Survival Japanese: 30 Must-know Phrases for Traveling in Japan

So you are traveling to Japan! It will be a wonderful experience and I am sure you will enjoy your trip. But how is your Japanese? If you answered “zero” then this is the article for you. We have compiled 25 phrases that will help you get around in Japan, even if you have no Japanese ability whatsoever! With just these 25 phrases, we can assure you that your trip to Japan will be much more enjoyable, as you will have the basic communication skills to help you get around, ask for directions, and make contact with the locals. 


すみません means “excuse me” or “I’m sorry” in Japanese. This is an essential phrase for traveling in Japan. You can use this phrase when you want to get someone’s attention to ask them for directions or about the bus schedule. You can also use it to apologize for bumping into someone on the train or if you drop something unexpectedly. 

2.ありがとうございます。(Arigatou gozaimasu)

ありがとうございます means “thank you!” There are various levels of formality in Japanese and this one is relatively polite, so it can be used with strangers as well. You can use this when thanking someone at a restaurant for your food, the taxi driver, or someone who helps you with directions. 


This simple word means “yes” in Japanese. You can use it for all kinds of situations, from affirming the location to your taxi driver to accepting the offer of chopsticks with your food at the convenience store. It is super simple to learn and will be a huge help while you are traveling through Japan. 


Another way to “yes,” “sou desu” literally means “that is so.” This expression can be used when the hotel employee asks if you have tickets for the breakfast buffet, or when the taxi driver confirms the location of the temple you want to visit. It is a polite and easy expression to learn to affirm something someone says.


“Iie” or “iya” means “no” in Japanese. Although it isn’t super common to say “no” so directly in Japanese, having the expression in your repertoire is a good idea. Japan has a very indirect culture and the way of communicating is no different. Only use this expression if you want to be very forceful when you say “no.” If someone is thanking you for something, however, it is perfectly polite to say “iya” and wave your hand in from of your face like a dismissal. It is often repeated twice in a row “iya iya.” This means “Don’t worry about it!”

6.私はXです。(watashi wa X desu)

This is how you introduce yourself in Japanese. The word “watashi” means “I/me” and the word “desu” means “is/am.” Just replace the X with your name and you are ready to say “I am X.” This is a simple way to share your name with people you meet in Japan, whether at a bar or cafe. It will show your interest in learning the language and it’s a great start to a conversation!

7.英語を話せますか。(Eigo wo hanasemasu ka)

This is how you ask if someone speaks English. “Eigo” means “English” and “hanasemasu” is “able to speak.” The “ka” at the end is a questioning particle, so it denotes a question. You can use this at the start of every conversation to see if someone can speak English. Use it before you ask someone for directions if you are on the correct train, etc. Just don’t forget to start with すみません or “excuse me!”

8.これはXに行きますか。(Kore wa X ni ikimasu ka)

This means “Does this go to X?” “Kore” means “this” and “ikimasu” means “to go.” You can use this when you are asking if your train or bus is going to a certain location. Just replace the X with your intended location. For instance, if you want to go to Heian Jingu Shrine you can say “kore wa Heian Jingu ni ikimasu ka?” to ask the bus driver if the bus goes to Heian Jingu. You can also use it when you are pointing at a specific location on a map. 

9.これをください。(Kore wo kudasai)

This is how you ask for something! “Kore” means “this” and “kudasai” means “please.” This is the simplest and most direct way to ask for something when you are pointing at it. It works great if you are at a restaurant and want one of the items shown in a picture. Just point at the item to say “This please.” You can also use it at a store when you want an item. There is a more polite version of this expression, but for now, this is polite enough to use at any restaurant or shop. 

10.Xはどこですか。(X wa doko desu ka)

This expression means “Where is X?” “Doko” means “where” and “ka” is the questioning particle. You can use it when asking for directions, or confirming the location of somewhere you want to go. Just replace the X with your intended location. You can also use this expression when you aren’t sure where an item is at a shop, or even to ask where the toilet is. For instance the sentence “toire wa doko desu ka?” means “Where is the toilet?”

