1. Hai / Iie
Hai (はい) = yes
Iie (いいえ) = no
These are the words to answer a question.
Even if you don’t know them, the word of “yes” and “no” are OK in Japan.
2. Ohayô / Kon-nichiwa / Konbanwa
Ohayô. (おはよう) / Ohayô gozaimasu. (おはよう ございます) = Good morning.
Kon-nichiwa. (こんにちは) = Good afternoon.
Konbanwa. (こんばんは) = Good evening.
These are the most basic daily greetings.
“Ohayô” is used in early morning and “Kon-nichiwa” is used in the daytime.
The time when each person shifts from “Ohayô” to “Kon-nichiwa” is not fixed.
I think “Kon-nichiwa” is OK after around 10 a.m.
About the word of “Kon-nichiwa”, first “n” and next “ni” must be pronounced individually.
“Konbanwa” is used after dark.
When you use “Ohayô” in Japan, it is better to use “Ohayô gozaimasu”.
It is the formal sentence and “gozaimasu” is the verb group meaning politeness.
In Japan, “Ohayô” is used among family and familiar friends.
On the other hands, “Ohayô gozaimasu” is the common phrase in the other case.
In Japanese characters of “Kon-nichiwa” and “Konbanwa”, the last character is not “wa” but “ha” of Hiragana.
It is a particle of subject, and is a special notation.
Oyasumi. (おやすみ) / Oyasumi nasai. (おやすみ なさい) = Good night.
When we go to bed, we say “Oyasumi”.
It is also used among family and familiar friends, and the formal sentence “Oyasumi nasai” is used in the other case.
In addition, after you enjoy with your friends until the night, you can use this “Oyasumi nasai” when saying goodbye.
Hajimemashite. (はじめまして) = How do you do? / Nice to meet you.
When we meet a person for the first time, we say this.
Therefore, this may be a frequently used phrase when you work or study in Japan.
It is an only phrase, but there may be some ways of saying in English.
It is a little long word with 6 syllables, but please try to pronounce smoothly.
5. Sayônara / Ogenki de
Sayônara. (さようなら) = Good-bye. / See you.
Ogenki de. (お元気で) = Good luck.
When you say goodbye, common Japanese phrases are these.
“Sayônara” is the normal word, but “Sayonara” with short "o" is often used when the other is familiar.
In the group of young people and children, “Bai-bai” from English is often used.
“Ogenki de” is a little more graceful phrase.
It means that the speaker hopes the other enjoys good health until they meet next time.
It is often used just after “Sayônara”, and it is sometimes used instead of “Sayônara”.
Arigatô. (ありがとう) = Thank you.
Arigatô gozaimasu. (ありがとう ございます) = Thank you.
Arigatô gozaimashita. (ありがとう ございました) = Thank you.
“Arigatô” is the most important phrase used when you express your thanks.
Only “Arigatô” is used in casual situation.
So, it is better for you to use “Arigatô gozaimasu” which is the formal sentence with verb group meaning politeness.
“Arigatô gozaimashita” is the past tense.
When the object of thanks was in the past, this form is more commonly used than “gozaimasu”.
7. Sumimasen / Gomen nasai
Westerner say that Japanese people often apologize.
It may be an extreme view, but it may be a little truth.
The symbol is a phrase “Sumimasen (すみません)”.
Let’s see a few specific scenes in a souvenir shop.
(a) I touched a cup on the shelf. It fell down and crashed. A clerk came.
(b) I want to pick a cup on the shelf up. I call a clerk.
(c) I want to pick a cup on the shelf up. I called a clerk. She picked the cup up and showed to me.
In English, “I’m sorry.” for (a), “Excuse me.” for (b), “Thank you.” for (c) are the best way of saying.
But in Japanese, “Sumimasen” is used commonly in all cases.
“Sumimasen” means that the speaker can’t solve the own problem and apologizes to the opponent for troubling.
The phrase with deep apologizing is used even in the scenes such as (b) and (c).
For Japanese people, it is bad to put the other to trouble.
Of course, it is good to say “Arigatô” (= Thank you.) in the scene (c).
It may be best for you.
In the scene (b), an adverb meaning short time is often add to “Sumimasen”.
“Chotto sumimasen (ちょっと すみません)” is also good phrase.
You can use this when you speak to a stranger to ask something.
As the phrase with the same meaning, “Gomen nasai (ごめんなさい)” is also used.
It is a little more casual than “Sumimasen”, and is used among family and friend.
8. Itadaki masu / Gochisô-sama
Itadaki masu. (いただきます) = Let’s eat.
