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If you live in Japan, there are certain words & phrases that we hear and use every day. Here’s a list of 50 of them, all of which are necessary to know to get by and for smooth communication. This is a great launching point for improving Japanese conversation skills!
Table of Contents
Greetings are really important in Japanese! We split this into 3 sections - everyday greetings, thanking someone and apologizing, and greetings about health and weather.
Let’s start off with hello!
While 「こんにちは」 can be used at all times of the day, if it’s evening or night, it’s better to use:
- Good evening.
The first greeting of the day when arriving at school or the office:
- Good morning.
It can be shortened to 「おはよう (ohayou)」 if you have a close relationship (but never for your superiors at work).
If you’re meeting someone for the first time, introduce yourself with:
- Nice to meet you.
If you see someone you haven’t seen in a while:
- Long time no see!
Add 「です (desu)」 at the end if you need to be more formal.
We use the word 「元気 (genki)」 in several different ways. As a greeting, it’s often used as a question:
- Are you doing well? (Mostly asking about your health and overall well-being)
You can reply with 「元気！(Genki! - I’m doing well!) 元気？(Genki? - And you?)」
最近 (Saikin) means recently, and it’s used often to start conversations.
- How are things recently?
Saikin kattanda. / Saikin hajimentanda.
- I recently bought this. / I recently started this.
Saikin kouiu koto ooku nai?
- Hasn’t this type of thing become more frequent recently? (This can be used on an individual level or to refer to something regarding a group, community or society in general.)
「はい (hai)」 means a range of things including yes, correct, I understand, okay, and is also an indicator that you are listening to the other person when they’re talking to you.
Therefore we use 「はい」 a lot every day, but how to say "no" or how to decline depends on what situation you are in.
Such as the following 「大丈夫です」:
「大丈夫です (Daijoubu desu)」 has many uses as well.
“I’m okay.” or “It’s okay.” when someone asks you 「大丈夫ですか？(Daijoubu desuka? - Are you okay? / Is it okay?)」
“No thank you.” when someone offers you something or offers to help you. This is usually accompanied by hand waving to indicate no.
Read more about how to say “no, thank you” in Japanese.
「おめでとう (omedetou)」 means congratulations and can be used for a wide range of occasions.
「お誕生日おめでとう (Otanjoubi omedetou)」 - Happy Birthday
「明けましておめでとう (Akemashite omedetou)」 - Happy New Year
「結婚おめでとう (Kekkon omedetou)」 - Congratulations on your wedding
「卒業おめでとう (Sotsugyou omedetou)」 - Congratulations on your graduation
Add 「ございます (gozaimasu)」 at the end to be more formal.
「お願いします (Onegai shimasu)」 means "please". You can attach it to many things to ask someone to do something, or if you can have something.
Kochira ni sain onegai shimasu.
- Please sign here.
Okawari ikaga desuka?
- Would you like more water?
- Yes, please.
「よろしくお願いします (Yoroshiku onegai shimasu)」 is hard to translate as it means something different in each situation.
We use it to mean
Nice to meet you.
Please take care of this. / I leave it up to you.
Please take care of me.
Please look forward to the event.
And by adding the word 「これからも (korekara)」, it adds the nuance off “from now on as well”, especially in regards to ongoing relationships, whether personal or professional.
We’re planning to write a whole article about this!
When we want to know what’s going on because someone is talking excitedly or worriedly, we can use any of the following (based on formality and the people involved) to ask “What’s going on?”
「どうしましたか? (Doushimashitaka?)」 - Formal
「どうしたの？(Doushitano?)」 - Casual
「なになに? (Nani nani?)」 - Most casual, with the meaning of “What? What?”
「お疲れさまです (Otsukare sama desu)」 is used to mean “You worked hard” or “Thanks for your hard work”, but is also used regularly as a greeting between coworkers, both when passing each other in the office, and at the end of the day to say goodbye to coworkers when heading home.
