Whoa, 2021 zipped by so fast! We’re already in December and counting down the days to the new year. How crazy is that?
When the new year approaches, people of all cultures and traditions start preparing to welcome the upcoming year. In Japan, the new year is a big thing for the people here. It is, without a doubt, one of the most festive times of the year and brings about unique, local traditions that are only practiced in The Land of the Rising Sun.
In this article, we’ll look at the significance of the New Year in Japan, the unique traditions and customs practiced, and even a few useful Japanese phrases for you to try out this new year!
New Year in Japan
The New Year brings out the good in everyone. Regardless of culture, we all go all out when it comes to welcoming a fresh, full-of-potential new year. In Japan, the New Year’s is called shougatsu (正月), which translates to the Japanese New Year festival.
Festivities for this special occasion start well before the first of January and run through January 7th. For some regions, it extends till January 15th! On top of that, a lot of local companies and businesses are usually closed from December 29th till January 4th. Many people travel back to their hometowns to spend time with family and loved ones.
All over the country, there are firework displays and concerts held to celebrate and count down. One of the biggest countdown events in Japan is in the capital city Tokyo, at the heart of the city center in Shibuya. Thousands of people gather to scream at the top of their lungs the ticking time to midnight, before dispersing to clubs and bars to drink till the sun comes up.
Every 2nd of January, the Imperial Palace is open to the public. This is one out of two days in the year. Visitors can pay respects to Japan’s royal household as well as to hear the Emperor addressing the crowd of well-wishers.
New Year Traditions
On top of countdown events and partying, there are special New Year traditions that are greatly linked to Japanese culture. The traditions of Shougatsu are to express gratitude for the past year as well as wish for health and prosperity for the upcoming year.
The most practiced tradition of the New Year is the annual temple visit, along with eating New Year foods.
The most important practice of shougatsu is “hatsumode” (初詣). This is the first shrine or temple visit of the year. Over 100 million people visit a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple during this time of the year. The objective of the visit is to pray for good luck.
Some Buddhist temples would ring the bell 108 times when the clock strikes midnight. This is to represent the 108 worldly sins and desires in Buddhism. Some visitors are able to ring the temple bell too, which symbolises their sins being cleansed. This event is known as joya no kane (除夜の鐘).
Another part of the temple visiting tradition is the omikuji (御神籤), which is a fortune paper where people can draw their luck. If one draws a bad fortune, they can tie it to a tree on the temple or shrine grounds as a way to reverse the luck.
It’s also very common for visitors to buy omamori (お守り) on New Year’s. These are lucky charms in silk brocade and have pieces of small paper or wood inside them. There are various types of charms for various things, including love and pregnancy. Depending on what one wishes for the new year, they will get the charm for that.
New Year Food
A big tradition on New Year’s is the food. Like other cultures, family come together and gather to eat traditional dishes during this special occasion.
One of the most significant types of New Year food is osechi ryori (お節料理). This is a type of cuisine that has many small dishes. For New Year’s, there are at least 50 types, with each symbolising something different like health, longevity and happiness. Because it’s a common tradition, many supermarkets and convenience stores will sell them during this time of the year.
Another common New Year’s dish is the toshikoshi soba, also known as the year-end soba. It’s a simple meal served in hot broth to eat just before midnight. The shape of the long pasta represents the passage from one year to the next.
Mochi (もち) is also eaten on New Year’s. This is a type of chewy rice cake. A traditional activity on New Year’s is to prepare mochi yourself.
While those two are the main traditions often practiced during this time of the year, there are other traditions, of course. One of it is hatsuhinode (初日の出), where people get up really early to watch the first sunrise of the year on January 1st. People gather at the coast or mountain to witness the beautiful first dawn.
Some people also fly kites for the new year. Back in the day, people would fly kites in the form of Japanese demons, known as oniyouzu (鬼用ず), as a symbolic way to get rid of evil. Nowadays, normal kites are used.
Another unique Japanese tradition for New Year’s is sending greeting cards. This is known as nenga (年賀). People would send out cards to friends and family to wish them a happy new year.
Useful New Year Japanese Phrases
There are useful phrases to use during this time of the year. We have an article of a longer list of phrases for the holidays here. But for the New Year’s, there are two main ones:
The first one is “akemashite omedetou” (あけましておめでとう).
This translates to “happy new year”. You can make it formal by adding “gozaimasu” at the end to make “akemashite omedetou gozaimasu” (あけましておめでとうございます).
That phrase is used for on or after the new year’s. If you want to greet someone happy new year before the actual new year, you say it as:
“Yoi otoshi wo omakae kudasai” (よいお年をお迎えください).
The short form version is: yoi otoshi wo (よいお年を).
Another common phrase often said after these two greetings is:
“Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu” (今年もよろしくお願いします).
This translates to “I hope to count on you this year”.
Happy New Year! Yoi Otoshi Wo!
And that’s generally what you need to know about the Japanese New Year and their traditions! If you would like to know more, our Nihongo Master Podcast’s newest season, Season 9, covers all there is to know about Japanese Winter and traditions, which includes the very festive Oshougatsu! Check it out! Till then, Happy New Year everyone! Rainen mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu! 来年もよろしくお願いします！
One of the most commonly used phrases in any language is “do you know…?” This phrase is without a doubt an essential one for not only daily conversations but also at work. Remember asking your friend if they knew of a specific person, or your colleague if they knew how to use the copy machine?
The question is: do you know how to ask “do you know” in Japanese?
If you don’t, then you should tune in to our podcast’s language series, Study Saturday. In our Season 2 Episode 6, we looked at two ways on how to say this phrase in Japanese!
In the podcast episode, we broke down the grammar points and looked at the proper usage with a few role playing scenarios and useful vocabulary words. This article is a recap of the grammar and vocabulary we used — while you get the gist and general idea of the grammar in this article, we highly recommend tuning in to the episode for exemplary usage!
Compared to English grammar, where “do you know” is at the start of the sentence, the Japanese grammar for that attaches itself to the end, just like most other
grammar points. In Japanese, the sentence structure is basically the opposite of English.
