Our Nihongo Master Podcast has a language series called Study Saturday, where a Japanese grammar point is introduced in a fun, easy, and bite-sized way. In Season 2 Episode 8, we looked at how to express our opinions with the phrase “I think”.
This grammar point is part of basic Japanese and is used pretty frequently in everyday conversation. It makes your sentence a bit less serious as well. The best part about this grammar point is that it’s so easy to learn! There’s only one phrase in Japanese that is used to express your opinion.
In the podcast episode, not only did we discuss a bit about the grammar point, but we also had a few roleplaying scenarios using the new grammar to get listeners accustomed to it. The roleplaying scenarios are not in this recap, so you’ve got to tune in to listen!
Expressing opinions is crucial in any language. In Japanese, it’s also used to make the tone of the sentence lighter. The grammar to use to say this is pretty simple: you basically just add “to omou” (と思う) or “to omoimasu” (と思います) for the polite form, to the end of any sentence. And viola, that’s it!
Quick and easy, right?
と思う for i-adjectives and verbs
Let’s have an example. Say you saw someone and thought he was cool: “I thought he was cool”. “Cool” in Japanese is kakkoii (かっこいい). We could say “kakkoii to omou” (かっこいいと思う), but that translates to “I think he is cool”. To make it so it means “I thought he was cool”, we have to change the grammar point we just learned to the past tense. “to omou” ends with an u, so it conjugates to “to omotta” (と思った) for the casual form. For the polite form, simply change the “masu” (ます) to past tense to get “to omoimashita” (と思いました).
Now put it all together and we get: “kare ha kakkoii to omotta”(彼はかっこいいと思った). For the polite form, it’s “kare ha kakkoii to omoimashita” (彼はかっこいいと思いました).
Kakkoii is an i-adjective, so there’s no change whatsoever when attaching the grammar phrase at the end. It’s the same when the word that comes before the phrase is a verb, like the sentence “I think we went to a cafe”. “Went” in Japanese is “itta” (行った), the past tense of the word “iku” (行く). All you have to do is have all the pieces and just add the grammar at the end: “kafe ni itta to omou” (カフェに行ったと思う). For the polite form, it’s “kafe ni itta to omoimasu” (カフェに行ったと思います).
だと思う for na-adjectives and nouns
The time you do need to add something on is when the word before is either a noun or a na- adjective. In the sentence “He thought I was beautiful”, the word that comes right before the grammar phrase is “beautiful”, and that’s the na-adjective “kireina” (綺麗な) in Japanese. We can’t say “kireina to omou”, but instead we take the na out and switch it to da, the casual form of desu: “kare ha watashi ga kirei da to omotta” (彼は私が綺麗だと思った). For the polite form, it’s “kare ha watashi ga kirei da to omoimashita” (彼は私が綺麗だと思いました). Remember, that sentence was in the past tense.
Let’s have an example for a noun. Since there is no “na” to switch out, we just add da in between the noun and “to omou”. For example, if you want to say “I think he’s Japanese”, you can say it as “kare ha nihonjin da to omou” (彼は日本人だと思う). The polite form of the sentence is “kare ha nihonjin da to omoimasu” (彼は日本人だと思います).
In the case where you want to have a na-adjective or a noun in the negative form, like “I think he’s not Japanese” or “I think she’s not beautiful”, their negative form “janai” (じゃない) then acts like an i- adjective, so you don’t need to have a “da” in between: “nihonjin janai to omou” (日本人じゃないと思う), “kirei janai to omou” (綺麗じゃないと思う).
One last thing: if you want to say “i don’t think”, all you have to do is say the negation of “to omou”, which is “to omowanai” (と思わない) or “to omoimasen” (と思いません). So let’s switch “I think he’s not Japanese” to “I don’t think he’s Japanese” — we take the noun as it is and add the negation of the grammar to make, “nihonjin da to omowanai” (日本人だと思わない), or the polite form “nihonjin da to omoimasen” (日本人だと思いません).
