- [+] Pronunciation guide
- [+] Grammar
- Reading and writing
- [+] Problems
- [+] Time
- [+] Transportation
- On the phone
- [+] Family
- Typical Japanese expressions
- [+] Honourifics
- Country and territory names
- Offensive Language
- Learning more
Japanese (日本語 nihongo) is spoken in Japan, and essentially nowhere else other than South Korea and China, where some use it as a second language. The language is strongly influenced by Chinese though the two are unrelated; although the written form uses a combination of Katakana, Hiragana and Kanji characters which were all derived from Chinese characters.
Japanese is not a tonal language like Chinese or Thai, and is comparatively easy to pronounce. The vowels are pronounced virtually identical to the "Italian way" and there are very few consonants that do not exist in English. All syllables are to be pronounced equal in length. Long vowels take the length of two syllables. Combinations like kya are treated like one syllable and are the only occurrence of sliding vowels, all other syllables are to be pronounced rather separately.
Also avoid placing too much emphasis on particular words or syllables. Although Japanese does have a form of stress and intonation, it is significantly flatter than English. Word stress is much more subtle and neglecting it at this point should not interfere with meaning. Trying to keep your intonation flat will make your attempts to speak Japanese more comprehensible to local listeners. When asking questions, you can raise the tone at the end, as in English.
Japanese has only five basic vowels, but the distinction between short and long vowels is often important. The sounds below are first given in romanized Japanese, then hiragana and finally katakana.
The short vowels are:a, あ, ア like 'a' in "palm" i, い, イ like 'i' in "marine" u, う, ウ like 'oo' in "hoop", but short (best described as the sound said without rounded lips) e, え, エ like 'e' in "set" o, お, オ like 'o' in "rope", but less round
Note that "u" is often weak at the end of syllables. In particular, the common endings desu and masu are pronounced by lowering the tongue from the roof of the mouth where the ss sound is formed and keeping a tiny bit of sound as you do so, it may be best to find audio of an actual japanese person saying desu to understand properly this particular sound. Also, the kana "do" and "to" are sometimes pronounced with a weak "o".
The long vowels are generally the same sound as the short vowels, only held approximate 60% longer. The long vowels, marked with a macron in this phrasebook, are:ā, ああ, アー like 'a' in "father" ii, いい, イー like 'ee' in "cheese" u, うう, ウー like 'oo' in "hoop" ei, えい, エー like the 'ay' in "pay" ō, おう, オー stretch out the 'o' in "soap"
All descriptions above are approximations, it's best to practice with a native speaker.
With the solitary exception of "n" (ん・ン), consonants in Japanese are always followed by a vowel to form a syllable. Consonants and vowels are not freely combinable as in English, see table on the right for all possible syllables and note irregularities like し shi or ふ fu. Certain syllables can be marked with diacritics, which alters the pronunciation of the consonant part. The list below first gives the consonant part of the syllable in romanized Japanese, then the Japanese syllables that the sound occurs in first in Hiragana, then Katakana.k in かきくけこ・カキクケコ like 'k' in "king" g in がぎぐげご・ガギグゲゴ like 'g' in "go" s in さすせそ・サスセソ like 's' in "sit" z in ざずぜぞ・ザズゼゾ like 'z' in "haze" t in たてと・タテト like 't' in "top" d in だでど・ダデド like 'd' in "dog" n in なにぬねの・ナニヌネノ like 'n' in "nice" h in はひへほ・ハヒヘホ like 'h' in "help" p in ぱぴぷぺぽ・パピプペポ like 'p' in "pig" b in ばびぶべぼ・バビブベボ like 'b' in "bed" m in まみむめも・マミムメモ like 'm' in "mother" y in やゆよ・ヤユヨ like 'y' in "yard" r in らりるれろ・ラリルレロ no equivalent in English, a sound between 'l', 'r' and 'd', but close to a very soft 'r' w in わ・ワ like 'w' in "wall" sh in し・シ like 'sh' in "sheep" j in じ・ジ like 'j' in "jar" ch in ち・チ like 'ch' in "touch" ts in つ・ツ like 'ts' in "hot soup" f in ふ・フ like 'f' in "food" n, ん, ン short 'n', slides towards 'm' in some cases っ・ッ (small tsu) glottal stop; the following consonant is prepared, held and stopped for the duration of one syllable. For example, にっぽん nippon is pronounced "nip-(pause)-pon". (Note that the double consonants nn, mm, which are not written with っ, do not have this pause.)
- kon'nichiwa → kon-nee-chee-wa (not kounneeCHEEua)
- sumimasen → soo-mee-mah-sen (not sue my maysen)
- onegai shimasu → oh-neh-gigh shee-mahss (not ouneeGAY SHYmessu)
Katakana are used to write foreign and loanwords and are hence a good choice for travellers to learn. The katakana set of characters encompasses exactly the same sounds as hiragana; they only look different. The table on the left only reproduces the basic character set and diacritics (カ → ガ). Combinations (キャ) apply just as for hiragana. One additional sound though is ヴ vu and combinations like ヴェ ve based on it, accommodating additional foreign sounds. Every once in a while you may spot additional ingenious combinations or use of diacritics.
Since Japanese doesn't very well accommodate rapid successions of consonants, the katakana transcription can often only approximate the actual pronunciation of a foreign word. While some words like café (カフェ kafe) can be represented quite gracefully, other words like beer (ビール bīru) or rent-a-car (レンタカー rentakā) seem slightly strange to the native English speaker. Nonetheless, many English expressions and concepts are used in everyday life, as are a number of German, French, Dutch and Portugese loanwords. Oftentimes the exact meaning of a word has changed in Japanese (de: Arbeit → アルバイト arubaito is used only for part-time work) or a completely new meaning was invented (ワンマンカー wanmankā → "one-man car", trains and buses without an inspector, only one driver), but you can usually at least guess at the meaning.
To identify a katakana word, it's usually helpful to repeat it out loud a few times and to leave out superfluous vocals, especially the 'u' in ス su and 'o' in ト to. That way ライス raisu quickly becomes "rice" and チケット chiketto becomes "ticket". Don't try too hard though, as sometimes original Japanese words are written in katakana as well, similar to the use of uppercase or italic letters in English. In addition, some words were not derived from English but from other languages such as German, French or Dutch.
Japanese sentence structure is very similar to that of Korean, so speakers of Korean will find many aspects of Japanese grammar familiar.
