73 Basic Japanese Phrases – StoryLearning (2024)

73 Basic Japanese Phrases – StoryLearning (1)

Whether you’re in the early stages of learning Japanese or you’ve been practicing for a while, the thought of having a conversation with a native speaker can be nerve-wracking.

I've been there plenty of times too. So I bet your inner monologue is along these lines:

  • Will they understand? What if I say something wrong by accident?
  • What do I do if I don’t have the vocab to say what I’m thinking?

These thoughts are perfectly normal reactions to doing something scary in Japanese, like chatting to a native speaker.

Thankfully, you can go into your first conversation armed with a ton of useful basic Japanese phrases.

Check out the rest of this article to learn 73 handy turns of phrase that will serve you well in any Japanese conversation or when travelling in Japan.

These are also great starting points if you’re just jumping into Japanese for the first time. These basic Japanese phrases will be the backbone on which you can build your Japanese knowledge.

And for a little extra boost to your confidence before you head into a conversation with a native speaker, take a look at this detailed guide to Japanese pronunciation.

By the way, if you want to learn Japanese fast and have fun while doing it, my top recommendation isJapanese Uncoveredwhich teaches you through StoryLearning®.

WithJapanese Uncoveredyou’ll use my unique StoryLearning® method to learn Japanese naturally through story… not rules. It’s as fun as it is effective.

If you’re ready to get started,click here for a 7-day FREE trial.

Anyway, back to our basic Japanese phrases…. let's discover what they are!

8 Must-Know Japanese Greetings

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When you meet someone for the first time, you tend to start out with a greeting like “Hello” or pleasantries like “It’s nice to meet you,” right? Japanese is full of simple phrases to start out a conversation.

If you're planning a trip to Japan, then the people you meet at your destination will be thrilled to hear you use these expressions, even if they're the only ones you know:

  • #1 Konnichiwa (こんにちは) – Hello
  • #2 Ohayou gozaimasu (おはようございます) – Good morning
  • #3 Konbanwa (こんばんは) – Good evening
  • #4 Moshi moshi (もしもし) – Hello (but only if you’re on the phone or something like Skype)
  • #5 Ogenki desu ka? (お元気ですか) – How are you?
  • #6 Genki desu (元気です) – I’m good/I’ve been doing well, thanks
  • #7 Ohisashiburi desu ne (お久しぶりですね) – Long time no see
  • #8 _______san mo? (______-さんも?) – And you? (Hint: fill in the blank with your friend’s name. This is a great response to things like “How are you?” because you can say, “I’m good! And you?”)

5 Ways To Learn More About Your Conversation Partner

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After you’ve greeted your new conversation partner, it’s likely that you’ll need to know more about them. Keep it rolling—you’ve got this.

  • #9Namae wa nan desu ka? (名前は何ですか) – What’s your name?
  • #10 Watashi no namae wa _____ desu (私の名前は__です) – My name is ______
  • #11 Doko kara kimash*ta ka? (どこから来ましたか) – Where are you from?
  • #12 Watashi wa ______ kara kimash*ta (私は__から来ました) – I’m from __________.
  • #13 Sou desu ka? (そうですか) Is that so?/Really?/I see (Hint: this is a great thing to say after learning where someone is from, what they do, or other facts about their life.)

If you want to keep the conversation going and need some more expressions to help you out, check out these 28 Japanese conversation starters.

7 Essential Japanese Politeness Expressions

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You’ve done great so far. You’ve introduced yourself, learned your friend’s name and maybe where they’re from. And now you’re ready to move on to other topics.

But first, try out some of these traditional Japanese politeness phrases so you can apologise, show off your good manners, and be polite at a restaurant before you tuck into a meal.

  • #14 Arigatou gozaimasu (ありがとうございます) – Thank you
  • #15 Douitashimash*te (どういたしまして) – You’re welcome
  • #16 Sumimasen (すみません) – I’m sorry/excuse me (Hint: you can use this for anything from apologising for stumbling into someone on the train to asking for help or asking for people to move out of your way.)
  • #17 Gomen nasai (ごめんなさい) – I’m sorry (Hint: didn’t we already cover “I’m sorry”? Gomen nasai is less “excuse me” and more “I’m truly sorry from the bottom of my heart.” Use it if you knocked something over and broke it, not if you interrupted someone’s stroll to ask for directions.)
  • #18 Yoroshiku onegaishimasu (よろしくおねがいします) – I’m in your debt! (Hint: this one isn’t used in its literal sense most of the time; it’s a way to say “thank you” to someone you are counting on or indebted to. For example, if you're starting out at a new job in Japan, you might introduce yourself and then add this at the end. You might also use it if you’ve asked someone a favour, such as to show you around or give you directions.)
  • #19 Itadakimasu (いただきます) – Let’s dig in (Hint: say this before meals as a way to politely say you’re going to begin enjoying your food.)
  • #20 Gochisousama desh*ta (ごちそうさまでした) – That was delicious (Hint: say this after meals as a way to say thank you.)