11.Xはなんですか。(X wa nan desu ka)

Similar to the above expression, this means “What is X?” “Nan” in this sentence means “what.” You can use this to ask about any item you are not familiar with. For instance, if you are at a temple and are not sure what the trough of water is for, you can ask “Kore wa nan desu ka?” which means “What is this?” And they will explain to you that it is a hand-washing station to purify yourself before entering the temple. With just this phrase you can learn a lot while you are in Japan!

12.Xはいつですか。(X wa itsu desu ka)

This is also similar to the two expressions above. It means “when is X?” “Itsu” in this expression means “when.” You can use this to ask when the next bus is coming when a festival will happen, or what time you have to check out of your hotel. Just replace the X with whatever you want to ask about. If you don’t know the name, you can always point and use the handy word “kore” for “this.” So “kore wa itsu desu ka” means “When is this?”

13.何時ですか。(Nanji desu ka)

This is how you ask for the time in Japanese! “Nanji” means “time,” and as we learned before, adding “ka” denotes a question in Japanese. You can obviously use this to ask someone the time, but you can also use it to ask what time something is happening. For instance, you can point to a poster for a festival happening in town and say “kore wa nanji desu ka” to ask what time the festival is happening. 

14.どうやってXに行きますか。(Douyatte X ni ikimasu ka)

As you can see, most of our expressions so far are to help you get around. This one is no different, it means “How do you get to X?” “Douyatte” means “how” and “ikimasu” means “to go.” You can use this expression when you are asking how to get to a certain place if you aren’t sure whether the train, bus, or taxi will be most convenient. Using our earlier example of Heian Jingu Shrine, you can ask “Douyatte Heian Jingu ni ikimasu ka?” to ask “How do you get to Heian Jingu?”

15.いらないです。(Iranai desu)

This expression means “I don’t need it.” Japanese sometimes doesn’t use pronouns so this phrase is just “don’t need.” This can be used when you are at a convenience store and they ask if you need a bag, or if the cashier offers to gift wrap your item. It is a polite way to refuse something in Japanese. 

16.大丈夫です。(Daijoubu desu)

This expression means “It’s ok” or “It’s alright.” You can use this when someone apologizes for bumping into you on the train, or when someone offers to help you with your bags when you don’t need it. It’s an easy expression to learn for when you want to reassure someone that everything is ok. Japan is a country where people tend to apologize a lot, so its good to learn this expression for your travels. 

17.手伝ってください。(Tetsudatte kudasai)

This phrase means “Please give me a hand.” The verb “testudatte” means “to help” as in helping someone with something physical. And we learned earlier that “kudasai” is a way to ask “please.” You can use this if you need some help carrying your bags up to the room in your hotel, or if you need help getting your bag out from the overhead bin on the airplane.  In Japan, people are usually very happy to help if you need something!

18.これはいくらですか。(Kore wa ikura desu ka)

This is how you ask how much something is at the store. Remember our handy “kore” means “this,” and “ikura” means “how much.” You can use this to ask the price of anything, from a Kobe steak at a fancy restaurant, to handmade sake cups at the local market. It is a super convenient phrase that will help you learn the price of an item before you buy it. Just make sure to review the exchange rate for Yen to make sure you understand how much it is in your currency!


In some cultures, you say something before you eat as a way of being grateful for the food you are about to receive. In Japan, it’s no different, and this phrase is used right before a meal. Its literal translation is “I am about to receive.” Usually, you put your hands together like you are praying (sometimes holding the chopsticks in your thumbs at the ready) and say this phrase before you begin eating. It is a great way to engage in Japanese culture and show you are thankful for the food you eating. You would also say it to start the next course when it arrives, so don’t forget to say it again before dessert! 

20.ごちそうさまでした。(Gochisousama deshita)

After the meal, you will want to share your gratitude as well! This expression literally means “I have had a feast” and it is used at the end of your meal to say your thanks to those who prepared it. You would usually use this in place of “Arigatou goizaimasu” as a “thank you” when you are leaving a restaurant. Or if you are at someone’s house and they cooked, simply say it after you finished your meal. 


