A Japanophile who has survived 15 solo trips to Japan. Ced's visits focus on discovering the country’s lesser-known attractions.
Even if you are an expert in Japanese grammar, you are going to find it hard to communicate in the Land of the Rising Sun without a rich vocabulary of Japanese travel words and phrases. This is not helped by the fact that Japanese kanji, or logographic characters, inevitably have multiple pronunciations.
Fortunately, travel vocabulary that is “useful to know” for visitors is largely limited to the names of places, facilities, objects, and so on. The following is a selection of words and phrases you are most likely going to need or encounter when visiting Nihon. Each section also contains suggestions on usage and pronunciation, and in relevant situations, grammar notes.
- This list of Japanese words and phrases for travelers is divided into the standard categories of food, locations, transportation, etc. Categories are arranged alphabetically.
- You do not need to learn all to have a great trip. Pick and choose based on your needs.
- The language is largely pronounced as it reads in romanized form, with each syllable spoken clearly. Syllables are also always paired with a vowel and never contain clusters of three or more consonants.
- Japanese vowels are always clearly pronounced. Sake is therefore not as we would say it in English but sa-ke. Sodenashi is so-de-na-shi.
- Although there are many exceptions, the syllables of most Japanese words generally receive equal emphasis. The word katakana is thus uniformly stressed when spoken.
- Many textbooks and phrasebooks spell the Japanese present affirmative verb stem as masu, although the “u” is very softly pronounced. For example, ikimasu is not pronounced as i-ki-ma-su but i-ki-mass. The same goes for the formal sentence copula desu.
- Sentences are transformed into questions when they end with ka.
- Some textbooks also spell the “ou” sound as “ō” or simply as “o.” For this vocabulary list, the extended spelling is used.
- To learn basic Japanese words and phrases for general situations, such as greetings and numbers, please refer to the appendix.
- Most if not all service personnel in Japan will not expect tourists to speak perfect Japanese, or to have an impressive vocabulary. By experience, they can discern what you need with one or two keywords.
- One of the biggest hurdles to learning Japanese is the unfortunate fact that many Japanese words have at least two very different pronunciations. This stems from the difference between kunyomi and onyomi, with the former being the “Japanese reading,” while the latter is the “sound” or “Chinese reading.” Generally, kunyomi is used when the word or kanji character is read by itself. Onyomi is used when the character is paired with others. (Note that there are exceptions)
Useful Sentence Structures to Know
- The simplest way of asking for directions in Japanese is ________ wa doko desu ka? Fill in the blank with the names of places from this list.
- The simplest way to request something in Japanese is ________ onegaishimasu. You could also use ________ kudasai. Both onegaishimasu and kudasai mean “please.”
- ________, arimasu ka could be used to inquire whether a certain facility is available, or whether an object is on sale. Note that this cannot be used to inquire about humans.
Additional Pronunciation Guide
To reiterate, the language pronounces every syllable. Thus: sake is pronounced as sa-ke.
Any consonant following a vowel is also the start of a new syllable. The same rule applies when a consonant follows “n.”
Some additional examples of such pronunciation parsing are:
- Chiekkuin = Chi-e-Ku-in (brief emphasis and pause on the double k)
- Mise = Mi-se
- Ryougae = Ryo-u-ga-e
- Zutsu = Zu-tsu
- Arerugi = A-re-ru-gi
- Chintsuzai = Chin-tsu-za-i
- Shinzou = Shin-zo-u
- Shoten = Sho-te-n
- Mokuyoubi = Mo-ku-yo-u-bi
- Mayonaka = Ma-yo-na-ka
Like English, there are also five vowels in Japanese. Individually, vowels are pronounced as:
- A = “Ah”
- I = “Ee”
- U = “Oo”
- E = “E,” as in “pet” or “bed”
- O = “Oh”
Thus, “Ka” is pronounced as “Kah.” “Jou” is pronounced as “Jo-oo.” And so on.
255 Essential Japanese Travel Words and Phrases for Travelers
Read More from WanderWisdom
L. Travel Necessities
Appendix: Other Essential Japanese Vocabulary
To highlight a damaged or non-functioning facility, use ________ ga kowarete imasu.
To highlight a missing item, use ________ wa arimasen.
- Bed: Beddo (ベッド).
- Blanket: Buranketto (ブランケット) or moufu (毛布).
- Ceiling: Tenjou (天井).
- Chair: Isu (椅子).
- Check In / Check Out: Chiekkuin (チェックイン) and chiekkuauto (チェックアウト).