At its core, Japanese grammar is pretty simple, though sentence structures differ greatly from English. For instance, Japanese uses postpositions instead of prepositions (Japan in and not in Japan). It has no gender, declensions or plurals. Nouns never conjugate while adjectives follow a generally standardised conjugation pattern. However, verbs have extensive conjugation patterns and much of Japanese lessons for foreign language learners is about getting these conjugations right. Verbs and adjectives also conjugate by politeness level though, and in a rather peculiar way.
Japanese is a so called agglutinative language, meaning several morphemes which have purely grammatical functions are glued to the end of a word stem to express the grammatical function. The more the intended meaning differs from the basic form of the word, the more morphemes are glued together.
見 mi basic form
見る miru, "to see" polite basic form
見ます mimasu, "to see" (pol.) negative form
見ない minai, "to not see" pol. neg. form
見ません mimasen, "to not see" (pol.)
見た mita, "seen" pol. past tense
見ました mimashita, "seen" (pol.) neg. past tense
見なかった minakatta, "not seen" pol. neg. past tense
見ませんでした mimasendeshita, "not seen" (pol.)
見える mieru, "can see" pol. possibility
見えます miemasu, "can see" (pol.) neg. possibility
見えない mienai, "can not see"
赤 aka adjective
赤い akai, "red" negative form
赤くない akakunai, "not red" neg. past tense
赤くなかった akakunakatta, "was not red"
The hiragana syllables は ha, へ he and を wo are pronounced as wa, e and o respectively when used as a particle.
I saw the movie.
Watashi-wa eiga-o mimashita.
I-[topic] movie-[object] seen.
Japanese grammar generally employs a subject-object-verb order, but is very modular and flexible since the grammatical meaning of a word is expressed by the morphemes glued to its end and special marker particles. The two most important particles are the topic marker は wa and the object marker を o.
It becomes a little more complicated if both objects and subjects are mixed within a sentence and the subject marker が ga is thrown in.I discovered that she likes tea. 私は彼女がお茶を好きな事が分かった。
Watashi-wa kanojo-ga ocha-o sukinakoto-ga wakatta. I-[topic] she-[subj.] tea-[obj.] like-[subj.] understood.
Students of the language can spend years wrapping their heads around the difference between the topic of a sentence (marked by は wa) and the subject of a sentence (marked by が ga). However, as a beginner, you can fairly safely always use は wa to mark the person doing the action and get your message across.
Some other useful particles are:の no possessive marker The mother's child 母の子 haha no ko で de, に ni indicating places and times in Tokyo 東京で Tōkyō-de at 2 o'clock ２時に niji-ni から kara, へ e, まで made from, towards, until From here towards Osaka until Nara. ここから大阪へ奈良まで koko kara Ōsaka-e Nara-made と to, か ka and, or This and that. これとそれ kore to sore This or that. これかそれ kore ka sore か？ ka? question forming particle Are you going to Tokyo? 東京に行きますか？ Tōkyō ni ikimasu ka?
The verb "to be"
Japanese does not have an exact equivalent to the English verb "to be". Instead, the easiest way to form "A equals B" type expressions like "I am ..." or "This is ..." is the pattern A wa, B desu.私は、山田です。 Watashi wa, Yamada desu ("I [am] Yamada.") これは、りんごです。 Kore wa, ringo desu ("This [is] apple.") それは、赤いです。 Sore wa, akai desu ("That [is] red.").
The word です desu here is not a verb, it's a polite copula (linking word), which can be omitted in colloquial speech or replaced with other copulas including でした deshita (polite past), でしょう deshō (polite suggestion) or だ da (plain). The topic indicated by は wa is also optional and is often implied by context:あなたはだれですか？ Anata wa dare desu ka? ("Who [are] you?") 山田です。 Yamada desu. ("[I am] Yamada.") これは何ですか？ Kore wa nan desu ka? ("What [is] this?") りんごです。 Ringo desu. ("[This is] an apple.") それは何色ですか？ Sore wa nani-iro desu ka? ("What color [is] that?")
赤いです。 Akai desu. ("[That is] red.")
The two verbs いる iru > imasu and ある aru > arimasu express the physical presence of a person or an object respectively. To say "A is located in B", use the pattern A ga B ni imasu/arimasu:山田さんがここにいます。 Yamada-san ga koko ni imasu. ("Mr. Yamada is [physically located] here.") 本が棚にありますか？ Hon ga tana ni arimasu ka? ("Is there a book on the shelf?") はい、あります。 Hai, arimasu. ("Yes, [the book] is [on the shelf].")
Me, myself and I
As long as you're not 100% sure what you're doing you should always refer to yourself as 私 watashi and address others by their last name + さん（san）. If you feel adventurous, here are a number of ways to address people.
I私 watashi, watakushi the most common polite form for "I", lit. "private" あたし atashi informal feminine version of watashi うち uchi dialect form of watashi, lit "(my) house", usually used to refer to one's family or home 僕 boku boyish and more informal 俺 ore male speak (rude)
youあなた anata most common form for "you", not too direct あんた anta more direct, used only by females, tends to be insulting 君 kimi more direct, mostly from a man to a woman お前 omae very direct and informal, used only by males てめえ temē very rude, used only by males
More a cultural than a grammatical problem is the problem of addressing somebody. Even though there exist a multitude of words with the meaning "you", it is generally avoided to address somebody directly. The closest equivalent to "you" is あなた anata, but it's only used among friends or equals. It is usually preferred to address somebody by name, title or status, applying appropriate honorifics.
Note that in Japan, it is generally rude to address people by first name, and last names are almost always used instead. The exception to this rule are young children, and friends you are very close to. When names are written in Japanese, they always follow the Eastern name order (like Chinese and Korean names), with the last name always written before the first name, which is contrary to common practice in English-speaking countries. This means that someone known as Taro Yamada in English will have his name written as 山田太郎 (yamada tarō) in Japanese.さん -san The most basic honorific, about equivalent to Mister or Miss (no distiction between the two in Japanese). 山田さん Yamada-san: Mister Yamada 様 -sama Politer than -san, used to address people ranking higher on the social ladder. It is also used by shop assistants to address customers. ちゃん -chan Usually used to address young children. Also used to address (usually female) close friends. 君 -kun Used to address male close friends. お客様 okyaku-sama "Mister customer", used by hotel or shop owners to address you. 店長さん tenchō-san The way to address the owner of a shop, though not the part-time workers. お兄さん onī-san, お姉さん onē-san Literally brother and sister respectively, is used to address young people who you're having a hard time finding a better honorific for. お爺さん ojī-san, お婆さん obā-san "Gramps" and "granny", very popular to address old people. Cuter when used with -chan. 社長 shachō The boss of the company. そちら sochira Means something like "on your side" and is used when absolutely no better honorific can be found.
