Basic Japanese Language Lessons

Preparing for CMA Japan Tour 2005


Nihon (or Nippon) = Japan


Nihongo = Japanese Language

Land of the Rising Sun

Japan Map


Useful words and phrases:

Japanese Pronunciation Guidelines:

Japanese is a fairly mono-tone language in that they do not accent specific syllables.

Each syllable is pronounced with the same emphasis.

For example, most of us Americans learned to pronounce Hiroshima as "he-ro-SHEE-mah".

Sound out the words one sy-la-ble at a time (like: he-rō-shih-mah) with even emphasis on each syllable.

You may use a rise in pitch, as in asking a question -vs- making a statement.

If there are two vowels together, just hold the first one twice as long. It is not necessary to pronounce each one as a separate syllable ( i.e., bareriina is bah-reh-ree..nah = ballerina, or iie is ee...ay = no)

Do not mesh syllables together as we do in America.

For example: the "ng" in Nihongo is not pronounced like song or wrong... it is Nee-hŏn-gō

“g” is always a hard “g”, never a “j” sound

The letter "T" is pronounced sharply, no matter where it is in a word, not flattened like a "d".

For example: if we see "motto" (more), we may think of the English word that is spelled the same and pronounce it with the syllables run together and the "t" flattened. (i.e. "Live for today, that's my motto".)

But you would be more accurate if you sound out each syllable separately, with a sharp "t" sound. [ mōt-tō ]

If you are thinking in English and you see the word "ashita" (tomorrow) you may be tempted to pronounce it like


Try it one syllable at a time with no accents: "ah-shih-tah"

Some Americans drive a “Toy-YŌDA” (Toyota). Try “tō-yō-tah”.

The word "wakarimasen" (I don't understand) is wah-kah-ree-mah-sĕn.

- Don't be tempted to say "-mâssәn", it is "-mah-sĕn".

Once we get the pronunciation…. We may need to learn to listen “fast”… because the Japanese people speak very quickly. Sometimes it seems as if some vowels or syllables disappear or get lost when they speak.

“Do itashimashite” (you’re welcome, don’t mention it) is: dō ih-tah-shih-mah-shih-teh .

When pronounced quickly, it almost sounds like: doy tosh mosh tay

“f” at the beginning of a word sounds more like an “h”. Do not touch your teeth to your lower lip on “f”.

The Japanese "r" is pronounced with a slight trill. It sounds more like an English "d" than an "r"

- English name Kelley = keri and sounds like “keddy”, rather than “kerry”

"L" is not in the Japanese vocabulary. Replace with an "r" sound.

(i.e. London = "Rondon" , Williams = sounds like Wirriams - spelled "Uiriamuzu" )


long " ī " pronounced like Eng. long "e" - like the “i” in "machine" or “unique”

short "i" pronounced like Eng. "ink"

long "ē" is pronounced like Eng. long "a" - like the “e” in "crepe"

short "e" is pronounced like Eng. "red"

long "ā" is pronounced like Eng. "park"

short "a" is pronounced like Eng. "abba father"

long "ō" is pronounced like Eng. "bowl"

short "o" is pronounced like Eng. "most"

long "ū" is "oo" like in "Luke" - (Do not round or ‘pucker’ your lips when pronouncing the “u”.)

short "u" is "oo" like in "look" - (Keep lips relaxed)

If you see a word written in Romaji with long vowels marked (long means elongated), such as: Obāsan,

then, pronounce it specifically with a “long a” and hold it for two counts, like: Obaa-san

Is this important? Yes, obasan = aunt or middle-aged woman, while obāsan = grandmother or elderly woman

"desu" is pronounced like "dess", the "u" is silent. It is a "be" verb, like "is", "are", "am"

Verbs are always at the end of a sentence.

- Watashi no-namae wa Jimu desu. = My name Jim is.

"ka" at the end of a sentence makes it a question.

- Anata no o-namae wa nan desu ka = Your name what is ?