So for this one, we have “shitteiru” (知っている) or “shitteimasu” (知っています) to mean “to know”. The phrase comes from the word “shiru” (知る), which means “to find out” or “to get to know”. I won’t confuse you with the details, but long story short the difference is that “shiru” is an action, while “shitteiru” is a state, and the former is rarely used.
So in question form, we have it as “shitteiru” (知っている) or “shitteimasuka” (知っていますか). For example, “do you know John?” Can be translated in Japanese as “Jon wo shitteiru?” (ジョンを知っている？) or “Jon wo shitteimasuka?” (ジョンを知っていますか？) We use the particle “wo” (を) for this grammar most of the time.
A を 知っていますか？
A wo shitteimasuka?
If you know, you reply as: shitteiru (知っている) or shitteimasu (知っています)
If you don’t, you reply as: shiranai (知らない) or shirimasen (知りません)
Another way to use this phrase is like this question: “do you know where he lives?”. For this type of sentence, it’s said a different way — that’s because we’re connecting two parts into a sentence:
1. ”Where he lives” = “kare ga doko ni sundeiru” (彼がどこに住んでいる)
We replace the wo (を) particle which we would usually use, with ga (が)
To attach the two sentences together, we have to use the question particle which is ka (か). Then the second part:
2. ”Do you know” = “shitteiru” (知っている)
Put it all together, and you get: “kare ga doko ni sundeiru ka shitteiru” (彼がどこに住んでいるか知っている？) “kare ga doko ni sundeiru ka shitteimasuka?” (彼がどこに住んでいるか知っていますか？)
Here’s another example: “do you know if he’s going to the party tonight?”
In Japanese, it’s: “konban no pātī ni iku dou ka shitteiru?” (今晩のパーティーに行くどうか知っている？)
Sometimes, you can use shitta (知った) in specific situations. For example, “dou yatte shitta?” (どうやって知った？) This means “how did you know?”.
There’s also a common saying, that is: “hajimete shitta” (初めて知った) to mean “that’s the first I’ve heard”.
It’s quite common to confuse shitteiru with wakaru (分かる) or wakarimasu (分かります) for the polite form. The clearest way of explaining the difference is that, “shitteiru” as a question implies that you don’t expect the person to know, and as an answer implies that you already knew. “Wakaru” as a question has a nuance of
“do you remember/understand”, implying that the person should already know because it was brought up before, and as an answer implies that you remember/understand.
If you want to ask someone if they know Japanese, you usually would say “nihongo wakaru?” (日本語分かる？) or “nihongo wakarimasuka?” (日本語分かりますか？). This means “do you understand Japanese?”
If you ask it as “nihongo shitteiru?” (日本語知っている？) or “nihongo shitteimasuka?” (日本語知っていますか？), it’s kind of like saying “have you heard of the Japanese
If you do know Japanese — and understand it — reply with a “wakaru” or “wakarimasu”. If you don’t know, a simple “wakaranai” (分からない) or “wakarimasen” (分かりません) does the trick.
At the end of our Study Saturday episodes, we have a quick vocab recap of the words we used in the episode. Here’s a list for reference:
Doko (どこ) — where
Sundeiru (住んでいる) — to be living, it comes from the root form “sumu” — to live
Konban (今晩) — tonight
Dou ka (どうか) — …or not
Saigo (最後) — last
Atta (会った) — met. The root word is “au”, to mean “to meet”
Otetsudai wo suru (お手伝いをする) — the polite version of “tetsudau” to mean “to help”
Honjitsu (本日つ) — a polite version of saying “today”
Hatarakasete (働かせて) — the root form is “hataraku” to mean “to work”
Tsukai kata (使い方) — how to use.
Tsukau (使う) —to use
Kata (方) — way of
Fūni (風に) — this way
Yaru (やる) — to do
Tonari (隣) — next to
Aiteiru (空いている) — to be open, coming from the word “aku” which means “to open”
Now you have the general gist of how to say “do you know” and “i know” in Japanese! You’ll be surprised at how often you’ll be using it day to day. As mentioned before, this is just a recap and summary of what we discussed about in our language series episode. Check out the full episode over at Nihongo Master Podcast!
Christmas is just around the corner. Aren’t we all excited for this festive season? I know I am! In Japan, they too celebrate Christmas. Over the years, the country has adopted many foreign customs and traditions, and that included this Western holiday.
However, just like everything else, Japan adds their own twist to this tradition and makes it their own. Of course, you’ll still hear jingle bells and Christmas tunes all throughout the country, but there are just a few celebrations that are unique to Japan only. In this article, we’ll take a look at the top 5 ways Japan celebrates Christmas differently from the usual.
1. A Holiday for Lovers
Generally, Christmas is known as a Christian holiday. Most of the Western world goes all out for this time of the year. Well, so do the Japanese. However, it’s treated more like a secular celebration regardless of religion. In fact, there are only a few percent of Japanese people that consider themselves as Christian, and mostly consider themselves as Buddhist or Shinto.
On top of that, Christmas is usually celebrated as a family. Members of the family come together and gather regardless of where they are in the world to be together during this time of the year. However, in Japan, it’s more of a celebration for lovers. It’s quite rare that you celebrate this as a family, unless you have young kids and make a practice of celebrating it the Western way.
Usually, couples would plan romantic dates for the Christmas period, like a dinner at a fancy restaurant or strolling around festive areas in town with Christmas lights.
2. KFC Chicken Feast!
Yes, the rumours are true. During Christmas time, the Japanese go crazy for KFC fried chicken! Rather than feasting on glazed ham and roasted turkey, the most popular choice for Christmas lunch or dinner is a good ol ‘bucket of fried chicken from the fast food chain KFC!
In fact, the popularity is so ridiculous that some outlets take preorders months in advance and the dates get sold out so quickly! Last year, I had friends who made orders as early as October! It’s no joke here for the fight for KFC chicken. It’s the real deal!
But hey, if you’re not fast enough to snag a bucket of KFC fried chicken, there are tons of other stores and convenience stores that offer them during this time of the year. They’re not the same, but they’re close enough, I reckon.
