Travel, Teach, Live in Japan
If you are planning to travel to Japan, or plan to learn Japanese, here is a starter set of essential Japanese to help you get started learning Japanese. When you say these Japanese phrases, don't add any stress or accent to the syllables-just stay them in a flat, even-paced tone.
1. Arigato gozaimasu (pronounced "ah-lee-gah-toe go-zah-ee-mas")
Nothing is more important in Japanese than knowing how to express gratitude; arigato gozaimasu means "thank you." The final "u" is silent. Also note that Japanese "r" is pronounced like English "l" (it's actually in between "l" and "r", but closer to "l".) You get extra points from your Japanese host if you give a slight bow from the waist as you say arigato gozaimasu.
2. Domo (pronounced "doe-moe")
Domo can mean "thanks"-when a Japanese waiter brings something to your table, domo (or sumimasen) is a good response.
3. Sumimasen (pronounced "sue-me-mah-sen")
"Excuse me" or "I'm sorry (to have troubled you)" is a standard translation of this Japanese, but sumimasen also means "thanks (for doing that for me)." If you want to ask directions in Japan, start off with sumimasen.
4. Onegai shimasu (pronounced "oh-nay-guy she-mas")
Literally this means "I humbly make this request," but it used all the time among Japanese to mean "thank you (in advance for doing something for me)". If a convenience store clerk asks if you want your bento lunch warmed in the microwave, reply with onegai shimasu.
5. Konnichiwa (pronounced "cone-knee-chee-wah")
Konnichiwa is Japanese for "good afternoon" or just "hello." It isn't used much among Japanese friends, but is quite appropriate to say to hotel staff during the afternoon. The Japanese will also appreciate a very slight tilt of your head while you say konnichiwa.
6. Ohayo gozaimasu (pronounced "oh-hi-yo go-zah-ee-mahs")
Wake up in Japan to this phrase for "good morning." You can shorten it to just ohayo among friends, and you'll hear Japanese say this very quickly. As with any greeting in Japanese, a slight tilt of your head (or better, a slight bending from the waist) is appropriate.
7. Konbanwa (pronounced "comb-bahn-wah")
"Good evening," said as a greeting when you meet a Japanese acquaintance in the evening. Don't use this when you leave for the evening-say oyasumi nasai instead.
8. Wakarimasen (pronounced "wah-kah-lee-mah-sen")
This is Japanese for "I don't understand"--perhaps wakarimasen should be #1 on this essential Japanese list! If you say this, a Japanese host will probably try to speak in English. If so, do your part by speaking clearly and slowly in simple sentences.
9. Oyasumi nasai (pronounced "oh-yah-sue-me nah-sigh")
This Japanese phrase is uttered when you are about to go to bed, or when you are going home (or back to your hotel) for the evening. Among friends, it might be shortened to just oyasumi. In the evening, you can also add shitsurei shimasu.
10. Shitsurei shimasu (pronounced "sheet-su-lay she-mahs")
This Japanese phrase literally means "I commit an impoliteness," but it isn't used with that meaning. It means, "I'm leaving (before you... and therefore am being rude)." You can use it when you are leaving a gathering as planned, or if you have to leave unexpectedly. In the latter case, you might add domo sumimasen to emphasize your regret: Domo sumimasen. Shitsurei shimasu.
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