Japanese Phrasebook

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Swords for Sale

Swords for Sale

© zags

Japanese, a language that sparks thoughts of the exotic, feelings of wonder and fear, is the official language of Japan. It is also spoken in pockets throughout the world in places such as Brazil, Canada, the United States or anywhere there is a Japanese expat community.

The Japanese writing system presents itself as an insurmountable obstacle to learning and speaking Japanese. Mastering the writing system does take effort, perseverance and some time. However, based on the large number of loan words from English and other languages achieving the ability to communicate effectively, especially during travel, can be accomplished relatively easily. True fluency of the language takes time.




Japanese is a phonetic language consisting of 15 consonants and 5 vowels.


The consonants s, t and m can be changed in to their voiced variety.
The vowels are pronounced in the following way:

  • a – ah as in father
  • i – ee as in feet
  • u – oo as in foot
  • e – eh as in bed
  • o – oh as in bone

Vowels can also have a long sound. In romanji, the alphabet, they can be written with a line over the vowel or as follows:

  • 'a' – 'aa'
  • 'i' – 'ii'
  • 'u' – 'uu'
  • 'e' - 'ei'
  • 'o' – 'oo' or 'ou'

In any of these situations the vowel sound is held a little bit longer. This difference seems subtle to most non-Japanese speakers but to Japanese speakers there is a big difference. For example, there is a difference between saying, 'obasan' (aunt) and 'obaasan' (grandmother).

The consonants are pronounced like in English with the following notable exceptions;

  • R – the Japanese sound is in between the English R and L sound. It is closer to the L sound than the R sound.
  • F – the Japanese F sound sounds similar to an English H sound.
  • Double consonants – they are pronounced like the consonant but with a slight pause before the consonant.
  • kya, kyo, kyu, rya, ryo, ryu or any consonant followed by a yu, yo, ya is pronounced in one syllable, not two. For example, Kyoto is pronounced “kyo to” not “key o to”.

A syllable in Japanese always has a constant followed by a vowel, except for the letter n. When reading Japanese words it is important to separate the syllables after the vowel not after a consonant. For example:
jitensha is pronounced “ji ten sha” not “jit en sha”
midori is pronounced “mi do ri” not “mid or i”



Writing Systems and Style

Japanese consists of three distinct writing systems: hiragana, for original Japanese words; katakana for loan words; and kanji, Chinese characters. Hiragana and katakana consist of 46 characters and are easier to learn than kanji, which has over 4,000 characters and takes Japanese people years of study to read and write the characters effectively.


Hiragana is used to write original Japanese words, for conjugating verbs and as prepositions and markers in the sentences. It is smoother, with more curves, than katakana.

あ (a)い (i)う (u)え (e)お (o)
k/gか がき ぎく ぐけ げこ ご
s/zさ ざす ずせ ぜそ ぞ
t/dた だち ぢつ づて でと ど
h/p/bは ぱ ばひ ぴ びふ ぷ ぶへ ぺ べほ ぽ ぼ
wを (pronounced 'o')

Further information: Learn to write hiragana


Katakana is another Japanese script used mainly to write loan words from other languages, e.g. food, non-Japanese names, countries, etc. Katakana is sharper with more edges than hiragana.

ア (a)イ (i)ウ (u)エ (e)オ (o)
k/gカ ガキ ギク グケ ゲコ ゴ
s/zサ ザシ ジス ズセ ゼソ ゾ
t/dタ ダチ ヂツ ヅテ デト ド
h/p/bハ パ バヒ ピ ビフ プ ブヘ ペ ベホ ポ ボ

In katakana a long vowel sound is represented by a long dash, e.g. アー (a-).

Further information: Learn to write katakana


Kanji, the Chinese characters which were imported in the 4th century A.D. through the Korean Peninsular, are pictographs used to designate words or parts of words. While they were being imported the characters kept their original Chinese meanings, called onyoumi or on reading, but were also given the equivalent meaning in Japanese, called the kunyoumi or kun reading. For example:
The character 山, meaning mountain, can be read as san, the onyoumi, as in Fuji-san (Mt. Fuji) or yama, the kunyoumi as in Kabutoyama (Mt Kabuto). More information about this can be found at http://www.kanji.org/kanji/japanese/writing/outline.htm .

With over 4,000 recognized characters, the ability to read and write Kanji fluently takes a long time to acquire. Japanese people start to study Kanji in the first grade of elementary school and continue to study Kanji through High School graduation.