There are also several different words for "I", with 私 watashi being the most commonly used. Grammatically it's often unnecessary to use the words "you" or "I" as the intended meaning is obvious from context, so they should generally be avoided. Sometimes people will also call themselves by their own name. When doing so they must not add any additional honorifics though; one only does this when addressing others.
There's no specific form for "we" or the plural "you". To address groups of people you add the plural particle たち -tachi to somebody within the group or the group designator.私たち watashi-tachi lit. "the group around myself", meaning "we" 我々 ware-ware a less formal way of saying "we" あなたたち anata-tachi "the group around you", plural "you" 子供たち kodomo-tachi "a group of children", meaning "the children" 山田さんたち Yamada-san-tachi "the group around Yamada-san", everybody you'd associate with Mr. Yamada, based on context
Reading and writing
Reading and writing Japanese are advanced skills which take years of work to gain much real proficiency. Japanese themselves use three different writing systems of various complexity, two of which (hiragana and katakana) are syllabic and relatively easy to learn with 50 characters each.
The clincher is the set of Chinese characters known as kanji, roughly 2,000 of which are in daily use while many more exist. Kanji originated as pictures, where each character originally represented a meaning, idea or concept, not a sound as in English. Even though kanji have since evolved dramatically and many have long since jettisoned any connection to the original concept, the meaning of some simple kanji can still be easily guessed at (see below).
One difficulty in reading Japanese lies often in the fact that a kanji can have several different pronunciations. The kanji 人 for example has the meaning of a person, and by itself it may be pronounced hito. The kanji 大 means big (imagine a person with outstretched arms) and can be pronounced as dai or ō. Together they form the word 大人 otona, "adult" (lit. big person). In the word 外国人 gaikokujin ("foreigner", lit. outside country person) the same kanji 人 is pronounced jin. These pronunciations exist because a single kanji may be used to write one or more different words, or parts of words. These "readings" are normally categorized as either Sino-Japanese (音読み onyomi); a Japanese approximation of the Chinese pronunciation of the character at the time it was introduced to Japanese, or native Japanese (訓読み kunyomi); based on the pronunciation of a native Japanese word. Generally, kanji are read with their native Japanese reading when on their own (eg. 話, hanashi) and with Sino-Japanese readings when part of compound words (eg. 電話, denwa), though there are many exceptions.
While knowing Chinese will give one a huge advantage in tackling kanji, and someone who knows Chinese would generally be able to guess the meanings of new kanji with about 70% accuracy, one should still be careful. While most characters have similar meanings in both Japanese and Chinese, there are a few which have drastically different meanings. For example, the word 手紙 "hand paper" means "toilet paper" (shouzhi) in China, but "letter" (tegami) in Japan.
Kanji are mixed with hiragana and katakana in everyday writing for historical reasons. Japan adopted the Chinese hanzi system, but found it difficult to impossible to express sound-based Japanese grammatical inflections with the meaning-based Chinese characters. Hence the sound-based hiragana characters have been invented and tacked onto the end of hanzi/kanji characters. The katakana system was invented to express foreign and loan words. There are also several competing systems for rendering Japanese in the Latin alphabet, although the Hepburn romanization system is the most common and is used on Wikitravel as well. Do not be surprised if you see these words romanized differently elsewhere.
Also note that there are many homophones in Japanese, i.e. words with different meanings that have the same prononciation (like "there", "they're" and "their"). This can be confusing even to native speakers, to the extent that words have to be explained with an alternative reading or need to be drawn. These words may also employ a pitch-accent system to distinguish them, which speakers of non-tonal languages may have difficulty learning to understand.
BasicsGood afternoon. こんにちは。 Konnichiwa. (kon-neen-chee-wah) How are you? お元気ですか? O-genki desu ka? (Oh-GEN-kee dess-ka?) Fine, thank you. はい、元気です。 Hai, genki desu. (Ha-ee, gen-kee dess) How about you? あなたは？ Anata wa? (Ah-nah-tah wa) What's your name? (lit. "Your name is...") お名前は？ O-namae wa? (Oh-nah-mah-eh wah?) My name is ... . … です。 ... desu。 (... dess.) My name is .... (honorific; highly formal) ... と申します。... tomōshimasu. (toh-moh-SHEE-MAH-s) (lit. "I am called...") Nice to meet you. (formal) 始めまして。どうぞ宜しくお願いします。 Hajimemashite. Dōzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu. (Hah-jee-meh-mash-teh dohh-zoh yoh-roh-sh-ku oh-neh-gah-ee shee-mah-ss) Please. (request) お願いします。 Onegai shimasu. (oh-neh-gah-ee shee-mahs) Please. (offer) どうぞ。 Dōzo. (Dohh-zoh) This person is ... . (when introducing somebody) こちらは … Kochira wa ... (ko-chi-rah wah...) Thank you very much. (formal) どうもありがとうございます。 Dōmo arigatō gozaimasu. (doh-moh ah-ree-GAH-toh go-ZAh-ee-mah-ss) Thank you. (less formal) ありがとうございます。 Arigatō gozaimasu. (ah-ree-GAH-toh go-ZAh-ee-mahs) Thank you. (normal) ありがとう。 Arigatō. (ah-ree-GAH-toh) Thanks. (informal) どうも。 Dōmo. (doh-moh) You're welcome. どういたしまして。 Dō itashimashite. (doh EE-tah-shee mah-shteh) yes はい hai (High) no いいえ iie (EE-eh) Excuse me. すみません。 