As always, let’s have a quick vocab recap to wrap it up:
Kakkoii (かっこいい) — cool
Kireina (綺麗な) — beautiful or pretty
Isha (医者) — doctor
Shokugyō (職業) — occupation
Gaka (画家) — painter
Machigainai (間違いない) — undoubtedly or no doubt
Ginkõ (銀行) — bank
Hataraiteiru (働いている) — to be working
Kaku (書く) — to write or draw
Shou ga nai (しょうがない) — it can’t be helped
Muzukashii (難しい) — difficult
Mirai (未来) — future
Hiraku (開く) — to open
Sasuga (さすが) — as expected
Hazukashii (恥ずかしい) — shy
Shinyū (親友) — best friend
Kareshi (彼氏) — boyfriend
Urayamashii (羨ましい) — jealous
Zettai (絶対) — definitely
And that’s the recap of this episode of Study Saturday, and that means you might already be an expert at expressing your opinions in Japanese. I, for one, have a lot of opinions on a lot of things, so rest assured I’ve been using this every day — if not every hour. Since this article is a recap, head over to the original episode to listen to the full thing now!
If you’re interested in similar bite-sized grammar pointers, head over to the Nihongo Master Podcast for more. The Study Saturday language series comes out every Saturday with a new grammar point with examples and role playing scenarios. Click here for your fill of basic Japanese grammar!
Learning a new language can be tough, especially if you don’t know where to start. One of the key things to any language is the grammar. For the Japanese language, grammar is crucial. For those of us who are learning it in English, like me, it can be a bit confusing at the start since Japanese sentence structure is the complete opposite of the English language’s!
What’s more, in Japanese language, it’s different when it comes to formality. There’s not really any rules for that in English, whereas in Japanese, it’s very strict! The conjugations play a part in the formality rules too!
Now I’m not trying to scare you off from learning Japanese. In fact, I’m trying to do the opposite. Before you dive headfirst into the scary world of Japanese grammar, let’s try to make it not as scary by having a rundown of the basics of Japanese grammar with this article!
Japanese Sentence Structure
In both Japanese and English, the basic sentence structure is: subject – object.
“This is a pen.”
Kore ha pen.
The most important thing about basic Japanese grammar is the sentence structure. In English, we usually have our sentences structured like this: subject – verb – object. For example: I eat cake. “I” is the subject, “eat” is the verb” and “cake” is the object or noun.
In Japanese, the verb goes at the end! So the sentence structure goes: subject – object – verb.
So the same sentence is said like this in Japanese: watashi ha kēki wo taberu. (私はケーキを食べる。) “Watashi” is the subject, “kēki” Is the object and “taberu” is the verb. You must have noticed the particles – we’ll get into that later.
It might get confusing when you add more parts to the sentence, but it’s actually quite flexible. When you want to add the time, location or preposition, they can basically go anywhere in the sentence. The most important thing is the particles which indicate what is what.
Oh, and usually, you can omit the subject. Sometimes, it’s more natural to do so.
The handy thing is, every other part of the Japanese sentence is flexible. If you add a location, a time, a preposition, etc., they can go anywhere in the sentence. As long as you mark them with the correct particle and the verb goes at the end, you’re good to go. So, the key to remember here is: the verb always goes at the end.
You can also omit the subject usually, and it sounds more natural to do so.
Let’s look at another simple grammar pattern, which is describing existence, like saying “there is a cat”.
In Japanese, the format includes “ga iru” (がいる) or “ga aru” (がある). The former describes living things and the latter describes non living things. The structure is: subject – “ga iru/aru”.
If you want to say “there is a cat” in Japanese, it’s “neko ga iru” (猫がいる).
If you want to say “there is a pen” in Japanese, it’s “pen ga aru” (ペンがある).
If you want to say there isn’t something, instead of “ga iru” or “ga aru”, you change it to “ga inai” (がいない) or “ga nai” (がない). This is the negative form of the above phrases.
If you want to say “there isn’t a cat” in Japanese, it’s “neko ga iru” (猫がいない).
If you want to say “there isn’t a pen” in Japanese, it’s “pen ga aru” (ペンがない).
Formal & Informal Speech
As mentioned earlier, the Japanese language has formal and informal speeches. This affects the grammar. To make it simple, it’s the ending of a sentence that varies whether it’s formal or informal.
For example, “neko ga iru” (猫がいる) is informal as it ends with “iru”, the dictionary and plain form of the verb. To make this sentence formal, you have to change “iru” to “imasen” (いません). This is the polite version of the verb.
That’s for verbs, but there’s also for other sentences that end with nouns or adjectives. The simplest way to make a sentence more polite is to add “desu” (です).
For example, to say “this is a pen” in the polite form, you have to add “desu”: kore ha pen desu (これはペンです).
The same goes for adjectives: “this is pretty” is “kore ha kirei desu” (これは綺麗です).
