Nihon e youkoso! (Welcome to Japan!) where futuristic cities, rolling countryside, magnificent mountains, stunning beaches and beautifully traditional old-world temples and towns attract travelers from around the world to experience the real essence of what this vibrant and cultural nation has to offer (as well as a few bizarre things thrown in for good measure!)

With so many different things to see, do and explore in Japan, it's impossible to take it all in during one stay - which explains why so many tourists come back to savor Japan's magical scenery, fascinating history and culture, and epic city skylines time and time again. Whether folks want to see the gorgeous temples, castles, and traditional towns in Kyoto and Osaka, the bustling metropolises of Tokyo, the stunning countryside of Kyushu and Hokkaido, or the tropical paradises of Okinawa - Japan is a breathtaking land of contrasts that truly has it all.


For first-timers, communicating in Japanese may be hard - after all, it's not known to be one of the easiest languages in the world! However, to help Japan-bound travelers get the most out of their stay, this language guide is sure to be useful. And, to get help with reading and pronunciation (Japanese is read and spoken very literally and phonetically), copy and paste any of the Japanese words and phrases in this guide (the hiragana, katakana, and kanji symbols) into Google Translate and click on the audio button to hear an accurate and clear reading.

Related: These Are Japan's Top Tourist Attractions (AKA The Most-Visited Places In The Country)

Introductions And Greetings

It goes without saying that any tourist to Japan will benefit from knowing a few basic introductions, greetings, and etiquette words and phrases. Hellos, goodbyes, pleases, and thank yous always get visitors much further than those who say nothing, or who simply speak in English. Whilst many Japanese people - particularly those in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka - might know a little bit of English, it's not common for most people to do so, and since they're known for being quite a modest nation of people, many can be hesitant to speak English.

But travelers can make it easy for everyone by learning a few basics, which serves not only to provide better communication, but also is great for making new friends and having a good time with the locals, and it makes most Japanese people extremely impressed and appreciative of the effort put into speaking their language. With this in mind, here are a few words and phrases that bode well when making first acquaintance.

  • Konnichiwa - こんにちは (Hello) - you can use this to say hello throughout the whole day
  • Ohayou gozaimasu -おはようございます (Good morning)
  • Konbanwa -こんばんは (Hello/good evening)
  • Youkoso - ようこそ (Welcome)
  • Watashi no namae wa _____ desu -私の名前は___です (My name is_____)
  • Anata no namae wa nan desu ka? -あなたの名前は何ですか? (What is your name?)
  • O genki desu ka? - お元気ですか? (How are you?)
  • Genki desu - 元気です (I'm fine)
  • _____ o kudasai - をください (I would like _____ please )
  • Onegaishimasu / kudasai - お願いします /ください (Please)
  • Arigatou -ありがとう(Thank you) - note that this alone is very informal and should only be used with friends
  • Arigatou gozaimasu - ありがとうございます (Thank you very much) - this is the formal and polite way of showing gratitude
  • Douitashimashite -どういたしまして (You're welcome)
  • Sumimasen -すみません (Excuse me/sorry)
  • Gomen nasai -ごめんなさい (Sorry)
  • Sayonara -さよなら (Goodbye)
  • Jya mata! - じゃあまた (See you!)
  • Jya mata ato de! -じゃあまた後で (See you later!)
  • Jya mata ashita! -じゃあまた明日 (See you tomorrow!)
  • Hai - はい (Yes)
  • Iie - いいえ (No)

Related: 20 Mythical Sites So Legendary They're Worth Planning A Trip To Japan

Useful Words And Phrases For Everyday Use

These next few place-related words are super handy for any traveler who intends to see all that Japan has to offer, from mega-cities and malls to the country's stunning beaches, mighty mountains, historic temples and Shinto shrines, and lush green countryside. Japan as a whole really does offer everything, so whether tourists are keen on exploring the nation's traditional and historic side, its unbeatably beautiful rural and nature hotspots, or its beaming metropolises of ultra-modern futurism, every traveler will be kept well-entertained during their stay.

