Japanese Language, Culture And Nuances.

I. Japanese Language History

As with all other languages, the Japanese language can be understood formally as a set of linguistic characteristics or subjectively as a way of experiencing and ordering the world. However, unlike other languages, Japanese is unique to both linguists and to the people speaking the language. The Japanese by and large believe their language to be a highly unique language—some believe it to be unlike any other language in existence. Western linguists believe that Japanese is a language clearly related to other, Northern Asian languages, but there is a fair amount of disagreement among them. Suffice it to say that Japanese is the only human language where we can’t quite decide where it came from or what other languages it’s related to.

From the point of view of the Japanese, the experience of this language is based on two, widely held beliefs about the language. First, the Japanese believe that the language is somehow highly unique—almost a language unto itself. Second, the Japanese believe that their language is extremely difficult for non-Japanese to read or understand. In fact, the Japanese have a name for non-Japanese who can speak and understand the language: hen gaijin , or “crazy foreigners.” So the “experience” of Japanese as a language is an exclusive experience, a sense that one is participating in a language that no others can share or penetrate.

From a Western perspective, Japanese is not an overly difficult language to learn (Chinese and Old Irish are considerably more difficult) nor is it a unique language. There, however, the agreement ends. For it’s uncertain exactly what language family Japanese comes from. There are three main theories about the origin of the Japanese language among both Western and Japanese linguists:

  1. Japanese is an Altaic language related to Korean, Mongolian, and Turkish.
  2. Japanese is an Austronesian language related to Papuan, Malayan and other Pacific languages.
  3. Japanese is a Souteast Asian language related to Vietnamese, Tibetan, Burmese or, in one school of thought, the Tamil languages of southern India and Ceylon.

Almost all linguists believe that Japanese is an Altaic language, which makes a certain amount of sense considering the fact that the Yayoi people seem to have migrated from Korea. A fair number of Japanese linguists, however, believe that Japanese is an Austronesian language. These alternative views have given rise to three theories concerning the origin of Japanese:

  1. In the Western model, Japanese was derived from a language spoken in northern Asia that would split off into several languages, such as Mongolian, Korean, and Turkish. The earliest peoples of Japan probably spoke this language, but eh Yayoi certainly spoke this language. By the end of the Yayoi period (300 A.D., this Altaic language was the dominate language on the islands. This language was in part influenced by the Pacific Island languages (the Austronesian languages) that surrounded the islands of Japan and thus formed an Austronesian substratum in Japanese.
  2. The Jomon spoke an Austronesian language and the Yayoi introduced an Altaic language. This Altaic language combined with the Austronesian languages spoken on the islands to form a unique hybrid, Japanese, which became the dominant language in Japan. In this model, there are two possibilities: Japanese is an Altaic language with an Austronesian substratum or Japanese is an Austronesian language with an Altaic substratum. Take your pick.
  3. Japanese was originally a language related to Tibetan or a language related to Tamil that was introduced into Japan during the great migrations of Southeast Asian peoples four or five thousand years ago. This language combined with, you guessed it, an Altaic and an Austronesian language to form the contemporary language.

This is quite a quagmire to wade through. It doesn’t help that Western linguists and Japanese linguists are in basic disagreement over much that has to do with Japanese—as is the case with linguists the world over, their debate is largely conducted on the level of name-calling with Western linguists accusing the Japanese of being stupid and Japanese linguists exercising similar restraint!

At this present moment, however, this is the standard line on the history of Japanese.

The Yayoi were originally migrants from the Korean peninsula and brought with them an Altaic language. This language combined with a language already spoken in the islands which may or may not have been Altaic—at some level, however, the Japanese were influenced by Pacific Island languages. Because of their relative isolation, the Japanese language became very different from the languages it was related to. Adding to this, when Chinese culture was introduced, the Chinese language changed Japanese profoundly as it introduced new ways of thinking and new ways of expressing that thought.

In fact, most Japanese words are derived from Chinese—over sixty percent, to be precise. The situation is similar to English in which some sixty percent of English words are derived from Latin derived languages and only a minority of English words come from original English. For the most part, however, Japanese grammar did not significantly change.

Since the Tokugawa period (1603-1868), Japanese has been greatly influenced by Western languages. Technology in particular has introduced a host of new words and expressions. In the realm of grammar, some writers, such as Yukio Mishima, have written Japanese in such a way to make translation into English easier. As a result, they’ve significantly changed some grammatical constructions to fit in more closely with European languages.

What is Japanese like as a language? In many ways, it’s completely unlike the experience of English or any other European language. Unlike English, Japanese constructs sentences in a sentence-object-verb structure (called an SOV language—English constructs sentences as subject-verb-object, or SVO). While this is familiar to people who’ve studied other languages, it expresses a relationship between the subject and object that is far more intimate than that expressed in English.

Most apparent to a first-time learner of Japanese is that it is a di-syllabic language (most words are formed from two syllables) in which each syllable consists only of a consonant and a vowel (called a CV syllabic system). These syllables, however, are different than English syllables. Called mora in Japanese, all syllables are consonant-vowel—no syllables can be consonant-vowel-consonant. If a consonant is not followed by a vowel, it’s counted as a single syllable. The word, shinbun, has four mora or syllables (shi-n-bu-n) and is equivalent to futomaki , which also has four syllables. You should remember this when studying Japanese poetry—all Japanese poetry is based on counting syllables, but you can never produce the same syllabic effect in English or any other European language. In addition, it is the mora system which renders most English words incomprehensible when they’re adopted into Japanese. By far the majority of non-Chinese foreign words in Japanese are derived from English; when the Japanese use these words on English speakers, however, they’re met with confusion. This is because every syllable must be in the form “consonant-vowel” in Japanese: in “besaboru” (baseball), for instance, when a batter swings and misses a pitch, it’s a “seturoku,” not a “strike” (a worker initiated work stoppage is a “seturoki”).

The most startling difference that an English speaking person encounters with Japanese is to find out that it is not a heavily inflected language, that is, it does not define various uses of a verb or noun by adding a host of suffixes, but rather employs particles, which are independent words (like our prepositions) that indicate the nature of a noun or verb. In some ways, this makes it easy to learn Japanese. These particles, however, don’t correspond to categories that we have in English or other European languages.

The most startlingly disconcerting of these particles is the difference between ga and wa, a distinction that leaves many an undergraduate crying over their Japanese language textbook. Both of these particles are used with nouns in much the same way that we add an -s to a noun to indicate a plural. But ga and wa do not indicate plurals—rather they indicate the distinction between a subject and a topic.

This is a difficult distinction to really understand. Almost all languages are of one of two types: they express things as subjects or they express things as topics. Japanese is the only human language that is neither a subject language nor a topic language but rather both. Here’s the difference: I can say, “the snow is white,” in two different ways in Japanese:

  • “Yuki ga siroi” (the snow is white).
  • “Yuki wa siroi” (the snow is white).

These are, despite the English translation, two entirely different sentences. The first would be used if you’re referring to a particular bunch of snow, say, if you walk out the door and you’re surprised at the whiteness of the snow: “Boy, the snow is white!” You’re referring to a particular bunch of snow (snow is the subject). If, however, you’re making a judgement about a general state of affairs, that is, if you’re talking about snow as if it were a topic to be judged or described, then you’d the second statement. Unlike English, then, most Japanese sentences have to distinguish between a pure description (subject based) or a judgement (topic based).

The Japanese understanding of time is far different in their verb forms than the Western view of time. While English and other European languages organize actions largely on the basis of their time relations, Japanese verbs express far different ideas in their tenses.

A Japanese verb can express a.) a non-past continuing action, but not necessarily one that has occured in the past, present, or future (this is commonly and inaccurately called the “present tense” in Western grammars); b.) a tense that describes an action that has been completed and occurred in the past; and c.), a “tentative” action, that is, an action that hasn’t been carried out (commonly called the future). This latter verb form would be best translated in English as “it might happen” or “it might be happening.” This latter form is also used in formal speech as a form of deference to the listener. If, for instance, a Japanese speaker is trying to be respectful or highly polite, he or she will use the tentative tense: “I might be eating dinner with you” rather than “I’m eating dinner with you.”

Japanese also includes an elaborate grammatical and lexical system of “honorifics,” or rules of language to show respect according to your rank and the rank of those you’re speaking to. These honorifics include adding suffixes to nouns and verbs and were a way of both marking your rank and the rank of the person above you. In Japanese, this elaborate system begins in the Heian period and develops to its fullest in the Tokugawa period (1603-1868) with its codifcation of social class. In modern Japan, this elaborate linguistic system has simplified; one cannot, however, learn to speak Japanese without learning the language forms, including syntax and grammar, for defining one’s social place. This is a difficult concept to communicate to English speakers, but through most of Japanese history, the experience of language meant experiencing and reinforcing the social differences that ordered society. From the Heian period to the Meiji Restoration in 1868, you literally could not say a sentence without defining one’s own social class and the social class of the person you were speaking to. In addition, the system of honorifics is a gendered system. One not only defined social class in one’s speech, but one’s sex. Women’s speech in Japanese tends to be filled with honorifics and with the “tentative” tense as a deference to male auditors. Part of the experience of Japanese through most of its histroy, then, is to encounter every day language usage that always put women in a subordinate position to men.