For more on Japanese culture, customs and politeness check out this post.

9 Ways To Get Clarification In A Japanese Conversation

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You’ve been puttering along in a conversation for a while now! But what happens if everything you feared takes place and you get confused? First, remember not to panic.

Even in your native language, you probably have to ask people for clarification or to repeat themselves. You won’t offend anyone if you do the same in a foreign language. Memorise these expressions and just take it slow, one sentence at a time.

  • #21 Eigo te iu no wa… (英語ていうのは) – And in English, that’s…?
  • #22 Wakarimasen (わかりません) – I don’t understand
  • #23 Shirimasen (知りません) – I don’t know
  • #24 Wasuremash*ta (忘れました) – I forgot
  • #25 Motto yukkuri kudasai (もっとゆっくり下さい) – Please go a little slower
  • #26 Mou ichido kudasai (もう一度下さい) – Could you say that one more time?
  • #27 Nihongo de perapera de wa nai desu (日本語でペラペラではないです) – I’m not very fluent in Japanese (Hint: you’re speaking Japanese already! So you can’t say “I don’t know Japanese at all,” right?)
  • #28 ___ te iu no imi wa nan desu ka? (__ていうの意味は何ですか) – What does _____ mean?
  • #29 Tetsudatte kuremasen ka? (手伝ってくれませんか) – Can you help me?

6 Can't-Live-Without Japanese Questions

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Japanese is one of the easiest languages to ask questions in—so ask away! In order to make a question in Japanese, just add ka to the end of any sentence.

On top of that, though, there are a few question words that will make your conversations go a lot smoother. Plus knowing how to ask questions is essential for travellers in Japan if you need to find your way or get help.

  • #30 Doko desu ka? (どこですか) – Where is it?
  • #31 Itsu desu ka? (いつですか) – When is it?
  • #32 Doush*te? (どうして) – Why?
  • #33 Dochira desu ka? (どちらですか) – Which one is it?
  • #34 Nan desu ka? (何ですか) – What is it?
  • #35 Dare desu ka? (だれですか) – Who is it?

Getting To Know Each Other In Japanese

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Perfect! You’ve been talking with someone for a few minutes now, introducing yourself and asking any questions you need to know. Maybe you’ve found out your speaking partner’s name and you’re walking to a coffee shop together.

Now’s the perfect time to find out more about each other and maybe become friends. Try out some of these phrases to open up a whole new avenue of conversation!

  • #36 Ima nanji desu ka? (今何時ですか) – What time is it right now?
  • #37 Ima (今) Now
  • #38 Ato de (後で) Later
  • #39 Kyou (今日) Today
  • #40 Kinou (昨日) Yesterday
  • #41 Ash*ta (明日) Tomorrow
  • #42 Mainichi (毎日) Everyday
  • #43 Nansai desu ka? (何歳ですか) – How old are you?
  • #44 Doko ni sundeimasu ka? (どこに住んでいますか) – Where do you live?
  • #45 Kyoudai ga imasu ka? (兄弟がいますか) – Do you have siblings?
  • #46 Ikura desu ka? (いくらですか) – How much does that cost?
  • #47 Kore wa nan desu ka? (これはなんですか) – What is this?
  • #48 Sore wa nan desu ka? (それはなんですか) – What is that?
  • #49 Are we nan desu ka? (あれはなんですか) – What is that? (Hint: Use “kore” when something is close to you, “sore” when something is away from you but close to the person you’re speaking to, and “are” when something is far away from both of you.)
  • #50 Toire wa doko desu ka? (トイレはどこですか) – Where’s the toilet?

11 Answers To Common Japanese Questions

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You’ve been learning a lot about your new friend, but now the tables have turned—they’re the one asking you questions! How should you respond to many of the most common questions Japanese native speakers might ask you? Try these answers out.