As mentioned earlier, particles are extremely important in Japanese grammar. They indicate intonation, connectors like “and”, provide possessive forms and provide the means to ask questions.
We have a very in-depth article on Japanese particles here. But here’s a quick summary of the various types of common Japanese particles:
は (wa/ha) – follows the topic of the sentence, making this particle the topic marking particle
が (ga) – to emphasise something or to distinguish it from the rest. It’s also used when you’re first introducing the subject
を (wo) – used to signal the object of the sentence. Most of the time, it follows a noun or a noun phrase
に (ni) – indicates a place or the direction something is moving towards. The particle often follows a moving verb only. It can also be used when you’re talking about the direction of something, like receiving something from others. In that case, it means “from”
で (de) – emphasises location rather than direction
と (to) – “and”
の (no) – indicates possession
か (ka) – question indicator
Japanese verbs can be quite confusing in the beginning, as the tenses and conjugation are very different from other languages. Let’s take a look at the basic tenses and conjugation of Japanese verbs!
Tenses in English can be confusing – there are past, present and future tenses, but there are also continuous, perfect, etc. Don’t worry, in Japanese, it’s pretty simple. There are only the past and present tenses
In English, there are three basic verb tenses: past, present, and future. But in Japanese, there’s only present tense and past tense. And they don’t change based on who is performing the action unlike some languages. They stay the same.
The present tense of a verb is the dictionary form. For example: taberu (食べる).
The past tense of a verb involves a bit of conjugation. For example: taberu becomes tabeta (食べた).
BONUS: If you want to talk about the future tense, you usually add a time to the sentence. For example: “I’ll eat now” is said as “ima taberu” (今食べる).
Basic Verb Conjugations
Here comes the tricky part. But don’t worry, we’ll make it painless. Japanese verbs split into three types of verbs and they have their conjugations:
Depending on the category, the conjugation is different. Here are some common verbs in each category, and how to conjugate them:
る-verbs – drop the “る” and add “ます”
食べる becomes 食べます, 寝る becomes 寝ます, 見る becomes 見ます
う-verbs – drop the ending “う” sound and add “います”
言う becomes 言います, 飲む becomes 飲みます, 聞く becomes 聞きます
Irregular verbs – they’re irregular so their conjugation has no formula
するbecomes します, 来る becomes 来ます
From there, to make the negation, it’s simple. ます then becomes ません. For example, 食べます becomes 食べません and 言います becomes 言いません.
Stay tuned for a more in-depth article on Japanese verb conjugations!
Ace that Japanese grammar!
Of course, there is more to Japanese grammar than what is listed in this article, but hopefully, this gives you a brief idea of what to expect when learning Japanese grammar. It’s not at all difficult once you get the hang of it. Us at Nihongo Master believe you can do it!
If you want to learn Japanese, you’ve come to the right place! We at Nihongo Master are dedicated to providing you with the best Japanese language learning content on all our various media platforms. Learning a new language is tough, and most of us would want to find ways to do it quickly.
While I personally feel like there are no shortcuts to learning a new language, there are tips and tricks that can help you to learn faster and easier. Of course, these all depend on the individual and what one’s study method is. But generally, if you stick to these 7 tips, you might be able to skip a bit of time out of your language learning journey.
1. Don’t skip the writing systems
The first one I think is the most important tip of all is: do not skip the writing systems. In Japanese, there are three writing systems: hiragana, katakana and kanji. Each of them are used for their own purposes and knowing all three of them is essential if you want to reach a good level of fluency.
Hiragana and katakana are pretty easy to pick up. You can master them casually in a week. They are the Japanese alphabet that represents a syllable.
As for kanji, they are Chinese characters that are used in Japanese writing. I’d say there are around 2,000 essential kanji characters that you would need to take time to learn. One way to learn kanji is through vocabulary. When you learn new words, look at what the kanji characters for them are. Most conversational words use essential kanji characters. Have yourself be exposed to kanji characters on a daily basis. The more you see them, the more you’re able to recognise them.
Skip the stroke order for now. I would recommend foregoing this unless you’re doing it for school. If you’re here for the fast fluency, you can afford to not know the order of the strokes.
2. Use language learning hacks
As I mentioned earlier, different people have different styles of learning. Depending on your style, pick up language learning hacks to help you learn Japanese faster and easier.