Writing was introduced in Japan in the sixth and seventh centuries AD. Like so much else in early Japanese culture, it was a direct import from China. Since the Japanese had no native writing system, the introduction of literacy involved writing first in Chinese using Chinese characters. However, since knowledge of Chinese was limited, the Japanese soon adapted the Chinese style of writing to the Japanese language—by the seventh century AD, the Japanese were writing Japanese using the Chinese style of writing. Japanese, however, was an exponentially different language than Chinese —they are not even in the same language family—so the development of Japanese writing involved ingenious but complex reconfigurations of Chinese writing.

Chinese writing is in part a ideogrammatic writing system and partly a syllabic writing system. The earliest Chinese characters were pictures of the object being denoted, as in the earliest Mesopotamian writing. Like Mesopotamian writing, this pictographic writing eventually developed into a more simple, cursive way of drawing the characters rather than drawing the objects. In Mesopotamia this led to the development of cuneiform, in China this led to ideograms, which are halfway between being a picture of the object and being an abstract representation. In addition to ideogrammatic characters, some Chinese characters simply represent syllables. When the Japanese exported Chinese writing, they first exported Chinese writing phonetically. That is, if you needed to write the word, “onna,” meaning woman, early Japanese writing would write first a Chinese character that in Chinese represents the word “on” or something close to it and then another Chinese ideogram that translates into the Chinese word “na.” After a while, the Japanese began to use the characters ideogrammatically, that is, they’d use the character that corresponded not to the sound but to the meaning of the Chinese word with which it was associated. So, in later Japanese writing, when one wanted to write the word “onna,” one would use the Chinese character for “woman.” This style of writing, which characterized all Japanese writing until the late seventh century, is called kanji. By the seventh century, both methods were used whenever one wrote Japanese using Chinese characters.

Kanji , as anyone who has studied it knows, was highly limited. The problem is particularly acute when there are no Chinese equivalents for Japanese words. In some cases they used Chinese words in their pictographic meaning—for instance, the Chinese character for “mountain” (shang ) could serve as the Japanese character for mountain, which is “yama” in Japanese. However, when the Japanese came to unique Japanese names or concepts, they had no Chinese characters for these names or concepts. In these cases, they used the Chinese characters phonetically. So, if one is writing “Yamaguchi” in kana , you would use the Chinese character for “mountain” to write the first two syllables of the name, since “mountain” in Japanese is “yama.”. In the earliest Japanese writing, however, there were no formal rules for phonetic spelling, so the first two syllables of “Yamaguchi” could also be spelled by using the character (there are several) for “ya” and the character (there are several) for “ma.” So, just like Chinese, kana is both an ideogrammatic and a syllabic writing system, only the syllables are Japanese rather than Chinese syllables. The rules for phonetic spelling, however, were very loose. One could spell phonetically according to Japanese words or to Chinese words; since a single syllable could be rendered with several different Chinese characters, one could spell the same word several different ways.

In the history of Japanese writing, the syllabic characters used in the Manyoshu , a collection of poetry from the eighth century, is a cornerstone in the history of writing in Japan. It’s use of certain characters to represent syllables (rather than the free-for-all in normal Japanese writing) was known as the Manyo kana , the “Manyoshu borrowed words,” and became the basis for formal rules of writing syllables in kana . After the Manyoshu , writing Japanese became much more stable.

In the seventh and eighth centuries, the Japanese invented another writing technology based on Chinese characters called kana , which means “borrowed words.” There are two types of kana , hiragana (which the early Japanese called onna-de , or “women’s writing”), and katakana . The most important innovation in Japanese writing occurred with the introduction of hiragana or completely syllabic writing in the Heian period. In Japanese historiography, hiragana was introduced by the Buddhist, Kobo Daishi, who had studied Sanskrit, a phonetic alphabet, in India. The alphabet that he invented was a syllabic alphabet—in part based on Chinese writing, hiragana is made of simple, cursive strokes in which each character represents a single syllable. Not only is hiragana easier and faster to write, it also doesn’t require a knowledge of Chinese characters. In the Heian period, hiragana was called onna-de , or “women’s writing” and made possible the great works of Japanese literature composed by women such as Murasaki Shikibu and Sei Shonagon. Through these works and the court culture produced by women’s communities, hiragana eventually became the dominant writing system in Japan.

A little later, Buddhists developed yet one more writing system, katakana . Like hiragana , katakana is a syllabic alphabet derived from Chinese characters. Hiragana , however, was produced by drawing Chinese characters in quick, cursive, fluid strokes—they are curvy and simple renditions of the Chinese characters from which they were derived. Katakana , however, takes Chinese characters and draws only one part of the character, a kind of shorthand. In the example below, both the hiragana and the katakana characters are derived from the same Chinese character, which stands for “woman” (in Japanese, “onna”):

Reading Japanese, then, requires that the ability to move between three distinct writing systems. Often a work will be written using a combination of both kanji and kana ; after the introduction of the European alphabet, a fourth method of writing Japanese came to be introduced side by side with the other three.

This complex state of affairs resulted from ingenious technological solutions in a rapid adoption of literacy. There are several problems that the Japanese had to overcome when they adopted Chinese writing: first, they had to adapt a non-phonetic method of writing to a completely different language. Second, they had to develop methods of writing to speed up the writing process, since not only was kanji time-consuming to write out, it also presupposed a knowledge of Chinese. Like so many other writing systems, the solution to these problems lay in the development of a phonetic or syllabic writing technology—a pattern that repeats itself independently across cultures and across time.

II. Vocabulary. There is no capitalization in the Japanese language.


  • Four seasons 
shiki 四季
  • Spring 
haru 春
  • Summer 
natsu 夏
  • Autumn 
aki 秋
  • Winter 
fuyu 冬


Months are numbers one through twelve plus gatsu.

April is shi-gatsu not yon-gatsu.

July is shichi-gatsu not nana-gatsu.

September is ku-gatsu not kyuu-gatsu.

  • January 
ichi-gatsu 一月
  • February 
ni-gatsu 二月
  • March 
san-gatsu 三月
  • April 
shi-gatsu 四月
  • May 
go-gatsu 五月
  • June 
roku-gatsu 六月
  • July 
shichi-gatsu 七月
  • August 
hachi-gatsu 八月
  • September 
ku-gatsu 九月
  • October 
juu-gatsu 十月
  • November 
juuichi-gatsu 十一月
  • December 
juuni-gatsu 十二月

Days of the Week

  • Sunday 
nichiyoubi 日曜日
  • Monday 
getsuyoubi 月曜日
  • Tuesday 
kayoubi 火曜日
  • Wednesday 
suiyoubi 水曜日
  • Thursday 
mokuyoubi 木曜日
  • Friday 
kinyoubi 金曜日
  • Saturday 
doyoubi 土曜日

Useful Expressions

What day is it today? Kyou wa nan youbi desu ka. 今日は何曜日ですか。


Number plus nichi.

Example: juuichi-nichi (11th), juuni-nichi (12th), nijuugo-nichi (25th) and so on.

1st-10th, 14th, 20th and 24th are irregular.

  • 1st 
tsuitachi 一日
  • 2nd 
futsuka 二日
  • 3rd 
mikka 三日
  • 4th 
yokka 四日
  • 5th 
itsuka 五日
  • 6th 
muika 六日
  • 7th 
nanoka 七日
  • 8th 
youka 八日
  • 9th 
kokonoka 九日
  • 10th 
touka 十日
  • 14th 
juuyokka 十四日
  • 20th 
hatsuka 二十日
  • 24th 
nijuuyokka 二十四日


Unlike English, “gozen (a.m.)” and “gogo (p.m.)” come before the time. Han means half, as in half past the hour.

  • Time jikan 時間
  • One o’clock 
ichi-ji 一時
  • Two o’clock 
ni-ji 二時
  • Three o’clock 
san-ji 三時
  • Four o’clock 
yo-ji 四時
  • Five o’clock 
go-ji 五時
  • Six o’clock 
roku-ji 六時
  • Seven o’clock 
shichi-ji 七時
  • Eight o’clock 
hachi-ji 八時
  • Nine o’clock 
ku-ji 九時
  • Ten o’clock 
juu-ji 十時
  • Eleven o’clock 
juuichi-ji 十一時
  • Twelve o’clock 
juuni-ji 十二時

Useful Expressions

  • Minutes 
fun/pun 分
  • a.m. 
gozen 午前
  • p.m. 
gogo 午後
  • Noon 
shougo 正午
  • What time is it? 
Nan-ji desu ka. 何時ですか。
  • It’s one o’clock. 
Ichi-ji desu. 一時です。
  • It’s 9 a.m. 
Gozen ku-ji desu. 午前九時です。
  • It’s 3:30 p.m. 
Gogo san-ji han desu. 午後三時半です。


To form numbers 11-19, start with “juu” (10) and add the number.