Sumimasen. (soo-mee-mah-sen) I'm sorry. ごめんなさい。 Gomen nasai. (goh-men-nah-sah-ee) I'm sorry. (informal) ごめん Gomen. (goh-men) Goodbye. (long-term) さようなら。 Sayōnara. (sa-YOHH-nah-rah) Goodbye. (informal) じゃね。 Ja ne. (Jah-neh) I can't speak Japanese (very well). 日本語が（よく）話せません。 Nihongo ga (yoku) hanasemasen. ( nee-hohn-goh gah (yo-koo) hah-nah-seh-mah-sen) Do you speak Japanese? 日本語が話せますか？ Nihongo ga hanasemasu ka? (ni-HON-go gah hah-nah-se-mahs-KAH?) Yes, a little. はい、少し。 Hai, sukoshi. (HIGH sko-shee) Do you speak English? 英語が話せますか？ Eigo ga hanasemasu ka? (EHH-goh gah hah-nah-seh-mahs-KAH?) Is there someone here who speaks English? 誰か英語が話せますか？ Dareka eigo ga hanasemasu ka? (dah-reh-kah EHH-goh gah hah-nah-seh-moss-KAH?) Please speak slowly. ゆっくり話してください。 Yukkuri hanashite kudasai. (YOO-kuree hanash-teh koo-dah-sah-ee) Please say it again. もう一度言ってください。 Mō ichido itte kudasai. (mo EE-chee-doh ee-te koo-dah-sah-ee) Please help! 助けて！ Tasukete! (tahs-keh-teh!) Look out! 危ない！ Abunai! (ah-boo-NIGH!) Good morning. お早うございます。 Ohayō gozaimasu. (oh-hah-YOH go-zah-ee-mahs) Good morning. (informal) おはよう。 Ohayō. Good evening. こんばんは。 Konbanwa. (kohn-bahn-wah) Good night (to sleep) お休みなさい。 Oyasuminasai. (oh-yah-soo-mee-nah-sigh) Good night (to sleep) (informal) お休み。 Oyasumi. I don't understand. 分かりません。 Wakarimasen. (wah-kah-ree-mah-sen) I am not Japanese. 日本人ではありません。 Nihonjin dewa arimasen. (nee-hon-jin deh-wah a-ree-ma-sehn) Where is the toilet? お手洗い・トイレはどこですか？ Otearai/toire wa doko desu ka? (Oh-teh-ah-rah-ee/toh-ee-reh wah DOH-koh dess kah?) What? 何？ Nani? (nah-nee) Where? どこ？ Doko? (doh-koh) Who? 誰？ Dare? (dah-reh) When? いつ？ Itsu? (it-soo) Which? どれ？ Dore? (doh-reh) Why? どうして Dōshite (doh-sh'teh) Why? (informal) なんで？ Nande (nahn-deh) How? どうやって？ Dōyatte (dohh-yah-teh) How much? いくら？ Ikura? (ee-koo-rah) What type of? どんな？ Donna? (dohn-nah)
What part of "no" don't you understand?
The Japanese are famously reluctant to say the word "no", and in fact the language's closest equivalent, いいえ iie, is largely limited to denying compliments you have received. ("Your Japanese is excellent! "Iie, it is very bad!"). But there are numerous other ways of expressing "no", so here are a few to watch out for.
Ii desu. Kekkō desu. "It's good/excellent." Used when you don't want more beer, don't want your bentō lunch microwaved, and generally are happy to keep things as they are. Accompany with teeth-sucking and handwaving to be sure to get your point across - both of these expressions may be interpreted as positive responses if you don't include enough nonverbal indications to the contrary. ちょっと難しいです･･･
Chotto muzukashii desu... Literally "it's a little difficult", but in practice "it's completely impossible." Often just abbreviated to sucking in air through teeth, saying "chotto" and looking pained. Take the hint. 申し訳ないですが･･･
Mōshiwakenai desuga... "This is inexcusable but..." But no. Used by sales clerks and such to tell you that you cannot do or have something. ダメです。
Dame desu. "It's no good." Used by equals and superiors to tell you that you cannot do or have something. The Kansai equivalent is akan. 違います。
Chigaimasu. "It is different." What they really mean is "you're wrong". The casual form chigau and the Kansai contraction chau are also much used.
shorter: 救急室に行かないと。 Kyūkyūshitsu ni ikanai to. How long will it take to get better? 治るのはどの位かかりますか？ Naoru no wa dono kurai kakarimasu ka? Where is a pharmacy? 薬局はどこですか？ Yakkyoku wa doko desu ka? Allergies I'm allergic to ... . 私は ... アレルギーです。 (Watashi wa ... arerugii desu.) ... antibiotics 抗生物質 (kōsei busshitsu) ... aspirin アスピリン (asupirin) ... codeine コデイン (kodein) ... dairy products 乳製品 (nyūseihin) ... food coloring 人工着色料 (jinkō chakushokuryō) ... fungus 菌類 (kinrui) ... MSG 味の素/グルタミン酸ナトリウム (ajinomoto/gurutamin san natoryūmu) ... mushrooms キノコ (kinoko) ... peanuts ピーナッツ (pīnattsu) ... penicillin ペニシリン (penishirin) ... pollen 花粉 (kafun) ... seafood 魚介類 (gyokairui) ... sesame ゴマ (goma) ... shellfish 貝類 (kairui) ... tree nuts, fruits or berries 木の実 (kinomi) ... wheat 小麦 (komugi) Explaining symptoms
Japan has more than its fair share of natural disasters.Blizzard 吹雪 (fubuki) Earthquake 地震 (jishin) Flood 洪水 (kōzui) Landslide 地滑り (jisuberi) Tsunami 津波 (tsunami) Typhoon 台風 (taifū) Volcano eruption 噴火 (funka)
While Arabic (Western) numerals are employed for most uses in Japan, you will occasionally still spot Japanese numerals at eg. markets and the menus of fancy restaurants. The characters used are nearly identical to Chinese numerals, and like Chinese, Japanese uses groups of 4 digits, not 3. "One million" is thus 百万 (hyaku-man), literally "hundred ten-thousands".
There are both Japanese and Chinese readings for most numbers, but presented below are the more commonly used Chinese readings. Note that, due to superstition (shi also means "death"), 4 and 7 typically use the Japanese readings yon and nana instead.
Down for the count
When counting objects, Japanese uses special counter words. For example, "two bottles of beer" is ビール２本 biiru nihon, where ni is "two" and -hon means "bottles". Unlike in English, where counter words are often optional or non-existent, in Japanese they're mandatory whenever you count something (e.g. 車２台 kuruma ni-dai, two cars; 台 dai counts machines). Alas, the list of possible counters is vast, but some useful ones include:
Note how many counters change form depending on the previous number: one, two, three glasses are ippai, nihai, sanbai respectively. There are also a few exceptions: one person and two people are hitori and futari. 20 years old is usually pronounced hatachi. You'll still be understood if you get these wrong though.