- Use a rise in your voice at the end to sound like a question instead of a statement

-masu added to the end of a word or sentence is pronounced without the "u"

( -masu = mas, -shimasu = -shimas )

Tokyo is 2 syllables, not 3. ( "To-kyo" , not "To-kee-yo" ) (Capital City of Japan today)

***Add "no" to a noun or pronoun to make it possessive

***Add "-tachi" to a word to make it plural

watashi wa = I

watashi no wa = my (posessive)

watashi-tachi wa = we (plural)

watashi-tachi no wa = our (posessive)

anata wa = you (singular)

anata no wa = your

anata-tachi wa = you (plural)

anata-tachi no wa = your (possessive)

konojo wa = she

konojo no = her (possessive)

kare = he

kare no = his (posessive)

kore = this (like: this is good)

kono = this/these specific object (like: this coffee is good)

sore = that (like: that is good)

sono = that specific thing (like: that coffee is good)

hito = person (singular)

hito-tachi = people (plural)

****See your "Nihongo sensei" (Japanese teacher) for how to pronounce words. *****

****You will learn much by listening to and imitating native Japanese speakers. ****
****For now, learn the basics and practice often.
When you get to Japan, speak Japanese as much as possible, listen and copy words, pronunciation, usage, etc.


Useful words and phrases:


ohayo gozaimasu = good morning (or just ohayo) like Ohio

konnichi wa = good day, good afternoon (nichi = day), hello

konbon wa = good evening (bon = evening)

o yasumi nasai = good night

sayōnara = goodbye, farewell - when leaving for some time or don't expect to see them again soon

bai-bai = bye-bye

Ja mata = (see you) later/again
or Dewa mata ne = See you again

Mata ashita = (see you) again tomorrow
or Dewa mata ashita = See you again tomorrow

When introducing yourself, the bow (ojigi) is preferred to a handshake

- from a nod of the head to a full bow from the waist. The deeper the bow, the higher the respect.

haji memashite = how do you do? (used the first time you meet someone)

dozo yoroshiku = Pleased to meet you

genki desu ka = how are you?

o-kage-sama de = I'm fine thanks
or Genki desu = I'm fine

shitsurei shimasu = excuse me (I'm leaving your presence, like excusing yourself from a conversation or when walking in front of someone)

Watashi no-namae wa Jimu desu. = My name is Jim (or “Jim desu” = I’m Jim)

Anata no o-namae wa nan desu ka? = What is your name?

Sumimasen ga. Watashi wa Amerika-jin desu. Eigo o hanashimasu ka?

= Excuse me. I'm an American. Do you speak English?

Nihongo o hanashimasu ka = Do you speak Japanese?

Hai, sukoshi = Yes, a little

Zannen desu ga hanashimasen = No, I'm afraid not [I speak none]

(or just shake your head, look confused and say "iie" [eeyay] = no )

Mo icho-do o-negai shimasu = Say that again please

Motto yukkuri hanashite kudasai = could you speak more slowly please

You can always use. . . "wakarimasen" ... = I don't understand.

irasshaimasu / irasshaimashita = welcome (to Japan, to our home, to our restaurant, etc.)

Arigato = Thank you (thanks)

Domo arigato = Thank you very much (thanks alot)

Domo arigato gozaimasu = Thank you very much (polite form)

Domo = Thank you very much (short, casual form)

Do itashimashite = you’re welcome / don’t mention it

moshi-moshi = ‘hello’ - on the telephone

ikani nihongo no "..............." wo iu ka ?
= How do you say "....................." in Japanese?

ikani iu ka = How do you say . . . ?

Kyo wa tanoshikatta = I had a good time today

Watashi-tachi wa honto ni tanoshiku sugoshimashita = We have really enjoyed ourselves.