Twenty is “ni-juu” (2X10) and for twenty one, add one (nijuu ichi).


  • Weather 
tenki 天気
  • Climate 
kikou 気候
  • Temperature 
ondo 温度
  • Sunny 
hare 晴れ
  • Cloudy 
kumori くもり
  • Rain 
ame 雨
  • Snow 
yuki 雪
  • Thunder 
kaminari 雷
  • Storm 
arashi 嵐
  • Fog 
kiri 霧

Useful Expressions

  • How is the weather? 
Tenki wa dou desu ka. 天気はどうですか。
  • The weather is nice. 
Yoi tenki desu. よい天気です。
  • It’s sunny. 
Harete imasu. 晴れています。
  • It’s cloudy. 
Kumotte imasu. 曇っています。
  • It’s raining. 
Ame ga futte imasu. 雨が降っています。
  • It’s snowing. 
Yuki ga futte imasu. 雪が降っています。
  • It’s hot. 
Atsui desu. 暑いです。
  • It’s humid. 
Mushiatsui desu. 蒸し暑いです。
  • It’s cold. 
Samui desu. 寒いです。
  • It’s warm. 
Atatakai desu. 暖かいです。
  • It’s cool. 
Suzushii desu. 涼しいです。
  • It’s windy 
Kaze ga tsuyoi desu. 風が強いです。

Japan Festivals

1) Takayama – Gifu April and October. (Central Japan)

2) Nebuta – Aomori (Northern Japan)

3) Hakata – Kyushu (Southern Japan)

Largest Festivals in Japan

1) Kyoto: Gion Festival

2) Tokyo: Kanda Festival

3) Tenjin: Osaka


In Japanese, all colors are treated as nouns, unlike English (Colors are treated as adjectives or nouns in English).

  • iro 色 colors
  • ao 青 blue
  • aka 赤 red
  • chairo 茶色 brown
  • daidaiiro 橙色 orange
  • haiiro 灰色 grey
  • kiiro 黄色 yellow
  • kimidori 黄緑 light green
  • kuro 黒 black
  • midori 緑 green
  • mizuiro 水色light blue
  • momoiro 桃色 pink
  • murasaki 紫 purple
  • shiro 白 white
  • kin gold
  • gin silver
  • ginka silver coin
  • ginkou bank

Useful Expressions

Sukina iro wa nan desu ka. What’s your favorite color?


Body Parts

  • karada 体 body
  • atama 頭 head
  • kami 髪 hair
  • kao 顔 face
  • hitai 額 forehead
  • me 目 eye
  • mayu 眉 eyebrow
  • mabuta まぶた eyelid
  • matusge まつげ eyelash
  • hana 鼻 nose
  • mimi 耳 ear
  • kuchi 口 mouth
  • kuchibiru 唇 lip
  • ha 歯 teeth
  • shita 舌 tongue
  • nodo のど throat
  • ago あご jaw
  • kubi 首 neck
  • kata 肩 shoulder
  • ude 腕 arm
  • hiji ひじ elbow
  • te 手 hand
  • yubi 指 finger
  • tsume 爪 nail
  • mune 胸 chest
  • senaka 背中 back
  • onaka おなか tomach
  • hiza ひざ knee
  • ashikubi 足首 ankle
  • kakato かかと heel
  • tsumasaki つまさき toe

Physical Conditions

Pain is usually described using the adjective itai (painful, sore).

atama ga itai頭が痛い to have a headache
ha ga itai歯が痛い to have a toothache
nodo ga itaiのどが痛い to have a sore throat
onaka ga itaiおなかが痛い to have a stomachache
seki ga deruせきがでる to have a cough
hana ga deru鼻がでる to have a runny nose
netsu ga aru熱がある to have a fever
samuke ga suru寒気がする to have a chill
karada ga darui体がだるい to feel a lack of energy
shokuyoku ga nai食欲がない to have no appetite
memai ga suruめまいがする to feel dizzy
kaze o hiku風邪をひく to catch a cold

When describing your conditions to a doctor, “~n desu” is often added at the end of the sentence. It has an explanatory function.

To express “I have a cold,” “kaze o hikimashita (風邪をひきました)” or “kaze o hiiteimasu (風邪をひいています)” is used.

Atama ga itai n desu.頭が痛いんです。 I have a headache.
Netsu ga aru n desu.熱があるんです。 I have a fever.

Degrees of Pain

totemo itaiとても痛い very painful
sukoshi itai少し痛い a little bit painful

Onomatopoeic expressions are also used to express degrees of pain. “Gan gan (がんがん)” or “zuki zuki (ずきずき)” is used to describe headaches. “Zuki zuki (ずきずき)” or “shiku shiku (しくしく)” is used for toothaches and “kiri kiri (きりきり)” or “shiku shiku (しくしく)” for stomachaches.

gan ganがんがん pounding headache
zuki zukiずきずき throbbing pain
shiku shikuしくしく dull pain
kiri kiriきりきり sharp continuous pain
hiri hiriひりひり burning pain
chiku chikuちくちく prickly pain


  • Chopsticks Ohashi おはし
  • Fork  Fouku フォーク
  • Knife  naifu ナイフ
  • Spoon  supuun スプーン
  • Glass/cup  koppu コップ
  • Plate  osara おさら
  • Bowl  chawan ちゃわん

Common Japanese Food

  • Sushi. Raw fish over a small ball of rice
  • Sashimi. Raw rish
  • Gohan. The Japanese word for white rice.
  • Soba. Japanese wheat noodles. Can be served hot or cold.
  • Yakisoba. Meaning “fried soba” is different from regular soba. The noodles are thicker and made using eggs, rather than wheat.
  • Udon. Udon is a large, thick noodle made of flour. Udon can be served both hot and cold.
  • Ramen. Consisting of basically a noodle soup, ramen is one of the most popular foods in Japan. The noodles are made from flower and egg and is served hot.
  • Gyudon. A bowl of rice covered with slices of cooked beef.
  • Natto. Fermented soy beans. Is usually eaten with rice and sometimes mixed with raw eggs
  • Ume-boshi. Pickled or soured plum
  • Okonomiyaki. Meaning, “what you like, fried”, okonomiyaki is kind of like a pancake of meats, vegetables, flour, and eggs. It is then topped with mayonnaise and a special somewhat sweet sauce called okonomiyaki sauce. It is also common to cover them with seaweed and fish shavings.
  • Takoyaki. Literally meaning fried octopus, are small fluffy dumplings containing small pieces of fried octopus. Toppings are very similar to Okonomiyaki.
  • Tofu. Made from curdled soy milk. Commonly served as a side dish in Japan.
  • Nabe. Literally meaning “pot”, nabe is kind of like a stew of meats, vegetables, noodles, and tofu boiled together in a pot of water.
  • Shabu Shabu. Shabu Shabu is similar to nabe in that you have a pot of boiling hot water and similar ingredients. However, it differs in the fact that each piece of meat or vegetable is only briefly dipped in the water (just enough to cook it) before eating.
  • Shoyu. Soy sauce
  • Ocha. Japanese green tea
  • Osake. Japanese rice wine.