For numbers from one to nine, an old counting system is often used which applies to virtually any object you may want to count, without the need to attach a specific counter:1 一つ hitotsu 2 二つ futatsu 3 三つ mittsu 4 四つ yottsu 5 五つ itsutsu 6 六つ muttsu 7 七つ nanatsu 8 八つ yattsu 9 九つ kokonotsu
It is always a good idea to use a specific counter whenever possible, but using the generic numbers above is often equally acceptable. This system is rarely used anymore for numbers greater than nine.
Timenow 今 (ima) later 後で (atode) before 前に (mae ni) before ___ ___ の前に ( ___ no mae ni) morning 朝 (asa) afternoon 午後 (gogo) evening 夕方 (yūgata) night 夜 (yoru) Clock time
Clock times are formed as Chinese numeral plus 時 ji, for example, goji 5時 for five o'clock. The exception is four o'clock which is pronounced yoji (四時) instead of shiji. You will be understood if you simply substitute gozen 午前 for "AM" and gogo 午後 for PM, although other time qualifiers like 朝 asa for morning and 夜 yoru for night may be more natural. The 24-hour clock is also commonly used in official contexts such as train schedules. TV schedules occasionally use a modified 24-hour clock, with late night showtimes counted from the previous day, e.g. Monday at 26:00 indicates Tuesday at 2:00 AM.six o'clock in the morning 朝6時 (asa rokuji) nine o'clock AM 午前9時 (gozen kuji) noon 正午 (shōgo) one o'clock PM 午後1時 (gogo ichiji.) two o'clock PM 午後2時 (gogo niji) midnight 夜12時 (yoru jūniji), 零時 (rēji) Duration
Confusingly, the Japanese words for "N days" (long) and "Nth day" are the same, so eg. 二日 futsuka means both "two days" and "the second day of the month". (See #Days of the Month for the full list.) You can tag on -間 kan at the end, eg. futsukakan 2日間, to clarify that you mean "two days long". The exception is 一日, which is read ichinichi to mean "one day/all day", but tsuitachi to mean "first day"._____ minute(s) _____ 分 (fun or pun) _____ hour(s) _____ 時間 (jikan) _____ day(s) _____ 日間 (nichikan or (k)kakan, see note above) _____ week(s) _____ 週間 (shūkan) _____ month(s) _____ ヶ月 (kagetsu) _____ year(s) _____ 年 (nen) Days today 今日(kyō) yesterday 昨日(kinō) tomorrow 明日(ashita) tomorrow (formal) 明日(asu) this week 今週(konshū) last week 先週(senshū) next week 来週(raishū) Days of the week
The days of the week are named after the sun, the moon and the five elements of Chinese philosophy.Sunday 日曜日 (nichiyōbi) Monday 月曜日 (getsuyōbi) Tuesday 火曜日 (kayōbi) Wednesday 水曜日 (suiyōbi) Thursday 木曜日 (mokuyōbi) Friday 金曜日 (kin'yōbi) Saturday 土曜日 (doyōbi) Days of the month
The 1st through the 10th of the month have special names:First day of the month 1日 (tsuitachi) Second day of the month 2日 (futsuka) Third day of the month 3日 (mikka) Fourth day of the month 4日 (yokka) Fifth day of the month 5日 (itsuka) Sixth day of the month 6日 (muika) Seventh day of the month 7日 (nanoka) Eighth day of the month 8日 (yōka) Ninth day of the month 9日 (kokonoka) Tenth day of the month 10日 (tōka)
The other days of the month are more orderly, just add the suffix -nichi to the ordinal number. Note that 14, 20, and 24 deviate from this pattern.Eleventh day of the month 11日 (jūichinichi) Fourteenth day of the month 14日 (jūyokka) Twentieth day of the month 20日 (hatsuka) Twenty-fourth day of the month 24日 (nijūyokka) Months
Months are very orderly in Japanese, just add the suffix -gatsu to the ordinal number.January 1月 (ichigatsu) February 2月 (nigatsu) March 3月 (sangatsu) April 4月 (shigatsu) May 5月 (gogatsu) June 6月 (rokugatsu) July 7月 (shichigatsu) August 8月 (hachigatsu) September 9月 (kugatsu) October 10月 (jūgatsu) November 11月 (jūichigatsu) December 12月 (jūnigatsu) Seasons Spring 春 (haru) Summer 夏 (natsu) Rainy season 梅雨 (tsuyu, baiu) Autumn 秋 (aki) Winter 冬 (fuyu) Writing time and date
Dates are written in year/month/day (day of week) format, with markers:
Note that Imperial era years, based on the name and duration of the current Emperor's reign, are also frequently used. 2010 in the Gregorian calendar corresponds to Heisei 22 (平成22年), which may be abbreviated as "H22". Dates like "22/03/24" (March 24, Heisei 22) are also occasionally seen.
Interestingly, the era name doesn't necessarily change with the Gregorian calendar year, but instead on the death of the reigning Emperor. So the year 1989 is considered to be both Showa 64 and Heisei 1 - Showa up until Emperor Hirohito's death on 7 January, and Heisei from Emperor Akihito's ascension to the throne on 8 January.
Many of the English words for colors are widely used and understood by almost all Japanese. These are indicated after the slash.
