Japanese Travel Phrases
Japanese Speaking Destinations
Konnichiwa! Welcome to the Fodor's Japanese Language Page, brought to you by the language experts at Living Language. Here you'll find over 150 essential phrases for your trip.
For more Japanese language and cultural tips, visit the Living Language Japanese Blog.
Japanese is spoken by more than 130 million people; it is the official language of Japan. Japanese uses a writing system of three different scripts: kanji (Chinese-based characters), hiragana, and katakana. Romaji, a latin-alphabet based writing system, is sometimes used as well.
The pronunciation of Japanese is fairly straightforward; some vowels and consonants have a slight variation from their English counterpart, but for the most part, Japanese reads very phonetically in romaji.
Certain consonants are pronounced a bit differently than they are pronounced in English: f is pronounced by blowing air through the teeth, like a cross between the initial sounds in feed and who, and r is pronounced with a flap of the tongue against the back of the teeth, almost like the "flapped" t sound in petty. When two consonants appear together together, they are pronounced individually. When two vowels appear together, they should be elongated.
You may also notice that the vowels i and u are "voiceless," or whispered when surrounded by voiceless consonants (ch, f, h, k, p, s, sh, t, and ts) or when preceded by a voiceless consonant and followed by a silence or pause (as at the end of a sentence).
All syllables receive the same amount of emphasis in Japanese, and the intonation in Japanese rises at the end of a question, and falls at the end of a statement.
While most Japanese words will seem very unfamiliar to you, there are certain words that are borrowed from English that may be easy for you to recognize: resutoran (restaurant), beekarii (bakery), apaato (apartment), basu (bus), ranpu (lamp), teeburu (table), DVD pureeyaa (DVD player), kooto (coat), duresu (dress), burausu (blouse), sangurasu (sunglasses), paachii (party), intaanetto (internet), juusu (juice), basukettobooru (basketball). Notice that these borrowings from English are modified to conform with Japanese phonology, which dictates that each separate consonate sound be followed by a vowel sound.
If you want to learn to speak Japanese, you're going to have to deal with a few issues that we don't have in English.
- Japanese has a subject-object-verb word order and uses particles—such as wa (topic particle), no (genitive or possessive particle), o (accusative or direct object particle) ga (nominative particle)—to indicate the role and relationship of nouns in the sentence.
- While Japanese verbs are conjugated (change form) to indicate tense and negation, they are not conjugated to agree with the subject as in many other languages. Therefore, the verb imasu (to go) will be the same whether the subject is watashi (I) or ano (he, she, they).
- Japanese nouns are not pluralised or marked for gender, but Japanese does use "counters," particles that are introduced between the number and the noun, that vary according to the nature of the object being counted. For instance, Japanese will use a different counter for people, animals, thin flat objects, long cylindrical objects, and so on.