Japan – Language and Communication

Japanese Phrases | Speaking English in Japanese

Japanese is the only official language in Japan and is spoken by about 120 million people. The Japanese are very proud of their language.Their language is closely interlinked with the culture and thus it needs to be respected. It will be endearing to your Japanese partners if you can use some basic Japanese although they will not expect you to be fluent. Japanese is an honorific language, and there are different levels of respect given to different people depending on their age or position in society, as a beginner you will be excused for mistakes relating to honorific works, in fact a mistake may be seen as humorous.

Japanese and Chinese are completely different languages. Japanese does makes extensive use of Chinese characters, or kanji (漢字), in its writing system, and a large portion of its vocabulary is borrowed from Chinese. the Japanese writing system primarily uses two scripts, hiragana (ひらがな ) and katakana (カタカナ).

All Japanese who have attended elementary school since World War II have been taught to read and write romanized Japanese. Therefore, almost all Japanese are able to read and write Japanese using rōmaji(Romanization), although it is extremely rare in Japan to use this method to write Japanese (except as an input tool on a computer ), and most Japanese are more comfortable reading kanji/kana (characters).

The Hepburn romanization system (ヘボン式ローマ字 ), although not officially approved, transcribes the sounds of the Japanese language into the Latin alphabet. Hepburn remain the most widely used methods of transcription of Japanese, and are regarded as the best to render Japanese pronunciation for Western speakers.

Helpful Phrases:


ようこそ (yōkoso)

Hello (General greeting)

今日は (konnichiwa)
おっす (ossu) - used between close male friends

Hello (on phone)

もしもし (moshi moshi)

How are you?

お元気ですか? (o genki desu ka)

Reply to 'How are you?'

(hai, genki desu. anata wa?)
(o kagesama de genki desu)

Long time no see

久しぶり (hisashiburi)
お久しぶりですね (o hisashiburi desu ne)

What's your name?

お名前はなんですか? (o-namae wa nan desu ka)

My name is ...

... (... da) (inf)
...です (... desu) (frm)

Where are you from?

(Shusshin wa doko desu ka?)
(Dochira kara desu ka?) - frm

I'm from ...

(... shusshin desu)
(watashi wa ... shusshin desu)

Pleased to meet you

初めまして (hajimemashite)
(hajimemashite. dōzo yoroshiku) reply
お会いできて嬉しいです (oaidekite ureshii desu)

Cheers! Good Health!
(Toasts used when drinking)

乾杯 (kanpai) lit. "dry glass"

Have a nice day

良い一日を (Yoi ichinichi o)

Bon appetit /
Have a nice meal

どうぞめしあがれ (douzo meshiagare)
= 'enjoy your meal' - said by the cook/chef
いただきます (itadakimasu)
- said before a meal by those eating it
ご馳走さまでした (gochisōsama deshita)
- said after a meal by those who have eaten it

I understand

わかります (wakarimasu)
わかる (wakaru) inf

I don't understand

わかりません (wakarimasen) - frm
わからない (wakaranai) - inf

Please speak more slowly

ゆっくり話してください (yukkuri hanashite kudasai)
ゆっくり言ってください (yukkuri itte kudasai)

Please say that again

もう一度、言ってください (mō ichido, itte kudasai)
もうひとつ言ってください (Mō hitotsu itte kudasai)

Please write it down

書いてください (kaite kudasai)
書いて、頂けますか (kaite itadakemasu ka)

Do you speak English?

英語はできますか (Eigo wa dekimasu ka?)

Excuse me

すみません! (sumimasen)

How much is this?

いくらですか (ikura desu ka?)


ごめんなさい! (gomen nasai)


ください (kudasai)

Thank you

どうも (dōmo)
ありがとう (arigatō)
ありがとうございます (arigatō gozaimasu)
どうもありがとう (dōmo arigatō)
(dōmo arigatō gozaimasu)

Reply to thank you

(dō itashimashite)

Where's the toilet?

便所はどこですか (benjo wa doko desu ka?)
トイレはどこですか (toire wa doko desu ka?)
手洗いはどこですか (tearai wa doko desu ka?)

Go away!

ほっといて! (hottoite!)

Leave me alone!

ほっといて! (hottoite!)


助けて! (tasukete!)


火事だ! (kaji da!)

Call the police!

(keisatsu o yonde kudasai!)


Speaking English in Japan

All Japanese have studied English at school and English is spoken by growing numbers. However, few people other than officials, academics and businessmen who are in frequent contact with foreigners can speak it well. Bear in mind many Japanese are sometimes too polite to let you know when they do not fully understand. You can help reduce miscommunication by:

  • Speaking patiently and slowly (no need to speak particularly loudly, though)

  • Avoid using the ‘or’ structure. Break things down to a question that require a yes or no answer.

  • Avoid tag questions since Japaneses will reply to the questioner and not the questions. For example: Q. You don’t like cold weather do you? Western Answer: No, I don’t. I prefer summer.   Japanese Answer: Yes.

  • Use simple short words if possible

  • If you are speaking to more than one person, give them time to translate and/or explain to each other what you are saying.

  • Repeat key points several times, rephrasing a little if possible.

  • Write key points if you can since most Japanese read English quite well.

  • Find a diplomatic way to have the person repeat/paraphrase what you’ve been saying.

  • Learning some Japanese – especially key words that you would use in your business. No need to become fluent, but key words and phrases can only help you do business more effectively and easily.

  • Learn to figure out the Japanese ‘yes’ which is more likely to mean “I understand” or “I’ll try and do my best” as opposed to the Western “I agree” or “I’ll do it”.

  •  Deciphering the Japanese “No” is equally important but challenging. In traditional Japanese culture it is impolite to say “No” directly. So, instead of doing so, many Japanese will find an indirect way of doing so. For example, they may impose conditions that make the deal impossible for the other party to accept. Rather than reject an invitation, they many keep putting it off, which is an indirect “no” or they may simply not show up, expecting that you would have understood that they never intended to come. Sometimes, you’ll discover that something a Japanese has agreed to do has not been done. His original intention was likely not to deceive you, but when he agreed, he couldn’t say “No”, so his “Yes” meant “If it is possible, I’ll do it”.

News Reporter