Note that some Japanese colors are normally suffixed with -iro (色) to distinguish between the color and the object. For example, 茶 cha means "tea", but 茶色 chairo means "tea-color" → "brown".black 黒 / ブラック (kuro / burakku) white 白 / ホワイト (shiro / howaito) gray 灰(色) / グレー (hai(iro) / gurē) red 赤 / レッド (aka / reddo) blue 青 / ブルー (ao / burū) yellow 黄(色) / イエロー (ki(iro) / ierō) green 緑 / グリーン (midori / guriin) orange 橙 / オレンジ (daidai / orenji) purple 紫 / パープル (murasaki / pāpuru) brown 茶(色) / ブラウン (cha(iro) / buraun)
TransportationBus and train How much is a ticket to _____? _____ までいくらですか? (_____ made ikura desu ka?) One ticket to _____, please. _____ まで一枚お願いします。(_____ made ichimai onegaishimasu.) Where does this train/bus go? この電車・バスはどこ行きですか? (Kono densha/basu wa doko yuki desu ka?) Where is the train/bus to _____? _____ 行きの電車・バスはどこですか? (_____ yuki no densha/basu wa doko desu ka?) Does this train/bus stop in _____? この電車・バスは _____ に止まりますか? (Kono densha/basu wa _____ ni tomarimasu ka?) When does the train/bus for _____ leave? _____ 行きの電車・バスは何時に出発しますか? (_____ yuki no densha/basu wa nanji ni shuppatsu shimasu ka?) When will this train/bus arrive in _____? この電車・バスは何時に _____ に着きますか? (Kono densha/basu wa nanji ni _____ ni tsukimasu ka?) Directions How do I get to ...? ... はどちらですか? (_____ wa dochira desu ka?) ...the train station? 駅...? (eki...) ...the bus station? バス停...? (basu tei...) ...the airport? 空港...? (kūkō...) ...downtown? 街の中心...? (machi no chūshin...) ...the youth hostel? ユースホステル...? (yūsu hosuteru...) ...the _____ hotel? _____ ホテル...? (hoteru...) ...the _____ embassy/consulate? _____大使館/領事館...? (_____ taishikan/ryōjikan...) Where are there a lot of ... ...が多い所はどこですか? (_____ga ooi tokoro wa doko desu ka?) ...lodgings? 宿...? (yado...) ...restaurants? レストラン...? (resutoran...) ...bars? バー...? (baa...) ...sites to see? 見物...? (mimono...) Where is _____? _____はどこですか? (_____ wa doko desu ka?) Is it far from here? ここから遠いですか? (Koko kara tooi desu ka?) Please show me on the map. 地図で指して下さい。 (Chizu de sashite kudasai.) street 道 (michi) Turn left. 左へ曲がってください。 (Hidari e magatte kudasai.) Turn right. 右へ曲がってください。(Migi e magatte kudasai.) left 左 (hidari) right 右 (migi) straight ahead まっすぐ (massugu) towards the _____ _____ へ向かって (e mukatte) past the _____ _____ の先 (no saki) before the _____ _____ の前 (no mae) Watch for the _____. _____が目印です。 (ga mejirushi desu.) intersection 交差点 (kōsaten) traffic light 信号 (shingou) north 北 (kita) south 南 (minami) east 東 (higashi) west 西 (nishi) uphill 上り (nobori), also used for trains heading towards Tokyo downhill 下り (kudari), also used for trains coming from Tokyo Taxi Taxi! タクシー! (Takushii! (Taxi!)) Take me to _____, please. _____までお願いします。 (_____ made onegaishimasu.) How much does it cost to get to _____? _____ までいくらですか? (_____ made ikura desu ka) Take me there, please. そこまでお願いします。 (soko made onegaishimasu.)
LodgingDo you have any rooms available? 空いてる部屋ありますか? (Aiteru heya arimasu ka?) How much is a room for one person/two people? 一人・二人用の部屋はいくらですか? (Hitori/futari-yō no heya wa ikura desu ka?) Is the room Japanese/Western style? 和室/洋室ですか？ (Washitsu/yōshitsu desu ka?) Does the room come with... 部屋は ... 付きですか? (Heya wa ___ tsuki desu ka?) ...bedsheets? 床の枚...? (yuka no mai...) ...a bathroom? 風呂場...? (furoba...) ...a telephone? 電話...? (denwa...) ...a TV? テレビ? (terebi...) May I see the room first? 部屋を見てもいいですか? (Heya o mite mo ii desu ka?) Do you have a room that is ...? もっと ... 部屋ありますか? (Motto ... heya arimasu ka?) ...quieter? 静かな...? (shizuka na...) ...bigger? 広い...? (hiroi...) ...cleaner? きれいな...? (kirei na...) ...cheaper? 安い...? (yasui...) OK, I'll take it. はい、これで良いです。(Hai, kore de ii desu.) I will stay for _____ night(s). _____ 晩泊まります。(____ ban tomarimasu.) Do you know another place to stay? 他の宿はご存知ですか? (Hoka no yado wa gozonji desu ka?) Do you have ... ? ... ありますか? (... arimasu ka?) ...a safe? 金庫...? (kinko...?) ...lockers? 戸棚...? (todana...?) Is breakfast/supper included? 朝食・夕食は付きますか? (Chōshoku/yūshoku wa tsukimasu ka?) What time is breakfast/supper? 朝食・夕食は何時ですか? (Chōshoku/yūshoku wa nanji desu ka?) Please clean my room. 部屋を掃除してください。 (Heya o sōji shite kudasai.) Please wake me at _____. _____ に起こしてください。 (____ ni okoshite kudasai.) I want to check out. チェックアウトです。(Chekku auto (check out) desu.)
MoneyDo you accept American/Australian/Canadian dollars? アメリカ/オーストラリア/カナダドルは使えますか? (Amerika/ōsutoraria/kanada doru wa tsukaemasu ka?) Do you accept British pounds? イギリスポンドは使えますか？ (Igirisu pondo wa tsukaemasu ka?) Do you accept credit cards? クレジットカードは使えますか？ (Kurejitto kaado (credit card) wa tsukaemasu ka?) Can you change money for me? お金両替できますか？ (Okane ryōgae dekimasu ka?) Where can I get money changed? お金はどこで両替できますか？ (Okane wa doko de ryōgae dekimasu ka?) Can you change a traveler's check for me? トラベラーズチェックを両替できますか？ (Torabarāsu chekku (traveler's check) wo ryōgae dekimasu ka?) Where can I get a traveler's check changed? トラベラーズチェックはどこで両替できますか？ (Torabarāzu chekku (traveler's check) wa doko de ryōgae dekimasu ka?) What is the exchange rate? 為替レートはいくらですか？(Kawase rēto wa ikura desu ka?) Where is an automatic teller machine (ATM)? ATM はどこにありますか？ (ATM wa doko ni arimasuka?)
What are they yelling at me?
Most Japanese restaurants show their appreciation for customers by loudly greeting them in unison. Expect to hear the following:
If your meal was good, thank the chef or staff with Gochisōsama deshita when leaving, and you'll get an extra-hearty thank you in return!