Gochisô-sama. (ごちそうさま) / Gochisô-sama deshita. (ごちそうさまでした) = Thank you for the delicious meal.
Many Japanese people often say “Itadaki masu” putting their hands together just before they start eating.
And at the end of a meal, they say “Gochisô-sama” then rise from table.
In Japan, these are the common custom.
“Itadaki masu” is the politeness expression of a verb “itadaku”.
“Itadaku” is a humble form of “morau” meaning “receive”.
Therefore, “itadaki masu” means receiving very humbly and graciously.
In fact, eating is to receive the life of animals and plants in nature for maintaining our life.
This phrase includes the mind of thanks to the animals and plants.
“Chisô” in “Gochisô-sama” means rushing from place to place to get foods for the guests.
The phrase includes the meaning that served meal is the work by the cooks who did so.
“Go” in the word makes the word polite, and “sama” at the end of the word means a honorific words for the person.
Totally, this phrase shows the thanks for the cooks.
Only “Gochisô-sama” is a form of noun, so it is elegant to say “Gochisô-sama deshita” with verb part of politeness.
9. Gomen kudasai
Gomen kudasai. (ごめんください) = Anyone around? / May I come in?
This is the phrase when you enter the house or shop but you can’t find any person there.
It is a kind of the ways to call person.
Above English phrases are blunt.
If you say the English phrases in Japanese, you may be misunderstood as a gate-crasher.
“Gomen kudasai” means “Give me a permission to enter here.” in English.
After the call, you must wait there until anyone in the house appears.
10. Itte rasshai / Itte kimasu / Okaeri nasai / Tadaima
Itte rasshai. (行ってらっしゃい) = Bon voyage.
Itte kimasu. (行ってきます) = I’m going.
Tadaima. (ただいま) = I’m back.
Okaeri nasai. (お帰りなさい) = Welcome back.
These are a set of fixed phrases.
Similar English translation is given to above each Japanese phrase.
When family member or acquaintance goes somewhere, we send the person off by the word “Itte rasshai”.
The person say “Itte kimasu” at that time, and goes out.
However, the person saying "Itte rasshai" assumes that the person who goes out will surely come back.
Therefore, these words are basically used in the family or when a traveller staying in a hotel or ryokan goes out for a few hours.
When the person has come back and enters into the home, he says “Tadaima”.
We greet him using the phrase “Okaeri nasai”.
These phrases are used in the cases of not only trip to a distance but also various daily scenes.
Children go to school.
Member of family goes to work.
Probably, in any family, not a single day passes by without hearing about these phrases.
About “Okaeri nasai”, only “Okaeri” is also used often.
11. Yoroshiku onegai shimasu
Yoroshiku onegai shimasu. (よろしくお願いします) = Thank you in advance. (etc.)
When a speaker in a vulnerable position asks a person for something, this phrase is used.
After the person accepts the speaker’s request, the speaker conveys to the person his great expectations by this phrase.
In most cases, Japanese people bow to the person.
In English, various phrases are used, but this phrase is enough in Japan.
So you can use in many situations.
For example, during your travel in Japan…
- You lost your bag. You asked your friends and policemen to search it.
- You couldn’t find a destination in a town. A kind person offered to take you there by car.
- You join a tour for Japanese culture. You met the tour instructor before the start.
When you call on the phone, the first word is “Hello”.
In Japan, it is “Moshi-moshi (もしもし) ”.
Omedetô. (おめでとう) / Omedetô gozaimsu. (おめでとう ございます) = Congratulations
This is the phrase that you congratulate someone.
The word such as “Tanjôbi (誕生日) ” (birthday), “Gokekkon (ご結婚) ” (marriage), “Yûshô (優勝) ” (victory), etc. is sometimes put before “Omedetô”.
When you say politely, “Omedetô gozaimasu” is good.
For new year, “Akemashite Omedetô gozaimsu” is a cliche. (明けまして おめでとう ございます)
14. Phrases used in shop and restaurant
When you visit any shop or restaurant, you probably hear the following phrases by the clerk.
Please check them.
Irasshai mase. (いらっしゃいませ)
This is the phrase that the clerk calls at new visitor.
The meaning is "Welcome to our shop/restaurant!".
In sushi bar, for showing freshness, briskness and smartness, the sushi chefs call “Rasshai!” in short word.
Recently, this phrase is often used by the clerk in many fast-food chains.
The meaning is almost equal to “Irasshai mase”.
Omatase shimasita. (お待たせしました)
When a shop clerk had you waiting or a restaurant waiter brought you a dish, they say this phrase.
It means “We have made you waiting”.
But this is a cliche for the guest.