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Useful Words, Phrases and Gestures

The Japanese are quite appreciative of any effort a gai jin (foreigner) makes to try to speak Japanese. If one ever gets out a couple of sentences, any Japanese people listening would quickly compliment you. Partly, of course, it is the culture (see "Personal Relationships"). However, it is partly a recognition of the fact that, outside of Japan, most people don't speak the language. Written Japanese is very difficult to learn - for a good source of tutorials, see Japan Guide

The following are the words my wife and I found most useful in Japan:

English

Japanese Phonetic Pronunciation

yes

hai

no

iie

please (as in "go ahead")

dozo

Thank you.

domo arigatoo

Thank you very much.

domo arigatoo gozaimas

You're welcome.

doitashi mashite

Good morning.

o hi yo gozaimas

Good afternoon (or "hello")

konichiwa

Good evening / good night

kon ban wa

Nice to meet you (1st time)

Hajimemashite

Nice to meet you (again)

Dozo yoro shiku

How are you?

Genke deska?

Excuse me.

Su me masen

See you later.

Ja ne

I'm sorry.

Gomen nansa

How much?

I ku ra de ka?

Thank you for the meal.

Gochi so sa ma.

Cheers!

Kampai!

happy

gen ki

father (dad)

oh tow san

daughter

mu su me

mother (mom)

okah san

*Note: No one really uses "sayonara", which everyone in the West knows as "goodbye", as it implies that they won't see you again.

The Japanese have a phrase said before and after meals that, although not a religious saying, does give thanks for the meal:

The phrase

Phonetic Pronunciation

prior to eating ("May I begin / looks great")

ita da ki mas

after eating ("That was a treat/good food")

gochiso sama deshita

More words you can't do without:

English

Japanese Phonetic Pronunciation

delicious

oishi

great!

segoi!

like (to favour)

ski

favourite

daiski

welcome (heard as you enter businesses)

irasshaimasse

hot towel given at beginning of a meal

oshi bori

green tea

ocha

any eating place (has plastic food in window)

shokudo

a pub

izakaya

a restaurant where you cook own food

okonomiyaki

fried noodles (in above restaurant)

yaki soba

restaurant serving grilled skewers of chicken

yakitori

fish fried in a fluffy batter

tempura

bowls of noodles in a meat broth

ramen

dumplings with fried veggies & pork

gyoza

raw fish served in small bits

sashimi

Japanese horseradish root

wasabi

sweet rice that is firm and elastic

mochi

soup made of fermented soybeans & salt

miso

 

MacDonalds fishburger dryed fish for sale

Other words:

English
Japanese Phonetic Pronunciation
a bad thing (a "no-no" / "faux pas")
da may
difficult
mus kushi
different
che goi
same
onegai
heated table under which you sit
katatsu
reed mats covering the floor
tatamee

*Note: Rooms in Japan often are referred to by the number of tatame mats to give their size.


Japanese cartoon featuring the "peace sign" pose

Still more words:

English
Japanese Phonetic Pronunciation
cute
kawaii
beautiful
kire
fun
ta no shi
foreigner
gai jin
English
eggo
I don't understand
Wa ka nai
Let's go!
Iki masho!
Don't worry
shim pai shi tenai
Japanese cartoon stories
manga

It's the sound of the language that's really important - it's musical. I noticed that even our daughter's English had changed.

Gestures

It is best not to use hand or other gestures as you might mistake the meaning of the signal or use the gestures at inappropriate times. The following is a short list so you are aware of some signs of communication amoung the Japanese.

Gesture

Action taken

"me"

pointing to one's nose or touching the nose

"listening"

nodding one's head up and down -- this should not be mistaken for a "yes"gesture. It means that one is listening, not necessarily agreeing.

"negative"

fanning one's hand back and forth in front of the face as if to nod "no" with the hand or fan away flies.

"embarrassment"

covering the mouth with a hand, usually by women

"anger"

pointing the index fingers up from the temples - mimicking a devil with horns

"money"

forming a circle with the thumb and index fingers together - similar to what is sometimes used in the West to mean "OK"

"eating"

holding an imaginary rice bowl in the left hand while pretending to shovel rice into the mouth with the other

"drinking"

miming the wrist action of taking a drink from a small sake cup

"come here"

waving the hand in a back and forth motion with the fingers pointed downwards

©A. Appel, 2002

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