Are you planning a trip to Japan soon?
Worried you won’t have time to learn Japanese before you go?
While learning Japanese might seem daunting, rest assured that you can get by on your trip with the Japanese travel phrases below, along with hand motions and a lot of bowing. You might run into people who speak English, especially in cities like Tokyo, but don’t count on it. Using Japanese, even if it’s only to say “please” or “thank you”, goes a long way–people will appreciate your efforts.
Essential Japanese Travel Phrases
The following Japanese travel phrases and words will get you through almost any situation in Japan. This list isn’t all-inclusive, but in my experience you will use these the most.
1. ありがとうございます (arigatou gozaimasu)
Useful in many situations. You’ll find yourself saying this one often.
2. お願いします (onegaishimasu)
Use when ordering food, asking for something or requesting help.
3. すみません (sumimasen)
If you bump into someone or want to get someone’s attention, such as a waiter or hotel staff or a stranger on the street, say “sumimasen”. You will probably use this phrase and “hai” the most in Japan.
4. はい (hai)
Saying yes can also mean “I understand”.
5. いいえ (iie)
6. ごめんなさい (gomen nasai)
Sumimasen will help you in most situations, but if you do something more serious, like roll over someone’s foot with your suitcase, you should say “gomen nasai” while bowing repeatedly. After apologizing, ask if they are all right by saying, “daijoubu desu ka?”
7. わかりません (wakarimasen)
I don’t understand.
If you don’t understand what someone is saying to you, use “wakarimasen“.
8. 日本語がわかりません (nihongo ga wakarimasen)
I don’t understand Japanese.
If someone is speaking to you and you have no idea why, or if you are trying to do something, at a hotel, for example, use this phrase.
9. 英語を話せますか？ (eigo o hanasemasu ka?)
Can you speak English?
Alternatively, you can ask “eigo ii desu ka?” or “eigo OK?” and this usually gets the message across.
10. もう一度お願いします (mou ichido onegai shimasu)
Could you repeat that, please?
Don’t be surprised if you say this and the person says something completely different than they did the first time. In my experience, asking someone to say something slowly doesn’t work. They usually try to rephrase in simpler Japanese and use hand motions. So, try asking them to repeat it, and hope for the best.
11. _______ はどこですか？(______ wa doko desu ka?)
Where is _____ ?
For example, you can ask, “where is the train station?” by saying “eki wa doko desu ka?”
Fill in the blank with whatever place you are trying to find:
- police station = 交番 (kouban)
- convenience store = コンビニ (konbini)
- hotel = ホテル (hoteru)
- bathroom / toilet = トイレ (toire)
お手洗い (otearai) is another word for bathroom or toilet, but it isn’t used everywhere, although you will see it in kanji in some places to indicate the bathroom.
12. いくらですか？ (ikura desu ka?)
How much is it?
You can also say “sore wa ikura desu ka” for “how much is that?” when pointing at something near the other person. When pointing at something close to you, say “kore wa ikura desu ka” for “how much is this?”
13. ______ はありますか? ( ______ wa arimasu ka?)
Do you have ______?
14. ごちそうさまでした (gochisousama deshita)
Thank you for the meal.
This phrase is polite and used after a meal if you’re eating at a place that requires you to turn in your dishes, such as in a cafeteria, or when visiting someone’s home.
15. どこでインターネットを使えますか? (doko de intaanetto o tsukaemasu ka?)
Where can I use the internet?
16. いらない (iranai)
I don’t need it.
When shopping, you might be asked if you want a ふくろ (fukuro, bag). If you don’t need one, say “いらない .”
Phrases You Might Hear
While some of the Japanese travel phrases below are good to know how to say, you should try to become familiar with them.
17. いらっしゃいませ (irasshaimase) or いらっしゃい (irasshai)
When entering any store, restaurant or shop at least one voice, if not a chorus, will enthusiastically call out “irasshaimase!”
18. 店内でお召し上がりですか？ (tennai de omeshiagari desu ka)
Will you be eating here?
When ordering at a place that also offers takeout, someone might ask you if you plan to eat there (they also might rephrase as koko de if they sense you don’t understand). Answer “hai” if you are, or “omochikaeri” if you want takeout.
19. お持ち帰りですか? (omochikaeri desu ka)
Is this takeout?
As I wrote under number 18, you might be asked this when ordering at a place that does takeout. Answer “yes” if takeout, or “iie” if you plan to eat there.
20. 喫煙ですか (kitsuen desu ka) or 禁煙ですか (kinen desu ka)?
Smoking or Non-Smoking?
Although the majority of Japan’s restaurants allow smoking, some are separated, family restaurants in particular. Simply state which you prefer: kinen desu for non-smoking or kitsuen desu for smoking.
21. 大丈夫ですか？(daijoubu desu ka) or 大丈夫 (daijoubu)？
Are you OK?
If you trip, fall, run into something, or look lost, chances are someone will ask if you are all right by using 大丈夫.” If you’re fine, answer “大丈夫です.” Or, if you are lost or confused, ask your question.