3. Christmas Illuminations & Markets
Japan goes all out for this time of the year. I love being in Japan during this season. Everything’s so colourful and lively. And that’s all thanks to winter illuminations that start up as soon as Halloween is over. Japanese cities are lit up with twinkling eco-friendly LED lights. Tokyo is probably the most festive city in Japan during this season. You see trees decorated with these lights, all down the street.
Attraction sites have their own winter special illumination events, too. Flower parks and amusement parks have special decorations just for this season. Even shopping malls turn an ordinary trip to the mall into a magical fantasy experience.
Speaking of decorations, shopping for Christmas decorations and decorating the house is also a thing here. And where else can you get them other than Christmas markets? Of course, local supermarkets and convenience stores offer them too, but you get unique, authentic ones at these Christmas markets.
From the beginning of December, a lot of them pop up, especially in Tokyo. The most popular one is the German Christmas Market in Roppongi that always brings in thousands of visitors every year! Other parts of Japan have Christmas markets too, including the northern city Sapporo.
4. Special Christmas Cakes!
When we think of Christmas desserts, we think of gingerbread men, other types of cookies and also pie. Japan is number one when it comes to dessert, so you would think they would have them all.
Close. They have Christmas cakes! Cakes aren’t only enjoyed during your birthday. During Christmas, getting a special Christmas cake is a big tradition practiced here! They’re not the usual fruitcake that you would usually eat in European and American countries. Instead, the most popular kind of cake for this season is the sponge cake-based strawberry shortcake!
This love affair Japan has with cakes date back to 1922, when the confectionery manufacturer Fujiya started marketing cream-covered cakes with the tagline “kurisumasu ni keeki wo tabemashou!” (クリスマスにケーキを食べましょう) to mean “let’s eat cake on Christmas!”
Although, while the most popular choice of cake is the strawberry shortcake, I have heard from my Japanese friends that they also opt for chocolate cake nowadays. Maybe the trends have changed now, and any type of cake, as long as it’s marketed as a Christmas cake, will do?
5. Japanese Version of Santa
We’re all waiting for the main question: what about presents? Not to fret everyone, the concept of Santa Claus and practice gift-giving is still alive and well in Japan. Kids in Japan look forward to a visit from Santa and opening presents under the tree on Christmas morning. Couples also exchange gifts, and usually done on Christmas Eve instead.
Here’s a fun unique twist: Western tradition has Santa climbing down chimneys. This is pretty difficult to do in Japan when a lot of people don’t have one in their homes. So instead, Santa is seen as some kind of magical ghost with exciting treats!
However, as compared to Western countries, gift giving isn’t that significant. It plays a much smaller role. It may be because that Japan has their own gift-giving day known as “Oseibo” (お歳暮) at the end of the year. .
Have a Merry Japanese Christmas!
If you abide by these five fun facts of Japanese Christmas, you’re going to have one hell of a unique holiday! Whether or not you live in Japan, if you’d like to spice up your holiday, why not celebrate Christmas the Japanese way? Have a merry Japanese Christmas, everyone!
I love winter, but not everybody will be on the same page as me on this. Not a lot of people like winter. This chilly season is more often wished away than greeted. It can bring moods down and keep doors shut.
However, winter in Japan is simply magical. It’s more like a fairytale land than anything else. Trees and slopes in northern Japan are coated with snow. Illuminations take over the streets in the city. Markets pop up just about everywhere on this island nation. Long story short, Japan goes all out during this season.
So instead of avoiding winter in Japan, why not take a shot at it? There are various fun things to do during Japanese winter, and here, we list the top 7 ones that will definitely get you interested!
1. Attend winter festivals
What’s a Japanese winter without a few festivals? Heck, what is Japan without festivals all year round? December is one of the most festive months in the year, in fact. You get everything from winter festivals to special Christmas markets. And the best part is that you can find at least one in any town in Japan!
The best cities to go to for winter festivals are up north in Hokkaido. One of the most popular winter festivals is the Sapporo Snow Festival, where you get to witness everything from crafted ice sculptures to special winter performances. Over two million visitors travel up north for this occasion alone!
Alternatively, you can head down to the Yunishigawa Kamakura Festival. Thousands of traditional Japanese igloo line up and light up in orange, twinking glows. These dome sculptures are one of a kind!
2. Play winter sports
Whether or not you’re a sports person, winter sports in Japan shouldn’t be missed. It’s arguably one of the best places for skiing and snowboarding. The snow in Japan is as soft as a pillow, so it’s the best place for beginners to try these sports out. One ski resort can have slopes accommodating all levels of skiers and snowboarders, from beginners to advanced.
If you have the time, stay at Zao Ski Resort. This ski resort is known for its ice-coated trees that are nicknamed “snow monsters”. You guessed it, they look like snow monsters! The best part is that you can zoom past and in between them. What a way to elevate your winter sports experience!
3. Visit an onsen
If you don’t already know it yet, Japan is famous for its hot springs, or onsen (温泉). There’s no better way to keep yourself warm than by dipping your entire body into hot springs water. It’s like getting the warmest hug in the world. You can find an onsen at a standalone establishment or attached to traditional ryokans (旅館).
One of the best places to go for onsen is Ginzan Onsen. It’s an onsen town tucked away in the middle of the mountains. Every corner is full of nature. If you’re looking for the most authentic onsen experience, this place is your best bet.
Another onsen establishment that’ll no doubt give you a unique onsen experience is Kowakien Yunessun. There’s everything from pools of coffee and green tea to red wine and Japanese sake!
4. Enjoy the winter illuminations
I’m a sucker for illuminations, and Japan does not fail when it comes to their winter illuminations. Thousands and millions of tiny bulbs light up streets and decorate cities. Walk down any street of Tokyo and you’ll definitely stumble upon a few trees wrapped with twinkling lights.
A city not far from Tokyo has a Dutch theme park called Huis Ten Bosch that hosts one of the best winter illumination events. Over 13 million light bulbs decorate the park in rainbow colours! Nagoya’s Nabana no Sato is also another location that has an illumination event not to be missed. It’s originally a flower park, so can you imagine these beautiful florals being highlighted even more with magical twinkle lights?