  • Kouen - 公園 (Park)
  • Mooru -モール (Shopping mall)
  • Resutoran -レストラン (Restaurant)
  • Kafe -カフェ(Cafe)
  • Kyoukai - 教会 (Church)
  • Keisatsushou - 警察署 (Police station)
  • Byouin - 病院 (Hospital)
  • Hoteru - ホテル (Hotel)
  • Eki - 駅 (Train station)
  • Densha - 電車 (Train)
  • Basutei - バス停 (Bus station)
  • Basu - バス (Bus)
  • Kuuko - 空港 (Airport)
  • Hikouki - 飛行機 (Airplane)
  • Takushii -タクシー (Taxi)
  • Shinkansen - 新幹線 (Bullet train)
  • Biichi - ビーチ (Beach)
  • Umi - 海 (Sea)
  • Inaka - 田舎 (Countryside/rural area)
  • Machi - 町 (The city)
  • Otera - お寺 (Temple)

Related: The Do's And Don'ts Of Preparing For A Trip To Japan

Basic Verbs

In addition to the handy vocabulary above, it's worth learning a few basic verbs as well. Combining these everyday verbs with words in this guide will help visitors to Japan be more understood, and will serve to be useful when trying to communicate wants and needs.

Japanese verbs are very easy to identify - they typically always come after the noun or at the end of the sentence (which is the opposite of how English verbs work), and they all end in "masu," (pronounced mass) which is helpful when memorizing the following:

  • Shimasu -します(Do/make) - note that this verb can combine with many words to create an action, for example: kaimono o shimasu 買い物をします(go/do shopping)
  • Ikimasu - 行きます (Go)
  • Kimasu - 来ます (Come)
  • Tabemasu - 食べます (Eat)
  • Nomimasu - 飲みます (Drink)
  • Nemasu - 寝ます (Sleep)
  • Kaerimasu - 帰ります (Return/Go home) - you can say kaerimasu when you intend to go back to the hotel for example
  • Kaimasu - 買います (Buy)
  • Yomimasu - 読みます (Read)
  • Kakimasu - 書きます (Write)

It's never harmful to know a few time-related words and phrases in Japanese either. Whilst travelers probably won't go around asking folks what time it is in the modern-day, these following words and phrases may prove to be helpful when specifying certain times - particularly in further sections of this language guide.

  • Ima nanji desu ka? - 今何時ですか (What time is it now?)
  • Nanji ni? - 何時に (At what time?)
  • Ima - 今 (Now)
  • Asa - 朝 (Morning)
  • Kyou - 今日 (Today)
  • Ashita - 明日 (Tomorrow)
  • Konshuu - 今週 (This week)
  • Raishuu - 来週 (Next week)
  • Itsu? - いつ (When?)

Related: 10 Shinto Shrines In Japan Worth Visiting

Transportation And Getting Around

Japan's transportation is one of the most efficient in the world, with the train systems being used every day to move millions of people around. Visitors can get the highly useful JR pass to use the railways with minimal fuss (whilst saving too!) or simply pay for each journey every time. There are also buses in operation and taxis, which serve tourists equally well. And for those who are feeling confident, car rental is also possible, although visitors will have to carry an international driver's license to rent and drive vehicles.

What's more, bicycling in Japan is extremely common and very safe, with plenty of bike lanes for cyclists to use - particularly in large cities. It's also possible to walk to many areas within a city, which can be a fun experience for those who want to take in the scenery at their own pace and people-watch along the way.

Whatever mode of transport, and for those in need of directions, these next few words and phrases should prove useful for tourists who need to get around Japan. Japanese people can sometimes be quite shy if asked for directions by a foreigner, however, as long as they're asked politely and clearly, most are delighted to help a tourist in need and will be very appreciative (and impressed) that a visitor has made the effort to speak their language.

