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Common Japanese Words: You Need to Know

Posted by on November 18, 2012 in Common Japanese Words, Japanese words | 9 comments

You have been studying Japanese and learning lots of Japanese words. But what if you are heading to Japan and don’t have time to study or remember a lot of Japanese words? Well, I would say that there is always time if done efficiently, but just in case, here is a list of words that you must know.

I wanted to keep the list small and have decided to limit it to just 10 words. A Japanese words survival list if you will. If you can remember these words, then you should at be able to take care of your basic needs. They might not get you much further, but at least you will be able to get to the bathroom.

I should note that the grammar below is not complete. It is written for someone who only knows these ten words to get by.

1. Doko (どこ)-where

Knowing how to say where is really important. Especially if this is your first time to Japan. Just add the place name in front of this: Restaurant doko?

2. Ikitai (いきたい) -I want to go to

Similar to doko, but this allows you to tell someone where you want to go: Station ikitai.

3. Sumimasen (すみません)-Sorry, excuse me。

This word can be extremely useful because of all of the ways it can be used. Mainly, you can use it to say “sorry” or “excuse me”.

4. Ikura (いくら)-How much

You will most likely be buying things. This allows you to ask how much.

5. Otearai (おてあらい)-Bathroom

You will definitely want to remember this one. You can combine it with number one for: otearai doko?

6. Arigatou (ありがとう)-Thank you

This is the short form of thank you (thanks), but it is easy to say and easier to remember than the more polite arigatou gozaimasu.

7.  Byouin (びょういん)-Hospital

This one is a bit of a no brainer. You can combine it with ikitai or doko to help you actually get there?

8. Tabetai (たべたい)-Want to eat

Not quite hungry, but about as close as you can get with one word. Also allows you to say what you want to eat: sushi tabetai!

9. Nomitai (のみたい)-Want to drink

Same as above, but for drinking. Omizu (water) nomitai.

10. Eigo (えいご)-English?

Said with a rising voice this will mean “can you speak English?” More and more people can these days, so it might be helpful if you need some help.

*Bonus 1. Speak English slowly- A lot of Japanese words now days are English words. speak slowly and enunciate clearly and they will likely understand.

**Bonus 2. Write it down-Japanese are required to study English from middle school (now elementary school) and actually have a pretty good understanding of grammer.  Write it down and they will likely understand.

As I mentioned before, this definitely isn’t a complete list, and it is more for someone who has no experience with Japan. These words should help you get the basics, but not much more. On the plus side, anyone should be able to remember 10 words on the flight over. You could also print them out and stick it in your pocket.

Now’s your chance to tell me: what words would you put in your top 10 words you have to know.

For a much longer list of words see here: common Japanese words

You can also find a downloadable list here: 1000 Japanese words



  1. avatar

    Mari!!(or anyone else) If your still out there, could you tell me if you learned Japanese since your post in 2010. If you did, what did you end up doing to learn. The reason I want to know is because IM CURRENTLY studying nihongo and I also can speak Spanish and English fluently. It would be very helpful to know your experience. So please respond back. If it helps, I just graduated High School and im serious about learning nihongo. Nihongo wo oshiete kudasai.XD

  2. avatar

    Hi Eder,

    Thanks for leaving a comment. One program that is pretty good is the Japnesepod101 suite. They have a lot of free podcasts and some videos as well. For the paid service you get a bunch more materials. Also, don’t forget things like movies and anime and study tools, and of course the internet.

    You mentioned that you just graduated high school. Are you planning to go to college? Have you considered studying in Japan?

  3. avatar

    HI NICK. Thanks for responding. Well actually Im already in a College in Roseville CA. and in a month or so I finish my first semester. I really want to go to Japan one day but im not sure what to expect. Im also not sure how life is there for a foreign student. For now, im studying Japanese with some native japanese girls that I met at College. My English teacher knows Japanese and gave me a little book to practice my Hiragana but Ive pretty much got it down. I also try to Read mangas, watch Anime, Dramas,and movies in Japanese with English or Spanish subtitles. The only problem with my study plan is that I dont have one. I just went to these girls and asked them if they could teach me out of the blue. Im also.trying to see what are some common words and phrases they use so that I can learn them and know that im spending my time on something that im gonna use when I start making sentences and later, have conversations. My goal is to understand enough Japanese to know what they are talking about by the end of this year. One more thing, I have been studying Japanese about 3 months now and I think im not learning enough. What do you recomend I study and how much time each day? How was it for you when you first started learning Japanese?

  4. avatar

    Hi Eder,

    Are you at Sierra? Who is your Japanese teacher?

    There are a lot of options to study abroad, but I do recommend having a goal before you decide. It will make everything much more attainable. It sounds like you are on the right track. Keeping yourself surrounded by Japanese will definitely make you learn faster.

    Think about what your goal is for Japanese and that should help you decide how you want to study. Do you need enough to communicate simple conversation, business level, do you need to be able to read Japanese? All of these require different levels of dedication and time.

    Also, here is the link to Japanesepod 101 I was talking about: http://www.japanesewords.net/bv9b

  5. avatar

    Yes, I go to Sierra College. The one thats in Rocklin. As for my Japanese teacher, her name is Ootsu Yurina. She is actually a student but agreed to teach me Japanese. The good thing about atending this college is that there are many students who come from Japan, and I can talk to them. My primary goal is to be able to understand what people are saying and be able to answer back even if it isnt that politely. Later I can learn how to be more polite and show respect to my superiors. I kinda got Hiragana down but I still need some practice in order to write it faster. Kanji can wait because if I know how to talk I can ask someone in Japan what something says….Currently, I am majoring in Mechatronics and trying out Technical Drafting, and I would like to know If I could study a semester or two over there or maybe, get a job in any of those departments. And, is there like a place were students can go to learn Japanese in Japan?

  6. avatar

    OOh and by the way, I tried out that website and how they teach is understandable.and very helpful. THANKS!

  7. avatar

    Hi Eder,

    I actually went to Sierra College myself! Are you taking Japanese classes there in addition to learning from Ootsusan?

    There are a lot of places to learn in Japan and more are offering English courses. I may actually be looking at a postion with a Japanese University, so stay tuned. I may have more information for you soon.

  8. avatar

    Glad that you found it helpful. Good luck.

  9. avatar

    Oh really? I cant believe that you went to sierra college. Maybe some teachers still remember you. I will have to ask just for the fun of it. Well regarding your question, no im not. This semester its just Yurina-san and me. I was thinking about taking an official class next semester but Imay not be able to,because the class ends at 6:30 and I have to work at 6:00. So I’m not sure what im going to do yet.In the meantime, I will stay tuned to hear this info. of yours. Thanks a lot I appreciate it.