If you’re just starting to learn Japanese phrases or have been practicing for a while, the thought of conversing with a native speaker can be intimidating.
I’ve been their plenty of times as well. I bet your inner monologue goes something like this:
- Will they understand? What if I say something wrong by accident?
- What do I do if I don’t have the vocabulary to say what I’m thinking?
When someone is doing something scary in Japanese, such as chatting with a native speaker, these thoughts are perfectly normal.
You’ll be armed with a lot of useful basic Japanese phrases by the end of your first conversation.
Learn 73 useful phrases that you can use when conversing with Japanese people or traveling in Japan by reading the rest of this article.
These are also helpful starting points if you’re just starting out with Japanese. Building your Japanese knowledge will be based on these basic Japanese phrases.
To boost your confidence before speaking with a native speaker, check out this detailed guide to Japanese pronunciation.
Japanese Greetings You Must Know
When you meet someone for the first time, you usually start with a greeting like “Hello” or “It’s nice to meet you,” right? The Japanese language is full of simple phrases that can be used to begin a conversation.
The Japanese people you meet at your destination will be delighted to hear you use these expressions, even if they’re the only ones you know:
- #1 Konnichiwa (こんにちは) – Hello
- #2 Ohayou gozaimasu (おはようございます) – Good morning
- #3 Konbanwa (こんばんは) – Good evening
- #4 Moshi moshi (もしもし) – Hello (but only if you’re on the phone or something like Skype)
- #5 Ogenki desu ka? (お元気ですか) – How are you?
- #6 Genki desu (元気です) – I’m good/I’ve been doing well, thanks
- #7 Ohisashiburi desu ne (お久しぶりですね) – Long time no see
- #8 _______–san mo? (______-さんも？) – And you? (Hint: fill in the blank with your friend’s name. This is a great response to things like “How are you?” because you can say, “I’m good! And you?”)
What You Can Learn About Your Conversation Partner
It’s likely that you’ll need to know more about your new conversation partner once you’ve greeted them. You’ve got this. Keep rolling.
- #9 Namae wa nan desu ka? (名前は何ですか) – What’s your name?
- #10 Watashi no namae wa _____ desu (私の名前は＿＿です) – My name is ______
- #11 Doko kara kimashita ka? (どこから来ましたか) – Where are you from?
- #12 Watashi wa ______ kara kimashita (私は＿＿から来ました) – I’m from __________.
- #13 Sou desu ka? (そうですか) – Is that so?/Really?/I see (Hint: this is a great thing to say after learning where someone is from, what they do, or other facts about their life.)
The Japanese Politeness Expressions You Need to Know
So far, you’ve done a great job. You’ve introduced yourself, learned your friend’s name, and maybe learned where they’re from. Now you can move on to other topics.
Before you dine at a restaurant, try out some of these traditional Japanese politeness phrases so you can apologize, demonstrate gracious manners, and be polite.
- #14 Arigatou gozaimasu (ありがとうございます) – Thank you
- #15 Douitashimashite (どういたしまして) – You’re welcome
- #16 Sumimasen (すみません) – I’m sorry/excuse me (Hint: you can use this for anything from apologising for stumbling into someone on the train to asking for help or asking for people to move out of your way.)
- #17 Gomen nasai (ごめんなさい) – I’m sorry (Hint: didn’t we already cover “I’m sorry”? Gomen nasai is less “excuse me” and more “I’m truly sorry from the bottom of my heart.” Use it if you knocked something over and broke it, not if you interrupted someone’s stroll to ask for directions.)
- #18 Yoroshiku onegaishimasu (よろしくおねがいします) – I’m in your debt! (Hint: this one isn’t used in its literal sense most of the time; it’s a way to say “thank you” to someone you are counting on or indebted to. For example, if you’re starting out at a new job in Japan, you might introduce yourself and then add this at the end. You might also use it if you’ve asked someone for a favour, such as to show you around or give you directions.)