  • #51 Hai (はい) Yes
  • #52 Iie (いいえ) No
  • #53 Mada mada (まだまだ) Not yet
  • #54 Kamoshiremasen (かもしれません) Maybe/I’m not sure
  • #55 Tokidoki (時々) Sometimes
  • #56 Zenzen (全然) Never
  • #57 Itsumo (いつも) Always
  • #58 Taitei (たいてい) Usually
  • #59 Watashi wa _____ desu (私は__です) I’m a _______ (Hint: you can fill this blank with anything you feel describes you. That might be a “student” (gakusei), “tourist” (kankoukyaku), or even “doctor” (isha)!
  • #60 Daijoubu desu (大丈夫です) That’s okay
  • #61 Ii desu (いいです) That’s good

A special note on the difference between daijoubu and ii. If someone is asking you if something is “all right,” daijobu is what fits there (think “We don’t sell that here; can I get you X instead?” to which you’d respond with “yes, that’s all right, I suppose”).

If you approve of something or find it nice, that’s the time for ii (think of your friend saying “Hey, we should go to that sushi place!” and you’re really excited to go there. If your friend suggested sushi but you really wanted ramen instead, that would be a case for just using daijoubu.)

5 Japanese Phrases For Special Occasions

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What if you’ve found yourself speaking to a native Japanese person for the first time because you decided to go to a celebration or special event, like a birthday or festival? Here are a few useful phrases for almost any situation you might find yourself in.

  • #62 Ki o tsukete (気を付けて) Be careful (Hint: you might say this to someone going on a trip.)
  • #63 Yoku dekimash*ta (よくできました) Great job
  • #64 Omedetou gozaimasu (おめでとうございます) Congratulations
  • #65 Tanjoubi omedetou (誕生日おめでとう) Happy birthday
  • #66 Kanpai (乾杯) Cheers (Hint: you should really only go for this one if you actually have a drink of some sort in your hand.)

4 Types Of Japanese Goodbye

You’ve had a lot to talk about, but now the time has come to finish your Japanese conversation. How do you wrap things up?

  • #67 Ja (じゃ) Well (Hint: used in the sense of “well, I guess I’d better get going.”)
  • #68 Sayounara (さようなら) Goodbye (Hint: use only if you don’t plan on seeing them again. This is a more final “goodbye.”)
  • #69 Ja, mata (じゃまた) Well, see you (Hint: this is the much more common “goodbye.”)
  • #70 Oyasumi nasai (おやすみなさい) Good night

By the way,if you're based in Tokyo or elsewhere in Japan, but you're still looking for someone to speak to here are my 4 tips for finding a language partner in Japan.

3 Japanese Phrases To Use In Emergencies

I can’t wrap up a list of some of the most important phrases in Japanese without making sure you know a few of the words that could come in very handy. If you find yourself in serious trouble, use these phrases to call for help.

  • #71 Tasukete! (助けて) Help me!
  • #72 Keisatsu o yonde kudasai! (警察を呼んで下さい) – Please call the police!
  • #73 Kyuu kyuusha o yonde kudasai! (救急車を呼んで下さい) – Please call an ambulance!

Hopefully you never have to use these last three. But it’s always a good thing to remember them in case you need them.

Your Next Steps In Japanese

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So there you have it: all of the basic Japanese phrases you need to help you discover and start using the Japanese language.

With these phrases in your back pocket, you will soon find yourself having your first basic conversations with native speakers and getting excited about developing your conversational Japanese.

So now that you’ve learned the basics,are you ready to take the next step in your Japanese adventure?

I'm a big believer in the power of story to enable you to learn a foreign language. That's why I've created Japanese Uncovered, a course that takes you from beginner all the way to an Intermediate level, with my unique StoryLearning® method.

Thanks to StoryLearning®, you learn Japanese naturally through story… not rules. It’s as fun as it is effective.Along the way you'll learn all of the Japanese vocabulary you need for everyday conversations, as well as how to read, write and pronounce Japanese correctly.

If you’re ready to get started,click here for a 7-day FREE trial.

The Key To Stress-Free Japanese Conversations

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If you’ve mastered even a small number of the important Japanese phrases in this article, you’ll be well on your way to holding a solid conversation with any native speaker you might happen to encounter at home or when you travel.

In language learning, you don't need to re-invent the wheel each time you speak to someone new. Nor do you have to come up with all your answers on the spot.

Try thinking about your answers to some native speaker questions beforehand so you can find the right words (like your age, occupation, and country or language name) to describe yourself!

When you know what to expect, and you've prepared in advance, you'll find that conversations with native speakers go much more smoothly. And most importantly, you'll feel more confident about speaking in Japanese.

