Japan is one of the countries that is quite sexily tempting for travelers. But, it is known that there are many travelers become extra anxious when they are about to go to Japan. The main problem lies on its language.

Although Japan has been famous as being one of the most advanced countries in the world, it is known that Japanese people, probably most of them, can’t speak English.

Even some informations in English are not correctly written (and it ended up creating the term “Engrish” which is English in Japanese style). On the other hand, not every travelers have the time to learn Japanese prior setting their foot on that Sakura country, do they?

Should we learn Japanese before going there? Via youtube
Should we learn Japanese before going there? Via youtube

Considering that English is still unfamiliar for most Japanese people, there is nothing wrong for travelers to learn several phrase in Japanese prior travelling there. Not to be fluent speaking it, but it is just so you can ask direction properly to avoid getting lost or to find the informations needed. For example, you can use it to ask if the food contains pork, asking the operasional hour of a tourism object, and such thing.

The question is, from so many words and sentences in Japanese that a traveler must know, which words and sentences are the survival phrase; i mean, the very essential ones to know by travelers? Here are some tips that you can learn on:

Example of Engrish on an information board in Japan, via shichinohe.blogspot
Example of Engrish on an information board in Japan, via shichinohe.blogspot


As my Japanese skill is just on the “aisatsu” level (introduction) and “mainichi kaiwa” (daily conversation), please correct me if I am wrong. You can also add some if you like

1. Sumimasen

Translation: sorry, excuse me

Literally, sumimasen means sorry (polite version). To be more formal, you can use sumimasen deshita (I’m sorry for what I did). But actually, sumimasen is a magical word that can be applied on various things.

For example, you can use it to ask permission before doing something, calling a person, as an opening sentence before questioning someone, and even to say thanks. In other word, if you really have no time to learn English, at least you can learn to pronounce sumimasen correctly to help you adapt in various situations.


Itsumo sumimasen = I am sorry I’ve been bothering you (can also be translated to “thank you for helping me”).

Sumimasen, eki wa doko desu ka? = Excuse me, where is the station?

Okurete sumimasen! = sorry I’m late.


The suffix –ka defines a question sentence. To answer the question, use the suffix –desu


2. Gomennasai

Translation: sorry

Gomennasai, or it could also be shorten into gomen ne or just gomen, is another way to apologize. Generally gomennasai is used on a more casual situation or amongst friends. Unlike sumimasen which can be used to replace “excuse me” and “thank you” on some situation, gomennasai is purely for apologizing.


Hontou ni gomennasai! = I am really sorry!


3. Arigatou

Translation: thank you

To say thanks to someone (like if someone has helped you showing directions or gave you something), use the word arigatou that means “thank you” or arigatou gozaimasu for a more polite version.

For a more funky and casual situation, you can simply say doumo, or sankyu which is a Japanese dialect for the word thank you. The response word for arigatou or sankyu is dou itashimashite or kochirakoso (means similar to “you’re welcome”), or to be easier, simply replying with hai which can be translated as a yes.


Oishii keiki wo arigatou! = thank you for this delicious cake!

Tetsudatte kurete arigatou = thanks for helping (me).


Oishii means delicious, while keiki is Japanese dialect for the English word cake

Tetsudatte comes from the word tetsudau which means “help”. But this word could mean slightly different, depending on its usage on sentence.


4. Wakarimasen

Translation: don’t understand

Sometimes we need to explain that we don’t understand Japanese, so the person we talk to (who uses Japanese) could talk slower. Or, sometimes we need to show that we don’t understand about something. For such moments, use the word wakarimasen which means (I) don’t understand. The positive form of wakarimasen is wakaru (understand).


Sumimasen, watashi wa nihongo ga wakarimasen = sorry, I don’t understand Japanese language (nihongo = Japanese language).

Nihongo ga wakarimasen = (I) don’t understand Japanese language.

Anata no itta koto ga wakarimasen = (I) don’t understand what you are saying.

Eigo ga wakarimasu ka? = (do you) understand English?


5. Shirimasen

Translation: don’t know

If wakarimasen means don’t understand, then shirimasen means don’t know. Use this word if you need to express that you don’t know about something or to ask if the person you talk to know what we are asking about. The positive form of shirimasen is shirimasu which means know.


Halal resutoran o shirimasu ka? = (do you) know any halal restaurants?

Halal resutoran o shirimasen = (I) don’t know any halal restaurant.


6. Eigo

Translation: English

Sometimes we need to make sure if the person we talk to understand English or not. You can use the word eigo which means “English” to ask to that person. The question is generally something like this:


Anata wa eigo ga hanasemasu ka? = Can you speak English?


Hanasemasuka is a questional form of the word hanase which means “could speak”. For negative answer, the person we talk to will usually start with the word iie which means “no” and there will also be the word hanasemasen (can’t speak).


7. Ikura

Translation: how much, how many

Let’s just admit it, when travelling to anywhere, it would be so hard to avoid shopping activities. Same goes with when we travel to Japan. To ask how much is the price of something, or to ask how much we need to pay, just say ikura which means “how much” (for price).


Kore wa ikura desu ka? = how much is this (the price)?

Zenbu de ikura desu ka? = how much (do I have to pay for) everything?