5. Travel to Japan’s exclusive winter sites
Japan is full of nature, and when winter comes, some of them are even more beautiful than normal. These exclusive winter sites in Japan are worth the travel, as you can only witness these sights at this specific time of the year. One not too far away from Tokyo is the Jigokudani Monkey Park. Wild Japanese macaques dip in their own little onsen pool in Yokoyu River.
Shirakawago Village is also another winter site in Japan that’s popular. It’s actually a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll get to witness the Gassho-zukuri farmhouses draped in snowfall, and if you’re lucky, snag some tickets for their exclusive illumination light show event.
6. Go ice skating in town
It’s hard to pack in a lot of activities in just a short holiday trip to Japan. If you don’t have time to travel to various places for some winter activities, the big towns have a surprise for you: outdoor ice skating rinks. When December rolls around, cities like Osaka and Tokyo open up outdoor rinks for you to show off your skating skills.
Places to recommend are Tokyo Skytree Town Ice Skating Park and Yokohama’s Art Rink in Red Brick Warehouse. I’ll have to warn you, these places get really crowded, especially on the weekend. Try to drop by during the weekdays to avoid the crowd.
7. Shop at Christmas markets
Another Japanese winter activity you can find in the bigger cities in Japan is Christmas markets. Christmas is one of two huge celebrations in the country. Special markets pop up as early as the start of December. If you’re lucky, you might even catch some opening up at the end of November.
One of the most famous ones is Roppongi’s annual Christmas Market that brings in the crowds every year. You get your usual Christmas goodies, but you can also munch on some German delicacies and shop for some German Christmas decorations. It’s like being in two countries at once!
Which Japanese winter activity is your favourite?
Even though there are only seven activities on this list, there’s actually so many more things you can do in Japan. The list can quite literally be endless. Winter in Japan is pretty awesome. It doesn’t get too cold. It doesn’t rain most of the season. The sky is pretty clear. Start planning your Japanese winter holiday now!
Holidays are just around the corner. Who’s excited? I know I am! But the holidays shouldn’t stop us from keeping up with our Japanese language learning journey. So instead, we should incorporate some holiday into it!
Do you know any Japanese words and phrases for the holiday celebrations? If not, you’ve come to the right place! Just like in English, there are certain words and phrases we use to wish people for the holidays and to describe the holiday season. It may not always be in the first few chapters of your Japanese textbook, but we’ve compiled the top 10 words and phrases you can use for this upcoming festive season!
Keep reading to find out!
1. Omedetou (おめでとう)
The first one has definitely got to be omedetou (おめでとう). You can say this for a lot of different things. It’s so versatile. This word actually translates to “congratulations”, but it’s also used in the Japanese way to say “happy new year”, and that’s “akemashite omedetou” (あけましておめでとう). It actually comes from the word “akeru” (開ける) to mean “to open”, so you’re kind of welcoming the opening of the new year.
You can also say “akeome” (あけおめ) with your friends. This is a casual and slangy way to say it.
You can also attach “omedetou” to other types of holidays like Hanukkah: Hanu-ka omedetou” (ハヌーカおめでとう). Or even Kwanzaa: “Kuwanza omedetou” (クワンザおめでとう).
2. Yoi Otoshi Wo (良いお年を)
One of my favourite phrases to say when the New Year approaches is “yoi otoshi wo” (良いお年を). This translates to “have a happy New Year” and it’s a very common phrase used by Japanese people.
Bear in mind that this phrase is used before the clock strikes midnight on January 1st. When you want to wish someone a happy new year after that, use the phrase before this.
3. Yasumi (休み)
The next basic Japanese word great for the holidays is yasumi (休み). That’s because this word translates to “holiday” or “off day”. You can say to someone to enjoy their holidays by saying “yasumi tanoshinde” (楽しんで). Although it’s perfect for the holiday celebrations, this word can also be used all year round to talk about days you’re not working or school holidays, too.
4. Mata rainen (また来年)
I find this next phrase pretty cute, because it’s a bit quirky and pretty similar to English. Usually, you’d say to someone “see you later”, but when it’s the new year period, I like to say “see you next year” as a quirky saying. I bet a lot of people do, too.
In Japanese, that’s “mata rainen” (また来年). “Mata” (また) actually means “again” but in colloquial Japanese, you can also just say “mata” to mean “later” or “see you”. “Mata ashita” (また明日) means “see you tomorrow”.
5. Kyuuka (休暇)
While we already have the word for holiday before, this is another basic Japanese word for “holiday”: “kyuuka” (休暇). This is a more formal version than “yasumi” but it’s often combined with other words like “Christmas holidays” or “summer holidays”.
“Christmas holidays” is “kurisumasu kyuuka” (クリスマス休暇) and “summer holiday” is “kaki kyuuka” (夏季休暇).
6. Tanoshinde (楽しんで)
This next basic Japanese phrase for the holidays is “tanoshinde” (楽しんで), which means “have fun”. You can attach this to another word to make sentences like “have a fun Christmas party”, or you can just say it on its own.
“Have a fun Christmas party” is “kurisumasu pa-ti wo tanoshinde!” (クリスマスパーティを楽しんで！) .
7. Oshougatsu (お正月)
The next basic Japanese word you should know for the holidays is “oshougatsu”, which translates to “Japanese New Year”. This is a more common word to describe the first of January, but there’s also another word: ganjitsu (元日). While both are acceptable to use, the first one is more popular.
8. Purezento (プレゼント)
If you’ve mastered your katakana, you already know what this word means: presents! Purezento (プレゼント) is the katakana form of the English word “present”, and what’s the holidays without a gift or two, am I right?
9. Meri Kurisumasu (メリークリスマス)
We have a few ways to talk about the holidays and New Years, but not so much on how to say “Merry Christmas”. It’s pretty simple, which is why I saved it for the last few. “Merry Christmas” is just the katakana form: meri kurisumasu (メリークリスマス).