- Courier: Takuhaibin (宅配便).
- Door: Doa (ドア).
- Dormitory: Ryou (寮). Note that this word could also mean hostel.
- Floor: Furoa (フロア). The traditional Japanese word for floor is actually yuka (床). However, as this word also means several other things, it might be best to avoid using it when in a hotel.
- Fridge: Reizouko (冷蔵庫).
- Hostel: Hosuteru (ホステル).
- Hot Spring: Onsen (温泉).
- Hot Water: Oyu (お湯).
- Hotel: Hoteru (ホテル).
- Internet: Intaneto (インターネット). WiFi is pronounced as it is.
- Iron: Airon (アイロン).
- Japanese Traditional Inn: Ryokan (旅館).
- Kettle: Ketoru (ケトル).
- Laundromat (Coin Operated): Koin randori (コインランドリー).
- Laundry Facilities: Randori (ランドリ).
- Lights: Raito (ライト).
- Luggage: Nimotsu (荷物). Smaller items could be referred to as tenimotsu (手荷物).
- Microwave: Denshi renji (電子レンジ).
- Pillow: Makura (枕).
- Public Bath (Hotel): Yokujou (浴場). Note that this actually means “bathing space,” and refers to the common bathing facility of a hotel.
- Reception: Furonto (フロント). At other facilities, receptions are also known as uketsuke (受付).
- Room: Heya (部屋).
- Room Service: Rumu sabisu (ルームサービス).
- Shower: Shiyawa (シャワー).
- Sink: Sinku (シンク).
- Table: Teburu (テーブル).
- Television: Terebi (テレビ).
- Traditional Japanese Bed: Futon (布団). This is the type unfolded on tatami floors.
- Vending Machine: Jidou hanbaiki (自動販売機).
- Window: Mado (まど).
As is obvious, many Japanese travel words and phrases used in the hospitality industry are transliterations from English. Traditional terms and names are generally avoided.
- Amusement Park: Yuenchi (遊園地). Theme parks are called tema paku (テーマパーク).
- Art Gallery: Bijitsukan (美術館).
- Beach: Hamabe (浜辺). Note that kaigan (海岸) is sometimes translated as “beach” too, but actually means seaside/coast.
- Bridge: Hashi (橋). When paired with other words, the pronunciation becomes bashi.
- Castle: This is a tricky one. When paired with other words or names, it is pronounced as jou (城). By itself, however, the word is pronounced as shiro. The kanji doesn’t change.
- Castle Keep: Tenshukaku (天守閣).
- Downtown: Hankagai (繁華街).
- Garden: Niwa (庭). Note that the names of many famous Japanese gardens use the kanji en (園) instead.
- Market: Shijou (市場).
- Mountain: Yama (山).
- Museum: Hakubutsukan (博物館).
- Observatory: Tenboudai (展望台).
- Pagoda: Tou (塔).
- Palace: Goten (御殿).
- Park: Koen (公園).
- River: Kawa (川). When paired with other words, the pronunciation sometimes changes to gawa.
- River Cruise: Kawa kudari (川下り).
- Ruins: Iseki (遺跡).
- Shopping Street: Shoutengai (商店街).
- Shops: Mise (店)
- Shrine: Jinja (神社).
- Stadium: Sutajiamu (スタジアム).
- Statue: Zou (像)
- Temple: Again, this is a tricky one. By itself, the kanji is pronounced as tera (寺). Paired with other words, it sometimes becomes ji. Other times, the pronunciation changes slightly, becoming dera. For example, yamadera (山寺).
- Tower: Tawa (タワー). Tawa is used for modern structures, whereas tou (see above) refers to historical pagodas.
- Town: Machi (町).
- Valley: Tani (谷).
This section does not contain names of parts of traditional attire. To learn Japanese travel phrases and words regarding those, please refer to specific write-ups on the subject.
- Belt: Beruto (ベルト). This differs from obi (帯), the waist sash used when wearing kimonos.
- Blouse: Burausu (ブラウス).
- Cap/Hat: Boshi (帽子).
- Coat: Uwagi (上着). This could mean jacket too.
- Dress: Doresu (ドレス).
- Shirt: Shatsu (シャツ). Tees are t-shatsu.
- Shoes: Kutsu (靴).
- Shorts: Pantsu (パンツ).
- Skirt: Skirto (スカート).
- Sleeve: Sode (袖). Hansode (半袖) and nagasode (長袖) are short-sleeve and long-sleeve respectively, while sodenashi (袖無し) means sleeveless.