Useful Phrases

  • Can you eat Japanese food? Washoku ga taberaremasu ka? (“Washoku” could also be replaced by “Nihon no tabemono”) 和食が食べられますか?
  • Do you like Japanese food? Washoku ga suki desu ka? 和食が好きですか?
  • Can you eat ~? ~ga taberaremasuka? ~が食べられますか?
  • Do you like ~? ~ga suki desku? ~が好きですか?
  • Are there foods you can’t eat? taberarenai mono ha arimasu ka? 食べられないものはありますか?
  • What’s your favorite food? (ichiban) suki na tabemono ha nandesuka? (一番)好きな食べ物は何ですか?
  • Can you use chopsticks? Ohashi ga tsukaemasu ka? おはしが使えますか?
English Romanchi
Appetizer zensai
Avocado abokado
Beef gyuuniku
Breakfast choshoku
Cauliflower karifurawaa
Celery serori
Cheese chiizu
Chicken chikin
Dessert dezaato
Dinner yuushoku
Egg tamago
Fish (cooked) sakana
Food tabemono
French fries potetofurai
Hamburger hanbaagaa
Hotdog hottodoggu
Lettuce retasu
Lunch ranchi
Main dish shusai
Milk gyuunyuu
Pork butaniku
Potatoes jagaimo
Salad sarada
Sandwich sandoicchi
Soup suupu
Sugar sato
tTrkey shichimencho
Water mizu
  • Bentou: box/bag meal, occasionally seen tied with hankerchiefs
(O)cha: tea, always served hot and in a variety of colors
Mochi: rice cakes, usually eaten during New Years. (By the way, the
  • Japanese and Chinese believe that there’s a rabbit pounding mochi on the moon–does this remind you of anything?
  • (O)nigiri: triangle-shaped rice that may contain a variety of things on the
  • inside, such as red bean paste, and occasionally is wrapped with nori. This
is usually the type of food translated as “sandwiches” on Pokemon.
*winces*Nori: dried seaweed, pressed in sheets. Sold as a snack, it comes
lightly salted and cut into little packets.
  • Odango: meat-ball shaped dumplings, usually served 4 or 5 at a time on a stick. (Hence why Usagi is called odango atama–“dumpling head.”
  • Okonomyaki: Translating roughtly to “cooked as you like it”, it’s the
  • Japanese version of an omlette/pancake/pizza. It can be made in a variety of
ways (hence its name), including with vegetables, meat, or seafood. Some
restaurants serve “make your own okonomiyaki”, where you’re given the
ingredients and a set of small spatulas to cook over a heated metal plates.
  • Ramen: Chinese noodles with all sorts of stuff in it, including fish cake. Very popular in Japan, it’s considered “fast food”, although it can be both freshly prepared as well as in instant noodle packets.
  • Sake: rice wine, usually served warmed. It’s not very alcoholic, but since it’s ingested at about body temperature, the intoxicating effect is considerable.
  • Soba: buckwheat noodles, served cold. Usually green (from the tea leaves). But there is also a hot version of soba (called “somen”) that uses
light brown noodles (the color is similiar to khaki)
(A big thank you to Jaymz for that contribution)
  • Sushi: hand-held rice, generally comes in two versions.&npsp; The ones you might be able to buy in your local supermarket are probably of the roll
variety in which seasoned rice, meat (generally seafood), and vegetables are
wrapped innori. The kind you might eat at a Japanese (or possibly Chinese)
restaurant is of the second variety, some sort of fish meat (generally raw) on
a square of seasoned rice. Both kinds are accompanied by a dallop of wasabi and thin slices of ginger.
  • Tempura: a variety of vegetables dipped in sweetened dough and deep fried.
  • Tenshin amaguri: chestnuts roasted by frying it in a large pan with sand at the bottom (very,ver y good, according to a friend who went to Japan).
  • Wasabi: Japanese mustard, although it tastes more like strong horseradish.


  • Fruits 
kudamono 果物
  • Apricot 
anzu 杏
  • Banana 
banana バナナ
  • Grapes 
budou ぶどう
  • Strawberry 
ichigo いちご
  • Fig 
ichijiku いちじく
  • Persimmon 
kaki 柿
  • Melon 
meron メロン
  • Japanese orange 
mikan みかん
  • Peach 
momo 桃
  • Pear 
nashi なし
  • Orange 
orenji オレンジ
  • Lemon 
remon レモン
  • Apple 
ringo りんご
  • Cherry 
sakuranbo さくらんぼ
  • Watermelon 
suika スイカ
  • Plum 
  • Pinapple painappuru
  • Pumpkin kabocha
  • Strawberry ichigo
  • Lemon remon


  • Mushroom kinoko
  • Carrot ninjin
  • Corn tomorokoshi
  • Onion tamanegi
  • Long onion negi
  • Potato jagaimo
  • Cabbage kyabetsu
  • Tomato tomato

Japanese cuisine places a strong emphasis on quality and seasonality of ingredients. This is especially true for vegetables, which are a fundamental element of Japanese cooking. Apart from a few native types of vegetables, many vegetables used in Japanese cooking today were originally introduced from the Asian mainland. Later waves of new vegetables reached Japan through the first contacts with Europeans in the 16th century and in more recent decades through a certain Westernization of Japanese eating habits.

Leaf Vegetables

Cabbage is an inexpensive, versatile vegetable used to add nutrition and flavor to a broad range of meals. Cabbage is often sliced into thin strips to be served with korokke, tonkatsu (deep fried pork cutlet) or other fried dishes. It is also an important ingredient for okonomiyaki. Cabbage can be added to just about any dish, from soups and stews to pan-fried meals and side salads. Japan is one of the world’s top cabbage producers and the vegetable itself is one of the most frequently purchased vegetables in Japanese supermarkets.

Hakusai (Chinese cabbage) is popular in many parts of Asia, where it is often pickled. In Korea, hakusai is the cabbage variety usually used to make kimchi, the nation’s most famous dish. In Japan, hakusai is also pickled in a dish known as hakusai no sokusekizuke, which, however, is much milder than kimchi. Furthermore, fresh hakusai is a very popular ingredient in hot pot (nabe) dishes.

Horenso (spinach) enjoys popularity thanks to its health benefits and variety of vitamins, being particularly rich in calcium and iron. A well known horenso dish is horenso no goma-ae (spinach with sesame dressing), which involves blanching the horenso and then mixing it with a sweet, soya sauce and sesame flavored dressing. Horenso is also used as a topping in soups.

Komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach) is grown and consumed mostly in Japan, China, Taiwan and Korea. It is similar to spinach, in that it contains many important nutrients and vitamins, but it does not have the same bitterness as spinach. Komatsuna is commonly eaten raw in salads or boiled and served in soups and stews. It can also be pickled.

Mizuna (Japanese mustard, spider mustard) has recently become very popular as a salad leaf. It is frequently paired with julienned daikon (giant white radish) in a fresh tasting salad. Otherwise, mizuna may appear in soups or Japanese hot pot (nabe), or as a garnish on various dishes.

Shiso (Perilla leaf) is a mint-like herb whose distinctive flavor is a staple in Japanese cooking. It comes in two varieties which are used for different purposes. Aojiso (green shiso) is often served with sashimi, in salads or to flavor soups and stews. Akajiso (red shiso) is used to pickle Japanese plums and add color to dishes.

Root Vegetables

Daikon (giant white radish) is a very popular and versatile Japanese vegetable. It can be eaten raw or cooked or grated into daikon-oroshi, a refreshing topping used to counteract the oiliness of dishes like grilled fish and tempura.

Especially the bottom half a daikon is often quite spicy like other radish varieties. However, when cooked, this spiciness disappears and the vegetable becomes slightly sweet. When used raw, daikon is usually cut into julienne strips and paired with mizuna leaves in a salad. When cooked, daikon is usually boiled in soups, stews or hot pot (nabe) dishes . It is the most popular ingredient in the oden hot pot. Daikon also makes Japan’s most popular pickle. Known as takuan, pickled daikon is included in virtually every dish of Japanese pickles. During the harvesting season, daikon hanging from farm houses in preparation for pickling is a common countryside sight.

Kabu (turnip) is almost always boiled and served in soups or Japanese hot pot, (nabe). It is a common miso soup ingredient and is often used to make pickles. Kabu usually have a spicier taste than Western varieties.

Jagaimo (potato) were not part of traditional Japanese cuisine until relatively recently. They are believed to have been brought by Dutch traders from Indonesia to Kyushu in the 17th century. However, potato cultivation in Japan did not begin until the end of the 19th century. Today, jagaimo are closely associated with Hokkaido where they are a regional specialty and common crop. Jagaimo are popular in several Japanese dishes and adapted Western dishes. Nikujaga (meat and potato stew) combines beef, vegetables and potatoes in a sweet, soya sauce flavored stew. Jaga batta is a popular festival food in which a grilled potato is seasoned with butter and soya sauce. Jagaimo are also common in Japanese curry and korokke.

Satsumaimo (sweet potato) were originally grown in Kagoshima, formerly called Satsuma. They are a popular winter vegetable used in both sweet and savory dishes. Satsumaimo are often simply grilled, peeled and eaten plain in a snack called yaki-imo. Satsumaimo may also be battered and deep fried in tempura or boiled in soups, stews or Japanese curry.

Daigakuimo is a dish composed of candied satsumaimo. Its name comes from the word for “university” because the snack was invented for university students looking for cheap, tasty food. Because of their natural sweetness, satsumaimo are sometimes made into sweets and snacks.

Satoimo (taro root) are eaten throughout Asia, especially in India, China, Korea and Japan. They are a starchy root vegetable known for their somewhat sticky, slimy texture. Satoimo are always cooked before eaten, and typically appear in boiled or stewed dishes. Satoimo can be added to miso soup, Japanese hot pot (nabe), Japanese curry or appear battered and deep fried.

Nagaimo (yam) and its wild mountain variety yamaimo are slightly different in taste, texture and shape, but are prepared and consumed in the same way: sliced and grilled, or eaten raw. Raw nagaimo is grated to form a sticky, paste-like cream known as tororo. Tororo is used as a topping for rice, soba or udon noodles, or mixed with dashi (fish stock) for flavor. Some people experience a slight reaction when raw nagaimo comes in contact with their skin. This can result in a tingling sensation around the lips.