10. Shinnen ga yoi toshi de arimasu you ni (新年が良い年でありますように)
This is a pretty long one, but also a good basic Japanese phrase to learn for the holidays. You’re wishing someone the best wishes for the next year. Kind of like the shorter phrase above “yoi otoshi wo”. However, this is a more formal and genuine wish.
You can also use parts of this phrase to say other things like “I hope you have a good day”. Just use the “de arimasu you ni” and attach it to another wish like “a good day”, which is “yoi hi” (良い日): “yoi hi de arimasu you ni” (良い日でありますように). Just attach this phrase to any good wish you want to give!
Have a happy holiday season!
And that wraps up the top 10 basic Japanese words and phrases for the holiday celebrations. I hope you learn them just in time for the festive season. They’re super easy and super useful. Try it out with your family and friends! Have a wonderful holiday season, everyone! よいお年を！
Learning a new language can be tough. While the Japanese language is a beautiful one, it can be difficult to pick up in the beginning. But what you should take note of even before learning the language is that it’s a polite language. There are so many aspects of the Japanese language that are based on politeness.
To get you started, here are the top 10 polite words in Japanese that will definitely come in handy – regardless of whether you’re just starting out or you’re travelling to Japan soon. This is one of the best ways to learn Japanese fast and easy!
1. Sumimasen (すみません)
This word is one that’s super commonly used. “Sumimasen” (すみません) has a few different meanings and can use in a few different situations. Check out our podcast episode, Season 1 Episode 1, for a full rundown of how to use this phrase.
In summary, you can use this phrase to apologise for inconveniencing someone, kind of like “pardon me”. You can also use this phrase to say “excuse me” – for example, you’re getting off the train and there are people blocking your way. Say “sumimasen” to let them know you need to get through.
2. Gomennasai (ごめんなさい)
Another polite word to have handy is “gomennasai” (ごめんなさい). When you learn Japanese, this is one of the first things you’ll learn. Gomennasai translates to “I’m sorry” and it’s used as an apology. It’s similar to the first one, but this word can’t be used to say “excuse me”. Our Season 1 Episode 1 podcast episode also talks about this phrase!
3. Onegaishimasu (お願いします)
Also part of our Season 1 Episode 1 podcast episode is “onegaishimasu” (お願いします). This phrase can also be used in a lot of situations. It essentially means “please” when asking for help.
For example, the konbini (コンビニ) cashier might ask you if you want to heat up your food. You reply with “hai onegaishimasu” (はい、お願いします) to mean “yes please”. For more examples and situations, check our podcast episode!
4. Otsukaresama (お疲れ様)
The next word is “otsukaresama” (お疲れ様). I like this word a lot, because it has such a heartwarming tone. This word can translate to “thanks for all your hard work” and is often said to other coworkers after work or groups of people/friends after an event. You can use the longer form “otsukaresama deshita” (お疲れ様でした) or even cut it short with people who you are familiar with, to “otsukare” (お疲れ)
5. Itadakimasu (いただきます)
If you’ve watched anime (アニメ) before, you would probably have heard this phrase. Before eating a meal, you should say “itadakimasu” (いただきます) which can be translated to “thank you for the meal” or “I’m digging in!” Either way, it’s showing appreciation for the meal presented to you.
6. Gochisou sama deshita (ご馳走様でした)
After your amazing meal, don’t forget to show appreciation too. To do so, say “gochisou sama deshita” (ご馳走様でした) which is also saying “thank you for the meal”. Note that this phrase can only be used after a meal, and the previous word is used only before a meal. Don’t mix them up! This is a good pair of Japanese words to learn fast and easy!
7. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu (よろしくお願いします)
I’m sure you recognised half of this phrase – see, you’re already learning Japanese! “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu” (よろしくお願いします) can have a few different translations. Oftentimes, this phrase is used after a greeting with someone new. In this case, it’s translated to “nice to meet you” or “please take care of me” or even “I look forward to working with you”.
Sometimes, you can use this when requesting someone to do something for you. In that case, this translates to “please fulfill my request”. You’ll see it quite often at the end of emails.
I would say the best English equivalent would be something like “thank you in advance”. It’s commonly used in formal situations. You can also cut it short to “yoroshiku” (よろしく), but it then becomes quite informal.
8. Shitsurei shimasu (失礼します)
Another common polite word or phrase in Japanese that you should learn is “shitsurei shimasu” (失礼します). This translates to “pardon my rudeness” most of the time. You can say this when you’re interrupting a conversation or basically anything. If you are walking through a group of people and they’re talking, you can say this as you walk through them.
You can use this phrase in the past tense too, to make “shitsurei shimashita” (失礼しました). This is often said after the ‘rude act’, and it somewhat translates to “sorry for being rude earlier”. It’s a pretty handy Japanese word to know and have, I think.
9. Ojama shimasu (お邪魔します)
Another phrase similar to the one before is “ojama shimasu” (お邪魔します). This one translates more to “I’m going to get in your way” or “I will disturb you”. Most of the time, this is used when you’re entering someone’s house. In my opinion, it sounds slightly harsher – or at least, the ‘act of rudeness’ is slightly harsher.
10. Ki wo tsukete kudasai (気をつけてください)
Last but not least, a polite word or phrase to have handy in Japanese is “ki wo tsukete kudasai” (気をつけてください). I personally have this as a personal favourite, because it shows so much kindness and warmth. This translates to “please take care”, and can be said to anyone.
When I get my food delivered by a delivery man, I often say this phrase to them. When parting ways with friends, we often say this to each other.I It’s just a nice sendoff for anyone.
And that wraps up our list of polite Japanese words and phrases to have in handy. This list is a fun and easy way to learn Japanese fast, because everything on this list is used almost on a daily basis! There are so many polite words in the Japanese language, but knowing this is a good start. Good luck!
When you plan to travel to a country, you’re definitely going to search up the best places to visit when you’re there. These hyped up areas are usually not as worth it as you might think. This includes Japan, too. Coming from one who has lived in the island nation for over three years, there are better places to explore, trust me.