On the phoneTelephone 電話 denwa Mobile phone 携帯(電話) kētai(denwa) Telephone number 電話番号 denwa bangō Phone book 電話帳 denwa chō Answering machine 留守番電話 rusuban denwa Hello (only on the phone) もしもし moshi moshi May I speak to ... . … をお願いします。... wo onegaishimasu. Is ... there? … はいらっしゃいますか？ ... wa irasshaimasu ka? Who is calling? どなたですか？ Donata desu ka? One moment, please. ちょっとお待ちください。 Chotto omachi kudasai. ... is not here right now. … は今いません。 ... wa ima imasen. I will call you again later. 後でまた電話します。 Ato de mata denwa shimasu. I got the wrong number. 間違えました。 Machigaemashita. The line is busy. 話し中です。 Hanashichū desu. What is your phone number? 電話番号は何番ですか？ Denwa bangō wa nanban desu ka?
Sake, known in Japanese as 日本酒 nihonshu, has a vocabulary all its own. Here is a brief introduction.
O, honorable prefix!
Nearly any Japanese word can be prefixed with the respectful tags o- (お) or go- (ご or 御), often translated with the unwieldy four-syllable word "honorable". A few you might expect — o-tōsan (お父さん) is "honorable father", and a few you might not — o-shiri (お尻) is "honorable buttocks". Most of the time, they're used to emphasize that the speaker is referring to the listener, so if someone enquires if after your honorable health (お元気 o-genki) it's proper to strip off the honorific and reply that you are merely genki. However, for some words like gohan (ご飯) "rice" and ocha (お茶) "tea", the prefix is inseparable and should always be used. In this phrasebook, the prefix is separated with a hyphen if it's optional (o-kane), and joined to the word if it's mandatory (oisha).
FamilyAre you married? 結婚していますか? (Kekkon shiteimasu ka?) I am married. 結婚しています。 (Kekkon shiteimasu.) I am single. 独身です。 (Dokushin desu) Do you have brothers and sisters? 兄弟はいますか? (Kyōdai wa imasu ka?) Do you have children? 子供はいますか? (Kodomo wa imasu ka?) Talking about your own family
In Japanese, it's always important to use less respectful terms for your own family and more respectful terms for another's family. Note also that the words for older/younger brother/sister are different.
DrivingI want to rent a car. レンタカーお願いします。 (Rentakā (rent-a-car) onegaishimasu.) Can I get insurance? 保険入れますか? (Hoken hairemasu ka?) Do you have a driver's license? 免許証を持っていますか? (Menkyoshō wo motteimasu ka?) stop (on a street sign) 止まれ／とまれ (tomare) one way 一方通行 (ippō tsūkō) caution 徐行 (jokō) no parking 駐車禁止 (chūsha kinshi) speed limit 制限速度 (seigen sokudo) gas (petrol) station ガソリンスタンド (gasorin sutando) petrol ガソリン (gasorin) diesel 軽油/ディーゼル (keiyu / diizeru)
In Japan, you can legally be incarcerated for twenty-three (23) days before you are charged, but you do have the right to see a lawyer after the first 48 hours of detention. Note that if you sign a confession, you will be convicted.I haven't done anything (wrong). 何も(悪いこと)していません。(Nani mo (warui koto) shiteimasen.) It was a misunderstanding. 誤解でした。 (Gokai deshita.) Where are you taking me? どこへ連れて行くのですか？ (Doko e tsurete yukuno desu ka?) Am I under arrest? 私は逮捕されてるのですか？ (Watashi wa taiho sareteruno desu ka?) I am a citizen of ____. ____ の国民です。 (____ no kokumin desu.) I want to meet with the ____ embassy. ____ 大使館と会わせて下さい。 (____ taishikan to awasete kudasai.) I want to meet with a lawyer. 弁護士と会わせて下さい。(Bengoshi to awasete kudasai.) Can it be settled with a fine? 罰金で済みますか？ (Bakkin de sumimasu ka?)
Note: You can say this to a traffic cop, but bribery is highly unlikely to work in Japan.
Typical Japanese expressions
Four syllable words
If words can be shortened, Japanese will inevitably shorten them. Two by two syllables is often the sweet spot, and sometimes it's hard to guess where those came from.
General agreement. Especially old people can be heard going sō desu ne back and forth quite a few times. （大変）お待たせしました。 (Taihen) omataseshimashita. "I have made you wait (terribly) long."
Used as an excuse after any amount of downtime, even just seconds. Often also used as a starter to get things going again. お疲れさまでした。 Otsukaresama deshita. "It's been honorably tiresome."
To colleagues in the sense of "you gave it all, good work", but more generally at the end of almost any activity. 頑張って！ Ganbatte! "Give it your best!"
Meant to be encouraging and motivating. いただきます。 Itadakimasu. "I will receive."
To yourself before starting to eat or when accepting something offered to you. 失礼します。 Shitsurei shimasu. "I will trouble you." or "I will be impolite."
When entering your superiors room or an unfamiliar house, when trying to get someone's attention or generally when interrupting someone. 失礼しました。 Shitsurei shimashita. "I have troubled you." or "Excuse my impoliteness."
When leaving your superiors room or an unfamiliar house or generally as "Sorry to have bothered you, carry on." 大丈夫。 Daijōbu. "It is alright."
For general reassurance. Used with desu ka? to inquire if something or somebody is alright. 凄い！ Sugoi! "Great!", "Incredible!"
Very popular amongst girls and greatly overused. 可愛い！ Kawaii! "How cute!"
See sugoi. ええぇ〜 Eee~ "Reallyyyyyyy~?"
Almost a standard reaction to any kind of news. Can be lengthened indefinitely and is hence useful to stall for time when thinking about a real answer. ウソ！ Uso! "Lie!"
Doesn't necessarily accuse one of lying, usually used in the sense of "Seriously?!"
Japanese makes extensive use of honorific language (敬語 keigo) when talking to people of higher status. Keigo is famously difficult to master and even Japanese salespeople often need to take special courses to learn to speak correctly, but it is very commonly used in situations like salespeople talking to customers and train announcements, so even passive familiarity with the most common keigo verbs and constructs can be very handy.Respectful form
When talking to someone of higher status than yourself, it is important to use a respectful form (尊敬語 sonkeigo) when talking about the other person. Generally, this follows the pattern お～になる(o ~ ni naru), where ～ represents the stem of the basic polite form: eg. to read, 読む(yomu), basic polite form 読みます(yomimasu) becomes お読みになる(o-yomi-ni-naru). The naru at the end follows the normal conjugation patterns for naru, most commonly becoming narimasu (present) or narimashita (past). The main exceptions are listed below:
- To see: 見る becomes ご覧になる (goran-ni-naru).