To learn to read and write Kanji for travel purposes would be a daunting task. However, there are some characters, beyond city names, that are easy to recognize and would be useful for travel purposes. They are:

  • お手洗 – oterai - Toilet
  • お酒 -osake – Alcohol
  • 男 – otoko – men
  • 女 – onna - women
  • 北 – kita - North
  • 東 – higashi - East
  • 南 – minami - South
  • 西 – nishi - west
  • 口 – guchi - exit
  • 駅 – eki - station
  • 月 – getsu – month
  • 日 – nichi – day

This means 9月3日 is September 3rd.



Basic Grammar



© scudamor

Word order

English and other Latin based languages basic word order is Subject, Verb, Object, e.g. I bought a shirt. With I being the subject bought the verb and shirt the object.

However the basic word order in Japanese is subject, object, verb, e.g. watashi wa shaatsu o kaimashita or I a shirt bought. In a lot of conversations and situations if the subject is understood it is not said.

Forming a question

To form a question in Japanese it is only necessary to add '~ka' to the end of the sentence. For example:

Q: Ame desuka? Is it raining?
A: Hai, ame desu. yes it is raining?

Q: Ringo o kaimashitaka? Did you buy an apple?
A: Ee, kaimashita. Yes, I did.


Nouns in Japanese are uncountable and are gender neutral. Compare the two sentences.

In English – I bought two shirts.
In Japanese – (watashi wa) shatsu futatsu o kaimashita (or shirts two bought).

In Japanese there are no words for 'a' and 'the'. Again, compare the two sentences.

In English – where is the pen?
In Japanese – boru pen wa doko desuka? (or pen where is?)


There are three types of verbs in Japanese.
Group I - 'u' verbs –
verbs that end in any character from the 'u' line are in this group. For example:

  • kau – to buy
  • tsaukau – to use
  • tetsudau – to help
  • nomu – to drink

Group II - 'ru' verbs –
Verbs that end in the character 'ru' are in this group. For example:

  • taberu – to eat
  • abiru – to take a shower
  • deru – to go out
  • neru – to sleep

Group III – irregular verbs -
Unlike English there are only two irregular verbs in Japanese. They are:

  • suru – to do
  • kuru – to come

Conjugating verbs

Present and future tense, polite form-

Group I
To conjugate Group I verbs to the present and future tense change the last 'u' sound to the 'i' sound in the same line and add 'masu' (pronounced mass). For example:

* kau (to buy) becomes kaimasu
* nomu (to drink) becomes nomimasu.

To make the negative form of the verb add masen. For example:

  • iku (to go) becomes ikimasen (I won't go).
  • hanasu (to speak) becomes hanashimasen (I won't speak).

Group II
To conjugate Group II verbs to the present and future tense drop the 'ru' sound and add 'masu' (prounounced mass). For example:

  • taberu (to eat) becomes tabemasu
  • neru (to sleep) becomes nemasu

To make the negative form of the verb add masen. For example:

  • miseru (to show) becomes misemasen (I won't show it).
  • miru (to look, to watch, to see) becomes mimasen (I won't look).

Group III
The irregular group III verbs conjugate as follows:

  • suru (to do) becomes shimasu
  • kuru (to come) becomes kimasu

To make the negative form of the verb add masen. For example:

  • suru (to do) becomes shimasen/i]
  • kuru (to come) becomes kimasen

Past tense polite form -

Group I
To conjugate Group I verbs to the past tense change the last 'u' sound to the 'i' sound in the same line and add 'mashita' (pronounced mashhta). For example:

  • kau (to buy) becomes kaimashita (I bought).
  • nomu (to drink) becomes nomimashita. (I drank).

To make the negative form of the verb add masendeshita. For example:
* tatsu (to stand up) becomes tachimasendeshita (I didn't stand up).

  • uatau (to sing) becomes utaimasendeshita (I didn't sing).

Group II
To conjugate Group II verbs to the past tense drop the 'ru' sound and add 'mashita' (prounounced mashhta). For example:

  • taberu (to eat) becomes tabemashita (I ate).
  • neru (to sleep) becomes nemashita (I slept).

To make the negative form of the verb add masendeshita. For example:

  • oshieru (to teach) becomes oshiemasendeshita (I didn't teach).
  • tomeru (to stop) becomes tomemasendeshita (I didn't stop).