So for those of you who are travelling to Japan for a limited period of time, you’d want to squeeze in all the ‘top 10 spots’ and ‘best attractions’ in your itinerary. This article will highlight five overrated Japan destinations with their replacements, so as to save yourselves some time.
Let’s take a look at these five places!
1. Sensoji Temple in Tokyo
One of the most visited Japan destinations is Tokyo. And in Tokyo, one of the top places to visit is the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. This is an ancient Buddhist temple and is the oldest one in the whole city. Those looking for a cultural experience would go here.
In between the entrance of the temple and the actual grounds itself are rows and rows of traditional Japanese shops. These shops sell all kinds of souvenirs including authentic and exquisite cultural items. You could get a kimono set conveniently from an English-speaking Japanese owner, along with all your other omiyage needs.
So in that sense, Sensoji Temple is more a touristic spot than a historical sight now.
Why is it overrated?
You’d expect for the city’s oldest temple to have the surrounding air filled with culture and peace. It once was. It was once a historical sight, expected to be preserved and active with temple rituals.
While there are still traditional temple activities taking place, the spiritual essence isn’t like what it was. You can’t walk down the street, from the entrance to the temple grounds, at your own pace and in peace. You’re going to get shoved around in the huge crowd that never seems to die down, regardless of day or night.
Sure, you can get your fortune slips and pay your respects, but about a few hundreds of others are doing the exact same thing as you at the same time. Groups of tourists would juggle around the fortune slip boxes, continuous snapshots of cameras and phones, and generally just very hectic.
Where can you go instead?
There are so many other temples in Tokyo that you should visit instead. Heck, even the neighborhood ones are just as beautiful, only without the crowd and noise. One iconic neighborhood temple is the Cat Temple in Gotokuji. It’s called so because of its hundreds of waving cat figurines all around the temple!
And if you’re going to other parts of Japan, there are plenty more temples there, too! Stop by Kyoto, as the temples there are extremely culturally rich. The spiritual essence and peace that you expect are present there.
2. Takeshita Dori in Tokyo
One of the most famous streets in Tokyo is Takeshita Dori. Everyone knows this street. It’s the fashion street in the fashion neighbourhood, Harajuku. This specific street was once the haven of dozens of fashion subcultures in Japan. So this used to be a famous hangout spot for rebellious teenagers. Some say it still is.
Different parts of the street “belonged” to different subcultures. And today, you could see it quite clearly based on the various types of stores that are set up in various areas. Artists and musicians also called this street home at one point. But now, Takeshita Dori is more of a tourist attraction than a creative hot spot. While there are still hints of creativity, the original essence has disappeared, along with most of the people who used to hang out there.
Why is it overrated?
It’s unfortunate but Takeshita Dori has been put on the spotlight by the media as the place to be to experience the Tokyo fashion scene. Fair enough, it is the heart of Harajuku, which was once loaded with fashion creatives. And while the fashion is pretty prominent there still, this specific street has lost its original vibe and is now a souvenir shopping street.
You can still buy Japanese subculture clothes and accessories. However the prices have been made “tourist prices” and some can even say these items are tacky (because they probably aren’t originally made in Japan, as how they should be).
Be prepared for streets full of sardine-packed tourists where you can barely walk. Say goodbye to personal space.
Where can you go instead?
If your intention for going to Takeshita Dori is for the fashion scene, skip it. There are so many other neighbourhoods that are fashion-centric and still maintain its vibe. Some of the neighbourhoods where the creative minds ran off to include Nakano, Koenji and Shimokitazawa. These various areas have their own unique vibe.
Fashion enthusiasts aren’t the only people you see in these neighbourhoods. You get artists and musicians too, as well as tons of other carefree people who express themselves through their dressing. Opt for these neighbourhoods for a slower, more hipster vibe than Takeshita Dori.
3. Chureito Pagoda near Fuji-san
A trip to Mt. Fuji is on every Japan traveller’s checklist. Never mind climbing it, just a clear view of the mountain is good enough. The best place for this is the Chureito Pagoda. Or so the numerous websites say.
Chureito Pagoda is said to have the best view of Mt. Fuji in the whole country, alongside a lovely pagoda on a hilltop. To top it all off, you can even get an amazing sunset. To be fair, you can get that amazing one shot of Mt. Fuji, but other than that, there’s nothing much around the area.
Why is it overrated?
All those photos that you see in pictures, that’s about it that you see. These heavily enhanced coloured photos that you see on social media have pulled in millions of travellers into scheduling this spot into their Japan trips. When you reach the spot, you might feel a bit disappointed at how unassumingly small the pagoda is. I certainly was.
After an extremely long train journey to a place quite distant from the main stations, and almost 400 steps up to get there, I expected the shrine to be magnificent. Don’t bring your hopes up. It’s pretty plain and pretty middle-sized.
There’s also the chance of not even seeing Mt. Fuji when you’re up there. Depending on the day, it can become cloudy and there’s a chance you won’t see the mountain the whole time. Some people wait for the sky to clear up, but it might not. Is it all really worth it, noting that every other shot is going to be the exact same?
Where can you go instead?
There are undoubtedly better places to view Mt. Fuji. I made my trip to the area for Fuji Q Highland, the amusement park, and booked a hotel with a view of Mt. Fuji. So my advice is to set aside at least two days and spend a night at a hotel that offers a perfect view of Mt. Fuji from your window.
Early mornings is the best time to see a clear Mt. Fuji. You will not only be able to wake up to the sight of the lovely Mt. Fuji, but you’ll also be able to spend a chill time going around the area without rushing.
4. Umeda Sky Building in Osaka
One of the highlights of Osaka is the Umeda Sky Building. Tall skyscrapers are huge signs in the sky for being the perfect spot for a view of the city. Buildings with viewing decks like Umeda Sky Building have viewing decks that give you a 360 view of the city.
And there’s no doubt that the Umeda Sky Building has a unique architecture. There are aesthetically pleasing spots to take your Instagram pictures. But let me warn you: the waiting time can be agonising. You might waste most of your day just in line to get up! Is it then worth it?
Why is it overrated?
