50 Japanese Words You Need to Know Before Going to Japan
Going to Japan? You might be wondering how much Japanese you need to know.
In some places you can get by with virtually no Japanese and only English. In others, very few people would know English to help you. Regardless, here is a list of some Japanese words that are important to know to help you get by.
Japanese Words for Emergency Situations
Sometimes, things are out of our control. In these times it’s helpful to know some key words, just in case. Knowing these words could save lives, including your own!
This word means “fire”. Remember the safety steps you were hopefully taught as a child in case of a fire if you ever hear this word, and remain safe.
This word is related to the one above. It essentially means “fire department”. This can be important to know in a life-or-death situation.
This word essentially translates to first-aid and related emergencies. The ambulance is called 救急車 (kyuukyuusha).
If you are dealing with someone unconscious, relay this to the appropriate authorities. It means “unconscious”, as in an unconscious person.
This means “doctor”. If you need to go to the doctor, you may want to go to a 病院 (byouin), a “hospital”.
This means “danger”. If you ever see this on a sign, perhaps it’s best to stay away. If someone tells you this, or 危ない (abunai), which means similar, then be careful and mindful of your surroundings.
This means “police”. This could come in very handy. If you are ever endangered, you may need to yell 助けて (tasukete) so, which essentially means “help me” if ever you are really in desperate need.
Japanese Words for Travelling
Hopefully you don’t have to worry about any emergency situations while in Japan and you can enjoy your trip. Knowing some very basic things can help you get around so you can do just that.
This may come in handy! It means “English”, as in “Do you speak english?” Presumably your English is better than your Japanese if you’re reading this, so this word can be a huge help.
This means “airport”. If you need to know where the airport is, you can just say, “kuukou, doko?”
This means “train station”. In Japan, train stations are very important as a centres of travel. For instance, Shibuya eki would be the train station in Shibuya, etc.
This means Japan. If you’re a fan of sake and want to drink there, then you’ll want to order nihonshu (sake just refers to all alcoholic beverages).
This is what you’d call a “taxi”. Can be important for getting around.
This translates to “restaurant”. Japan has some very delicious and unique foods, so be sure to try lots of different restaurants.
Meaning “convenience store”. If you see this, then know you can get all sorts of great things, especially food. Can be important if you’re just looking for something quick to eat.
Japanese Words for Interacting with Others
When you travel to another country, in a sense, you are an ambassador of your own country. It is important to be polite and courteous when you’re in Japan. These words will help:
Say this when expressing thanks.
Say this if you bump into someone or are in someone’s way, it’s like a quick little, “sorry”.
This is also like “sorry”, you can it say when you bump against someone as well.
失礼します (shitsurei shimasu)
Say this when you want to politely leave a room. Think of it like “pardon me”.
Add this to the end of a noun to mean “It’s (insert noun)”, in a polite way. So, if someone asks you your name, you can say, “(your name) desu”, and people will know how to refer to you.
For more information on the politeness of Japanese, check out this post about Japanese honorifics.
Japanese Words for Numbers and Prices
You may not count or number things while in Japan, but it’s almost a certainty that you will buy something. It’s important to know the cost of such things, so here’s a quick list for you. There are different ways to read these depending on the context, but here I’ll present the most relevant ways to pronounce these numbers.
Believe it or not, but with the information covered so far you can count all the way up to 999 in Japanese. To say “19”, you could say “juukyuu”, or what would be like saying ten-nine in English. To say “36”, you could say “sanjuuroku”, or what would in English be like saying three-ten-six.
It’s very similar with the hundreds, but since 百 (hyaku) begins with that soft “h” sound, it can become a harder sounding sound like “p” or “b”. To say one hundred would be to say “hyaku” or “ippyaku”, 200 would be “nihyaku”, 300 would be “sanbyaku”, 400 would be “yonhyaku”, 500 would be “gohyaku”, 600 would be “roppyaku”, 700 would be “nanahyaku”, 800 would be “happyaku”, and 900 would be “kyuuhyaku”.
To say 954, for example, you’d say the English equivalent of “nine-hundred-five-ten-four”, or “kyuuhyakugojuuyon”. This continues beyond to the other numbers as well.
This is the kanji for the Japanese Yen. It is also represented by the symbol, ¥, to indicate the price of something.
The following is a list of miscellaneous words that may be important to know in Japan.
This means “go”, as in “I’m going to the train station.” If, for instance, you were going to your hotel, you could just say “hoteru, ikimasu” and people will know what you mean.
This word makes any noun into a verb. For instance, you could say, “nomimono shimasu”, it would be saying that you’re “doing” drinks (nomimono=drinks). It can mean you’re going drinking, or ordering drinks or the like. It’s very versatile.
This means to stop. Also look out for “tomare”, which is a less polite version of this word. If someone yells that out at you, it would probably be best to follow what they say. If you see the 止 symbol on the street, treat it like a stop sign.
This means “speak”. You can say “eigo de hanashimasu” if you want to speak using English instead of Japanese.
This means “to talk”, expect to hear this from those wondering if you can speak x language. If you are asked, “Nihongo shaberimasu ka?” (can you speak Japanese), you can say, presumably, “iie” (no), or if you’re asked “Eigo shaberimasu ka?” (can you speak English), you can say, “hai” (yes).
This means “to understand”. If you’re asked “wakarimasu ka?”, you’re being asked if you understand something. This word could come in handy if you’re not sure the one you’re speaking with understands what you’re saying.
If you ever fall down or something bad happens to you, you can just say, “daijoubu” to let everyone know that you’re fine.
This word means, “bad”.
This means “big”. If you see the symbol 大 on a fancy toilet, know that it means “big flush”.
This means “small”. If you see the symbol 小 on a fancy toilet, know that it means “small flush”.
This means “bad” as well, in different ways. It can mean, “my bad,” if you want to apologize, and it can mean “evil”. Context is important in Japanese.
This means “good,” or “fine”.
This means “red”. It may be useful when on the street.
This means “blue”. It may be useful when on the street (though traffic lights may be green, in Japanese it’s referred to as blue.) Well, to be more specific, “ao” moreso has a bit more meaning than “blue” in English, stretching into green as well, but there’s a wholly different word for green, “midori”. I’d recommend just accepting the cultural difference.
This means “(your) name”. If someone asks for your name, you can just say “(insert name) desu.” and it should be fine.
Say this when ordering food or even buying things. Name you’re order and say “(w)o kudasai” after it, and you should be golden. You can also replace “kudasai” with “negai” if you want.
This means “allergy/allergies”. If you have any allergies, it’s probably a good idea to bring it up to avoid having a reaction.
Here’s a little bonus! If you want to see the famous temples or such in Japan, look out for 寺 (tera/ji). If you are worried about keeping your own religious obligations in Japan, I’d recommend researching beforehand as it can be difficult to find various places of worship in Japan. Some words to look out for are:
This means “mosque”.
This means “synagogue”.
This means “church”.
This means specifically “Orthodox Church”.
This means specifically “Catholic Church”. Roman Catholics should also look out for ローマ教会 (ro-ma kyoukai) and even 旧教 (kyuukyou).
Using LingQ is the best way to learn Japanese because it allows you to import content that you love. You can easily import any Japanese ghost story you find online (or anime, dramas, songs, and so on) into LingQ and it will automatically create a brand new lesson for you. Highlight new words and add them to your vocabulary deck. You have an infinite amount of content to learn from. Good luck! LingQ is available for iOS and Android so you can take your lessons anywhere you go!
Caiman Cotton is a freelance Japanese translator who has studied the language for years. He hopes to one day also study Latin.