  • Sumimasen, michi wo kiite mo ii desu ka? - すみません、道を聞いてもいいですか? (Excuse me, may I ask you for directions?)
  • Sumimasen, tasukete kudasaimasen ka? - すみません、助けてくださいませんか? (Excuse me, please can you help me?)
  • Asoko - あそこ (Over there)
  • Soko - そこ (There)
  • Koko - ここ (Here)
  • Doko - どこ (Where)
  • Doko desu ka? - どこですか? (Where is it?)
  • Massugu - まっすぐ (Forwards/straight ahead)
  • Hidari - 左 (Left)
  • Migi - 右 (Right)
  • Sumimasen, eki wa doko desu ka? - すみません、駅はどこですか? (Excuse me, where is the train station?)
  • Sumimasen, otera wa doko desu ka? - すみません、お寺はどこですか ? (Excuse me, where is the temple?)
  • Sumimasen, resutoran wa doko desu ka? - すみません、レストランはどこですか?(Excuse me, where is a restaurant?)
  • Sumimasen, mooru ni ikitai desu - すみません、モールに行きたいです (Excuse me, I want to go to the mall)
  • Sumimasen, kafe ni ikitai desu - すみません、カフェに行きたいです (Excuse me, I want to go to a cafe)
  • Tooi desu ka? - 遠いですか? (Is it far?)
  • Chikai desu ka? - 近いですか? (Is it nearby?)
  • Masssugu desu - まっすぐです (It's straight ahead)
  • Hidari gawa desu - 左側です (It's on the left side)
  • Migi gawa desu - 右側です (It's on the right side)
  • Tonari  -となり (Next)
  • Mae - 前 (In front of)
  • Ushiro - 後ろ (Behind)
  • Kita - 北 (North)
  • Minami - 南 (South)
  • Higashi - 東 (East)
  • Nishi - 西) (West)
  • Michi - 道 (Street/road/path)
  • Hashi - 橋 (Bridge)
  • Kado - 角 (Corner)
  • Kousaten - 交差点 (Interchange/crossing)
  • Chuushajou - 駐車場 (Car park/parking lot)

At The Train Station

Whether or not a visitor has the handy Japan Rail Pass (which is a convenient railway pass designed for tourists who want to explore Japan and save money on train and bullet train costs), chances are, they'll get around by train. Japan's railway system is one of the best in the world and is the cheapest, fastest, and most convenient way to get around - both in cities and across the country.

Every city has its own outstanding and well-organized train network, but for slightly longer cross country journeys (from Tokyo to Kyoto or Osaka for example), riding the world-famous shinkansen (bullet train) is the way to go - plus there's nothing like tucking into a fresh bento (a special kind of Japanese lunchbox that looks almost too pretty to eat) on board when zooming by Japan's glorious cities, mountains and countryside scenery on the bullet train. Top tip: when traveling by bullet train, ask the steward for an ekiben (train station lunchbox) - a delicious, traditional packed lunch bought on trains and in train stations designed to be compact and to fill busy commuters on the move. Train riders can also find tempting ekiben in any train station as well.

  • Eki - 駅 (Train station)
  • Densha - 電車 (Train)
  • Shinkansen - 新幹線 (Bullet train)
  • Sen - 線 (Line)
  • Kippu/chiketto - 切符 (Ticket)
  • _____ made no kippu/chiketto wo kudasai - _____までのチケットをください (Can I have a ticket to _______ please?
  • Osaka made no kippu/chicketto wo kudasai - 大阪までのチケットをください (Can I have a ticket to Osaka please?)
  • Dono densha? -どの電車? (Which train?)
  • Densha wa nanji ni touchaku shimasu ka? - 電車は何時に到着しますか? (What time does the train arrive?)
  • Densha wa nanji ni shuppatsu shimasu ka? - 電車は何時に出発しますか? (What time does the train depart?)
  • Dono kurai kakarimasu ka? - どのくらいかかりますか (How long does it take?)
  • Norikae wa arimasu ka? - 乗り換えはありますか (Is there a transfer?)

Related: Why It's Rude To Talk On Japan's Trains, And More Travel Don'ts

Taking A Taxi

Trains are the most convenient and popular way to get around in Japan, but they can be intimidating to first-timers, especially those who aren't confident with navigating the networks or trying to speak Japanese. Fear not, for there are indeed taxi services to use, although they do typically cost a bit more than trains. Most cities have taxis in service, and many areas have taxi stands where they drive up in a line to wait for customers. Wait in line, and when a driver approaches, that's the cue to hop on board.

It's also important to be aware that most taxis in Japan are fitted with an automated button that opens and closes the vehicle door, so it's advised to remember not to open or close it - the driver should do this for the customer. It's also worth noting that paying with cash is more the norm in Japan than paying by credit card, so don't forget to carry plenty of cash, and if intending to pay with a card, be sure to ask the driver if they take card payments before accepting a ride.

