5 Phrases You Should Know Before Going to Japan

So you want to go to Japan, but are worried about going somewhere where most people don’t speak English. Here are some basic words and phrases that will help you out.

1.  Word : Sumimasen

Pronunciation : soo-mii-mah-sen

What it means : Sorry/Excuse me

When you hear it :  All the time, Japanese people are very polite.

When you should use it : To get past someone; to get someone’s attention; to apologize for pretty much anything; to get someone to repeat something they just said; if it’s all you say, Japanese people will usually take the hint that you don’t speak Japanese.

2.  Phrase : Kore o kudasai

Pronunciation : Core-eh oh koo-dah-sah-ee

What it means : This, please

When you hear it : You will be saying this a lot more than you will hear it.

When you use it : Buying something; while pointing at an item on a menu to order in a restaurant. This phrase is vital for functioning in Japan with little or no Japanese.

3.  Word : Hai

Pronunciation : its similar to the greeting ‘hi’

What it means : Yes

When you hear it : In response to a yes/no question; when you get someone’s attention; all the time from shopkeepers; peppered throughout a conversation while the other person is talking. There is a very special ‘hai’ that sounds like a question. It is used when someone didn’t hear or understand what was just said.

When you use it : In response to a yes/no question; if you understand enough of what someone said that you want to agree to them.

4.  Word : iie

Pronunciation : spell ‘eat’, but stop before the ‘t’. Like the letter ‘E’ followed by the letter ‘A’.

What it means : No

When you hear it : Not that often, the Japanese are seldom direct enough to say this a lot.

When you use it : If someone seems to be offering you something you don’t want, like a pack of tissues (and you will be offered packs of tissues on the street in Japan, it’s a common promotional technique). Any situation in which you want to say ‘no’. It would usually be a good idea to follow this with ‘sumimasen’.

5.  Phrase : Nihongo wakarimasen.

Pronunciation : Knee-hon-go wah-kah-ree-mah-sen

What it means : I don’t understand Japanese

When you hear it : When another non-Japanese person is talking to a Japanese person.

When you use it : If someone is talking to you in Japanese; to get out of a bad situation; as an all purpose excuse if you did something you shouldn’t have.


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Lisa Jensen
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Posted on Dec 3, 2010
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Posted on Jan 7, 2009