Group III
The irregular group III verbs conjugate as follows:

  • suru (to do) becomes shimashita (I did.)
  • kuru (to come) becomes kimashita (I came).

To make the negative form of the verb add masendeshita. For example:

  • suru (to do) becomes shimasendeshita (I didn't), e.g. gorufu o shimasendeshita ( I didn't play golf)
  • kuru (to come) becomes kimasendeshita (I didn't come).



Travel words and phrases

Basic words

  • It is – desu
  • This – kore
  • This one – kono
  • That (close to the speaker) – sore
  • That one (closet to the speaker) – sono
  • That (far from the speaker) – are
  • That one (far from the speaker) – ano
  • And – to
  • Or – ka
  • If – moshi
  • Now – ima
  • Later – ato de
  • Big – ookii
  • Small chisai
  • A little bit more – mo sukoshi , e.g. a little bit bigger – mo sukoshi ookii
  • Hot – atsui
  • Cold – samui
  • Ok – Ok , daijobu
  • Left – hidari
  • Right – migi
  • Person – jin, e.g. I am Canadian – ca na da jin desu

Numbers and counting

The Japanese numbers are as follows:

  • 0 – rei / zero
  • 1 – ichi
  • 2 – ni
  • 3 – san
  • 4 – yon / shi (both are acceptable but the word shi is similar to the verb to die shinu so yon is used more often.
  • 5 – go
  • 6 – roku
  • 7 – nana / shichi
  • 8 – hachi
  • 9 – kyu
  • 10 – ju
  • 11 – ju ichi (10 + 1)
  • 12 – ju ni (10 + 2
  • 20 – ni ju (2X10s)
  • 35 – san ju go (3X10s + 5)
  • 100 – hyaku
  • 200 – nihyaku
  • 300 – sanbyaku
  • 400 – yonhyaku
  • 500 – gohyaku
  • 600 – roppyaku
  • 700 – nanahyaku
  • 800 – happyaku
  • 900 – kyuhyaku
  • 1,000 – sen
  • 2,000 – nisen
  • 3,000 – sanzen
  • 8,000 – hassen
  • 9,000 – kyusen
  • 10,000 – ichi man

Counting things

In Japanese there is a different counter depending on what it is you are counting. You use a different system if it is thin and flat, a vehicle, a small thing, socks, or clothing.. For example if count something thin and long you use '~hon' and if you count drinks in cups or glasses you use '~hai'. This means two bottles of beer would be biiru nihon , but two glasses of beer would be biiru nihai . Quite confusing and it takes Japanese people along time to master this.

Luckily for travellers there is one system you can use to count things. It is as follows:

  • 1 – hitotsu
  • 2- futatsu
  • 3 – mittsu
  • 4 - yottsu
  • 5 - itsutsu
  • 6 - muttsu
  • 7 - nanatsu
  • 8 - yattsu
  • 9 - kokonotsu
  • 10 - too

Using this system two beers would be, biiru futatsu.

This system does have some limitations. It should not be used for people or floors of a building. If you are counting people use the following system:

  • 1- hitori
  • 2 - futari
  • 3 - san nin
  • 4 - yo nin
  • 5 - go nin
  • 6 - roku nin


  • 10 ju nin

For floors a building use:

  • 1- ik kai
  • 2 - nik kai
  • 3 - san gai
  • 4 - yon kai


  • 10 - juk kai



Greeting, Pleasantries and basic phrases

  • Good morning – Ohayo gozaimasu
  • Good afternoon – Konnichiwa
  • Good night – Konbanwa
  • Goodbye – Bai Bai , sayonara ( Sayonara is used if you won’t seem someone for a long time.
  • How are you? - O-genki desuka?
  • I'm fine - Genki desu.
  • Excuse me – Sumimasen.
  • I'm sorry - Gomen nasai
  • Please – onegaishimasu, kudasai
  • Thank you – domo arigato
  • Cheers - kampai
  • Yes - hai or ee
  • No - iie
  • I don't understand - wakaranai
  • Please wait - chotto matte kudasai
  • Do you speak English? - Eigo ga hanasemasuka?



Question words

  • Who - dare?

ano hito wa dare desuka? – who's that?

  • What – nani? or nan

kore wa nan desuka? – what's this?

  • Where - doko?

oterai wa doko desuka? – Where's the toilet?

  • When - itsu?

tsugi no basu wa itsu desuka? -When's the next bus?

  • How much – ikura?

ikura desuka? – How much is it?