- #19 Itadakimasu (いただきます) – Let’s dig in (Hint: say this before meals as a way to politely say you’re about to begin enjoying your food.)
- #20 Gochisousama deshita (ごちそうさまでした) – That was delicious (Hint: say this after meals as a way to say thank you.)
How To Clarify A Japanese Conversation
It’s been a while since you’ve talked! What happens if everything you feared happens and you become confused? Don’t panic at first.
It is likely that you have to ask people for clarification or to repeat themselves, even in your native language. If you do the same in a foreign language, you won’t offend anyone. Take it slow, one sentence at a time, and memorize these expressions.
- #21 Eigo te iu no wa… (英語ていうのは) – And in English, that’s…?
- #22 Wakarimasen (わかりません) – I don’t understand
- #23 Shirimasen (知りません) – I don’t know
- #24 Wasuremashita (忘れました) – I forgot
- #25 Motto yukkuri kudasai (もっとゆっくり下さい) – Please go a little slower
- #26 Mou ichido kudasai (もう一度下さい) – Could you say that one more time?
- #27 Nihongo de perapera de wa nai desu (日本語でペラペラではないです) – I’m not very fluent in Japanese (Hint: you’re speaking Japanese already! So you can’t say “I don’t know Japanese at all,” right?)
- #28 ___ te iu no imi wa nan desu ka? (＿＿ていうの意味は何ですか) – What does _____ mean?
- #29 Tetsudatte kuremasen ka? (手伝ってくれませんか) – Can you help me?
Japanese Questions You Can’t Live Without
The Japanese language is one of the easiest to learn, so feel free to ask questions! To make a question in Japanese, add ka to any sentence.
Additionally, there are a few question words that will make your conversations go a lot smoother. It is also important to know how to ask questions if you need help finding your way in Japan.
- #30 Doko desu ka? (どこですか) – Where is it?
- #31 Itsu desu ka? (いつですか) – When is it?
- #32 Doushite? (どうして) – Why?
- #33 Dochira desu ka? (どちらですか) – Which one is it?
- #34 Nan desu ka? (何ですか) – What is it?
- #35 Dare desu ka? (だれですか) – Who is it?
The Japanese Way of Getting to Know Each Other
That’s perfect! The two of you have been talking for a few minutes now, introducing yourselves and asking questions. Maybe you’ve found out your speaking partner’s name and you’re walking to a coffee shop together.
Here’s your chance to get to know each other better and maybe become friends. You can open up a whole new world of conversation by using some of these phrases!
- #36 Ima nanji desu ka? (今何時ですか) – What time is it right now?
- #37 Ima (今) – Now
- #38 Ato de (後で) – Later
- #39 Kyou (今日) – Today
- #40 Kinou (昨日) – Yesterday
- #41 Ashita (明日) – Tomorrow
- #42 Mainichi (毎日) – Everyday
- #43 Nansai desu ka? (何歳ですか) – How old are you?
- #44 Doko ni sundeimasu ka? (どこに住んでいますか) – Where do you live?
- #45 Kyoudai ga imasu ka? (兄弟がいますか) – Do you have siblings?
- #46 Ikura desu ka? (いくらですか) – How much does that cost?
- #47 Kore wa nan desu ka? (これはなんですか) – What is this?
- #48 Sore wa nan desu ka? (それはなんですか) – What is that?
- #49 Are we nan desu ka? (あれはなんですか) – What is that? (Hint: Use “kore” when something is close to you, “sore” when something is away from you but close to the person you’re speaking to, and “are” when something is far away from both of you.)
- #50 Toire wa doko desu ka? (トイレはどこですか) – Where’s the toilet?
Common Japanese Questions & Answers
You’ve been learning a lot about your new friend, but now it’s their turn to ask you questions! What should you say to many of the most common questions Japanese native speakers might ask you? Take a look at these answers.