8. Itsu

Translation: when

On every tourism trip, there would be a time for us to ask time to other people. For example, to ask the departure hour of train/bus or to ask the operasional hour of a tourism object. Due to that, the word itsu becomes one of the words required to know by travelers who are going to Japan.


Chikatetsu ga itsu desu ka? = when does the subway (arrive)?


9. Nani

Translation: what

This word is one of the word required to know by travelers. Nani or nan means “what”. Everytime you got unsure of something, use nani to express confusion or to ask something.


Nani? = what?

Nani ga arimasu ka? = what’s up?

Nan ji desu ka? = what time is it?


ji means “time”. Nan ji means “what time”.


For sentences, here are some simple sentences that probably could help you while you are in Japan.

  • Watashi wa ________ desu = I am _________

Explanation: The empty part is filled with name of a person, country of origin, and such things.


Watashi wa Vie desu = I am Vie

Short Dictionary (could be filled on the empty part):

Indonesia-jin = Indonesian person
Nihon-jin = Japanese person
Igirisu-jin = English person
Furansu-jin = French person


  • _______ wa doko desu ka? = Where is _______ [name of place]?

Explanation: use this sentence to ask direction of a place.


Akihabara wa doko desu ka? = Where is Akihabara?

Short Dictionary:

Hakubutsukan = museum
Doubutsuen = zoo
Eki = station
Suupaa = supermarket
Konbini = convenience store
Toire = toilet
Hoteru = hotel
Resutoran = restaurant
Keitsatsu = police
Koban = police office
Byoin = hospital
Kuukou = airport
Uchi = home


  • _________ wa nan desu ka? = What is ___________?

Explanation: use this sentence to ask about something, or to ask explanation of an information.


Kore wa nan desu ka? = what is that?

Ai wa nan desu ka? = what is love? (woohoo!)


  • ________ onegai shimasu! = Help/please __________

Explanation: the word onegai shimasu is actually a little bit difficult to translate literally. Shimasu more or less means like “doing”, and onegai comes from the word anegau which means something. So onegai shimasu can be translated as a request to do something (for us).


Tasukete onegai shimasu! = (please) help me!

Yukkuri hanashite onegai shimasu! = please talk more slowly! (my favorite phrase everytime I came to not understand what other person is saying)


  • ________ ga taberarenai = (I) can’t eat __________

Explanation: Moslem travelers, or travelers with allergy to some kinds of food, often needs to explain their situation. Taberarenai is a form of “can not” (do) _______ from the word taberu which means “to eat”. Use these words below to complete the sentence above.


Buta niku ga taberarenai = (I) can’t eat pork.

Short Dictionary:

Sushi = sushi
Niku = beef
Buta niku = pork
Pooku = pork
Niwa tori = chicken
Sakana = fish
Piinatsu = peanut
Yasai = vegetables


  • ______ ga nomimasen = (I) don’t drink _______ (fill with a name of beverage)”


Biiru ga nomimasen = I don’t drink beer

Short Dictionary:

Biiru = beer
Sake = sake (alcoholic beverage made of rice). “sake” is also a general form of alcoholic beverage in Japanese language.
Gyunyu= cow’s milk
Mizu = water


Short Vocabs

Here are some other words that might be useful when travelling to Japan. 

  • Transportation

Train = densha
Subway = chikatetsu
Bus = basu
Ticket = kippu
Taxi = takushi
Station = eki

  • Direction and Distance

Right = migi
Left = hidari
Straight = massugu
Front = mae
Back = ushiro
North = kita
South = minami
West = nishi
East = higashi
Far = tooi
Near = chikai

  • Expression and Greetings

Good morning = ohayou gozaimasu or simply just ohayou
Good afteroon = konnichiwa. This word can also replace the greetings like “hello”
Good evening = konbanwa
Hungry = hara hetta, literally means “empty stomach”. To be shorter, you can use the word “peko-peko”(a mimic to the sound of empty stomach in Japanese)
Full stomach = ippai
It’s okay (no problem) = daijoubu

  • On Emergency Situation

Stop! = yamete! (use it if someone is trying to mess with you and you want them to stop doing it)

Don’t! = dame!
Dangerous = abunai
Harrasment on train = chikan! (if someone is harrassing you on a train, scream the word “chikan” to get attention from other passengers)
Wait! = chotto!
Wait a moment! = chotto matte kudasai



  • Pronounciation in Japanese is not much different with pronounciation in Bahasa, so say the words/sentence as plainly as it reads (unlike the pronounciations in English).

Example: arigatou (thank you) is read as a-ri-ga-to, instead of ah-ree-gah-towhChikatetsu (subway) is read as chi-ka-tet-su, instead of chi-kah-tet-suhSashimi is read as sa-shi-mi, instead of sah-shee-meeDare is read as da-re, not der.

  • The letter at the end of a word is read as ng. So if you say sumimasen or gomen, say it as sumimaseng and gomeng (although some people prefer to say just sumimasen and gomen)
  • The suffix –su at the end of a sentence is read as just s. For example: desu is read as des, and onegai shimasu is read as onegai shimas.
  • Still confused with the pronounciations in Japanese, or you find it hard to memorize the words and phrases above? Just relax. Foreigners will be understood if they can’t understand or doesn’t really know about Japanese. Simply say sumimasen and wakarimasen, and you will be just fine!


Feel free if anyone of you wanna add or correct something. I hope it’s useful!


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