Lesson 1: Top 10 Japanese words for beginners

By 13th December 2008 August 27th, 2013 Uncategorized

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So you heard about Niseko’s legendary powder, booked the flights, threw the skis/board in a bag, and now you’re here… wishing you had taken a few Japanese lessons so you could say something to the person sitting next to you in the chairlift. Niseko may seem like a suburb of Australia at times, but the official language is still Japanese. Of course, you’re not expected to learn an entire language for a 10-day holiday – and it’s not something you can accomplish by flicking through a phrasebook on the flight over – but a few words can go a long way, especially if you pick the right words. If you only have time to learn ten words, these are the words we recommend.

1. Sumimasen
I’m sorry, excuse me, thank you

This magic word brings forgiveness and beer! Use it when you accidentally bump into someone in the queue for the lifts or inadvertently ski in front of them. It works well with a nod of the head and a guilty look on your face. Note: this word alone doesn’t quite cover sins such as losing control and causing a major pile up or making someone spill their entire drink – then you’ll need to add a ‘gomennasai’ for starters.

‘Sumimasen’ is also used to get someone’s attention and can be used to get another round of drinks at an izakaya. Here’s how… raise your hand, look in the direction of the waiter and yell, ‘sumimasen!’. When eye contact has been established, pick up glass in one hand and hold up the number of fingers for the number of drinks you need in the other. Smile and nod head. Bingo!

‘Sumimasen’ can also be used to thank someone. If you drop your glove and someone picks it up for you, smile and say, ‘sumimasen’.

2. Doumo
thank you, hi

There are many ways to express gratitude in Japanese – doumo’ is the simplest, with only two syllables, so why not start with that? When they hand over your goods at Seicomart or Lawson, smile, nod and say, ‘doumo’. They’ll say, ‘arigatou gozaimasu’ to you – but you don’t need to say it back, because you’re a customer.

The next step up from ‘doumo’ is ‘arigatou’ or ‘doumo arigatou’. If someone has really gone out of their way for you – made you something that wasn’t on the menu or spent time giving you detailed directions – then ‘doumo’ isn’t really enough. Try ‘doumo arigatou gozaimasu’ and turn the nod into a bow.

‘Doumo’ can also be used to mean hi. When the person you chatted to in the gondola yesterday waves to you on the mountain, wave back and say: ‘Ah, doumo!’

3. Douzo
here you are, go ahead

When you’re handing your new friend the drink you’ve just bought them or motioning them to start eating the eda mame that’s just been delivered to your table, say, ‘douzo’.

If you arrive at the ticket gates at the same time as someone else, motion for them to go first and say, ‘douzo’. If someone does this for you, go ahead and say, ‘doumo’.

The person who wipes the snow off the chairlift and then motions you to move ahead usually says, ‘douzo’. You can reply, ‘doumo’.

4. Ohayou
good morning

Use ‘ohayou’ to greet people before noon. Say it to the hotel staff, the bus driver, the ticket staff… and random strangers in the gondola queue if you’re feeling friendly.

It’s good form to say it loudly and full of energy! Adding ‘gozaimasu’ makes it a bit more formal. Say, ‘ohayou gozaimasu’ if you run into your boss going for a morning ski.

5. Hai

Useful for answering easy questions and confirming orders. Are you Australian? ‘Hai’. Snowboarder? ‘Hai’. Table for two? ‘Hai’.

‘Hai’ is rather formal, try using ‘un’ when talking with friends – but stick to ‘hai’ if a police officer is asking you questions.

6. Onegaishimasu

Use this when ordering or requesting something. ‘Biiru onegaishimasu’ means beer please. If you go to a restaurant and can’t read the menu, try pointing at things that look tasty and saying, ‘kore onegaishimasu’ (this please). ‘Kudasai’ also means please, but is a little bit less polite.

7. Kanpai

You deserve a drink after a hard day on the slopes! Before you start drinking raise your glass and say, ‘kanpai!’. Before eating, press your hands together in front of you and say, ‘itadakimasu’.

8. Oishii
delicious, yummy, tasty

After you’ve said ‘itadakimasu’ and started eating, the next think you’ll probably want to say is ‘oishii’. This is the most common word for describing food. Boys can also use ‘umai’.

9. Kawaii
cute, nice, pretty

If you’re a female in a shop you can use this word to describe almost everything that you like. If you’re a young girl with your parents, try pointing at everything you want, and shrieking, ‘kawaii’, followed by, ‘katte’ (buy it). Repeat until they cave in. Mwahaha.

‘Kawaii’ is also the perfect word to use to compliment people on anything from their hairstyle to their boots. Not to be confused with ‘kowai’ which means scary. Warning: guys can say this word to girls, but a guy saying it to another guy is a bit weird.

10. Saikou
great, awesome, wicked

How was the powder snow this morning? ‘Saikou!’ Do you like Niseko? ‘Niseko Saikou!’

Since this magazine can’t talk, your best bet is to find a Japanese person and ask them to say the words and repeat after them. Then buy them a beer :)

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