  • _____ made onegaishimasu - までお願いします (I'd like to go to _____ please)
  • Ikura desu ka? - いくらですか (How much does it cost?)
  • Kurejitto kaado de ii desu ka? - クレジットカードでいいですか ? (Can I pay by credit card?)

Related: This Is Why So Many People Are Falling In Love With Kyoto, Japan

Restaurants, Food, And Drink

Now, here's the juicy part - Japan's cuisine is among the world's most unique and delicious, with a stunningly beautiful presentation to match. Whilst you can find plenty of international restaurants in Japanese cities, why wouldn't folks take advantage of enjoying real Japanese food in real Japan? There's lots of variety with Japanese food, from fried delicacies, sumptuous stews, and pristine rice and noodle bowls, to tasty sushi, exquisite seafood, prime meats (Okinawan and Kobe beef, in particular, are amazing!) and an entourage of pretty desserts, ice creams, and cakes that look far too cute to devour. Also, any tourist's Japan escapade would be incomplete without a visit to a kissaten - a traditional Japanese coffee shop serving a range of delicious hot drinks and irresistible snacks.

Plus, for booze-lovers, Japan offers just as much alcohol variation, including traditional Japanese sake, Japanese whisky, shochu, tasty Japanese beers and wines, and no shortage of other traditional alcoholic beverages. It's also common practice in many authentic Japanese restaurants and izakaya (a kind of Japanese pub) for customers to sit or kneel on low-down tables and cushions when tucking into a meal and enjoying a drink or five. No matter where visitors wine and dine in this fascinating country of contrasts, these following words and phrases should be useful for hungry tummies and thirsty tongues in Japan.

  • Itadakimasu - いただきます – (An expression of gratitude for the meal you’re about to eat - it kind of means "let's eat" and "thank you for the meal" all in one)
  • ____ onegaishimasu -お願いします (I'll have _____ please) - Just add onegaishimasu to politely ask for any item
  • Sakana - 魚 (Fish)
  • Niku - 肉 (Meat)
  • Yasai - 野菜 (Vegetables)
  • Vejitarian - ベジタリアン (Vegetarian)
  • Biiru - ビール
  • Koohii - コーヒー (Coffee)
  • Mizu - 水 (Water)
  • Ocha - お茶 (Tea)
  • Mizu onegaishimasu - 水お願いします (I'll have some water, please)
  • Ocha onegaishimasu -  お茶お願いします(I'll have tea, please)
  • Eigo no menyuu arimasu ka? - 英語のメニューありますか - (Do you have an English menu?)
  • Omakase de - お任せで  (Say this to order the chef’s recommendation)
  • O-sake - お酒 – (The general term for alcohol)
  • Nihonshu - 日本酒 – (Japanese sake)
  • Kinen Seki - 禁煙席 ( Non-smoking seat)
  • Okaikei kudasai - お会計ください (Could I have the bill, please? )
  • Kurejitto kaado de daijoubu desu ka? - クレジットカードで大丈夫ですか (Can I pay by credit card?)

Related: Japanese Food Etiquette: The Dos And Don'ts Of Dining In Japan


Accommodation in Japan is just as varied as the culture, with no lack of well-known chain accommodations, boutique hotels of varying stars, pretty guesthouses, and authentic homestays. There really is something for every kind of traveler on every kind of budget.

Those with a bit more cash to spare should not skip out on an authentic stay at a traditional Japanese ryokan - a beautiful and cultural kind of hotel with stunning Japanese décor and architecture (think lovely tatami flooring, futons, and sliding doors), as well as sumptuous onsen hot springs where guests can unwind and enjoy a warm dip in naturally heated waters.

And for those that really want to experience something unique yet somewhat bizarre, Japan's famous capsule hotels are definitely something to consider for a night or two. Wherever a visitor stays, the language doesn't change - so have these next accommodation-related words and phrases handy when staying in a Japanese hotel.

