You may be surprised to learn how many Japanese words you already know. Probably you have heard of “Tofu,” “Sushi,” “Tempura,” etc… These are Japanese words.
Yes, they are all foods! Japanese food, “Wa-shoku,” is registered as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO. Preparing Japanese food takes many elements into consideration: balance of nutrition, flavors, textures, cooking methods, colors, and arrangement. Japanese food is an expression of “natural beauty and changing seasons.” You will enjoy a variety of foods while you are visiting Japan.
Japanese would say, “Itadakimasu (ee-tada-key-mas)”, when they are about to eat. If you say this to the person who prepared the meal for you, it means, “Thank you for fixing this for me.” However, this phrase goes further–it’s the phrase to thank everything involved to make the meal (or food) available for you. Not just the person who cooked, but even nature which grew the ingredients. You will see people put hands together in front of their chest and even bow when they say it.
As “Itadakimasu” is the ritual to start the enjoyable meal, there is a saying to finish one: “Gochiso-sama (go-chi-so-sum-a).” It means “I enjoyed this treat very much. Thank you.” “Gochiso” is a special treat in Japanese. “Sama” is an honorable ‘title’ to add to the end of a name or phrase to show respect. You may know “san” is a common ‘title’ to add to Japanese name when you say somebody’s name. “Honda-san” is Mr. (or Ms. or Mrs.) Honda. It is used for both first and last names. If your name is Mary, they will likely call you “Mary-san.” “Sama” is the most polite and respectful form of ‘title’.
Probably you know ‘Arigato’ in Japanese, which means “Thank you.” There are some other expressions to show your gratefulness in Japanese. “Gokuro-sama (go-koo-lo-sum-a)-desu (des)” is one of them. In this case, “gokuro,” which means “your kindness to take the trouble” is followed by the respectful title, “sama.” The last “desu” adds the politeness so it doesn’t sound arrogant. “Gokuro-sama-desu” is the perfct phrase to show appreciation for someone’s service.
“Otsukare-sama (o’ts-ka-lé-sum-a)-deshita (de-she-ta)” would be the phrase you will hear when a long day is over. In this case, “Otsukare” means something that took an effort or energy. The whole phrase means “Thank you for your hard work and cooperation.” And it even connotates a good wish for having a good rest of the day. “Deshita” is the past tense to end a sentence in a polite way.
These phrases to show your appreciation would take you a long way. At the same time, Japanese people might think you are fluent in Japanese, and they may start to speak fast in Japanese. Then, you might say “Sumimasen (soo-me-mas-en (as in “entertainment”))! I don’t understand Japanese.” “Sumimasen” means “I’m sorry,” “Pardon me,” or “Excuse me.”
“Sumimasen” is also the ward you would use to draw someone’s attention, as “Excuse me” in English.
“Sumimasen, toire (toy-lé) wa doko desuka (deska)?” –Excuse me, where is the bathroom?
“Sumimasen, eki (é-key) wa doko desuka (deska)?” –Excuse me, where is the train station?
“Sumimasen, taxi/bus noriba (no-lee-ba) wa doko desuka (deska)?” –Excuse me, where is the taxi/bus station?
“Sumimasen, kippu (kip-pu) uriba (oo-lee-ba) wa doko desuka (deska)?” –Excuse me, where is the ticket window?
By now, you may have noticed when the written words include “r”, the actual pronunciation is “l”:
Otsukare-sama-deshita: O’ts-ka-lé-sum-a-de-she-ta (Thank you for your good work and cooperation.)
toire: toy-lé (toilet/bathroom)
noriba: no-lee-ba (place to catch train/bus/taxi)
uriba: oo-lee-ba (place to buy something)
Fun fact: If this is confusing, it’s OK for you to say the word with “r” sound. As Japanese do not recognize the difference between the sounds “r” and “l”, Japanese wouldn’t hear the difference even if you say the words with English “r” sounds. But you would hear the difference when they answer to your questions. Sometimes, “r” is pronounced somewhat between “d” and “l.”
We would love you to experience traditional, authentic Japan. These experiences are priceless! In order to purchase memento of these wonderful memories or local food, you may want to have cash rather than plastic. Smaller venders and stores in Japan are likely to take cash only. People are used to carring a fairly big amount of cash in their wallet. It is safe most of the time, but you should use common sense to protect your fund. If you are in the middle of a crowd, for example, you do not want to have your wallet in your open pocket, obviously.
“Kurejit kado (credit card) wa tsukae (ts-ka-é) masu-ka (maska)? “ means “Do you take credit card?”
You might hear “Credit Card wa chotto….” That means “So sorry but we don’t…”
Then you can say, “Ah, so-deska.” This is a very useful phrase to express, “I see,” “I hear you,” or “I understood.”
We covered a lot so far! Hope you are still with me. If you like to take a break, please go ahead and make a cup of tea!
If you would like to say it’s delicious, “Oishii-desu (oy-she-des)!” You may want to ask what kind of tea, then you will say,
“Kore (ko-lé) wa nan desuka (des-ka)?” What is this?
Most Japanese people know English–especially if it is written. Pen and paper would be great tools to facilitate your communication with local people. They will love to “talk” with you and probably willingly teach you some new phrases. Enjoy the whole experience!
In fact, some people would LOVE to practice their English. “Excuse me. How much is this?” may be a great example a lot of Japanese can understand. Some of you may wonder, “But it may sound arrogant not to use Japanese?” If you say it slowly and clearly so they can get it more easily, they will appreciate your consideration and try to speak English with you.
If people look still puzzled, you can say in Japanese, “Sumimasen. Ikura (ee-koo-la) desuka (deska)?” How much does it cost?
If you would like the person to write down the amount or something else, “Kaite (kyte-té) kudasai (koo-das-eye).” Please write it down.
Here are some bonus words: These words will stimulate the conversation:
“Sugoi (s-go-y)!” Amazing, fascinating!
“Kirei (key-ley)!” Beautiful, attractive!
“Omoshiroi (o-mo-she-loy)!” Interesting!
“Kawaii (ka-wa-ii)!” Cute!
“Ganbatte (gan-bat-té)” Go for it! Hang in there! Good luck!
And one more phrase to make the first meeting smoothly (well, most of the time) for you:
This is how to introduce yourself politely. If the whole thing makes you to bite your tongue, you can say just “yoroshiku.” This phrase is like “It’s nice meeting you,” and it implies your desire to spend a good time together and to make the future relationship go well.
Wishing you many special moments in Japan. “Itterasshai (it-té-rash-eye)!” Bon voyage!