Renkon (lotus root) Common in Japan and greater Asia, renkon’s attractive pattern makes it a useful vegetable for creating visually appealing dishes. It is not usually eaten raw, but peeled and boiled in water. Depending on how long it is cooked, lotus root may be crunchy like a fresh carrot, or starchy and soft, like a cooked potato. Renkon is often used in tempura, boiled in soups or stewed dishes like chikuzenni, fried in pan-cooked dishes or dressed with vinegar in a salad. It is almost always sliced to show off its attractive pattern.

Gobo (burdock root) Burdock plants exist all over the world, however, the vegetable is mostly consumed in Asia and especially in Japan. Gobo grow to about one to two meters in length and are cut before sold to make them more manageable. Gobo are always cooked before eaten and are commonly added to soups as a topping. The most popular gobo dish is kinpira gobo, in which gobo and carrots are shred into thin strips, stir fried and glazed with soya sauce, sugar and sake.

Ninjin (carrot) are a widely available and popular vegetable in Japan. They are often thicker than carrots seen in North American and European markets although the taste is the same. Like carrots in other parts of the world, ninjin are often enjoyed raw in salads, or cooked into various dishes such as Japanese curry and Japanese hot pot (nabe). Because of their bright color and sturdy consistency, ninjin are often cut into decorative shapes or simply used to add color and visual appeal to a dish.

Tamanegi (onion) Japan is one of the world’s top onion producing countries, and onions are widely used in many Japanese dishes. As in most other cuisines, onions are usually cooked before eaten, and are a typical ingredient of many fried and stewed dishes such as Japanese curry, various domburi (meals served over a bowl of rice), and Japanese hot pot (nabe). Onions may also be an ingredient in miso soup or grilled alongside meat in teppanyaki.

Shoga (ginger) Ginger, originally imported from China, is commonly used in Japanese cuisine. It is a winter flavor, used to add heat to winter meals or served with fish to counter the “fishy” smell. Grated ginger is sometimes served besides wasabi as a spice for certain types of sushi and sashimi and to add flavor or counter fishy aromas. Ground shoga is also often served on top of tofu for flavor. Thinly sliced, pickled ginger, called gari, is served with sushi and eaten in between pieces of sushi to clear the palate. Another kind of pickled ginger, beni shoga, is commonly served with heavy meats or fried foods such as yakisoba and tonkatsu. Beni shoga is a dark red pickle with a stronger taste than gari.

Other Vegetables

Takenoko (bamboo shoot) symbolizes spring more than any other vegetable. As its name (lit. “child of bamboo”) suggests, takenoko is the soft top of a young bamboo plant. Takenoko must be harvested just before the plant peaks out of the soil, otherwise it become hard and green.

Takenoko is consumed grilled, steamed with rice, deep fried in tempura, or boiled in soups and stews.

Negi (leek, green onion) are included in many fried and boiled dishes, or used as a topping for domburi (rice bowl) dishes such as gyudon (marinated beef over rice). Negi are usually described as having a taste similar to the green onion, though sweeter. There are as many different varieties of negi as there are regions of Japan; however, the two most common are the Kanto variety with a long, white stem (see picture to the left) and the Kansai variety, whose stem is almost entirely green.

Tomato In Japan, tomatoes are mostly eaten in Western style cooking, eaten raw in salads or used as a garnish. While it is one of the most popular vegetables in Japan, it is rarely cooked in Japanese dishes. For their size and color, cherry tomatoes are especially popular in bento boxes.

Kyuri (cucumber) are usually thinner than Western cucumbers and are always eaten unpeeled. They are commonly found raw in salads or as a garnish, or pickled in an iced brine. Kyuri are a popular summer time vegetable.

Nasu (eggplant, aubergine)

Nasu are smaller and less bitter than their North American and European counterparts. They are an important vegetable in the Japanese cuisine and used in a wide variety of dishes. “Nasu dengaku” is a typical dish in which the vegetable is cut in half and baked under a layer of miso paste. Another common dish featuring nasu is “nasu miso itame” in which the vegetable is fried with onions, miso and sugar. Nasu has also a place in cultural folklore: Dreaming about Mount Fuji, a hawk or nasu on New Year is considered good luck. And in a Japanese proverb, parents are warned against giving nasu to their daughters-in-law in the fall. This warning comes from the fact that fall nasu are particularly delicious and are better kept to oneself. However, it also refers to the fact that nasu are a “cooling” vegetable best eaten in the hot summer months. Consequently, it is thought to deter pregnancy, thus being a poor gift for a daughter-in-law.

Piman (Green pepper) comes from the French word for pepper, poivron. Japanese piman are usually smaller than bell peppers. They have a thin skin and sweet taste, and are often served battered and deep fried as tempura, or stir fried in Chinese style dishes. They are also eaten raw in salads.

Shishito (Small Japanese green pepper) are a smaller variety of piman, Japanese green peppers. They are generally a sweet and mild pepper, although some varieties can be quite spicy. Shishito are most commonly served as tempura or roasted and topped with soya sauce and bonito flakes.

Kabocha (pumpkin) make their appearance in fall and winter. Kabocha’s high vitamin A content made it an important vegetable for northern Japan’s long winters. Kabocha is traditionally eaten in celebration of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, when people lack the nutrients found more commonly in summer vegetables. Kabocha is often enjoyed as tempura or boiled in sugar and soya sauce resulting in a soft, sweet dish. Recently, with the import of Halloween from North America, kabocha has become a popular ingredient around the October 31 holiday, for example in kabocha purin, sweet pumpkin pudding.

Tomorokoshi (corn) Foreign visitors to Japan may notice the frequent addition of corn to Japanese breads, pizzas, pasta, salads and more. Tomorokoshi is a popular vegetable in Japan, closely associated with Hokkaido, where it is grown. However, the vegetable is so popular that local growers cannot meet demand. Most tomorokoshi is now imported from the United States. Both fresh and canned corn is popular. When tomorokoshi is in season, it is often grilled, buttered and seasoned with soya sauce. Tomorokoshi is also included in many Hokkaido specialty foods such a Hokkaido style ramen (noodle soup) and miso soup.

Okura (okra) has a sticky layer surrounding the seeds of its fruit, producing a consistency similar to nagaimo (yam). When okura is consumed raw, the sticky texture is present, however, it is cooked off when boiled or fried. Okura is a summer vegetable that is often eaten raw in salads, deep fried in tempura, or served with soya sauce and katsuobushi (smoked bonito flakes). Okura leaves are not commonly consumed in Japan.

Goya (bitter melon) is the most famous vegetables in Okinawan cuisine and the key ingredient in goya champuru, Okinawa’s signature dish composed of stir fried goya, tofu and eggs. Goya is well known for its bitter taste.


doubutsu 動物 animals
buta 豚 pig
hitsuji 羊 sheep
inu 犬 dog
kaba かば hippopotamus
kitsune 狐 fox
kirin キリン giraffe
kuma 熊 bear
neko 猫 cat
nezumi ねずみ mouse
ookami 狼 wolf
raion ライオン lion
rakuda らくだ camel
risu りす squirrel
saru 猿 monkey
shika 鹿 deer
shimauma しまうま zebra
tora 虎 tiger
tori 鳥 bird
usagi うさぎ rabbit
ushi 牛 cow/ox
uma 馬 horse
yagi やぎ goat
zou 象 elephant

Counters for small animals.

  • Hiki  匹

Counters for large animals.

  • Tou  頭

Useful Phrases

  • Inu ga go-hiki imasu. 犬が五匹います。 — There are five dogs.
  • Watashi wa kuma o ni-tou mimashita. 私は熊を二頭見ました。 — I saw two bears.


migi right
hidari left
mae front
ushiru back
naka inside
ue on
shita under
soba near
tonari next
aida between
soko there
koko here
  • Here 
koko ここ
  • There 
soko そこ
  • That over there 
asoko あそこ
  • Right 
migi 右
  • Left 
hidari 左
  • Straight 
massugu まっすぐ
  • Front 
mae 前
  • Back 
ushiro 後ろ
  • Side 
yoko 横
  • Next to 
tonari 隣
  • Cross 
mukai 向かい
  • Far 
tooi 遠い
  • Near 
chikai 近い


  • East 
higashi 東
  • West 
nishi 西
  • South 
minami 南
  • North 
kita 北

Useful Expressions

Where is ~? 
~ wa doko desu ka. ~はどこですか。

Is it far from here? 
Koko kara tooi desu ka. ここから遠いですか。

Please go straight. 
Massugu itte kudasai. まっすぐ行ってください。

Please turn right. 
Migi ni magatte kudasai. 右に曲がってください。


  • Travel 
tabi/ryokou 旅/旅行
  • Traveler 
ryokousha 旅行者
  • Information bureau 
annaisho 案内所
  • Travel agency 
ryokou dairiten 旅行代理店
  • Sightseeing tour 
kankou ryokou 観光旅行
  • Group trip 
dantai ryokou 団体旅行
  • Tour conductor 
tenjouin 添乗員
  • Guide (person) 
gaido ガイド
  • Guiding 
annai 案内
  • Interpreter 
tsuuyaku 通訳
  • Rent-a-car 
rentakaa レンタカー
  • Travel expense 
ryohi 旅費
  • Luggage 
tenimotsu 手荷物
  • Traveler’s check 
ryokousha kogitte 旅行者小切手
  • Changing money 
ryougae 両替
  • Exchange rate 
kawase reeto 為替レート
  • Reservation 
yoyaku 予約
  • Lost child 
maigo 迷子
  • Souvenir 
omiyage お土産
  • Hotel 
hoteru ホテル
  • Japanese style inn 
ryokan 旅館
  • Youth hostel 
yuusu hosuteru ユースホステル
  • Front, reception desk 
furonto フロント
  • Check in 
chekku-in チェックイン
  • Check out 
chekku-auto チェックアウト

Useful Phrases

  • Where is Tokyo Hotel? Toukyou hoteru wa doko desu ka.
  • Can I book a room? 
Heya o yoyaku dekimasu ka.
  • How much for one night? 
Ippaku ikura desu ka.