You would use the past tense form 「お疲れさまでした (otsukare sama deshita)」 to greet a coworker who is leaving at the end of the day, at the end of a project or when someone is retiring.
Instead of saying “goodbye”, we often use different words that imply you’ll be seeing them again, such as
「では (Dewa)」 - more formal, like “Until next time.”
「また (Mata)」 - standard, means “again”
「じゃあ (Jyaa)」 - most casual, like “See you”
Some people combine these such as 「では, また (Dewa, mata)」 or 「じゃあ、また (Jyaa, mata)」 both still meaning “See you next time.”
For more everyday greetings and more in-depth explanations about some of the above, we have an article about how to say hello and goodbye in Japanese!
「ありがとう (Arigatou)」 means thank you in Japanese.
We use it in various forms of politeness, but perhaps we use 「ありがとうございます (arigatou gozaimasu)」 the most, which is what we would use with strangers and coworkers.
When you want to thank them for something specific, the item or action comes before「ありがとう」, such as like in the following:
- Thanks for the present.
Tetsudatte kurete arigatou.
- Thanks for helping me.
Find out how to say thank you in all kinds of situations in our dedicated article.
With friends and people we’re close to, we use 「ごめん (Gomen)」 to say apologize and say “I’m sorry.”
- Sorry for being late.
You may have heard that "I'm sorry" is 「ごめんなさい (gomenasai)」.
But for strangers and people we need to be more formal with, we usually use:
「すみません (Sumimasen)」 which is often also pronounced 「すいません (Suimasen)」 is a very useful phrase. It can be used for apologies, to get people’s attention, but also to show gratitude.
It can be used in all the following situations and more:
When you bump into someone on accident
When you need to get off the train but people are in your way
When someone picks up something you dropped (add “arigatou gozaimasu” at the end)
When you need to get the waiter or shopkeeper’s attention
When you interrupt or stop someone to ask a question or for help
When you inconvenience someone (If it’s quite serious, however, then you have to use 「申し訳ございません moushiwake gozaimasen」)
「失礼します (Shitsure shimasu)」, meaning “pardon the interruption” or "excuse me" is used when you enter a room for a meeting or interview.
「失礼しました (Shitsurei shimashita)」 is then used when you leave the room. It’s also used when you make a mistake when making an announcement.
「少々お待ちください (Shoushou omachi kudasai)」 means “Please wait a moment.”
You might hear this on the phone, or after asking a question when the person needs time to check the answer, or when you’re receiving a service such as at the hospital, bank or post office, etc.
「お待たせ (Omatase)」 means “Sorry for the wait.” You might say this if you’re a few minutes late to meet friends, or if they were waiting for you to come back, such as from the restroom or from buying something, or if you’re sending something that they asked for a while back.
「お待たせしました (Omataseshimashita)」 is the more formal version and 「お待たせいたしました (Omatase itashi mashita)」 is the most formal used for clients.
When making small talk, we often talk about the weather, and also our health. Here are just some of the ways we talk about it.
「ですね (desune)」 is something we add to the end of the sentence, inviting the other person to agree with us. We often use this regarding the weather.
「暑いですね (Atsui desune)」 - It’s hot isn’t it.
「寒いですね (Samui desune)」 - It’s cold isn’t it.
「雨降りそうですね (Ame furisou desune)」 - It seems like it’s about to rain, doesn’t it?
「いい (ii)」 means good and 「悪い (warui)」 means bad. We use this to describe both weather and health conditions.
「天気がいい・悪い (Tenki ga ii/warui)」 - The weather is good/bad.
「体調がいい・悪い (Taichou ga ii/warui)」 - My health is good/bad.
These are just the basics to know when buying things, whether clothes, gifts or food.
「○○はありますか？(○○ wa arimasuka?)」 means “Do you have (item)?”
You can ask about a specific item, a color, a brand, a food/dish, a condiment/sauce, etc.
「試着してもいいですか？(Shichaku shitemo iidesuka?)」 means “Can I try it on?”
