Japanese food has spread across the world. Japanese restaurants have sprouted up all over the place and foods such as sushi, ramen, and soba can now be found just about anywhere. However, it wasn’t until I came to Japan that I realized the fascination that the Japanese culture holds for food. In Japan, the topic of food is discussed in nearly every aspect of life. It will be mentioned in almost every TV show, on the radio, and and will come up in nearly every conversation. It is even commonly discussed during or after a meal. Understanding this is important because the more Japanese food words and related phrases you understand, the better you will be able to communicate.
As a foreigner in Japan, it will be very common for people to ask you what kind of foods you like and dislike and what you can and can’t eat. Food topics make for great conversation because it is something almost everyone has an opinion in. Do you like (insert Japanese food here) will also be another questions that is commonly asked. Whether or not you can eat sushi, ume-boshi (pickled plumb), or natto (a sticky fermented soy bean) are the three “can you eat” food questions I get most often. So here are some common Japanese phrases and words for related to Japanese food. I highly recommend that you learn them well because they will come up often.
Japanese Phrases for Food
Can you eat Japanese food?
Washoku ga taberaremasu ka? (“Washoku” could also be replaced by “Nihon no tabemono”)
Do you like Japanese food?
Washoku ga suki desu ka?
Can you eat ~?
Do you like ~?
~ga suki desku?
Are there foods you can’t eat?
taberarenai mono ha arimasu ka?
What’s your favorite food?
(ichiban) suki na tabemono ha nandesuka?
Can you use chopsticks?
Ohashi ga tsukaemasu ka?
Japanese Words For Utensils
Chopsticks- Ohashi おはし
Fork- Fouku フォーク
Knife- naifu ナイフ
Spoon- supuun スプーン
Glass/cup- koppu コップ
Plate- osara おさら
Bowl- chawan ちゃわん
Common Japanese Food (with descriptions)
Sushi- Raw fish over a small ball of rice
Sashimi- Raw rish
Gohan- The Japanese word for white rice.
Soba- Japanese wheat noodles. Can be served hot or cold.
Yakisoba- Meaning “fried soba” is different from regular soba. The noodles are thicker and made using eggs, rather than wheat.
Udon- Udon is a large, thick noodle made of flour. Udon can be served both hot and cold.
Ramen- Consisting of basically a noodle soup, ramen is one of the most popular foods in Japan. The noodles are made from flower and egg and is served hot.
Gyudon. A bowl of rice covered with slices of cooked beef.
Natto- fermented soy beans. Is usually eaten with rice and sometimes mixed with raw eggs
Ume-boshi- Pickled or soured plum
Okonomiyaki- Meaning, “what you like, fried”, okonomiyaki is kind of like a pancake of meats, vegetables, flour, and eggs. It is then topped with mayonnaise and a special somewhat sweet sauce called okonomiyaki sauce. It is also common to cover them with seaweed and fish shavings.
Takoyaki- Literally meaning fried octopus, are small fluffy dumplings containing small pieces of fried octopus. Toppings are very similar to Okonomiyaki.
Tofu- Made from curdled soy milk. Commonly served as a side dish in Japan.
Nabe- Literally meaning “pot”, nabe is kind of like a stew of meats, vegetables, noodles, and tofu boiled together in a pot of water.
Shabu Shabu- Shabu Shabu is similar to nabe in that you have a pot of boiling hot water and similar ingredients. However, it differs in the fact that each piece of meat or vegetable is only briefly dipped in the water (just enough to cook it) before eating.
Learning and communicating in a new language is a great experience. I can still remember the first time I really engaged in Japanese conversation. It was like I had passed through some invisible barrier. But what if you are traveling to Japan before you have had a chance to study much Japanese or need to get a point across you just don’t know the Japanese words for? The answer is actually easier than you might think. Do your best with Japanese and use simple, clear English where you don’t know the Japanese.
Japanese people are required to study English for 6 years in school. The problem is that the English teaching is focused on passing grammar tests rather than actually communicating. Since most of the English teachers are Japanese, they also don’t get the chance to hear English from native speakers. They do however learn a pretty large vocabulary.