- Socks: Kutsushita (靴下).
- Sweater: Seta (セーター).
- Trousers: Trousers (ズボン).
- Underwear: Shitagi (下着).
In Japanese grammar, adjectives are always followed by one of two suffixes. For most tourist situations, though, these could be omitted. An example would be when choosing the colors of a purchase.
As in English, there are also multiple ways to describe a color. The following are thus only the most commonly used Japanese words for colors. More or less, the only vocabulary most travelers need to know too.
- Black: Kuro (黒).
- Blue: Aoi (青).
- Brown: Chairo (茶色).
- Gray: Gure (グレー).
- Green: Midori (緑).
- Orange: Orenji (オレンジ).
- Pink: Pinku (ピンク).
- Purple: Murasaki (紫).
- Red: Aka (赤).
- White: Shiro (白).
- Yellow: Kiiro (黄色).
Names of public facilities commonly used by tourists.
- Bank: Ginkou (銀行). An ATM is ediemu (エーティーエム).
- Embassy: Taishikan (大使館).
- Evacuation Shelter: Hinansho (避難所).
- Front Desk: Uketsuke (受付).
- Hospital: Byouin (病院).
- Money Exchange: Ryougae (両替).
- Police Station: Keisatsusho (警察署).
- Post Office: Yubinkyoku (郵便局).
- Tourist Information: Kankou annaijo (観光案内所).
Restaurants staff will heartily greet customers with the world-famous Japanese phrase, irasshaimase (いらっしゃいませ) on seeing them. The same goes for many shops. The phrase simply means, welcome.
To indicate takeout instead of dining in, use the phrase, mochikaeri (持ち帰り). A smoking table is kitsuen (喫煙) while a non-smoking table is kinen (禁煙).
For second helpings of rice, etc, just point at what you want and say o-kawari kudasai.
- Beef: Gyu Niku (牛肉). Many restaurants would also use befu (ビーフ), or in the case of Japanese beef, wagyu (和牛).
- Breakfast: Asa gohan (朝ごはん) or choushoku (朝食).
- Cake: Keki (ケーキ).
- Chicken: Tori niku (鶏肉).
- Crab: Kani (カニ).
- Dessert: Dezato (デザート).
- Dinner: Yushoku (夕食).
- Egg: Tamago (卵).
- Fish: Sakana (魚).
- Fried: Age … (揚…). Usually, the name of the food ingredient that’s fried follows the kanji.
- Fruits: Kudamono (果物).
- Lunch: Chushoku (昼食). Or ranchi (ランチ).
- Meat: Niku (肉).
- Mutton: Youniku (羊肉).
- Pastry/Sweets: Kashi (菓子).
- Pork: Butaniku (豚肉).
- Prawn: Ebi (海老).
- Rice: Gohan (ご飯).
- Snack: Otsumami (おつまみ).
- Soup: Supu (スープ).
- Steamed: Mushi (蒸し).
- Supper: Yashoku (夜食).
- Vegetables: Yasai (野菜).
Japanese Names of Common Fruits
- Apple: Ringo (りんご).
- Banana: Banana (バナナ).
- Grapes: Budou (ブドウ).
- Lemon: Remon (レモン).
- Melon: Meron (メロン).
- Orange: Orenji (オレンジ).
- Pear: Nashi (梨).
- Pineapple: Painapuru (パイナップル).
- Watermelon: Suika (西瓜).
Japanese Names of Seafood Popularly Used for Sashimi
- Eel: Unagi (鰻).
- Mackerel: Saba (鯖).
- Octopus: Tako (たこ).
- Pacific Saury: Sanma (秋刀魚).
- Roe: Igura (イクラ).
- Salmon: Sake (鮭).
- Scallop: Hotate (帆立).
- Sea Bream: Tai (鯛).
- Sea Urchin: Uni (うに).
- Skipjack Tuna/Bonito: Katsuo (鰹).
- Squid: Ika (いか).
- Surf Clam: Hokkigai (北寄貝).
- Tuna: Maguro (鮪).
G. General Vocabulary
- Adult: Otona (大人).
- Child: Kodomo (子供).
- Family: Kazoku (家族).
- Female: Josei (女性). “Woman” is onna (女), with the difference between the two words roughly the same as the difference between female and women in English.
- Left: Hidari (左).
- Male: Dansei (男性). “Man” is otoko (男), with the difference between the two words roughly the same as the difference between male and man in English.
- Old: Toshiyori (年寄り).
- Right: Migi (右).