This expression means “please” or “go ahead.” It is a short word so it should be very easy to learn! You can use it when letting someone on ahead of you on the bus, to give an older person your seat on the train, or if you want to let someone into the doorway before you. It is a great way to show your politeness and engage with Japanese people on their terms. 

22.道に迷いました。(Michi ni mayoimashita)

This is how you say “I’m lost” in Japanese. “Michi” means “road” and “mayoimashita” means “lost.” This is how you ask for help with directions when you are lost on the street in Japan. People are generally very helpful, so if you say this they do anything from showing a map on their phone to taking you to the place you want to go. This is a perfect way to ask for help when you get lost, just remember to use すみません or “excuse me” before you say it!


“Onegaishimasu” is a super polite version of “please” in Japanese. You can use it when you are asking for things. In fact, any expression where we have used “kudasai” can be replaced with “onegaishiamsu” if you want to be a bit more polite. So if you are feeling brave, use this when you want to ask for something, whether it is an order at a restaurant, or accepting a bag for your items at the convenience store. 

24.Xを呼んでください。(X wo yonde kudasai)

This expression means “Please call X.” The verb “yonde” means “to call.” You can use this expression when you are asking the hotel employee to call a taxi for you, or in an emergency, you can use it to ask someone to call the police or an ambulance. Remember that the emergency number in Japan is 119! Just replace X with the thing you need someone to call for you. 

25.おすすめは何ですか。(Osusume wa nan desu ka)

You can use this expression when asking for a recommendation. “Osusume” means “recommendation” and “nan” means “what.” You can use this phrase when you are at a restaurant and want to know what the waitress would recommend you try, or if you are asking someone about the best places to visit in a city. This is great to use to ask the locals for some of the best advice, as they will know the best places, food, and spots to see while you are here!

26.すごいです。(Sugoi desu)

If you are feeling amazed by all the great sights in Japan, you can use “sugoi desu” to express your amazement. “Sugoi” means “that’s awesome” or “amazing.” You can use this when you see a beautiful temple, gorgeous landscapes, or delicious-looking food. The Japanese people will be delighted to hear a foreigner express their amazement in their own language, and it will help you connect with people on your travels. 

27.かわいいです。(Kawaii desu)

If you have seen any anime, you might recognize the expression “kawaii” as “cute” or “adorable” in Japanese. It has become a popular word around the world as Japan has a ton of “kawaii” culture. You can use this phrase when you see Hello Kitty merchandise, costumed characters roaming the streets to promote items, or even when you see a cute dog. This is an easy expression to learn and one that will be super useful as Japan is filled with cute things for you to fawn over. 

28.ワイファイがありますか。(Waifai ga arimasu ka)

Your smartphone is the key to getting around Japan. From Google Maps to apps like Anki or Bunpo to practice your Japanese, once you have access to the internet your options are limitless. This expression can help you get access to the internet by asking if a place has Wifi! It means “Do you have Wifi?” “Waifai” is pronounced the same in English and Japanese and the verb “arimasu” means “to have.” Use this at hotels, restaurants, or cafes to get access to the internet. 

29.Xがありますか。 (X ga arimasu ka)

This expression means “do you have X?” The verb “arimasu” means “to have” so just replace the X with whatever you need. You can use this to ask if a restaurant has a certain item on their menu, or if your taxi driver has a map of the place you need to be. It is a polite way to ask for something in Japanese. 


Lastly, if you study before you go on your trip, there are times when you just won’t understand at all. This phrase simply means “I don’t understand.” You can use it when someone is trying to give you complicated directions to get somewhere, or when the hotel employee is explaining something about your hotel. This will let the other party know you don’t understand what is going on so you can then find a better way to communicate. If you would like to apologize for not understanding, use (sumimasen) that we learned earlier. 

Copied title and URL