So how does knowing this help you communicate in Japan?
Most Japanese people understand grammar and have a large vocabulary, but don’t have much listening practice. Speak very clearly, use simple sentence structures, and be sure to leave small pauses in between each word.
If you understand the Japanese alphabet pronounce the words using the Japanese syllables. For instance: hotel becomes “hoteru”.
Lastly, if you are not able to get your point across verbally, write it down.
* The article was rewritten due to the original being lost due to a problem with the server. It is basically the same, but the wording may be slightly different.
This post was originally about how to best use Mnemosyne as a study tool to help you learn Japanese faster. They say the best time to review something is right before you forget it. Mnemosyne is a flash card program program that uses an algorithm to help you do just that. Increasing the speed that you can learn new Japanese words and phrases.
Unfortunately, I had a hacker attack my server and have lost a few posts. On the good side, I am currently trying out a very similar program called Anki. Once I have spent a little more time with it, I will review both and write another post on how to best use them. In the meantime please feel free to sign up to my rss feed to make sure you don’t miss the post!
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Let’s face it. You can only remember so much. The more you study the more you will remember, but you only have so much time. When it comes to learning Japanese, or any language for that matter, there is a lot to learn. You need to remember hundreds and eventually thousands of Japanese words, grammatical structures, and pronunciations. Not to mention kanji for those who want to be able to read and write. It can all seem a bit overwhelming at times. Especially if you are just getting started. The key is to be selective in what you learn.
When I decided I wanted to study in Japan, I tried to learn every single Japanese word and phrase I could. I figured I would tackle learning Japanese through pure quantity. This was a huge mistake. Having a large vocabulary is very important to speak a language fluently, but I wasn’t very selective in my learning. I would study every word that I came across regardless of how rare or useless it might be. I spent a lot of hours studying, but my level of Japanese didn’t improve very much. Basically, I had learned a bunch of Japanese words I couldn’t use. Since I couldn’t use them often, I also forgot them quickly.
So what should you do with words that you are unlikely to use or at least don’t need to use for a while? I recommend two options. The first is to skip them completely. This will help you free up time to learn words that will help you get speaking sooner. The second method is to write them down as you come across them in a dedicated notebook. You still won’t study them, but you will have them written down to study them at a later date when you decide you need to learn more advanced words.
When I first started doing this I felt guilty. Like I was taking the easy road, and that I wouldn’t get good at Japanese if I didn’t learn all I could. What if I needed this word down the road or couldn’t communicate well because I didn’t now advanced vocabulary. Luckily, I was completely wrong. Since I was studying less material and had more time to practice material I would actually use, my Japanese improved much faster. There were times (many times) that I couldn’t understand certain words, but it never stopped me from communicating well. Once I had the basics down strong, picking up new words as I came by them naturally was pretty easy. The confidence I gained in my Japanese ability helped me even more.
Last night I mentioned on Twitter (if you’re not following me, click here to get my updates) that I had attended a great event at Tokyu Resort here in Miyakojima (an island south west of Okinawa) and would be posting some videos. Well, here they are! I took more videos, but these are the only ones that came out decent enough to post.
As you can tell from the video, Okinawa’s culture is very distinct from that of Japan. If I had to describe it, I would say it is almost a mix of Chinese and Japanese culture. I fell In love with Okinawan music and dance the first time I visited here several years ago and it is still my favorite type of Japanese music.
The instrument in the last video is the sanshin, a three stringed banjo like instrument of Okinawa. I have recently started learning to play the sanshin myself and will post some videos once I get a little better. (it could be a while ;).
As a note, for those who might have difficult making out the Japanese words in Okinawan music, don’t worry about it. The language here can be quite different sometimes. The music is beautiful, but not the best for learning Japanese.
Traditional Okinawan dancing and drumming to a slightly modern song
A more traditional song and beat
Hula dance performed to “Nada Sou Sou” played on the sanshin and piano