30+ Useful Japanese Phrases for First-Time Travellers

Last Updated on 18/02/2024 by secretmoona

Planning a trip to Japan for the first time and worried about the “language barrier”? Should you learn Japanese before going to Japan? I did go and you should too. I knew the language and equipped myself with a notebook full of useful Japanese phrases before travelling there for the first time. As a solo traveller,  I didn’t want to see myself lost somewhere and not ask for directions. I also wanted to speak to locals and learn new things. Although my Japanese was lacking during my first trip, it helped me make the journey more enjoyable. 

Old Japanese characters writing - Evelyn Chai - Pixabay
Japan

You are not obliged to learn the language, you can get by with little to no Japanese. Learning a few words or phrases can make your trip so much better. Also, I believe it’s polite to be able to say “Hello” or “Thank you” in the language of the country you’re visiting. Having been there several times, I know how appreciative the locals were every time I said something in Japanese.  

If you are interested in learning some Japanese phrases for travel, then this post is for you. This guide will tackle the basic yet essential words and phrases you will encounter and need during your trip. It will specifically help you greet people you meet during your trip, get around and order food at restaurants.

Useful Japanese phrases for travelling in the land of the Rising Sun. Includes a phrasebook | SecretMoona | Japan Travel | Japan Travel tips

The chances are that you might not use all the words or phrases mentioned below, especially if you travel in big cities like Tokyo, but I have found the down to be most useful.

  • Directions: knowing your left, right, inside, outside, behind, or front will help tremendously, especially when you ask for directions. 
  • Numbers: knowing your numbers will help you find out things like which platform your train will depart from or the price of items you’d like to purchase

Important notes: 

  • This list of Japanese phrases for travellers is divided by category: greetings, useful words, travelling, shopping and restaurant.
  • Japanese is mostly pronounced as it reads in Romanised form. Every syllable is pronounced; for example, sake is pronounced as “sah-kay.” 
  • “U” is often not at all pronounced. Therefore, when you hear words like “desu” or “masu”, they will be pronounced “dess” or “mass”. For example, onegaishimasu is not pronounced as o-ne-ga-i-shi-ma-su but o-ne-ga-i-shi-mass. 
  • Depending on the textbook used, the sound “o” will either be spelt “ou”, “o” or “ō”. An example is どうも(doumo). 
  • It’s straightforward to form a question sentence in Japanese. Simply adding does the trick. The particle か is the Japanese version of a question mark. Simply add か to the end of a sentence to form a question.  For example, もうたべましたか? (Have you eaten yet?)

Let’s get started!

Japanese greetings words

Greetings are important in Japanese. They are a way of showing respect and acknowledging the other person’s presence. The Japanese language has a rich variety of greetings that are used depending on the time of day, the person you are greeting, and the situation.

Good morning – Ohayou gozaimasu (おはようございます)

Japanese for travellers card - "Good morning" translation

If you are interested in learning some Japanese greetings, it’s a good idea to start with “good morning”. This greeting is typically used before 10:00 am and can be expressed in different ways, depending on the level of formality and familiarity between the speakers. By learning and using appropriate Japanese greetings, you can show your respect and build positive relationships with the people you interact with.

Hello / Good afternoon – Konnichiwa (こんにちは)

Japanese for travellers learning card  with hiragana, English and romaji translation of each word

One word you will often hear in Japan is “Konnichiwa”. Although it is written as “Konnichiwa” to aid with pronunciation, the correct spelling is actually “Konnichiha”. You can use “Konnichiwa/こんにちは” as a greeting throughout the day to say “hi” or “hello”, but it actually means “good afternoon”.

Good evening – Konbanwa (こんばんは)

Japanese for travellers learning card  with hiragana, English and romaji translation of each word

Japanese greetings for “good evening”, should be used after sunset. Similarly to “Konnichiwa”, the correct spelling of “Konbanwa” is “Konbanha”.

