Travelling to a country where you don’t speak the local language is challenging, but also a fun and unique experience. Embrace the opportunities to connect with the local people with these words and phrases to enhance your Tokyo 2020 experience.
BY Karolina Höglind
Connecting with people in their local language will definitely add to the many great memories of your Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. Don’t let the thought of an unfamiliar language intimidate you from learning some basic Japanese! Japanese pronunciation is usually very straightforward: the words are spelled how they are pronounced. This isn’t true for all languages, English being a key example. Just picking up a few basic words and phrases can help things go smoothly throughout your trip, and maybe even create opportunities you would’ve missed out on otherwise. Furthermore, the people you will meet in Japan will be happy and appreciate seeing that you are trying to learn their language.
Just a greeting or a simple thank you will take you a long way, so let’s start with the very basics.
When talking to friends, many Japanese people use short phrases to make it more casual. You don’t need to think about formality too much, but If you want to make it more formal just add the part written in the brackets.
Hajimemashite ー Nice to meet you
Ohayou (gozaimasu) ー Good Morning
Konnichiwa ー Hello/Good day
Konbanwa ー Good evening
Oyasumi (nasai) ー Good night
Arigatou (gozaimasu) ー Thank you
Gomen (nasai) ー I’m sorry
Sumimasen ー Sorry/Excuse me*
*Used widely for ‘excuse me’ and to apologize. Sometimes even to show gratefulness.
Now let’s move on to some phrases to use when introducing yourself. These will be helpful when meeting fellow Olympic and Paralympic enthusiasts or local people during your travels!
Watashi no namae wa ___ desu. ― My name is___.
(Watashi wa) ___ kara kimashita. ― I come from___.
(Watashi wa) ___ ga suki desu. ― I like___.
Here are the common words and phrases for when you want to ask for information.
Notice that Japanese questions usually end with ‘ka’ (か). This syllable is used to indicate a question but can be omitted in speech, in which case you’d end the sentence in raised pitch.
A simple but handy word to remember!
Example phrases to use:
__wa doko desu ka? ― Where is ____?
Orinpikku sutajiamu wa doko desu ka? ― Where is the Olympic Stadium?
Toire* wa doko desu ka? ― Where is the toilet? (*pronounced like ‘toy-reh’)
Kitsuenjo wa doko desu ka? ― Where is the smoking area?
Another useful word to use when you want information about things, or people!
___ wa nan desu ka? ― What is____?
Anata no namae wa nan desu ka? ― What is your name?
Kore wa nan desu ka? ― What is this?
Three other useful words for questions are:
___ wa itsu desu ka? ― When is___?
___ wa dare desu ka? ― Who is___?
___ wa ikura desu ka? ― How much is ___?
Here are a few phrases you will find useful in a variety of situations, no matter where you are.
Eigo ga hanasemasu ka? ― Can you speak English?
Nihongo ga hanasemasen. ― I can’t speak Japanese.
Wakarimasu ka?/Wakarimasen ― Do you understand?/I don’t understand.
Daijoubu desu ka?/Daijoubu desu ― Are you okay/I’m okay.
Itadakimasu ― Thanks for the meal(*Say this before you start eating)
Oishii(desu)/Oishikatta(desu) ― It is delicious.
Gochisousama(deshita) ― Thank you for the meal.
Kore o kudasai ― I want this please. (*Do this while pointing at/holding what you want)
(Watashi wa) ___ no arerugi ga arimasu. ― I am allergic to _____.
Okaikei onegaishimasu — Check please.
Kurejitto kaado de haraemasu ka? ― Can I pay using a credit card?
Motto chiisai/okii size wa arimasu ka? ― Do you have a smaller/bigger size?
Hoka no iro wa arimasu ka? ― Do you have any other colors?
Kore ga ki ni narimasu. ― I am interested in this.
When cheering on the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, join in the locals and cheer on the athletes in Japanese using the following expressions.
Ganbatte! ― Good luck!/Go for it!/You can do it!
Omedetou! ― Congratulations!
Zannen! ― What a shame!/That’s too bad!
Yatta! ― Yay!/Hooray!
Oshii! ― That was so close!
For anyone who wants to try more conversational Japanese, here are some phrases/questions to break the ice!
Ichiban suki na supootsu wa nan desu ka? ― What is your favourite sport?
Dare o ouenshiteimasu ka? ― Who are you cheering on?
Dare ga kin-medaru o torimashita ka? ― Who won the gold medal?
Dare ga katsu to omoimasu ka? ― Who do you think will win?
Kore wa nama chuukei desu ka? ― Is this a live-broadcast?
Orinpikku/Pararinpikku wa saikou desu! ― The Olympics/Paralympics are amazing!
Tip! – Taking a compliment.
When showing off your newly found Japanese skills to your new friends or the local convenience store’s shop staff, you might be told “Nihongo jouzu desu ne”, which translates to “Your Japanese is so good.” Responding with a simple “Arigatou gozaimasu” is of course no problem, but the humble “Mada mada desu”（― No, not yet）shows both gratitude and a sense of self awareness. Using it will make you come off as even more proficient in Japanese than you might feel like you are!
Now you know some things to say to help in a pinch, and to make a more enjoyable and memorable Tokyo 2020 trip. There are many things that can help you. First of all is machine translation. If you have access to the internet, you have access to translation tools that can be very useful, both when talking to people and when you want to understand written Japanese.
Use these two phrases when you want to make use of other translation tools.
Chotto matte (kudasai). ― Wait a minute (please)
Nihongo ni honyaku shimasu. ― I will try to translate it into Japanese.
With the increase in foreign visitors to Japan over the past years, many restaurants and services, like taxis, have explanations in many languages. The more widely used point-and-speak sheets, featuring illustrations with multilingual explanations, eases communication between Japanese and non-Japanese speakers. Volunteers for the Olympic and Paralympic Tokyo 2020 are preparing the best they can to welcome the wave of foreign visitors, so don’t stress too much if learning Japanese seems like a big hurdle. If you try to communicate in English, remember that keeping it simple and slow (not louder unless there is a lot of background noise) will make things easier for everyone. Seizing the opportunity to use the Japanese language will definitely become a memorable part of your Tokyo 2020 experience!
For a more in-depth guide to helpful travel Japanese, see the Japan National Tourism Organization’s Tourist Travel Handbook . If you want to study more on your own or learn more about how to pronounce Japanese, try The Japan Foundation’s Japanese language learning platform JF Japanese e-Learning Minato .
Sweden born and bred Tokyoite. She started her journey to Japan as many others, through watching Sailor Moon on TV from a young age. Now her interest stretches out to culture, food and social issues. While studying at a Japanese university, she worked as an editor for a Tokyo-based culture magazine and as a radio host. She now spends her time as an office worker by day and Tokyo explorer by night.