2| The Language

The word ‘Japan’ in Japanese is ‘Nihon‘ (also referred to as ‘Nippon’). The language is referred to as ‘Nihongo’ (日本語).

Theoretically, the Japanese language can take years to fully comprehend, as there are numerous rules that do not directly translate into English. Don’t let this deter you! There are many simple phrases to be learned. The Japanese are a kind and polite people, so even when they cannot understand you, they will attempt to help you. There is also quite a portion that speak English due to their profession (for example, if you book into a well known travelers hotel, the staff are very likely to be bilingual). English is also a second language in Japan for most of the general public, as it is taught in schools and is needed for a lot of foreign business. If you are ever in need of help, go up to someone and ask, “Sumi masen. Anata wa eigo o hanashimasu ka?” (“Excuse me. Do you speak English?”). A simpler version is; “Eigo o hanashimasu ka?”

I am a big believer that you should be taught the correct way to spell the characters. I will always write it as it is spelled, not as it is necessarily pronounced. So here I would like to share some helpful tips:
Japanese is spoken very fast and so something to be wary of is how the end of sentences may drop off, or how two sounds may combine. This makes it hard for foreigners, who only learn from textbooks, to follow a native speaker. For example, there is a term in Japanese that is used to end sentences politely. It is ‘de-su’ (です). However, it is only pronounced ‘des’. The same goes for other ends of sentences, such as ‘i-ma-su’ (います) which is ‘ee-mas’.  Another example, “su-ki-de-su” (すきです) which means “I like”, will mostly be pronounced as “ski-des”.
Another thing to remember is that the punctuation is not the same as English speaking countries. For example, there is no such thing as the question mark. Instead, at the end of a question, the character ‘ka’ (か) is used. Full stops also resemble little circles, not dots. 

Basic Phrases

Hello                            Konnichiwa                              こんにちは
Good morning            Ohayo gozaimasu                   おはようございます
Good evening             Konbanwa                                こんばんは
Good night                  Oyasumi nasai                         お休みなさい
Farewell                      Sayonara                                   さようなら

Yes                               Hai                                 はい
No                                Iie                                   いいえ
No, thank you            Iie, kekko desu              いや、けっこうです
Please                         Dozo/onegai shimasu    どうぞ
Thank you                  Arigato                          ありがとう
You’re welcome         Do itashimashite          どういたしまして
I’m sorry                     Gomen nasai                 ごめんなさい
Excuse me                  Sumimasen                   済みません

How?               Dono yoni?                  どのように
What?              Nani?                           何
Where?            Doko?                          どこ
Which?             Dono?                          どの

I’m lost                                    Mayotte shimai mashita                         迷ってしまいました
Can you help me?                  Tetsudatte kuremasuka?                      手伝ってくれますか
I’m looking for [Name]         [Name] wo sagashite imasu                  [Name]を探しています
How much is this?                 Kore wa ikura desuka?                         これはいくらですか

For more phrases, I suggest Linguanaut.

Learning the Language

If you are looking to learn more than choice phrases, I recommend finding some online classes or scouring YouTube channels for lessons. Most public library websites have a variety of databases available for online learning. A popular language learning database is Byki, because once you are a member of the library, it is free to use. It also teaches more than Japanese; you can learn almost any foreign language.

Find Byki online here.
Note: This version of Byki requires you to be a member of the Ipswich City Council Libraries. To register as a member, you must be a resident of the greater Ipswich or Brisbane region.

If you learn better with something less interactive but more self paced, I would suggest:
 Japanese Pod 101
And the affiliated YouTube channel.


I have personally used many phrasebooks over the course of the last 6 years. I can honestly say, the best two are the following. A great plus is that you can purchase both for under $10 each from the Book Depository (free shipping too!). Both include the correct terms for basic greetings, arriving and leaving the airport, getting around, accommodation, dining, socializing, what to say in emergencies or if you get lost, and much more.

Longely Planet’s Japanese Phrasebook & Dictionary 
Lonely Planet Japanese Phrasebook and Dictionary | via Shiki Book Japan

Purchase it here.

Frommer’s Japanese Phrasefinder & Dictionary
Frommer's Japanese Phrasefinder Dictionary | via Shiki Book Japan

Purchase it here.

Have you got any learning tips of your own? Comment below!

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