One of the most popular methods of learning Japanese fast is using a spaced repetition system (SRS). This is often the use of flash cards. There’s a 80/30 rule that says you get 80% of your results from 20% of your efforts. So you focus on 20% of the language you use most to yield 80% of your speaking abilities.
Another way is by using mnemonics. A lot of people find this language learning hack pretty useful. When you have mnemonic devices linked to Japanese language learning, you’ll be able to retain them in your brain faster and easier.
And while some people often binge study, it may not help all. Some people actually study and retain knowledge better when studying in small chunks of time. This helps you to focus and not push yourself too much. Whatever you learn in that 15 minutes a day, be sure to repeat them and lock them in memory. This will definitely help you to learn Japanese faster.
And last but not least, consistency is key. You’ve got to be a bit responsible for your language learning journey. Stay committed, keep studying regularly, and you’ll be able to reach your language goals as early as 90 days!
3. Think and explain in Japanese
One of the most important ways to improve your Japanese language skills is by training your brain to think in that foreign language. For this one, you would have to really put in the effort to do this, especially if you’re not already bilingual.
By doing this technique, you’re going to be able to lock those new words and grammar into your brain even faster. Reading the meaning to a word or an explanation to a grammar point won’t guarantee that you can recall it when you need it. When you actively use these words and grammar, you’ll be able to store them in your brain easier!
The easiest way to start doing this is by reacting in Japanese. If you see a cute dog coming your way, you might start to think in English “it’s cute”. Try to think in Japanese: “あの犬は可愛い” (“that dog is cute”).
You can also practice this technique by describing your surroundings. You don’t have to do that all the time. You can even do it on your way home from school or work. Describe the area around you. What do you see? What are the people doing? What’s the weather like?
This last way of practicing this technique is one that I often do, and that’s translating my own conversations. After having a conversation with someone, try to translate that conversation into Japanese at your own pace. Say you ordered something in a restaurant. How would you do that in Japanese?
4. Find language exchange partners early
The best part about the previous technique is that you don’t have to be afraid of making mistakes with someone else. However, that doesn’t give you the opportunity to learn from your mistakes. On top of that, you will also start to fear speaking in Japanese. Trust me, I was at that stage once too.
So, to do that, you should definitely find a language exchange partner early on so you can start using your language skills ASAP.
There are so many ways you can find one. Sometimes, in your city or country, there’s a community of Japanese language learners like yourself. This is the best way to find one. Otherwise, go online and on apps like italki or HelloTalk. These are also great platforms to learn from others just like you!
5. Immerse yourself in Japanese
A lot of people say immersion is key. It’s pretty true, but you don’t have to be in Japan to be fully immersed. You can also just surround yourself with the language, through various means that you can control. One of the easiest ways is to constantly play Japanese media like games, TV shows, movies and anime (in Japanese language, of course).
I personally used to listen to Japanese podcasts as well to expose myself to the Japanese language. This method is also a way of passive learning, which kids use to learn when they’re younger and developing.
If you have a Japanese town in your city, that’s perfect! You can find Japanese speakers around you to practice with in real life too! All these exposure will definitely help you to learn Japanese faster and easier!
6. Practice your Japanese speaking skills
I cannot emphasise this enough, but definitely work on your speaking skills from early on. Learning a language from a textbook and actually using the skill in real life is so so different. You realise there are so many other challenges that you face when you start speaking. You might not be able to recall what you learned, you realise you have a fear of speaking to overcome. Anything can happen.
Whether it’s practicing in front of the mirror or with a language exchange partner or friend, start early! As soon as you learn your first grammar point, I suggest going straight into practicing your speaking skills!
7. Don’t be afraid to fail
And last but not least, don’t be afraid to fail. In fact, if you don’t fail at some point, you’re not human! All of us are learning. Even natives have things they need to learn. Failing is actually part of your Japanese language learning journey, so don’t avoid it. Instead, embrace it!
Learn Japanese Fast & Easy!
I hope that with these 7 techniques, you’ll be able to learn Japanese fast and easy! One of the best ways you can learn Japanese grammar points and new useful vocabulary words is by tuning in to our Nihongo Master Podcast! We have a language series in the podcast that breaks down grammar points just like our online learning system, and have roleplaying scenarios using the new grammar point. Hey, that’s the 8th technique to learning Japanese fast and easy!
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!
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!
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!
Japan is known for a lot of things. Sightseeing, nature, and neon lights are among them. But those who have been here for quite some time would also know Japan for its high context culture. If you don’t know what that is, read our blog post about it.