Good bye – Sayounara (さようなら)

Japanese for travellers card - "Goodbye" translation

Sayonara is a Japanese word used to say goodbye when you are uncertain if you will see the person again. For instance, you can use “sayonara” to bid farewell to the hotel staff when checking out.

Useful Japanese phrases for travellers

Thank you – Arigatou gozaimasu (ありがとうございます)

Japanese for travellers learning card  with hiragana, English and romaji translation of each word

In Japan, politeness is highly valued, and as a result, you will often hear and say the word “arigatou gozaimasu (ありがとう)” or the more informal “arigatou” to express gratitude for something done for you. It is advisable to use the polite version while addressing people you have met for the first time.

Thanks – Doumo (どうも)

“Doumo” is a versatile word that can be used for various purposes. It can be translated as “very,” but it can also be used to greet someone like “hello” or to express gratitude for a small favour.

You are welcome – Dou itashimashite (どういたしまして)

When you help someone or generally do something nice, and they say “Thank you” then it’s polite to reply with “Dou itashimashite” which means “you’re welcome” in English. You can also use “iie.”

Sorry/Excuse me – Sumimasen (すみません)

Japanese for travellers learning card  with hiragana, English and romaji translation of each word

“Sumimasen” is an important word to know as it serves all sorts of situations. It helps in various situations such as getting someone’s attention, expressing gratitude, apologising (for any touristy faux-pas you may cause!), and pushing through a crowd.

Sorry – Gomen nasai (ごめんなさい)

Japanese for travellers learning card  with hiragana, English and romaji translation of each word

When you accidentally bump into someone or hit someone’s foot with your suitcase, it’s appropriate to apologise by saying “gomen nasai” while bowing.

Please – Kudasai (ください)

Japanese for travellers learning card  with hiragana, English and romaji translation of each word

When asking someone to do something, it’s polite to use “kudasai (ください)” or “onegai shimasu (おねがいします)” to be more formal.

I don’t understand – Wakarimasen (わかりません)

Japanese for travellers learning card  with hiragana, English and romaji translation of each word

If you don’t understand what someone is saying, use this word. For example, you can say “I don’t understand Japanese” as 日本語がわかりません (nihongo ga wakarimasen) or simply say ごめんなさい。わかりません。(Gomen nasai. Wakarimasen).

Yes – Hai (はい)

“Hai” and “un” both mean “yes” in Japanese, but hai can also mean “I understand”.

Japanese for travellers learning card  with hiragana, English and romaji translation of each word

No – Iie (いいえ)

The Japanese word for “NO” is いいえ (iie), pronounced as “ee-ye.” However, Japanese people don’t prefer saying “no” directly, as it may be considered rude. Instead, it’s best to use phrases like “daijoubu” (meaning “it’s okay”) or “kekkou desu” (meaning “I’m fine”). Another phrase used to express disagreement is “chotto” (ちょっと), which means “a little” or “a bit.”

Is it okay?/Are you okay? – Daijoubu desuka? ( だいじょうぶですか)

Japanese for travellers learning card  with hiragana, English and romaji translation of each word

When asking if something is okay, use “daijyoubu desu ka?” You can also use it to show concern for someone. To respond that you are fine, say “daijoubu desu” (大丈夫です).

May I? – Ii desu ka? (いいですか)

Japanese for travellers learning card  with hiragana, English and romaji translation of each word

If you are in Japan and wish to take photos of the local scenery, it is recommended to focus on capturing images of Japanese culture and traditions. However, it is important to respect certain rules and etiquette when taking photographs. Some locations may not permit photography, and even in places where it is allowed, it is polite to request permission before taking pictures of individuals. “Iidesu ka”, is then best used.

How are you? – O genki desu ka? (お元気ですか)

Japanese for travellers learning card  with hiragana, English and romaji translation of each word

In Japan, instead of saying “how are you?”, locals say “how have you been?” when asking how someone is doing. To inquire about someone’s well-being, they use the phrase “お元気ですか” (Ogenki desu ka).