73 Basic Japanese Phrases – StoryLearning (2024)


How do you memorize Japanese phrases? ›

Hey Japanese learner!
  1. Use repetition: reading, writing and speaking words over and over again.
  2. Associate words with drawings, pictures and funny scenes.
  3. Try to use the language routinely in the context of daily life.
  4. Reading as much as possible, especially the newspaper, helps you to remember words.
Apr 28, 2016

Is 50 too late to learn Japanese? ›

Never Too Old To Learn

We are all lifetime learners until the day we die. In my online courses, I have many students who are in their 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's. The older student I currently have is 85 years old. When we are older, we just need more time to absorb new information.

Is there a trick to learning Japanese? ›

Start With Sounds

The answer is simple: sounds. Learning how to hear, pronounce, and recognize written Japanese sounds is a great place to get started even before you begin memorizing words and their meanings. In order to do that, you're going to need to learn the Japanese alphabet.

What is the Japanese phrase 80% full? ›

Hara hachi bun me (腹八分目) (also spelled hara hachi bu, and sometimes misspelled hari hachi bu) is a Confucian teaching that instructs people to eat until they are 80 percent full. The Japanese phrase translates to, "Eat until you are eight parts (out of ten) full", or "belly 80 percent full".

What does mi ni ikitai mean? ›

“Mi ni ikitai” means want to go see!

What is the simplest Japanese script? ›

General Tips. If you want to learn Japanese writing, start with hiragana and katakana. Once you are comfortable with those two scripts, then you can begin to learn kanji. Hiragana and katakana are simpler than kanji, and have only 46 characters each.

Is there a trick to memorizing kanji? ›

Mnemonics: Create Stories to Remember Kanji

You can do it by creating stories about the shape of the kanji by dissecting the Kanji into smaller individual shapes. One excellent example of the mnemonics technique is the kanji of “before” or “in front of,” where we made a story to remember this Kanji.

What is the easiest Japanese script to learn? ›

Hiragana and katakana are easy enough to learn – and will be a big help if you're thinking about travelling to Japan, or learning basic Japanese. Learning kanji is a little trickier, but we'll come to that later.

Can I be fluent in Japanese in 1 year? ›

Therefore, it takes roughly a year of learning (give or take) to reach conversational fluency and be able to perform these skills: Use fairly complex grammar structures to express yourself with relative accuracy.

Why do Japanese age slower? ›

Factors such as improved nutrition, advanced medical and pharmacological technologies, and improved living conditions have all contributed to the longer-than-average life expectancy.

Do Japanese people age slower? ›

Japan is aging faster than any other country in the world. The national pension system is under immense pressure to sustain an growing number of elderly while the number of people contributing to the system dwindles.

How long does it realistically take to learn Japanese? ›

Learning Japanese isn't easy and it will take time. It's probably fair to say that you can expect a commitment of at least three years in order to achieve something resembling fluency. The average learner gets to the advanced level in three or four years.

What is the most accurate way to learn Japanese? ›

The important thing is that today we've learned that the best way to learn Japanese is the combination of five different tips: getting use to the language by watching TV series and listening to podcasts, learning hiragana with mnemonics, using Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone to learn the basics, talking to online tutors, ...

Why is learning Japanese difficult? ›

Is Japanese the hardest language to learn? Japanese is considered challenging for English speakers due to its distinct grammatical structure and writing system, but difficulty varies by learner.

What is the most common saying in Japan? ›

The Basics: Common Japanese Words and Phrases
  1. Hello - Konnichiwa (こんにちは) Pronunciation: kohn-nee-chee-wah. ...
  2. Thank you - Arigatou Gozaimasu (ありがとうございます) ...
  3. Please - kudasai (ください) ...
  4. Excuse me/ I'm sorry - Sumimasen (すみません) ...
  5. Yes - Hai (はい) ...
  6. No - Īe (いいえ) ...
  7. Nice to meet you - Hajimemash*te (はじめまして) ...
  8. Goodbye - Sayōnara (さようなら)
Aug 15, 2023

What are some cool Japanese phrases? ›

Some cool words to say in Japanese conversations
  • naruhodo (なるほど) = oh, I see! ( casual)
  • yabai (やばい) = crazy (the good or bad kind, depending on context)
  • ossu (おっす) = what's up?
  • benkyō ni narimash*ta (勉強になりました) = literally “I've learned something”
  • kimoi (キモい) = gross!
Nov 19, 2021

Is 5000 words enough for Japanese? ›

About 3000-5000 words will give you 'basic fluency'. At this level you will be able to find a way to say anything you want to, but it probably won't be the way a native speaker would say it.

Do you say 100 in Japanese? ›

The only exception is 100, which is hyaku / ひゃく, made up of hya / ひゃ and ku / く. That one you'll just have to memorise.

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