Anyway, an aspect of the Japanese’s high context culture is body language and facial gestures. Aside from the language barrier, you’d have to be able to decipher body language and facial expressions too. This can be quite a challenge, especially if you have no idea what to look out for in the first place.
So, if you’re looking to know how to grasp the concept of Japanese body language, you’ve come to the right place! We’re zooming into facial gestures that are part of Japanese body language in this article. Head over to this other article where we look at the top 8 body gestures to know in Japan!
Japanese Facial Gestures
There’s no doubt that communication can be like a jigsaw puzzle sometimes. You get the pieces but you have to put them together. It’s all part and parcel of the high context culture! Japanese facial gestures take up quite a chunk of the Japanese high context culture. Sometimes, no expression is a gesture in itself!
So while it can be straightforward, it’s best to not roll the dice on it. There are a few things to take note of when it comes to the Japanese way of communication. They sometimes communicate with their facial expressions rather than saying it out loud.
We’re going to highlight the top three facial gestures (感情表現 in Japanese) that give you an insight into what they’re trying to say: the one eyebrow raise, eye contact and the head tilt.
1. One Eyebrow Raise
This first one is the one eyebrow raise. Normally, if someone is doing that to me, I would be thinking that they’re waiting for an answer or reply. Sometimes, it also signals that they don’t understand.
In Japan, it’s almost the same. When you get a one eyebrow raise, they’re telling you that they don’t understand. But not only that, they’re also asking you to repeat it. I guess that’s the difference – in Japan, no words are needed to ask someone to repeat.
Sometimes, you can get scrunched up brows instead, but they both mean the same thing.
The best thing to do in cases like this is to repeat. If you were speaking in English, try repeating it slower and with easier phrases. I’ve gotten this a couple of times and in my case, they were just hesitant to ask me to repeat myself.
2. Eye Contact
Another facial gesture to note in Japan is eye contact. To be more specific, the lack of eye contact. I’m used to making eye contact with people. It’s normal to me. In fact, I prefer talking to someone while making eye contact rather than not.
In Japan, it’s not always the case. Some people aren’t comfortable with eye contact. If that happens to you, don’t be offended. They’re not uninterested or bored. It’s just part of their body language. Prolonged eye contact is something they’re not used to or comfortable with.
In cases like this, try to glance around to break eye contact. You’ll notice them doing the same. Try your best to be natural and not awkward about it!
3. The Head Tilt
Last but not least, the head tilt is a common facial gesture I get so often. This is often paired with the one eyebrow raise. This facial gesture is similar in meaning to the first one as it often tells you that the other person didn’t quite catch what you said.
However, this one, from my experience, is more of confusion rather than not understanding.
Regardless of the difference, you’re also requested to repeat yourself. Similarly, rephrase your sentences so you’re not getting the head tilt again!
Are You Raising Your Brow Or Tilting Your Head?
Body language can be quite difficult to grasp in general, regardless of which country. It’s a skill we constantly need to keep on learning. In Japan, it’s good that there’s a consistent set of gestures that can be easily decoded! You’re one step closer to mastering the high context culture here!
Japanese music is actually pretty popular. More popular than we thought. Sometimes, we didn’t even realize it’s Japanese music. In our podcast, Season 2 Episode 3, we discussed the various types of Japanese tunes and beats.
A country like Japan with such a long and rich history has got to have an equally rich music background. It’s an integral component in most cultures. And true enough, the oldest forms of traditional Japanese music date back to the 6th century.
Over the decades, music has taken over this island nation.
In fact, Japan has the second-largest music market in the world, and was at one point the largest physical music market worldwide! If that’s not proof of music’s influence in the country, I don’t know what is.
In our episode, we looked at three categories of Japanese music. For those who have tuned in, this recap article is for you! For those who haven’t, give the episode a listen! We are on all the streaming platforms – Apple Podcast, Spotify, and we even have our own platform for it! Or subscribe to our channel on youtube for instant updates over there!
1. Traditional Japanese Music
The first category we looked at was traditionally Japanese music, known as hōgaku (邦楽). This refers to home or country music. The term is the opposite of yōgaku (洋楽), which refers to Western music.
It was back in the Nara Period of 710 to 794 and Heian Period of 794 to 1185, when the two oldest forms of Japanese traditional music first popped up: shōmyō (声明) and gagaku (雅楽). Shōmyō, a combination of the kanji characters for “voice” and “wisdom”, is a style of vocal music practiced during Buddhist rituals. It’s believed to have originated from India before making its way to Japan in the 6th century, and to this day, this oldest living form of vocal music is still being practiced.