  • Kagi - 鍵 (Key)
  • Chouba / furonto desuku - 帳場 / フロントデスク (Reception/front desk)
  • Robii - ロビ (Lobby)
  • Shokudou - 食堂 (Dining room)
  • Shinguru ruumu - シングルルーム (Single room)
  • Daburu ruumu -  ダブルルーム (Double room)
  • Shinguru beddo - シングルベッド (Single bed)
  • Daburu beddo - ダブルベッド (Double bed)
  • Chekku auto - チェックアウト (Check out)
  • Chekku in - チェックイン (Check in)
  • Chekku in wo onegaishimasu - チェックインをお願いします (I'd like to check in please)
  • Chekkku auto wo onegaishimasu - チェックアウトをお願いします (I'd like to check out please)
  • Chekku auto wa nanji desu ka - チェックアウトは何時ですか (What time is check out?)
  • Yoyaku - 予約 (Reservation/booking)
  • Yoyaku wo shitai desu -予約をしたいです (I'd like to make a reservation)
  • Onsuiito - オンスイート (Ensuite bathroom)
  • Toire -トイレ (Toilet/bathroom/restroom)
  • Shawaa - シャワー (Shower)
  • Basutabu - バスタブ (Bathtub)
  • Taoru -タオル (Towel)
  • Kaji-gakari かじがかり (Housekeeping)
  • Sentaku 選択 (Laundry)
  • Nimotsu - にもつ (Luggage)
  • Ha burashi - 歯ブラシ (Toothbrush)
  • Ha migaki - 歯磨き (Toothpaste)
  • Sekken/soopu - 石鹸 / ソープ (Soap)
  • Shanpu - シャンプ (Shampoo)
  • Kondishonaa - コンディショナー (Conditioner)
  • Kamisori - かみそり (Razor)
  • Terebi -テレビ (Television)


Japan's shopping scene is truly something to behold. There's nowhere quite like it on Earth, with plenty of mind-blowing malls, shopping strips, markets, and stalls selling all kinds of stuff. Shopaholics can buy everything from Japanese foods and delicacies, handmade items, and second-hand goods and fashion, to high-end designer fashion, touristic souvenirs, and beautiful Japanese items (such as yukatas, kimonos, and other gorgeous and traditional clothing, shoes, accessories, and souvenirs). There's also a konbini (convenience store) seemingly on every street corner, so nobody can ever be caught short on essentials in Japan.

Also, whenever someone enters a shop or any kind of business, it's normal to be greeted with irasshaimase, which is a formal welcome and a "hello" and "thank you for shopping" to any customer entering the premises. It's not necessary to reply, however it's polite as a foreigner to smile and acknowledge a store clerk who greets and welcomes them. Wherever shopping takes you, keep these next words and phrases handy.

  • Kaimono - 買い物(Shopping)
  • Kaimono o shimasu - 買い物をします (Do shopping)
  • Kaimono ni ikimasu - 買い物に行きます(Go shopping)
  • Kaimono ni ikimashou! - 買い物に行きましょう(Let's go shopping!)
  • Konbini - コンビニ (Convenience store)
  • Suupaamaaketto - スーパーマーケット (Supermarket)
  • Ikura desu ka? - いくらですか?(How much is it?)
  • Takai desu - 高いです (It's expensive)
  • Yasui desu - 安いです (It's cheap)
  • Mooru wa doko desu ka? - モールはどこですか?(Where is the mall?)
  • Kurejitto kaado de daijoubu desu ka? - クレジットカードで大丈夫ですか ? (Can I pay by credit card?)
  • Henkin o shite kuremasu ka? - 返金をしてくれますか ? (Can I have a refund?)
  • Sumimasen, kore henpin dekimasu ka? -すみません、これ,返品できますか? - Can I return this?)
  • Sumimasen, kore koukan dekimasu ka? -すみません、これ、交換(こうかん)できますか? (Can I exchange this for a different one?)

As far as this extensive language guide goes, all these words and phrases should be enough to help most travelers with their trip to Japan. By learning some of the basics (or keeping them handy), budding Japanophiles can easily communicate their wants and needs when navigating this incredible country overflowing with fascinating culture, breathtaking scenery, jaw-dropping urbanization, magical temples, and traditional towns. Whether one's first time or 50th time in Japan, these indispensable words and phrases are invaluable for those who wish to get the most out of their visit.

Next: Wondering What To Prepare For A Japan Trip? Here's Where To Start