In a lot of travel guides, you’ll find Umeda Sky Building as one of the main attractions of Osaka. Because of this attention, everyone makes it a point to put it in their Kansai itinerary. Not only do you have to pay to get up, but you’re also going to have to wait in line for an extremely long time.
What’s more, the only takeaway you get is the view, which you can also get from a few other tall buildings in Osaka. I do recommend you to visit the building, though. The architecture definitely deserves appreciation. You just don’t have to go up. You can appreciate it from below.
Where can you go instead?
If you’re looking for a good view of the city, go to the tallest building in Osaka: Abeno Harukas. This building stands at 300m tall, and you’re even allowed to enter for free till the 16th floor! To go up higher, you have to fork out a few hundred yens, I’m afraid.
On top of that, Abeno Harukas is a multi-purpose building. It’s not only a viewing deck. There are tons of shops and restaurants for you to leisurely browse and dine in. This makes your trip down more worthwhile!
5. Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto
Kyoto’s golden temple, Kinkaku-ji, is one of the most famous spots in the city. The sound of a golden temple is extremely attractive on its own, don’t you think. This Zen temple can be found in the northern part of Kyoto. The Kinkaku-ji temple was built to echo the extravagant culture of Kitayama in the wealthy social circles of Kyoto during the Yoshimitsu days. Each floor of the temple was made to represent a different style of architecture. The top two floors of the temple itself is covered in gold leaf.
The temple has been standing since 1397. The grounds itself is full of vibrant trees and well maintained gardens. While a visit to the Kinkaku-ji temple can be a wonderful experience, it can disappoint for some.
Why is it overrated?
Some might assume that the whole temple is golden. However, it’s only the top two floors. This can be a huge letdown, especially when some promote Kinkaku-ji as being fully golden.
Kinkaku-ji is also quite a distance from central Kyoto. You might need to take a long bus ride or cycle up that way only for it. If you only have a short period of time in the city, this might be one to cross out.
Kyoto is a city filled with hundreds and thousands of temples and shrines, just waiting to be explored. This ancient capital city oozes culture and history just on the streets. You don’t have to travel so far to this overhyped temple for that zen, intimate experience.
Where can you go instead?
Instead of travelling a chunk of time solely for a temple, why not head over to the Silver Temple instead, called Ginkaku-ji? The temple isn’t made of silver, despite the name, but you can easily find it at the foot of the mountains in eastern Kyoto.
This temple is one of the best examples of Japanese landscape architecture. It’s completed with one of the most gorgeous Japanese gardens surrounding it. Regardless of the time of the year you visit, you get to witness the entire landscape of Ginkaku-ji changing accordingly. It’s a whole new experience each time.
The area where this temple is located is pretty convenient as well. You’re near areas with food and souvenir stalls. So you’re not travelling solely for the temple.
While these tourist places can be overrated, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give them a chance at all. All of the five locations are flooded with tourists day in and day out, proving that they are still extremely popular among tourists and locals alike.
However, when you only have a limited time, these are the places that you can scratch off your to-visit list. Go for the recommended alternatives instead to save some precious time!
One of the first few things we notice about the Japanese language when we start learning is that there are various levels of politeness. In fact, the basic Japanese that we all learn at the start is in fact one of the polite speech styles!
But that doesn’t mean that it’s the most polite. Politeness is a huge factor in Japanese culture and manners. Depending on who you talk to and what social situation you’re in, you adjust your polite speech style to accommodate it. How, you might ask?
You’ve come to the right place. Everything you need to know about the level of politeness, what affects it and how to be polite in basic Japanese is just a scroll away!
What affects politeness?
There are a few things that affect the way you speak to another person in terms of politeness. While it’s important in English as well, it’s even more important in the Japanese language.
First of all, how familiar you are with another person affects this politeness level. When you’re more familiar with another, you tend to speak more casually. For example, you speak in informal terms with family and close friends. Sometimes, slang is introduced in informal situations. With people you aren’t close to and strangers, you’re more on formal terms.
This goes into the second factor, and that is social hierarchy. This is extremely significant in Japanese culture. Where you stand in that social ladder affects your level of politeness. Here’s a basic breakdown of rank:
Higher rank: Teacher, employer, guest, customer, senior in terms of age
Lower rank: Student, employee, host, salesman, junior in terms of age
The combination of familiarity and social hierarchy basically determines the level of politeness in speech.
Levels of politeness in the Japanese language
Let’s take a look at the levels of politeness in the Japanese language. In the English language, politeness is often achievable through the words and phrases used, and tone. Sometimes, even in business situations, you might not even need to be all that polite. In the Japanese language, politeness is crucial.
In basic Japanese, politeness is achieved through its grammar primarily. While the words and tone used are also important, grammar is the ultimate way of achieving various levels of politeness. And how many levels are there?
Teineigo (丁寧語) literally means “polite language”. When we first learn Japanese, this is the form we learn, and sometimes it’s referred to as “formal” speech. It’s the default form when two strangers talk to each other. This is also used when speaking to someone higher in rank.
In teineigo, you use the polite copula “desu” (です) at the end of nouns and adjectives, and the polite verb suffix “-masu” (〜ます). You often don’t cut out anything in the sentence and use full sentences when speaking. Prefixes such as “o” (お) and “go” (ご) are also used.
When we get into a deeper understanding of the language, we learn that there are special forms for politeness in the Japanese language, and that’s known as keigo (敬語). This is a step up above teineigo and is an umbrella term that covers humble and honorific forms of speech.
Now that might be a whole lot to process, but let’s break that down. Keigo is used when talking to people significantly above you in rank by either exalting the superior or by humbling yourself. The basics of keigo when it comes to politeness is passiveness and indirectness.
One form of keigo is the sonkeigo (尊敬語), also known as the honorific language. This is used when talking to a superior and exalting them and their actions. If you talk to your boss or teacher and are referring to them and their actions, the honorific form is used. We teach how to use this form in our Nihongo Master podcast in our Nihongo Master Podcast Season 6 Episode 6!