- To eat/drink: 食べる/飲む becomes 召し上がる (meshi-agaru).
- To come/go/be at a place: 来る/行く/いる becomes いらっしゃる (irassharu). (basic polite form いらっしゃいます irasshaimasu and not いらっしゃります)
- To know: 知る becomes ご存知だ (gozonji-da).
- To give (to yourself): くれる becomes 下さる (kudasaru). (basic polite form 下さいます kudasaimasu and not 下さります)
- To do: する becomes なさる (nasaru). (basic polite form なさいます nasaimasu and not なさります)
- To say: 言う becomes おっしゃる (ossharu) (basic polite form おっしゃいます osshaimasu and not おっしゃります)
When talking about yourself to someone of higher status than you, it is important to put yourself down by using a humble form (謙遜語 kensongo). Generally this follows the pattern お～する (o ~ suru), where ～ reprents the stem of the basic polite form: eg. to borrow, 借りる(kariru), basic polite form 借ります (karimasu) becomes お借りする (o-kari-suru). The suru at the end follows the usual conjugation pattern of suru, most commonly becoming shimasu (present) or shimashita (past); for an extra helping of humility, the verb 致す itasu > 致します itashimasu can be substituted. The main exceptions are listed below:
- To see: 見る becomes 拝見する (haiken-suru).
- To come/go: 来る/行く becomes 参る (mairu).
- To eat/drink/receive: 食べる/飲む/もらう becomes いただく (itadaku)
- To give: あげる becomes さし上げる (sashi-ageru).
- To do: する becomes 致す (itasu)
- To know: 知る becomes 存じる (zonjiru)
- To say: 言う becomes 申し上げる (mōshi-ageru)
- My name is: いう becomes 申す (mōsu)
The third type of keigo is called simply "polite language", or teineigo (丁寧語). Whereas respectful and humble language refer to the subject (you and I), teineigo is used to simply imply respect to the listener. An example:りんごをご覧になりますか？ Ringo wo goran ni narimasuka? Can you see the apple? (respectful) りんごを拝見します。 Ringo wo haiken shimasu. I see the apple. (humble) 彼もりんごを見ます。 Kare mo ringo wo mimasu. He also sees the apple. (polite)
In fact, the desu copula and the -masu form taught to beginning students of Japanese are both examples of teineigo. A few verbs and adjectives have special teineigo forms:to be aru (ある) → gozaru (ござる、御座る) (basic polite form ございます (gozaimasu) and not ござります) to die shinu (死ぬ) → nakunaru (亡くなる) good ii/yoi (いい/良い) → yoroshii (よろしい)
Country and territory names
Country and territory names in Japanese are generally borrowed from their English names and written in katakana. The names of languages are generally formed by adding 語 (go) to the end of the country name. Some of the main exceptions are as follows:日本 Nihon/Nippon , 日本国 Nihon-koku Japan 中国 Chūgoku, 中華人民共和国 Chūka jinmin Kyouwa koku China (or, confusingly, Western Honshu) 台湾 Taiwan Taiwan 香港 Honkon Hong Kong 韓国 Kankoku South Korea 北朝鮮 Kitachōsen North Korea ドイツ Doitsu Germany イギリス Igirisu, 英国 Eikoku (written) United Kingdom インド Indo India タイ Tai Thailand フランス Furansu France イタリア Itaria Italy イスラエル Isuraeru Israel アメリカ Amerika, 米国 Beikoku (written) United States of America (not the whole American continent) 南アフリカ Minami-afurika South Africa オランダ Oranda The Netherlands ベルギー Berugī Belgium ハンガリー Hangarī Hungary エチオピアー Echiopia Ethiopia アラブ首長国連邦 Arabu-shuchōkoku-rempō United Arab Emirates 豪州 Gōshū , オーストラリア Ōsutoraria Australia
Offensive LanguageFool or idiot (Kanto) バカ (baka) Fool or idiot (Kansai) アホ (aho) Doing something untimely まぬけ (manuke) A slow person のろま (noroma) Being bad at something 下手 (heta) Being very bad at something 下手糞 (hetakuso) A stingy person ケチ (kechi) An old man ジジイ (jijii) An old woman ババア (babaa) Not being cool ダサイ (dasai)* Fussy or depressing ウザイ (uzai)* Creepy キモイ (kimoi)* Drop dead! くたばれ (kutabare) Get out of the way! どけ (doke) Noisy! うるさい (urusai) Shit 糞 (kuso) Pervert スケベ (sukebe)
- These words are mostly used by young people
- WWWJDIC — English-Japanese-English dictionary including sentence translation, kanji lookup and place/personal name dictionary
- Tae Kim's Guide to Japanese Grammar — Comprehensive online/printable grammar guide building up from casual Japanese using first principles (as opposed to working sideways from polite phrasebook Japanese)
- Japanese LinguaLift — Learn, review, and practice Japanese in one easy to use package.
- JLearn An comprehensive Online Dictionary with full audio and excellent searching capability
- RomajiDesu English-Japanese Dictionary — an English-Japanese dictionary that including example sentences, kanji lookup and kanji stroke order diagram.
- L-Lingo Japanese — A free 40 lesson online learn Japanese application
- Charles Kelly's Online Japanese Language Study Materials — A collection of online study aids and quizzes
- Learn Japanese by listening — Some Japanese lessons in mp3.
- Listen to the pronunciation of Japanese Phrases — Audio Pronunciation of Japanese Phrases.
- Learn to speak Japanese - One at a Time — Daily Japanese lessons.
- Jisho.org — Another English-Japanese-English dictionary, but, with a deceptively powerful bookmarklet to assist reading kanji on websites.
- Denshi Jisho The best ressource for japanese electronic dictionaries
- 100 top resources to learn Japanese
- Kansai Dialect Self-study Site — The best Kansai dialect lecture in English.
- Remembering the Kanji 1 by James W. Heisig (1977) — Extremely well-known book detailing just the meanings of most kanji and mnemonics to assist with retaining those meanings. Follow-up texts cover Chinese onyomi readings and all that again for less common naming kanji.