They’ll usually ask you how many pieces of clothing you plan to try on, either asking 「何着ですか？(Nanchaku desuka?)」 or 「何点ですか？(Nanten desuka?)」
Sometimes there’s a limit to how many you can bring into the fitting room at one time.
Especially since we are charged for plastic bags at stores now, you’ll definitely hear this when you go shopping at the supermarket, convenience store, bookstore, etc.
Rejibukuro / Fukuro wa goriyou ni narimasuka?
－Do you need a (plastic) bag?
To answer, you can say
Yes: 「はい (hai)」 or 「お願いします (onegaishimasu)」
No: 「いいえ (iie)」 or 「大丈夫です (Daijoubu desu)」
Another question you will hear at stores.
Pointo kaado wa omochi de shouka?
－Do you have a point card?
Instead of “point card”, they might say the name of the actual point card that can be used at the shop.
If you have one, you can hand it to them after saying 「はい (hai)」 or「あります (arimasu - I have one)」.
If you don’t, then you can say 「ないです (nai desu - I don’t have one)」 and they will usually respond with 「失礼しました (shitsurei shimashita)」 which is like “excuse me for asking”. Or they might ask if you’d like to make one, to which you can answer 「はい (hai - yes)」 or 「大丈夫です (daijoubu desu - no thank you)」 with a hand wave.
Nowadays, there’s many different payment methods in Japan as the major cities have become more cashless-friendly.
To ask if you can use a certain card, point card, app, etc. you can use:
○○ wa tsukaemasuka?
－Can I use (insert payment method/app here)?
When using a credit card, they will ask how many payments you’d like to split it into.
Oshiharai kaisuu wa?
－How many payments would you like to split it into?
To pay it all at once, say 「一括で (ikkatsu de)」 - in one payment.
For multiple payments (if your card allows), say 「○○回で (○○ kai de)」 - in (insert number) payments.
If you buy microwaveable food at the convenience store, they will ask if you would like it heated up with 「あたためますか？(Atatamemasuka)」
Yes, please: 「お願いします (Onegai shimasu)」
No, thank you: 「大丈夫です (Daijoubu desu)」
This might be a strange one to find at the end, but since this is used both at stores and restaurants, we listed this last in this section.
「いらっしゃいませ (Irasshaimase)」 means welcome!
Both shopkeepers, waiters, and sometimes even the cooks will greet you this way.
For more phrases you should know when shopping, check out our article here.
When there’s a takeout option, the clerk will ask:
Tennai de omeshi agari desuka?
- Will you be eating in?
Yes: 「はい (hai)」
No: 「テイクアウトで (Teikuauto de)」 - To go or literally “Takeout, please”
When asking how many people in your group, they will ask
Nanmei sama desuka?
Most people hold up their fingers for one, two, or three people, even up to five.
When you’d like to order something else, and you need a menu:
Menu wo kudasai.
Before we eat, we say 「いただきます (Itadakimasu)」 and after we finish, we say 「ごちそうさまでした (Gochisousama deshita)」. Both are showing gratitude for the meal, to both the people who prepared it as well as the people who helped grow / create the ingredients.
When you’ve finished your meal and are ready to pay.
Okaikei wo onegai shimasu.
Some people simply say 「お会計を (Okaikei wo)」 for short.
To ask where the restroom is, we ask 「お手洗いはどこですか？(Otearai wa doko desuka?)」
「お手洗い (otearai)」 means place to wash our hands or washroom. We usually never say トイレ (toilet) directly to the shop staff.
Sometimes you’d like a group photo taken by the waiter. Ask:
Shashin wo totte moraemasuka?
- Could you please take a photo of us?
For more phrases you should know when dining out, check out our article here.
When referring to our commute, Japanese differentiates between commuting to work and commuting to school.
「通勤 (Tsuukin)」 is work commute.
「通学 (Tsuugaku)」 is school commute.
We say 「通勤ラッシュ (tsuukin rush)」 to talk about rush hour especially in the morning.