Another form of keigo is the kenjougo (謙譲語). This is the humble language. As you can tell, it’s a form of humble speech. When you talk to a superior but you’re referring to yourself, you use the humble form. We teach how to use this form in our Nihongo Master Podcast Season 6 Episode 9!
Honorifics in polite speech
One of the most important things to note is the usage of honorifics in polite speech. That’s the basics of politeness in the Japanese language.
The simplest way to add a touch of politeness to your speech is by adding a “san” (さん) to someone’s name. It’s like the equivalent of “Mr” or “Mrs” in the English language. This is the most basic honorific that you’ll learn in Japanese.
Sometimes, you can refer to one as “sama” (様). For example, when a staff member approaches a customer, they would refer to them as “okyakusama” (お客様) as the utmost level of politeness.
Different positions in Japanese society can have various honorifics. A teacher has “sensei” (先生) attached to their name, like Tanaka-sensei.
You’re always starting off with referring to someone with “San” until you’re told otherwise. Often times, your friends would tell you to drop the honorific, and maybe change to the more familial honorifics like “chan” (ちゃん) or “kun” (くん). However, with your superiors, continue using it unless told otherwise!
Add a dash of politeness to your Japanese!
We now know that there are more than a few ways to be polite in your Japanese speech. And this all depends on how familiar you are with the other party, and where in the social hierarchy you both rank. It never hurts to be polite, so add a little bit of politeness in your speech! Check out our other blog posts and also our podcast to learn Japanese the fun and easy way!
When starting to learn a new language, you’re going to want to set some goals. At least, if you’re like me, you would want to aim for something. In terms of language, that aim is taking an exam. For the Japanese language, that’s the JLPT.
If you’ve read our previous articles on JLPT, you’d know what the JLPT is and how to study for it. One can’t really dive into this proficiency test if they don’t know if they want to take it in the first place. Some wonder why one would go through all the trouble and pain of drills, flash cards and tests. And that’s what this article is about.
We’re going to take a look at why you should take the JLPT test – the advantages and disadvantages of the JLPT and the various levels that are worth taking. Hopefully, by the end of the article, you will have a better understanding of the benefits of the JLPT as well as if you’re going to sign up for the next test date!
What is JLPT?
First and foremost, we have to look at what the test actually is. We have a whole article on that already, but let’s have a brief summary at it here regardless.
JLPT stands for Japanese Language Proficiency Test. This is the only test that is standardised to evaluate the level of Japanese language proficiency one has. There are five levels for the JLPT: 1 to 5. JLPT N5 is the lowest but easiest to pass of them all, and JLPT N1 is the highest level and as close to a native you can get.
The JLPT tests cover both written and listening comprehension. However, they do not cover speaking or writing. So that means it quizzes on your understanding of the language rather than pronounciation or handwriting.
Here at Nihongo Master, we have practices for all the various mediums. Start learning Japanese with a free trial here!
You can take the JLPT tests twice a year in over 60 countries worldwide. You have to register online in advance and it takes up to three months to get your results. This is important to know, especially if you’re using the results to apply for a job or university in Japan. Check this list for a testing center near you.
Advantages of the JLPT
So now you know what the JLPT is, you might be thinking why you need it. There are a few advantages to taking the JLPT, especially since it’s the only standardised test of Japanese language proficiency.
The first advantage of taking the JLPT test is that it is necessary for some jobs in Japan. Employers might look at Japanese language proficiency when hiring new employees. The first thing they will look at is your JLPT level. A lot of the time, you will need at least N2 level, but I know a few friends who got jobs with N3 levels. It might be the case of how fluent you are at speaking during the interview – they check speech fluency too, sometimes.
If you have an N2 level of Japanese fluency, your job opportunities widen. If you have an N1 level of Japanese fluency, it widens up even more by 30 to 50 percent.
These are levels you would need for a job in Japan that requires you to converse and communicate in Japanese. JLPT N4 and N5 levels can land you jobs with a Japanese company outside of Japan, though.
Another advantage of taking the JLPT is for school. Sometimes, the JLPT test is needed for getting into universities. Back in the day, this was compulsory. Now, it has been replaced with an easier test.
Although, there are still schools which look at JLPT proficiencies like private conversation schools. JLPT levels are benchmarks for them. Some classes would require you to pass the level before to get into the higher levels.
However, JLPT is not a requirement to get into university nowadays.
When not to take the JLPT
So now that you know the advantages of the JLPT tests, when do you know not to take it?
Basically, if your school or workplace says you don’t need a certificate that says you have a level of Japanese ability, there’s not much reason for you to take the test. The JLPT test is merely a certified piece of paper that companies and institutions need to submit your application through. That might be all.
Studying for higher levels of the JLPT like N1 and N2 can take up a lot of time. Some say that they don’t even use the knowledge they learned other than for the test. Preparation and practice are time consuming. And they only test on comprehension in terms of listening and reading.
If you’re looking to learn Japanese to communicate in speech, then the JLPT might not be a useful test for you, since it doesn’t test you on that. Even passing JLPT N1 doesn’t make you super fluent. It just means you can read the Japanese local newspaper.
Don’t get me wrong. These tests are great for teaching you the correct grammar and sentence structure. However, if not paired with speech practice, it might not be as worthwhile as you think.
JLPT levels that are worthwhile
Speaking of worthwhile, since there are five levels of the JLPT, are all of them worth taking? Let’s take a look at the different levels.
JLPT N5 is the most basic level of proficiency. While there is no practical reason to take this level, it’s a good way to gauge your basic understanding of the language. Same goes for JLPT N4. JLPT N3 introduces a bit more business language into the test. While this is a step up from the previous two levels, this level still isn’t much use.
Once you head up to JLPT N2 or N1, that’s when it matters. Jobs and schools look for these levels, and you might even have a higher starting pay or waiver if you can prove your proficiency level.
Should I take the JLPT?
It can be a tough decision to make, but at the end of the day it’s up to intention. Do you want to take the JLPT for work and school, or is it to challenge yourself? I personally took it for myself, but a lot of my friends took it for work. We’re all on different paths in life, so it balls down to every individual. Good luck!