Traveling to Japan for the first time can be a little daunting, especially if you don't speak the language.
A study by The Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. Department of State suggests that Japanese is the third most difficult foreign language for English speakers to master. It comes just behind Arabic and Mandarin, and slightly ahead of Korean and Hungarian.
Their research suggests that achieving reading and speaking proficiency in any of the three most difficult languages can take up to 2,200 class hours... that's a LOT of learning!
This is all well and good if you're planning to travel to Japan two or more years from now, and can commit several hours per day to language classes in the meantime, but what if you're visiting sooner? What if you don't have time to attend regular classes?
Weighing in on the matter, Voxy—the web-based language-learning service—says of the study, "Japanese language learners need to memorize thousands of characters. Three different writing systems and two syllabary systems add to the language's difficulty."
Thankfully, a little does, in fact, go a long way, and we've put together a list of 10 simple phrases which are perfect for first-time travelers to Japan.
Whether you're aiming for eventual literacy in Japanese, or just want to be comfortable enough to say "thank you" or politely request a menu in a restaurant, these useful phrases should help to get you started!
1. "Good morning!"
2. "Hello" (or "good afternoon")
3. "See you!"
4. "Thank you"
ありがとうございます / ari-gah-toe go-zai-mass
Another phrase which many people have likely already encountered thanks to references in popular culture, "ari-gah-toe go-zai-mass" is a solid way of answering "thank you" in most situations.
どうも / doh-moe
Much like the above, a snappier and less formal version of thank you—a simpler but equally polite "thanks!"—is the rather easier "doh-moe!" Use whichever you feel most comfortable with.
ください / koo-dah-sai
どうぞ / doh-zoh
Living up to its name as the world's third most difficult language, a simple "please" exists in two forms. "Koo-dah-sai" should be used, for example, when asking a question such as, "please may I use your telephone?" Meanwhile, "doh-zoh" is the correct variation when offering something to someone, such as when saying, "please help yourself to a snack."
7. "Excuse me"
すみません / soo-me-mah-sen
失礼します / shitsu-rei-shi-mass
Similarly, the same can be said for saying "excuse me," as the phrase has two different deliveries in Japanese. "Soo-me-mah-sen" is most key, and is used to say, for example, "excuse me" before asking for directions, or when passing someone in a tight space. "Shitsu-rei-shi-mass" on the other hand is used when excusing yourself from present company, perhaps to visit the bathroom or to take a call.
8. "Menu, please"
メニュー、お願いします / men-yoo oh-neh-guy-shi-mass
There are many ways of phrasing a polite request for a menu in Japan, but "men-yoo oh-neh-guy-shi-mass" is perhaps the most simple, while also remaining perfectly polite.
9. "Check, please"
お勘定/お会計、お願いします / oh-kai-kay oh-neh-guy-shi-mass
Similarly, asking for the check or bill can be as simple as saying to your waiter or waitress, "oh-kai-kay oh-neh-guy-shi-mass."
10. "How much does this cost?"
これはいくらですか?/ koh-reh wa e-ku-ra dess-kah?
Shopping can be tricky for first-time visitors to Japan, especially when items aren't clearly labeled or priced. A little trickier than the previous phrases, ask "Koh-reh wa e-ku-ra dess-kah?" to politely request a price from a seller.
Master these ten phrases, and you'll be well on your way to enjoying a fantastic first time
Want to be, or feel, extra confident? Be sure to bring your smartphone or tablet for on-the-go translations, but remember that you'll need a local data connection or access to wireless internet.
Not sure if your cell phone plan covers it, or concerned about charges? Rent a Pocket Wifi Router for collection from the airport, or to be delivered to your place of stay, to remain connected for the duration of your visit, with no surprises, and no hidden charges!