「通学・通学ルート (Tsuukin/Tsuugaku route)」 refers to which route you take to get to work or school.
「通勤・通学定期 (Tsuukin/Tsuugaku teiki)」 is your commuters pass that you can use on public transportation that you use for your route to work or school.
When there’s train delays, the announcement is quite standardized.
○○ no eikyou ni yori densha ga okurete orimasu.
－Due to (circumstance), the train is delayed.
The circumstances include accidents, weather, crowds, etc.
「終電 (shuuden)」 or the last train you can take home is something that frequently comes up when you’re out at night.
「終電いつ？(Shuuden itsu?)」 - When is your (our) last train?
「終電大丈夫？(Shuuden daijoubu?)」 - Do you have enough time until your last train?
「そろそろ終電が (Soro soro shuuden ga)」 - My last train is coming soon; this is often how people politely decline going for another round of drinks.
And another thing that always comes up regarding trains is the packed train heading to work or school, and back home.
「満員電車 (mannin densha)」 means train at full capacity, but we all know it means over capacity as everyone is squished together inside.
Some people even choose where to live based on whether they can avoid packed trains, or if they can at least grab a seat in the morning.
We often talk about it like:
「満員電車が辛い (Mannin densha ga tsurai)」 - The packed trains are horrible.
「満員電車のストレス (Mannin densha no sutoresu)」 - The stress from packed trains.
「満員電車を避けたい (Mannin densha wo saketai)」 - I want to avoid the packed trains / rush hour.
Japanese has many adjectives we use as reactions, and just a lot of reactions in general! Here are some you’ll hear the most.
We use 「すごい (sugoi)」 to mean “wow!” “great!” “amazing!”
We also change the form to 「すごく (sugoku)」 in front of other words to mean “very”.
「かわいい (Kawaii)」means “cute” and you’ll hear this a lot!
We use it to describe looks, behavior, designs, clothes, children, animals, etc!
There’s many reactions in surprise.
「えっ？ (Eh?)」- Eh? (sound of surprise)
「まじ？ (Maji?)」- For real?
「本当に？ (Hontou ni?)」- Really?
「嘘！ (Uso!)」- No way!
When we hear new information, we also react!
「へー (heー)」- sound of acknowledgement of what's being said. The tone shows if you're surprised by or uninterested in the information.
「なるほど」- I see
「そうなんだ」- Oh really
In addition to 「すごく (sugoku)」 mentioned above, we often use qualifiers to express just how much something is.
とても (totemo) - very
かなり (kanari) - more than expected
結構 (kekkou) - quite; satisfactory level
We often talk about the things we like and the things we don’t like.
For like, it’s pretty straightforward.
「好き (suki)」 means like or even love.
But we don’t usually use 「嫌い (kirai)」 or hate, unless you strongly feel that way (and you aren’t in a formal setting.)
Instead we use 「苦手 (nigate)」 which means you don’t like it, or you’re not very good at something or in those kinds of situations.
「おススメ (osusume)」 means to recommend or something you recommend.
The kanji for osusume is 「お勧め 」but it’s only used for formal situations.
When shops recommend items or friends recommend things they like, the word is written either in hiragana 「おすすめ」 or with katakana 「おススメ」 to appear more friendly and easy to read.
「おすすめ商品 (osusume shouhin)」 - recommended product
「おすすめランキング (osusume ranking)」 - ranking for recommendations
「これおススメ！(Kore osusume!)」- I recommend this!
「楽しい (tanoshii)」 means fun. We often use this to describe events.
「楽しい (tanoshii)」- It/This is fun.
「楽しかった (tanoshikatta)」 - It was fun.
「楽しみ (tanoshimi)」 - I’m looking forward to it.
There’s several ways to say delicious.
The most used are
「美味しい (oishii) 」
「うまい (umai)」 - this is more casual, said more by men
「うまっ (uma!)」 - short for umai, this is even more casual
Want to learn some more? Check out our Japanese phrases from anime article!
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