- #51 Hai (はい) – Yes
- #52 Iie (いいえ) – No
- #53 Mada mada (まだまだ) – Not yet
- #54 Kamoshiremasen (かもしれません) – Maybe/I’m not sure
- #55 Tokidoki (時々) – Sometimes
- #56 Zenzen (全然) – Never
- #57 Itsumo (いつも) – Always
- #58 Taitei (たいてい) – Usually
- #59 Watashi wa _____ desu (私は＿＿です) – I’m a _______ (Hint: you can fill this blank with anything you feel describes you. That might be a “student” (gakusei), “tourist” (kankoukyaku), or even “doctor” (isha)!
- #60 Daijoubu desu (大丈夫です) – That’s okay
- #61 Ii desu (いいです) – That’s good
This note explains the difference between daijoubu and ii. If someone asks you if something is “all right,” daijobu is what they’re asking for (think “We don’t sell that here; can I get you X instead?” to which you’d reply “Yes, that should be fine, I guess”.
The time for ii is when something pleases you or you find it enjoyable (think of your friend suggesting that you go to that sushi place and you’re really excited to go. If your friend suggested sushi but you really wanted ramen, that would be a case for daijoubu.)
Phrases For Special Occasions In Japanese
Imagine yourself speaking to a native Japanese person for the first time because you went to a celebration or special event, like a birthday or festival? You can use these phrases in almost any situation.
- #62 Ki o tsukete (気を付けて) – Be careful (Hint: you might say this to someone going on a trip.)
- #63 Yoku dekimashita (よくできました) – Great job
- #64 Omedetou gozaimasu (おめでとうございます) – Congratulations
- #65 Tanjoubi omedetou (誕生日おめでとう) – Happy birthday
- #66 Kanpai (乾杯) – Cheers (Hint: you should really only go for this one if you actually have a drink of some sort in your hand.)
Japanese Goodbye Types
You’ve had a lot to talk about, but now it’s time to end your Japanese conversation. What are your final thoughts?
- #67 Ja (じゃ) – Well (Hint: used in the sense of “well, I guess I’d better get going.”)
- #68 Sayounara (さようなら) – Goodbye (Hint: use only if you don’t plan on seeing them again. This is a more final “goodbye.”)
- #69 Ja, mata (じゃまた) – Well, see you (Hint: this is the much more common “goodbye.”)
- #70 Oyasumi nasai (おやすみなさい) – Good night
In case you’re still looking for a language partner in Japan, here are my 4 tips for finding one.
Japanese Phrases to Use in an Emergency
In order to wrap up this list of some of the most important phrases in Japanese, I’d like to make sure you know a few words that may come in handy. Use these phrases to call for help if you are in trouble.
- #71 Tasukete! (助けて) – Help me!
- #72 Keisatsu o yonde kudasai! (警察を呼んで下さい) – Please call the police!
- #73 Kyuu kyuusha o yonde kudasai! (救急車を呼んで下さい) – Please call an ambulance!
I hope you never have to use these last three. If you need them, it’s always a good idea to remember them.
Next Steps in Japanese
So there you have it: all the basic Japanese phrases you need to get started learning Japanese.
When you have these phrases at your fingertips, you’ll soon be engaging in basic Japanese conversations with native speakers and getting excited about developing your conversational skills.
Now that you’ve learned the basics, are you ready to take the next step?
Stories are the best way to learn Japanese… not rules. It’s fun as well as effective. You will learn all the Japanese vocabulary you need for everyday conversations, as well as how to read, write and pronounce it.
How To Have Stress-Free Japanese Conversations
After mastering even a few of the important Japanese phrases in this article, you will be able to hold a solid conversation with any native speaker you come across at home or while traveling.
When learning a language, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time. There’s no need to come up with all your answers right away.
You might find it helpful to think about your answers to some native speaker questions in advance so you can come up with the right words (like your age, occupation, and country or language name) to describe yourself.
Preparing in advance and knowing what to expect will make your conversations with native speakers much more enjoyable. In addition, you’ll feel more confident speaking Japanese.