Useful Phrases

  • Yo-ro-sh-ku o-neh-gai-shi-mus.

This phrase is absolute magic. Say “yoroshiku” to any Japanese person in any situation and they will help you with anything and everything you need. It’s impossible to translate literally, but means something to the effect of “please do your best and treat me well”.

If you memorize nothing else before going to Japan, remember “yoroshiku” and you’re totally set. “Onegaishimasu” is a common word that means something similar to “please”.

  • Yosh. Gahn-bah-di-mus.

This phrase means something like, “OK, I’m going for it,” or “I’ll do my best”. A Japanese would say “Ganbarimasu” before taking a test, or leaving the house for a job interview.

Japanese people will crack up if you say it before walking outside, eating noodles or using a vending machine. Try saying it before using useful phrase # 8.

  • Ara! Onara suru tsu-mori datta keh-do, un-chi ga de-chatta.

The literal translation of this useful phrase is “Oops! I meant to fart but poop came out”.

Saying this useful phrase never gets old, especially in public places, especially on a first date and most especially if it’s clearly one of only 10 Japanese phrases that you’ve memorized.

When in Southeast Asia, I especially enjoy muttering in Japanese about crapping my pants while walking past Japanese tourists. The reactions are priceless.

  • Mo da-meh. Yoh-para-chatta. Go-men.

At some point during your stay, Japanese people will probably try to make you drink past your limit. That’s when this phrase comes in handy. It means something like, “No more, I’m already drunk, sorry.”

  • Ko-ko wa do-ko? Wa-ta-shi wa da-reh?” Na-ni mo wah-kah-nai.

Where is this? Who am I? I don’t understand anything.

This is what you say after failing to use useful phrase # 4 in time.

  • Ee-show ni kah-rah-o-keh ni ee-koh ka?

Shall we go to karaoke together? This is a good line to use if trying to pick someone up from the bar. Think of karaoke as a transition point between the bar and the love hotel.

Note – please don’t pronounce karaoke with lots of EEE sounds. It should sound like “kah-rah-o-keh” not “carry-oh-key.

  • Hon-toe ni oh-ee-shee des yo!

Use this one when eating. It means something like, “For real, it’s delicious!”

  • Hontou ni means “for real” or “really” or “I’m not kidding.” Japanese people are always telling sweet little white lies, so dropping a “hontou ni” from time to time is very much appreciated.
  • Ah-nah-tah wa ha-ruh no ee-chee ban no sah-ku-rah yo-ree u-tsu-ku-shee.

This classic Japanese pick-up line means “You’re more beautiful than the first cherry blossom of spring.”

  • Ni-hon dai-skee.

Japan is the best. I love Japan. When in doubt, just smile, nod and repeat.

  • Koh-nah ni kee-ray na to-ko-ro wa hah-jee-meh-teh mee-tah!

Japanese people love it when you gush about their country. This phrase means, “I’ve never seen a place so beautiful before”.

Use it out at famous attractions and you’ll meet with instant approval.

English Phrases Japanese Phrases
English Greetings Japanese Greetings:
Hi! Yaa.やあ。
Good morning! Ohayou gozaimasu.おはようございます。
Good evening! Konbanwこんばんは。
Welcome! (to greet someone) Youkoso irasshai mashita.ようこそいらっしゃいました。
How are you? Ogenki desuka?   お元気ですか?
I’m fine, thanks! Watashi wa genki desu. Arigato!わたしは元気です。ありがとう。
And you? Anatawa?あなたは?
Good/ So-So. Genki desu. / maa-maa desu.元気です。/  まあまあです。
Thank you (very much)! Arigatou!ありがとう!
You’re welcome! (for “thank you”) Dou itashi mashite.どういたしまして。
I missed you so much! Samishi katta desu.さみしかったです。
What’s new? Saikin dou desuka?最近どうですか?
Nothing much Kawari nai desu.変わりないです。
Good night! Oyasumi nasai.おやすみなさい。
See you later! Mata atode aimashou!またあとで会いましょう!
Good bye! Sayonara!   さようなら!
Asking for Help and Directions
I’m lost Mayotte shimai mashita.迷ってしまいました。
Can I help you? Otetsudai shimashouka?お手伝いしましょうか?
Can you help me? Tetsudatte kuremasuka?手伝ってくれますか?
Where is the (bathroom/ pharmacy)? (Toire/yakkyoku) wa doko desuka?(トイレ/薬局) はどこですか?
Go straight! then turn left/ right! Massugu itte kudasai. Soshite, hidari / migi ni magatte kudasaiまっすぐ行ってください。そして、 左/右にまがってください。
I’m looking for john. John wo sagashite imasu.John を探しています。
One moment please! Chotto matte kudasai.ちょっと待ってください。
Hold on please! (phone) Chotto matte kudasai.ちょっと待ってください。
How much is this? Kore wa ikura desuka?これはいくらですか?
Excuse me …! (to ask for something) Sumimasen!すみません!
Excuse me! ( to pass by) Sumimasen!すみません!
Come with me! Watashi to issho ni kite kudasai.私といっしょに来てください。
How to Introduce Yourself
Do you speak (English/ Japanese)? Anata wa eigo/nihongo wo hanashimasu ka?あなたは(英語/日本語)を話しますか?
Just a little. Sukoshi dake.少しだけ。
What’s your name? Namae wa nandesu ka?名前は何ですか?
My name is … Watashi no namae wa …..私の名前は・・・
Mr…/ Mrs.…/ Miss… “san” is adequate for all.   ・・・さん
Nice to meet you! Hajimemashite! or Oai dekite ureshii desu.はじめまして!/お会いできてうれしいです!
You’re very kind! Anata wa totemo shinsetsu desu.あなたはとてもしんせつです。
Where are you from? Doko no shusshin desu ka?どこの出身ですか?
I’m from (the U.S/ Japan) Amerika/Nihon kara desu.アメリカ/日本からです。
I’m (American) Watashi wa Amerika jin desu.私はアメリカ人です。
Where do you live? Doko ni sun de imasu ka?どこに住んでいますか?
I live in (the U.S/ Japan) Watashi wa amerika / nihon ni sundeimasu.私はアメリカ/日本に住んでいます。
Did you like it here? Kokowa suki ni narimashita ka?ここは好きになりましたか?
Japan is a wonderful country Nihon ha subarashii kuni desu.日本は素晴らしい国です。
What do you do for a living? Osigoto wa nandesu ka?   お仕事は何ですか?
I work as a (translator/ businessman) Osigoto wa nandesu ka?ほんやく/会社員として働いています。
I like Japanese Watashi wa nihongo ga suki desu.私は日本語が好きです。
I’ve been learning Japanese for 1 month Watashi wa nihongo wo ichikagetu narrate imasu.私は日本語を一ヶ月習っています。
Oh! That’s good! Sorewa iidesu ne.それはいいですね。
How old are you? Toshi wa ikutsu desu ka?年はいくつですか?
I’m (twenty, thirty…) years old. Watshi wa (20, 30) sai desu.私は才です。
I have to go Ikanakutewa narimasen.行かなくてはなりません。
I will be right back! Sugu modori masu.すぐ戻ります。
Wish Someone Something
Good luck! Ganbatte ne!がんばってね!
Happy birthday! Tanjyoubi omedetou gozaimasu!誕生日おめでとうございます!
Happy new year! Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu.あけましておめでとうございます。
Merry Christmas! Merii Kurisumasu!メリークリスマス!
Congratulations! Omedetou!おめでとう!
Enjoy! (for meals…) (noun, etc) wo tanoshinde kudasai.   ( )を楽しんでください。
I’d like to visit Japan one day Ituka nihon wo otozure tai.いつか日本を訪れたい。
Say hi to John for me John ni yoroshiku to tsutaete kudasai.Johnによろしくと伝えてください。
Bless you (when sneezing) Odaiji ni.お大事に。
Good night and sweet dreams! Oyasumi nasai.おやすみなさい。
Solving a Misunderstanding
I’m Sorry! (if you don’t hear something) Sumimasen.すみません。
Sorry (for a mistake) Gomenasai.ごめんなさい。
No Problem! Daijyoubu desu.大丈夫です。
Can You Say It Again? Mouichido itte kuremasuka?もういちど言ってくれますか?
Can You Speak Slowly? Yukkuri shabette kuremasuka?   ゆっくりしゃべってくれますか?
Write It Down Please! Kaite kudasai.   書いてください。
I Don’t Understand! Wakarimasen.   わかりません。
I Don’t Know! Shirimasen.   知りません。
I Have No Idea. Wakarimasen.   わかりません。
What’s That Called In Japanese? Arewa nihongo de nanto iimasu ka?あれは日本語で何といいますか?
What Does “gato” Mean In English? “Omedeto” wa eigo de douiu imi desu ka?Omedetoは英語でどういう意味ですか?
How Do You Say “Please” In Japanese? “Please” wa nihongo de nanto iimasu ka?“Please” は日本語で何と言いますか?
What Is This? Korewa nandesu ka?   これは何ですか?
My Japanese is bad. Watashi no nihongo wa heta desu.私の日本語はへたです。
I need to practice my Japanese Nihonn go wo renshu suru hitsuyou ga arimasu.日本語を練習する必要があります。
Don’t worry! Goshinpai naku.ご心配なく。
Japanese Expressions
Good/ Bad/ So-So. Yoi / Warui / maa-maaよい/悪い/まあまあ
Big/ Small Ookii/Chiisai大きい/小さい
Today/ Now Kyou / Ima今日/今
Tomorrow/ Yesterday Ashita / Kinou明日/昨日
Yes/ No Hai / iieはい/いいえ
Here you go! (when giving something) Hai, douzo!はい、どうぞ。
Do you like it? Suki desu ka?好きですか?
I really like it! Honto ni suki desu.ほんとに好きです。
I’m hungry/ thirsty. Onaka ga suki masita. / Nodo ga kawaki mashita.おなかが空きました。/のどがかわきました。
In The Morning/ Evening/ At Night. Asa ni, yuugata ni, yoru ni朝に/夕方に/夜に
This/ That. Here/There Kore / Are Koko / Asoko   これ/あれ  ここ/あそこ
Me/ You. Him/ Her. Watashi / anata Kare / Kanojyo私/あなた 彼/彼女
Really! Honto!ほんと!
Look! Mite!見て!
Hurry up! Isoide!急いで!
What? Where? Nani? Doko?何? どこ?
What time is it? Nanji desu ka?何時ですか?
It’s 10 o’clock. 07:30pm. Jyuji desu. Gogo hichi ji sanjyu pun desu.十時です。午後7時30分です。
Give me this! Kore wo kudasai!これをください。
I love you! Daisuki desu./ Anata wo aishite imasu. *9大好きです。/あなたを愛しています。
I feel sick. Choshi ga warui desu.調子が悪いです。
I need a doctor Byouin ni ikitai.病院に行きたい。