- Young: Wakai (若い).
While it wouldn’t always be grammatically correct, it is fine to use ________ ga arimasu to indicate a malady.
- Allergy: Arerugi (アレルギー).
- Clinic: Shinryousho (診療所).
- Constipation: Benpi (便秘).
- Cough: Seki (咳).
- Cuts/Injury: Kega (怪我).
- Diarrhea: Geri (下痢). Vomiting is otou (嘔吐).
- Disinfectant: Shoudoku zai (消毒剤).
- Drugstore: Dorakkustoa (ドラッグストア). Often called yakkyoku (薬局) too.
- Fever: Netsu (熱).
- Flu: Kaze (風邪).
- Gastric Medication: Igusuri (胃薬).
- Giddiness: Kurakura (くらくら).
- Headache: Zutsu (頭痛).
- Lozenges: Jouzai (錠剤).
- Medical Examination: Shinsatsu (診察).
- Medicine: Kusuri (薬).
- Painful: Itai (痛い).
- Painkillers: Chintsuzai (鎮痛剤).
- Runny Nose: Hanamizu (鼻水).
Parts of the Body
To highlight an area of pain, use ________ ga itai.
- Chest: Mune (胸).
- Ears: Mimi (耳).
- Eyes: Me (目).
- Feet: Ashimoto (足下).
- Hands: Te (手).
- Head: Atama (頭).
- Heart: Shinzou (心臓).
- Legs: Ashi (脚).
- Nose: Hana (鼻).
- Stomach: Onaka (お腹).
- Throat: Nodo (喉).
To request for help when searching for something, use ________ o sagashite imasu.
________ ga arimasu ka, which means “do you have … ,” is fine too.
- Bakery: Pan ya (パン屋).
- Big: Ookii (大きい). “Too big” is ooki sugiru (大きすぎる). The suffix sugiru itself meaning “in excess” and could be tagged to other adjectives to denote the same meaning.
- Books: (本).
- Bookstore: Shoten (書店).
- Cheap: Yasui (安い). The kanji often appears by itself on sales material.
- Cigarettes: Tabaco (タバコ).
- Convenience Store: Konbini (コンビニ).
- Department Store: Depato (デパート).
- Electronic appliances: Denshi kiki (電子機器).
- Expensive: Takai (高い). “Too expensive” is taka sugiru (高いすぎる).
- Greengrocer: Yaoya (八百屋).
- Liquor Store: Sakaya (酒屋).
- Pastry Shop: Yougashiya (洋菓子屋).
- Shop: Mise (店).
- Small: Chiisai (小さい). “Too small” is chiisa sugiru (小さすぎる).
- Supermarket: Supa (スーパー).
To specify a month, simply take the corresponding number and put it before the Japanese word for month. January is therefore ichi gatsu (一月). October is juu gatsu (一月), and so on. (Refer to appendix for Japanese numbers)
For days of the month, replace gatsu with nichi (日). The same applies for hours and minutes, which are ji (時) and fun (分).
There are specific names for several days of the month, this being a system based on the native pronunciations of Japanese words. The pronunciation for “minute” also varies depending on the number before it.
Unless you are interested in learning Japanese full-time and not just equipping yourself with essential travel vocabulary for a holiday, it is unnecessary to fret about these. No one is going to laugh at you for referring to the fifth of January as go-nichi instead of itsuka, even though it is linguistically simplistic.
- Afternoon: Gogo (午後).
- AM/PM: Gozen (午前)/Gogo (午後).
- Last Night: Sakuya (昨夜).
- Midnight: Mayonaka (真夜中) or hanya (半夜).
- Morning: Asa (朝). Kesa refers to “this morning.”
- Noon: Shougo (正午).
- Today: Kyou (今日).
- Tomorrow: Ashita (明日). News reports and weather forecasts often use asu (あす) instead.
- Tonight: Konban (今晩).
- Yesterday: Kinou (昨日).
Days of the Week
- Monday: Getsuyoubi (月曜日).
- Tuesday: Kayoubi (火曜日).
- Wednesday: Suiyoubi (水曜日).
- Thursday: Mokuyoubi (木曜日).
- Friday: Kinyoubi (金曜日).
- Saturday: Doyoubi (土曜日).
- Sunday: Nichiyoubi (日曜日).
In conversations, “bi” is often omitted. In many cases, only the first syllable is pronounced too.
Adding the particle (で) after a mode of transportation conveys the meaning of “by.” For example, densha de means “by train.”
- Airplane: Hikouki (飛行機).
