6 Japanese words you need to know before you go!

While it is true that many Japanese people speak at least a little English (in the main centers at least) ,there are a few words everybody should learn before going. I actually tried to learn a lot more Japanese, but found that these were really the only words  that I ended up using.  Even if you aren't planning on learning Japanese  memorizing just these phrases will go a long way. While it is possible to get by with English alone, Japanese people really appreciate you trying to speak at least a little bit of Japanese.  

1. Sumimasen

This word gives you some bang for your buck. It is similar to 'sorry' or 'excuse me' in English. It can be used in a variety of ways such as : 
  • A casual apology for situations like bumping into somebody- a very likely scenario in busy cities like Tokyo. 
  • Say it before asking for assistance  from somebody. I.e: If you need help find your hotel you could start by saying to a passerby: ' ' Sumimasen ' then 'Eigo?' (pronounced egg - oh)  in a questioning tone . This means ' Excuse me , english ? '  If all else fails just start with 'Sumimasen' then speak English, it is still more polite than just running up to someone and speaking English right off the bat. 
  • Getting store clerk or a waitresses attention. I.e: 'Sumimasen, Eigo menu?'
  • Sumimasen can also be used as 'thank you' when somebody has taken their time to do something for you. It's sort of like saying you appreciate the trouble they went to for you (in that way it is a bit like a grateful 'sorry'). 
This can seem a bit confusing , but honestly you will hear 'Sumimasen' so much it will become clear quickly. 

2. Gomenasai

This translates to 'I am sorry' . It is a more serious apology than 'sumimasen'. While you hopefully won't need to use this , it is certainly something you should know before going. If a situation arises that you need to properly apologize, it is nice to know how to say it straight away. Say you knock over a massive store display with your backpack ,or accidentally walk into a restricted area because you can't read any of the signs, you don't want to be hunting for a phrase book. So learn how to say 'Gomenasai' with feeling, just in case.

If you make a small blunder you could shorten it to 'Gomen' which is more casual. 

Basically, if you feel like you have offended somebody or caused a problem use Gomenasai .

Also while looking for an image for this I found out there is a t.A.T.u song called Gomenasai that was made after they didn't do a scheduled live performance for their Japanese fans. Listening to that would be one way of memorizing 'Gomenasai' I suppose... The animation is hilariously bad. You have been warned.

via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVGS1XjFpe0

3. Domo

No, not that domo... 
 You can use Domo in multiple ways . It can be used as : 
  • A casual way of saying thanks. Something you would use to say thanks to a cashier or store person . 
  • To say 'Hi' or 'Hello !' 
  • Or to say 'Nice to meet you'. 


Hai means 'Yes' ,but also, 'This is satisfactory.' For example when a cashier counts back your change and places it in your hand you can say ' Hai , domo.'  As in ' Thats fine , thanks'. 

5. Arigato 

via https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmaruyama/3309783771

means 'thanks'. It is more polite than 'Domo'.  To be more formal just add 'gozaimasu' to the end. If a staff member went the extra mile for you you would say Arigato instead of 'Domo'.  If you really want to express gratitude 'Domo arigato' means thank you very much. 

6. 'Kore wa Kudasai' 

via https://www.modernrestaurantmanagement.com/whats-in-a-menu/

Ok , you got me, this is not one word. 'Kore' = something close to the speaker. 'Kudasai' = please. If you don't speak much Japanese you can get by in stores or restaurants by saying 'Sumimasen' (Excuse me) followed by pointing to what you want and saying 'Kore wa Kudasai' (This one please). In Japan there are often photos of the food in the menu, as well as 3D models of the food at the front of the restaurant. If no English menu is available you can simply point and say 'Kore wa kudasai'. 

Bonus words 

(You probably already know one from that Gwen Stefani song from way back , am I right ? )
via http://disgrasian.com/tag/free-the-harajuku-girls/

Also what ever happened to those girls? Do you think they still talk to Gwen? Did they ever talk to Gwen? I need answers! 

Kawaii ! = Cute!

You will get a lot of use out of this in Japan as well . There is no shortage of cute things. Cute people , cute dogs , cute food, cute stores ,cute road signs ... I know its cliche, but I really did catch myself saying Kawaii a lot.

via https://www.dramafever.com/news/japanese-pms-wife-condemns-kawaii-girl-trend-for-negative-effects-on-women/

 Oishii ! = yum ! tasty! delicious!

via https://www.tumblr.com/search/cute%20japanese%20cafe

You will eat yummy food in Japan. This is unavoidable . It probably says a lot about me as a person that this had to be included . After enjoying a nice meal you can say ' mmm Oishii, domo arigato gozaimasu!' 

So what do you think of this list? Did you find it helpful? Anything to add? Were there too many early 2000s references ? 

Let me know in the comments! 

Chloe Hamilton