nouns for various animals in their different forms of writing (kana, kanji, and romaji transcription).

In short:

  • Language learning is very complex and requires effort at all times. For those wishing to start learning Japanese because of an upcoming trip to Japan, or if you are a student wishing to go to Japan for a few months for a language exchange program, or for those wishing to work in Japan in the nearer or more distant future, it will be important to master the basics of Japanese vocabulary and language.
  • Kanji, Hiragana Katakana, Kana--Japanese writing does not spare its Western learners. Fortunately, it will be possible for you to start with romaji, a type of romanization of the Japanese language, as happens in China with Chinese characters and pinyin. This system is practiced to learn Japanese phonetics more easily.
  • For any kind of Japanese learner, it will be necessary to redouble your efforts to pronounce the language correctly, as well as correctly read and write the ideograms. Many tools or platforms are available such as lessons and vocabulary cards on Here Japan or Kanpai.

Good luck everyone! You can do it!

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Jon

As an Englishman in Paris, I enjoy growing my knowledge of other languages and cultures. I'm interested in History, Economics, and Sociology and believe in the importance of continuous learning.