Japanese is truly a fascinating language. It has three separate alphabets it uses simultaneously: hiragana, used for Japanese words, katakana, used mostly for words of a foreign origin and then there’s the big baddie— kanji. Kanji are Japanese characters that are originally derived from Chinese.

There are more than 10,000 kanji that exist, and around 3,000 of them or so are used daily. Now, while this might sound intimidating (and it is) just as with anything in life, you have to start somewhere. There are a lot of resources online to help you learn all three alphabets on your own, so let’s jump right into some basic phrases. Today, we’ll focus just on romaji and hiragana.

One of the best feelings when learning a language is being able to communicate what it is that you wanted to say.

Now, you may be thinking: “You just told me there were three alphabets. What the heck is a romaji?”

That would be an understandable reaction. But don’t worry: romaji is just a fancy way of saying Japanese words written out in the Latin alphabet. Romaji is a useful tool when you’re a fledgling learner, but we would recommend that you transition out of using it as soon as you’re able.

After all, real Japanese is written in—well—Japanese!

The Basics
Easy Greetings
Common Phrases
Food and Eating
Money and Shopping

The Basic of Basics

Photo: iStock/ MapoIs it “ha” or “wa?”

Mastering greetings and introductions is the foundation of any language-learning journey. Learn the following key phrases to initiate conversations and make a positive impression:

Hello (used during the day)

A quick pause on this one, as if you already know hiragana, you may have noticed that は at the end is “ha,” not “wa (わ).” The short answer is that over the centuries the pronunciation of Japanese particles changed. It’s still pronounced konnichiwa, even if it’s written konnichiha.

When you get to compound kanji words you’ll be wondering why the pronunciation is different in certain words all the time if you get caught up on each exception. You’re gonna hit a brick wall real quick. Moving on to the rest of our phrases.

Ohayō gozaimasu
Good morning

Sorry, I swear this is the last phrase I’ll interrupt. You may have noticed the “ō.” The line on top in romaji indicates that the sound is lengthened, so instead of just “yo(よ),” it’s “yo-u (よう)” It may be hard to understand in a written article but listen for the difference when you hear Japanese, and you’ll catch it!

Greetings and Salutations

Photo: iStock: SushimanO-genki desu ka?

Here is an easy list of all the basic Japanese greetings you should learn.

Good evening
Nice to meet you
O-genki desu ka?
How are you?
わたしは [なまえ] です
Watashi wa [name] desu
I am [name]
Yoroshiku onegaishimasu
Nice to meet you (literally: “Please be kind to me”)

Common for a Reason

Photo: iStock/ dk1234You bump into people a lot in Japan.

Here are some common expressions that are good to know, as using them in daily interactions such as in your workplace, or when leaving at a convenience store will definitely give you a boost of confidence in your Japanese journey.

Arigatō gozaimasu
Thank you (formal)
You’re welcome
Excuse me/ I’m sorry
Eigo wa dekimasu ka?
Can you speak English?
Wakarimasu ka?
Do you understand?
Gomen nasai
I’m sorry
Onegai shimasu

Food for Thought

Photo: iStock/ JohnnyGreigItadakimasu!

Here are some of the most important phrases that we will go over today: Food-related phrases. You will definitely hear these phrases often said in Japanese drama and anime, as well as if you go out to eat with your Japanese colleagues or friends.

I humbly receive (said before a meal)
Gochisōsama deshita
Thank you for the meal (said after a meal)
Menyū o kudasai
Please give me the menu
Kore o kudasai
Please give me this
Osusume ha (wa) nan desu ka?
What do you recommend?
Sumimasen, o-mochikaeri dekimasu ka?
Excuse me, is takeout possible? *

*Note that taking leftover food home is not super common in Japan, so before asking for take-out food, you should ask the restaurant if it’s possible to take food home in the first place.

Money Talks

Photo: iStock/ MeePoohyaphotoIkura desu ka?

These final phrases are here to help enhance your shopping experience. Japanese staff are often very helpful, but most of the time they don’t speak English, so if you are able to ask them your question in Japanese, they will more than gladly assist you.

Of course, if you ask them in Japanese, they will most likely get back to you in more fluent Japanese than you were ready for—but that’s just a part of the growing pains of learning Japanese.

Ikura desu ka?
How much is it?
~ はありますか?
~ ha (wa) arimasu ka?
Do you have ~?
Kurejitto kādo ha (wa) tsukaemasu ka?
Can I use a credit card?
Shichakushitsu ha doko desu ka?
Where is the fitting room?
Menzei reji ha (wa) doko ni arimasu ka?
Where is the tax-free register?

One of the best feelings when learning a language is being able to communicate what it is that you wanted to say. The onslaught of perfect Japanese that will come at you at lightning speed once any Japanese phrase has left your mouth, is just a canon event that all foreigners experience, so just remember you are not alone. We are all suffering, right there with you.

Now that you have these basic phrases under your belt, what do you want to learn next? We plan on bringing you more Japanese learning articles for both beginners and advanced learners, so please leave us a comment and we might just write exactly what you’re looking for!

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