Do you speak English? Eigo wo hanashimasu ka? (えいごを はなしますか)

You can ask if someone speaks English by saying “Eigo wo hanasemasu ka.” Remember not to ask locals this question first.

Useful phrases for travelling/getting around 

Where is ~? ~ wa Doko Desu Ka? (~はどこですか) 

Japanese for travellers learning card  with hiragana, English and romaji translation of each word

As a tourist, it is common to lose your way. To ask for directions, you can use the phrase “doko desu ka?” while mentioning your destination or by showing the location on a map. “Doko” means “where”. For example, you can say “Tokyo eki doko desu ka?” (eki means “station”). Even if the person you are asking doesn’t speak English, they will be able to point you in the right direction. Here are some useful words that you can use along with this phrase.

  • Convenience store – コンビニ – konbini 
  • Hotel – ホテル – hoteru 
  • Train station – えき – eki 
  • Toilet –  トイレ – toire 
  • Museum – はくぶつかん – hakubutsu kan
  • Shopping centre – しょうてんがい – shotengai 
  • community police box – こうばん – kōban
  • Park – こうえん – Kōen
  • Tourist information centre – かんこうあんないじょ – kankou annaijo

Tip: Whenever you need help, head for a kōban or shout たすけて (help). 

I want to go to ~ –  ~ ni Ikitai desu (~heいきたいです)

Japanese for travellers card - "I want to go to" translation

When you want to go somewhere, you can use the phrase “ikitai desu“. If you have an address written down but don’t know the name of the place, you can say “koko” which means “here”. For example, “Watashi wa kuukou ni ikitai desu” means “I want to go to the airport”.

Please take me to ~ – ~ made onegai shimasu ( ~までおねがいします)

When asking a taxi driver to take you to a specific location, you can use this phrase as an example: “Onegai shimasu, Asakusa made.”

Please, can I have a map – Chizu wo kudasai (地図をください) 

Maps are usually available to tourists at various attractions, but you might need to ask for one. 

Does this train/bus go to ~ – Kono densha/bus wa ~ ni ikimasuka? (この電車/バスは~に行きますか)

How to day does this train go to Shibuya in Japanese

During your trip to Japan, you will most likely need to use public transportation. At some point, you may need to confirm that you are going in the correct direction. You can use the phrase “kore wa ~ ni ikimasu ka” (これは~に行きますか – does this go to ~?) to check if you are getting on the right train or bus.

Shopping and restaurant

Please, can I have the menu? – menyu wo onegai shimasu – メニューを おねがいします

Japanese for travellers card - "Menu, please" translation
card

In restaurants, waiters will not automatically come to you. If you are ready to place an order, there is usually a bell placed on the table. If not, get their attention by saying “sumimasen“.

Let’s eat – Itadakimasu (いただきます)

How to say Let's eat in Japanese

In Japan, it is customary to say “itadakimasu” before starting a meal, which is similar to the French phrase “Bon appetit!”. This tradition is often accompanied by clapping hands together. On the other hand, “gochisousama deshita” is used to express gratitude after finishing a meal, especially when dining in a restaurant where dishes are returned.

What is this? – Kore wa nan desu ka? (これは何ですか )

Card translating "what is this?" in Japanese

Japan is home to many unique things. If you come across something unfamiliar, this phrase will be helpful.

I can’t eat – ~wa tabemasen (は食べられません)

If you have a food intolerance, it’s important to know how to express that. For example, if you can’t eat gluten, you can say “Guruten wa taberaremasen – グルテンは食べられません.” Here’s some useful vocabulary:

  • Meat – niku – にく
  • Pork – botaniku – ぶたにく
  • Peanuts – pinattsu – ピーナッツ
  • Egg – tamago – たまご
  • Fish – sakana – さかな
  • Seafood -shiifūdo – シーフード
  • Dairy products – nyu useihin – にゅうせいひん

I would like to pay by credit card- kurejitto kaado de onegai shimasu – クレジットカードで おねがいします. 