- Airport: Kuukou (空港).
- Arrival Time: Touchaku jikan (到着時間).
- Bus Stop: Basu noriba (バス乗り場). Noriba means “stop” or“platform,” and can be tagged to other forms of transportation. For example, takushi noriba (taxi stand).
- Departure Time: Shuppatsu jikan (出発時間).
- Disruption: Miawasete imasu (見合わせています). This phrase means “out of service,” and could appear in many forms. However, the first two characters will always be present.
- Ferry Terminal: Fueri taminaru (フェリーターミナル).
- Flight: Bin (便).
- Harbor: Minato (港).
- Ship: Fune (船).
- Station: Eki (駅).
- Subway: Chikatetsu (地下鉄).
- Taxi: Takushi (タクシー).
- Ticket: Kippu (切符) or chiketto (チケット) or ken (券). Ken is typically used when paired with other Japanese travel words and phrases. For example, a limited express ticket is called tokkyuuken (特急券).
- Ticket Sales: Kippu uriba (切符売り場).
- Train: Densha (電車).
L. Travel Necessities
Japanese travel words and phrases for the most commonly needed items by travelers.
- Cellphone: Keitai (携帯).
- Charging Terminal: Juuden tanshi (充電端子).
- Clock: Tokei (時計). The word also means watch.
- Comb: Kushi (櫛).
- Detergent: Senzai (洗剤).
- Nail Cutter: Tsumekiri (爪切り).
- Power Bank: Pawa Banku (パワーバンク). Could also be referred to as mobairu battori (モバイルバッテリー).
- Razor: Kamisori (カミソリ).
- Sanitary Napkin: Seiri napukin (生理ナプキン).
- Shampoo: Shiyanpu (シャンプー).
- SIM Card: Directly transliterated as SIM Cardo (SIMカード).
- Soap: Sekken (石鹸). Body wash is usually called bodi sopu (ボディソープ).
- Suitcase: Sutsukesu (スーツケース).
- Toothbrush: Ha burashi (歯ブラシ).
- Toothpaste: Ha migaki (歯磨き).
- Towel: Taoru (タオル).
- Travel Adaptor: Ryokou Adaputa (旅行アダプター).
If you’re visiting Japan during bad-weather months such as August and September, it is imperative to at least know some of these words. Also, to visually recognize some of the Kanji and Kana writings involved.
- Clear: Hare (晴).
- Cloudy: Kumori (曇り).
- Fog: Kiri (霧).
- Heatwave: Mou shou (猛署). The word literally means “fierce heat.”
- Rain: Ame (雨). Goou (豪雨) and Ooame (大雨) mean heavy rain.
- Snow: Yuki (雪).
- Thunder: Kaminari (雷). While there is a separate word for lightning, kaminari is frequently used to denote both lightning and thunder.
- Typhoon: Taifuu (台風).
- Wind: Kaze (風). Boufu (暴風) is a windstorm.
Travel tip: Kanji such as those for rain and snow are often shown onboard trains. They give a preview of what to expect at destinations.
Appendix: Additional Japanese Vocabulary to Know for a Great Holiday
Common Greetings, Questions, and Responses
- Good Morning: Ohaiyou
- Good Day/Afternoon: Konnichiwa
- Good Evening: Kombanwa
- Good Night: Oyasumi Nasai
- Goodbye: Sayounara
- Excuse Me: Sumimasen
- Thank You: Arigatou
- Sorry: Gomenasai
- Bill, Please: O kanjou
- Do you speak English: Eigo ga hanasemasu ka?
- I do not understand Japanese: Nihongo ga wakarimasen
- I’m okay: Daijoubu desu
- Help: Tasukete
- Please call an ambulance: Kyukyusha o yonde kudasai
- Please call the police: Keisatsu o yonde kudasai
- One: Ichi
- Two: Ni
- Three: San
- Four: Shi/Yon
- Five: Go
- Six: Roku
- Seven: Shichi/Nana
- Eight: Hachi
- Nine: Kyuu/Ku
- Ten: Juu
- Eleven: Juu Ichi
- Twelve: Juu Ni
- Twenty: Ni juu
- Thirty: San juu
- Hundred: Hyaku
- Thousand: Sen
- Ten Thousand: Man
- Spring: Haru
- Summer: Natsu
- Autumn: Aki
- Winter: Fuyu
The 5W and 1H
- What: Nani
- When: Itsu
- Where: Doko
- Who: Dare/Donata
- Why: Naze
- How: Douyatte
© 2018 Ced Yong