Cognates are words found in two different languages that have similar phonemic structures and the same meaning. These words have the same root or origin. There are many Japanese/English cognates. Becoming aware of these cognates can help beginning Japanese language students increase their vocabulary.

Pronunciation Note For Japanese/English Cognates

A note of caution: even though the romaji versions of the Japanese words included below are derived or imported from the English versions, the Japanese words will have their own unique pronunciations. This is because of the difference in sounds between the two languages. For instance, there is no “l” sound in the Japanese language, so that English phoneme often translates as a form of “r.” Be sure to review Japanese pronunciations or ask a Japanese speaker to pronounce these words.

The following Japanese/English cognates are grouped into categories to put them into useful contexts. Because they are borrowed from English, they are typically spelled in Japanese using the katakana alphabet. To view the words in katakana, try Yahoo’s Babel Fish website. Input the English version, then select translate from English to Japanese.

Musical Cognates

  • gita – guitar
  • toranpetto – trumpet
  • piano – piano
  • hamonica – harmonica

Sports Cognates

boru – ball

basukettoboru – basketball

sakka – soccer

tenisu – tennis

futtoboru – football

Food Cognates

  • banana – banana
  • chokoreto – chocolate
  • keki – cake
  • aisukuriimu – ice cream
  • pikunikku – picnic
  • sandoichi – sandwich
  • chizu – cheese

Household Items Cognates

  • toiretto-pepa – toilet paper
  • shawa – shower
  • suponji –sponge
  • taoru – towel
  • burashi – brush
  • nekkuresu – necklace
  • sutsukesu – suitcase
  • karenda – calendar
  • kamera – camera
  • rajio – radio
  • shiidii – CD
  • bideo – video
  • kusshon – cushion/pillow
  • sofa – sofa
  • teburu – table
  • ranpu – lamp
  • beddo – bed
  • shitsu – sheet
  • doa – door
  • suicchi – switch
  • kohii-kappu – coffee cup
  • naifu – knife
  • purezento – present

Tools and Automotive Cognates

  • moppu – mop
  • hanma – hammer
  • antenna – antenna
  • robotto – robot
  • taiya – tire
  • enjin – engine
  • batterii – battery
  • oriu – oil
  • gasorin – gasoline

Animal Cognates

  • panda – panda
  • raion – lion
  • pengin – penguin
  • gorira – gorilla
  • kangaru – kangaroo
  • baffaro – buffalo

Places to Go Cognates

  • patii – party
  • apato – apartment
  • resutoran – restaurant
  • hoteru – hotel

Transportation Cognates

  • yotto – yacht
  • kanu – canoe
  • herikoputa – helicopter
  • basu – bus
  • takushii – taxi
  • torakku – truck
  • roketto – rocket

Japanese to English Cognates

The words in the above cognate lists are Japanese words that were borrowed from the English. However, there are a growing number of Japanese words that have become part of the English lexicon. Here are a few:

  • karaoke – singing to prerecorded music
  • karate – a form of martial arts or self defense
  • origami – the art of paper folding
  • sushi – a rice ball with slice raw fish or vegetable on top
  • tsunami – a destructive tidal wave
  • samurai – Japanese warriors
  • sake – Japanese rice wine
  • kimono – a traditional Japanese dress or robe
  • hibachi – a portable charcoal grill (English version); an open-topped container, generally cylindrical or box-shaped, designed to hold burning charcoal (Japanese version)

Identifying cognates can help those who study Japanese to learn usable vocabulary quickly. The above cognate inventory is by no means a complete list; but it provides a starting place to increase functional vocabulary. The list can be added to as new cognates are discovered.

Japanese Verbs

Some Japanese verbs are more specific when describing actions than English verbs. While there is only one verb used for a certain action in English, there might be several different verbs in Japanese. One of the examples is the verb “to wear.” In English, it can used as, “I wear a hat,” “I wear gloves,” “I wear glasses” and so on. However, Japanese has different verbs depending on which part of the body it will be worn on. Let’s take a look how the Japanese describe “to wear.”

Boushi o kaburu.帽子をかぶる。(“Kaburu” is used for putting on the head.) I wear a hat.
Megane o kakeru.めがねをかける。(“Kakeru” also means, “to hang.”) I wear glasses.
Iyaringu o tsukeru.イヤリングをつける。(“Tsukeru” also means, “to attach.”) I wear earrings.
Nekutai o shimeru.ネクタイを締める。(“Shimeru” also means, “to tie.”) I wear a tie.
Sukaafu o maku.スカーフを巻く。(Maku” also means “to wrap around.”) I wear scarf.
Tebukuro o hameru.手袋をはめる。(“Hameru” also means, “to insert.”) I wear gloves.
Yubiwa o hameru.指輪をはめる。 I wear rings.
Tokei o suru.時計をする。 I wear a watch.
Shatsu o kiru.シャツを着る。(“Kiru” is used for putting on the body.) I wear shirts.
Zubon o haku.ズボンをはく。(“Haku” is used for putting on the legs.) I wear pants.
Kutsu o haku.靴を履く。(“Haku” is also used for putting on footwear.) I wear shoes.

Another example is the verb “to play.”

Piano o hiku.ピアノを弾く。(“Hiku” is used to play the musical instrument that requires the manipulation of fingers .) I play the piano.
Fue o fuku.笛を吹く。(“Fuku” is used to play the musical instrument that requires blowing.) I play the flute.
Taiko o tataku.太鼓をたたく。(“Tataku” is used to play the musical instrument that requires beating.) I play the drum.
Rekoodo o kakeru.レコードをかける。 I am playing a record.
Toranpu o suru.トランプをする。 I play cards.
Yakyuu o suru.野球をする。(“Suru” can be used for most sports.) I play baseball.
Romio o enjiru.ロミオを演じる。 I play the role of Romeo.

Speaking Japanese shouldn’t be too complicated even for beginners. Try these simple phrases whenever you have a chance. The more you practice, the better you get!