Japanese phrases for travellers card with translation for " I would like to pay by credit card"

It is important to note that credit cards are not always accepted in Japan and people generally pay in cash. If you want to pay by credit card, make sure to inquire beforehand if it is accepted.

The bill / check please? O kaikei wo onegaishimasu (お会計をおねがいします)

Japanese phrases for travellers card with translation for " May I have the bill please"

After finishing your meal, you may use this phrase to pay.

How much is this? – Kore kura desu ka? (これは いくらですか) 

Japanese for travellers learning card  with hiragana, English and romaji translation of each word

Kore ha ikuradesu ka. “Ikura” means how much. You can point to the item by saying “kore wa ikura desu ka?” To understand the answer, you have to know how to count in Japanese. Luckily, the seller will either show you the price on the tag or a calculator. 

I would like this – kore wo onegai shimasu (これを おねがいします)

When placing an order, say “Kore” to point to the dish or menu you want.

Little note about Japanese characters and pronunciation

Japanese is a phonetic language, which means that if you pronounce the words as you read, you should be able to communicate effectively. It’s a good idea to listen to some spoken Japanese to become familiar with the pronunciation. Here is a basic guide to help you get started – Japanese pronunciation.

Japanese writing uses a combination of three different scripts: Hiragana (ひらがな – with rounded shapes), Katakana (カタカナ – with spiky shapes), and Kanji (漢字 – derived from Chinese characters). Hiragana and Katakana are more straightforward and phonetic scripts, with each having 46 characters representing one syllable each. Kanji, on the other hand, is more complicated, and means “Chinese characters”.

Hiragana and Katakana represent the same syllables, but Katakana is used mainly for foreign-sounding words that are not typically Japanese. Kanji is the hardest to learn and requires more time and effort as it is derived from Chinese characters.

Basic Japanese phrases for travellers. List of useful Japanese words to know.
Basic Japnese

Japanese for travellers – more language learning tools

If you want to enhance your Japanese language skills, there are several resources available to assist you. You can learn Japanese through various means, some of which don’t require any monetary investment. YouTube, Japanese dramas, and TV shows are excellent resources to get acquainted with the pronunciation.

Thank you for taking the time to read this guide to Japanese for travellers. Are you currently learning Japanese or planning to learn some key phrases before your big trip? If you know of any other resources to learn Japanese, please share them with us in the comments below. Also, don’t forget to download the PDF booklet.

Most useful Japanese phrases for travelling in the land of the Rising Sun. Includes a phrasebook | SecretMoona | Japan Travel | Japan Travel tips

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Hi there! I'm Mayi. Welcome to my blog SecretMoona! I hope to share with you the hidden secret of places I visit.

20 thoughts on “30+ Useful Japanese Phrases for First-Time Travellers

  1. I always love the idea of learning some language for where you are visiting. Not only is it good manners, but it’s fun! My husband has been to Japan and said that everyone was so nice and helpful!

  2. This guide is amazing! I always try to learn some key phrases when I travel to another country! Japanese looks like such a complicated language! I’m sure I’d butcher the pronunciation with my Yorkshire accent but at least I could give it a go! Thanks for sharing these great phrases!

    1. Thank you. I’m sure you will do fine as long as you give it a try. It was hard for me too and especially with my thick French accent, some words were hard to understand. They usually repeat so you get the right pronunciation then 🙂

  3. I don’t know a single word of Japanese, but I like to know some phrases before I travel to a new country. Lots of helpful ones here you’ve listed!

  4. I haven’t been to Japan yet, but would love to go. Wherever I go I always at least try to learn a few words or phrases, I think it’s just polite to try. This is a really helpful, well laid out guide

  5. It’s so complicated, especially the kanji. And why is it there are words that are long for a short meaning and short words for a long meaning? Haha.. But like you said, it’s good to learn the basic words.

  6. This is so useful, especially for first timers in Japan! I’m embarrassed to say that after working for 2 years in a Japanese company, I don’t even know this much.

  7. I always make a point to learn a little of the language before I visit. Languages with a different alphabet like Japanese, can be very intimidating!

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