Days of the week, Months of the year and Telling time

Days of the week

  • Sunday – Nichiyoobi
  • Monday – Getsuyoobi
  • Tuesday - Kayoobi
  • Wednesday - Suiyoobi
  • Thursday - Mokuyoobi
  • Friday – Kinyoobi
  • Saturday – Doyoobi
  • today - kyou
  • tomorrow - ashita
  • the day after tomorrow - assate
  • yesterday kinoo
  • What day is it? - nanyobi desuka?

Months of the year

  • January - ichi gatsu
  • February - ni gatsu
  • March - san gatsu
  • April - shi gatsu
  • May – go gatsu
  • June - roku gatsu
  • July - shichi gatsu
  • August - hachi gatsu
  • September - ku gatsu
  • October - ju gatsu
  • November - ju ichi gatsu
  • December - ju ni gatsu
  • What month it is? - nangatsu desuka?


  • 1st – tsuitachi
  • 2nd – futsuka
  • 3rd – mikka
  • 4th – yokka
  • 5th - itsuka
  • 6th - muika
  • 7th - nanoka
  • 8th - yooka
  • 9th - kokonoka
  • 10th - tooka
  • 11th - juu ichi nichi
  • 12th - juu ni nichi
  • 13th - juu san nichi
  • 14th - juu yokka
  • 15th - juu go nichi


  • 20th - futsuka
  • 21st - ni juu ichi nichi


  • 31st – san juu ichi nichi
  • What's today's date? - kyoo wa nan nichi desuka?

Telling time

  • hour – ~ji
  • minute – ~pun or ~fun
  • 1:00 – ichi ji
  • 2:05 – ni ji go fun
  • 3:10 - san ji ju pun
  • 4:15 – yo ji ju go fun


  • 10:50 - ju ji go ju pun
  • 11:55 - ju ichi ji go ju go fun
  • 12:00 – ju ni ji
  • What time is it now? - ima nanji desuka?

Travel Voabulary

  • train – densha
  • subway – chikatetsu
  • bus - basu
  • taxi - takushi
  • one way – matamichi
  • return – oofuku

Travel phrases

  • How much is the fare to (Osaka)? - (Osaka) made wa ikura desuka?
  • Does this (train) go to (Kyoto)? - kono densha wa Kyoto e ikimasuka?
  • What time is the next (bus)? - tsugi no (bus) wa nanji desuka?



Loan Words (Gairaigo)

Shinjuku Dusk

Shinjuku Dusk

© jwongyboy

For English speakers obtaining a small bit of competence in Japanese is made easier because of the extensive use of loan words. Some of these loan words maintain their original definition while others are used with different meanings. There are also other loan words from Portugese, German, French and other languages.

Because of the limited number of sounds in Japanese it is necessary to adapt the pronunciation to fit the Japanese pronunciation. To accomplish this apply the following rules.

Add a vowel after consonants, e.g. hot becomes hoto as in hoto cohii (hot coffee).

  • L's become Rs, e.g. golf becomes gorufu
  • V's become B's, e.g. van becomes ban
  • Hard R sounds become long A's, e.g. car becomes caa
  • TH sounds become S or Z sounds, e.g. health becomes herusu
  • For plural words, do not the final S, e.g two hamburgers becomes hambagaa futatsu

Food words

  • Hamburger – hambagaa
  • Hot Dog - Hoto dogu
  • French Fries – furaido potato
  • Cheeseburger – cheesu bagaa
  • Bread – pan
  • Cake – kee ki
  • Cola – ko ra


  • Shirts – shaatsu
  • Pants – zubon
  • Dress – duressu or uon pisu[/i]
  • Tie – ne ku tai

These rules are also applied to pronouncing proper names, countries, cities, some animals and companies.

Proper Names

  • Andrew – Andoryu
  • Matt – Ma to
  • Bill – Bi ru
  • Sally – Sa ri
  • Beth – Be su


  • Canada – ka na da
  • United States – z me ri ka
  • New Zealand – nu ji ran do
  • Australia – Aa su tu ra ri a
  • England – I gi ri su


  • New York – Nu yoo ku
  • Chicago – Shi ka go
  • Sydney – Shi do ni


  • Gorilla – Go ri ra


  • Mcdonald’s – Ma ku do na ru do


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This is version 9. Last edited at 12:14 on Sep 8, 10 by Hien. 6 articles link to this page.

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