We have a clip of the Buddhist ritual chant played in the episode, so give it a listen if you’re interested!
The other oldest traditional music, gagaku, translates to “elegant music”. This refers to court music. It’s the fusion of various continental Asian countries’ music with traditional Japanese music. Back in the day, if you were merely a commoner, you probably would never hear gagaku, as it was exclusively the music of the Imperial Court. A typical gagaku ensemble consists of traditional Japanese instruments split into three divisions: woodwinds, percussion and strings.
Similarly. We played a clip of gagaku music on the podcast episode!
We talked a bit more about other types of Japanese traditional music like enka (although this might not really be classified under traditional Japanese music and more of Japanese popular music. This genre just has to be mentioned.). Tune in to know more about it and hear a clip of a typical enka song!
Of course, a category we looked at has got to be J-pop. This is short for “Japanese popular music”, and arguably the most famous one on the list. While K-pop has been taking the world by storm recently, J-pop is also busy winning over the hearts of Japanese people — specifically the youths. The older generation has enka — the youngins have J-pop.
While J-pop has traditional Japanese music influences, the genre has its roots in 1960s music as well as Western pop and rock, prominently bands like The Beatles and The Beach Boys. J-pop is pretty diverse and not limited to only pop music. Before J-pop became J-pop, it was kayōkyoku.
We played a clip of kayōkyoku in the episode!
J-pop nowadays has been taken over by aidoru groups. There are so many of them that there’s even a term to refer to this current age of overwhelming idol groups: “The Age of Idol War”. Japanese idols are professional entertainers. Although they’re primarily singers, they often take on other roles like modelling, acting and dancing.
We name dropped a few J-pop groups and played some of their music in the episode. If you want to know which popular groups we talked about, give that a listen!
3. Video Game Music
The third category we looked at is something a lot of us would recognise: video game music. If you’ve listened to one of our previous episodes “Pixels and Powerups”, or if you’re a video game enthusiast yourself, you’d know that Japan is pretty much number one when it comes to video games.
Before video games had music to accompany it, they had chiptune, which is a kind of synthesised electronic tunes that’s made using sound generators or synthesisers. If you’ve ever owned those vintage game consoles or played old arcade game machines before, you’re probably familiar with this tune.
We played chiptune music for a brief understanding.
As technology evolved, so did music in video games, and Japanese video game developers are the first few to get the jump on it. Don’t we all know Pac-Man? Arguably the most popular video game of all time, this Namco-produced franchise consists of more than a couple of tunes that we’ll recognise instantly as soon as it’s being played.
Did the Pac-Man tune play in your head? We can refresh your memory in our episode!
The same company, Namco, went on to produce music for various other video games, and so began the era of video game music. Namco’s maze and driving game Rally-X was actually the first video game to have continuous music being played in the background. Fast forward to where we’re at now, and video game music has evolved tremendously. For all the various types of games, there are beats and tunes that match the gameplay — reacting to the player’s movements and action with seamless transitioning from one music to another.
We played some popular game music that you might be familiar with!
Oh, and if you realise, a lot of Japanese words in this genre are just the katakana form of the English words. A lot of the time, you’ll see the words in katakana in Japanese video games!
We slipped in a lot of Japanese words in our episode, so if you didn’t catch it well, we summarised it here:
Hōgaku (邦楽) — “home/country” music to refer to local, Japanese tunes
yōgaku (洋楽) — western music
Shōmyō (声明) — chanting, vocal music practiced during Buddhist rituals
Gagaku (雅楽) — court music
Enka (演歌) — a ballad-style Japanese music genre that was originally a form of political activism, but has evolved to become a nostalgic tune of the nation’s identity
Ongaku (音楽) — music
Kayōkyoku (歌謡曲) — a term for Japanese pop music used up until the 1980’s
Aidoru (アイドル) — Idol
Kashu (歌手) — singer
Ākēdo (アーケード) — arcade
Gēmu (ゲーム) — game
Meiro (迷路) — maze
Akushon (アクション) — action
Tune in to Nihongo Master Podcast!
So this is a quick round-up of the top categories of Japanese tunes and beats! Nihongo Master Podcast discusses various aspects of Japanese culture, travel and even language with our Study Saturday language series! Tune in every Wednesday and Saturday for new episodes!