Mou ichido itte kudasai. Pardon?
Hontou? Really?
Daijoubu? Okay?
Sou deshou? Right?
Dakara? So?
E? Sorry?
Wakaru deshou? See?

Disagreement Responses.

I’m sorry. Gomennasai.

Demo… But…
Dame desu. Bad.
Muri desu. Impossible!
Chigaimasu. Wrong.
Yamete kudasai. Stop!
Shinjirarenai. Unbelievable!
Okashii desu ne. Strange.

Useful Japanese phrase

English 日本語 (Japanese)
Welcome ようこそ (yōkoso)
Hello 今日は (konnichiwa)おっす (ossu) – used between close male friendsもしもし (moshi moshi) – on phone
How are you?I’m fine, thanks. And you? お元気ですか? (o genki desu ka)
はい、元気です。あなたは? (hai, genki desu. anata wa?)お蔭様で元気です (o kagesama de genki desu)
Long time no see 久しぶり (hisashiburi) お久しぶりですね (o hisashiburi desu ne)
What’s your name?My name is … お名前はなんですか? (o-namae wa nan desu ka)
… だ (… da) (inf) …です (… desu) (frm)
Where are you from?I’m from … どこからですか (Doko kara desu ka?)どちらからですか (Dochira kara desu ka?) – frm
私は … からです (watashi wa … kara desu)
Pleased to meet you 初めまして (hajimemashite)初めまして。どうぞ宜しく (hajimemashite. dōzo yoroshiku) replyお会いできて嬉しいです (oaidekite ureshii desu)
Good morning お早うございます (ohayō gozaimasu) お早う (ohayō)
Good afternoon 今日は (konnichiwa)
Good evening 今晩は (konbanwa)
Good night おやすみなさい (oyasumi nasai) おやすみ (oyasumi)
Goodbye さようなら (sayōnara)行って来ます (ittekimasu) – I’ll be back – you are leaving行ってらっしゃい (itterasshai) – come back soon – you are stayingじゃあまたね (jā mata ne) – see you later
Good luck ご幸運を祈ります! (gokoūn o inorimasu)
Cheers/Good health! 乾杯 (kanpai) lit. “dry glass”
Have a nice day 良い一日を (Yoi ichinichi o)
Bon appetit(Have a good meal) どうぞめしあがれ (douzo meshiagare) = ‘enjoy your meal’ – said by the cook/chefいただきます (itadakimasu) – said before a meal by those eating itご馳走さま (gochisōsama) – said after a meal by those who have eaten it
Bon voyage(Have a good journey) よい旅行を (yoi ryokō o)ごきげんよう! (gokigen yō – Goodbye / Good luck)行っていらっしゃい! (itte irasshai – Go and come back)一路平安を祈る (ichiroheian o inoru)- I wish you a smooth road (old fashioned)
Excuse me すみません! (sumimasen)
How much is this? いくらですか (ikura desu ka?)
Sorry ごめんなさい! (gomen nasai)
Thank youResponse どうも (dōmo)ありがとう (arigatō)ありがとうございます (arigatō gozaimasu)どうもありがとう (dōmo arigatō)どうもありがとうございます (dōmo arigatō gozaimasu)
どう致しましてどういたしまして (dō itashimashite)
Where’s the toilet? 便所はどこですか。 (benjo wa doko desu ka)トイレはどこですか。 (toire wa doko desu ka)
This gentleman/ladywill pay for everything この人が全部払います (konohito ga zembu haraimasu)
Would you like todance with me? 一緒に踊りませんか。 (isshoni odorimasenka?)
I love you 好きです (suki desu) 好きだ (suki da)好きだよ (suki dayo) 好きよ (suki yo)大好きです (daisuki desu)愛してるよ (aishiteru yo)愛してるわ (aishiteru wa) – only said by women
Get well soon お大事に (odaiji ni)

Language Difficulties

I don’t understand わかりません (wakarimasen) わからない (wakaranai) – inf
Please speak more slowly ゆっくり話してください (yukkuri hanashite kudasai)ゆっくり言ってください (yukkuri itte kudasai)
Please write it down 書いてください (kaite kudasai)書いて、頂けますか (kaite itadakemasu ka)
Please say it again もう一度、言ってください (mō ichido, itte kudasai)
Do you speak Japanese?Yes, a little 日本語を話しますか (Nihongo o hanashimasu ka?)日本語が話せますか (Nihongo ga hanasemasu ka?)日本語が出来ますか (Nihongo ga dekimasu ka?)
はい、話します (Hai, hanashimasu)はい、話せます (Hai, hanasemasu)はい、出来ます (Hai, dekimasu)
How do you say …in Japanese? ...を日本語で何と言いますか。(…o nihongo de nanto īmasu ka?)
I don’t speak Japanese 日本語は話せません (Nihongo wa hanasemasen)
Do you speak English? 英語ができますか (Eigo ga dekimasu ka?)
Does anyonespeak English? 誰か、英語が話せますか(dare ka, eigo ga hanasemasu ka?)
Sorry, I didn’tunderstand that すみません。分かりませんでした(sumimasen. wakarimasen deshita)
What did you say? なんて、言いましたか (nan te, iimashita ka?)
Can you translateit for me? 訳してください (yakushite kudasai)
What does this mean? これは、何という意味ですか(kore wa, nan to iu imi desu ka)


Leave me alone! ほっといて! (hottoite!)
Help!Fire! 助けて! (tasukete!)火事だ! (kaji da!)
Call the police! 警察を呼んでください! (keisatsu o yonde kudasai!)

Special occasions

Merry Christmas メリークリスマス (merī kurisumasu)
Happy New Year New Year greeting – ‘Western’ style新年おめでとうございます (shinnen omedetō gozaimasu)New Year greetings (used before New Year)良いお年を (yoi otoshi o) – inf良いお年をお迎え下さい (yoi otoshi o omukae kudasai) – frm

New Year greetings (used at New Year, not before)


(akemashite omedetō gozaimasu)


(kyūnenjū taihen osewa ni narimashita)


(honnen mo yoroshiku onegai itashimasu)Happy Easter復活祭おめでとう (fukkatsusai omedetō)イースターおめでとう (īsutā omedetō)Happy Birthdayお誕生日おめでとうございます (otanjōbi omedetō gozaimasu)

Other phrases

One language is never enough 言語を一つは消して足りない(gengo o hitotsu wa keshite tarinai)
My hovercraft is full of eels 私のホバークラフトは鰻でいっぱいです(Watashi no hobākurafuto wa unagi de ippai desu.)

More Japanese Phrases

  • Hello.

Konnichiwa. (kon-nee-chee-WAH)

  • How are you?

O-genki desu ka? (oh-GEN-kee dess-KAH?)

  • Fine, thank you.

Genki desu. (GEN-kee dess)

  • What is your name?

O-namae wa nan desu ka? (oh-NAH-mah-eh wah NAHN dess-KAH?)

  • My name is ____ .

Watashi no namae wa ____ desu. (wah-TAH-shee no nah-mah-eh wa ____ dess)

  • Nice to meet you.

Hajimemashite. (hah-jee-meh-MOSH-teh)

  • Please. (request)

Onegai shimasu. (oh-neh-gigh shee-moss)

  • Please. (offer)

Dōzo. (DOH-zo)

  • Thank you.

Dōmo arigatō. (doh-moh ah-ree-GAH-toh)

  • You’re welcome.

Dō itashi mashite. (doh EE-tah-shee mosh-teh)

  • Yes.

Hai. (HIGH)

  • No.

Iie. (EE-eh)

  • Excuse me.

Sumimasen. (soo-mee-mah-sen)

  • I’m sorry.

Gomen-nasai. (goh-men-nah-sigh)

  • Goodbye. (long-term)

Sayōnara. (sa-YOH-nah-rah)

  • Goodbye. (informal)

Sore dewa. (SOH-reh deh-wah)

  • I can’t speak Japanese [well].

Nihongo [yoku] hanasemasen. (nee-hohn-goh [yo-koo] hah-nah-seh-mah-sen)

  • Do you speak English?

Eigo o hanasemasuka? (AY-goh oh hah-nah-seh-moss-KAH?)

  • Is there someone here who speaks English?

Dareka eigo o hanasemasuka? (dah-reh-kah AY-goh oh hah-nah-seh-moss-KAH?)

  • Help!

Tasukete! (tah-soo-keh-teh!)

  • Look out!

Abunai! (ah-boo-NIGH!)

  • Good morning.

Ohayō gozaimasu. (oh-hah-YOH go-zigh-moss)

  • Good evening.

Konbanwa. (kohm-bahn-wah)

  • Good night (to sleep)

Oyasuminasai. (oh-yah-soo-mee-nah-sigh)

  • I don’t understand.

Wakarimasen. (wah-kah-ree-mah-sen)

  • Where is the toilet?

Toire wa doko desu ka? (toy-reh wah DOH-koh dess kah?)

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