Watashi-tachi wa mata kitai desu = We would like to come again


Saying “PLEASE”

. . . o-negai shimas (When asking politely for something. = “I humbly request…”)

Kohi o-negai shimas = Coffee please

. . . o-kudasai / kudasai (When asking someone to do something, like: Open the window, please.)

= “Please give me the favor of…”

. . . o-negai shimas & . . . o-kudasai may be used interchangeably; they will know what you mean.

You may also hear someone use “dozo”.

Dozo yoroshiku = Pleased to meet you.


When asking if you may have some more cake and the hostess says, “Hai, dozo” = Yes, please do.


When someone familiar knocks at the door and the host answers the door and says, “Hai, dozo.” = Yes, please come in.


You ask a waitress for a menu and she says, “Hai, dozo” as she hands you one. = Yes, please have one.


just “dozo”,  meaning “please”, “go ahead”, “please do”, “please come in”, “help yourself”, etc.

o-negai shimas & o-kudasai are polite requests, while dozo is a polite offer

Mainichi, nihongō o benkyou shimasu = Everyday, (I) am studying Japanese

mai = every  nichi = day  Nihongo = Japanese Language  benkyou = study  shimasu = "be" verb, am, are

Watashi wa kanzen ni nihongo o wasurete = I have completely forgotten Japanese.

(      I       completely  Japanese   forgotten )

Nihon ni iku tsumori desu. = I intend to go to Japan. (intention)

Nihon ni iku yotei desu = I am scheduled to go to Japan. (definite)

[-ni = to, at]

Nihon ni = to Japan

Nihon = Japan 日本 (source of the sun)

Nihon-gō = Japan-language (Japanese) 日本語

Nihon-jin = Japan-people (Japanese)

     - adding –jin to the name of a country means the people of that country. Like: Amerika-jin = American


Officially “Nippon” (in full: Nippon Koku -- Nippon country)

Typically called “Nihon” - (source of the sun, “Land of the Rising Sun”)

Centuries ago it was “Ji-pon” (where we get “Japan”) from Marco Polo’s “Cipangu, Jipangu, or Jipan”

[ Romaji = Japanese transcribed to Roman letters, our alphabet ]  konnichi wa

[ Kanji = traditional Japanese/Chinese symbols (there are thousands) ]  賞賛

[ Katakana = another symbol system, used for foreign names & words ]  イエス キリスト

[ Hiragana = another symbol system used for Japanese based words ]  お父さん

**Katakana and Hiragana symbols listed at the end of this study guide.

Ikutsu desu ka = How many?



ichi = one

ni = two

san = three

shi = four (also yon/yo)

go = five

roku = six

shichi = seven (also nana)

hachi = eight

kyu = nine (sounds like “Q”) (also ku)

ju = ten

ju-ichi = eleven [ ju (10) plus ichi (1) ]

ju-ni = twelve . . . etc...

niju = twenty ( 2 tens ) ni = 2 ju = 10

sanju = thirty ( 3 tens ) san = 3 ju = 10

niju-go = twenty-five [ niju (20) go (5) etc...]

hyaku = 100

nihyaku = 200 etc.

sen = 1,000

nisen = 2,000

sanzen = 3,000



adding "-sai" to a number gives age

niju-go = 25

niju-go-sai desu = I'm 25 years old

(25 years am)

ju-kyu = 19 (10 plus 9)

ju-kyu-sai desu = I'm 19 years old

It is not uncommon to be asked your age.
Not to be nosey or rude, but to know what level of respect with which to address you.

Nan-sai desu ka
= How old are you?

(what-age is)

nan- = what-



Nan-ji desu ka = what time is it?

(what-hour is ?)

nan- = what-

ji = hour

  • ichi-ji = 1 o'clock
  • ni-ji = 2 o'clock
  • san-ji = 3 o'clock
  • yo-ji = 4 o'clock ( the number 4 is different with time "yo", than in counting "shi")
  • go-ji = 5 o'clock
  • roku-ji = 6 o'clock
  • shichi-ji = 7 o'clock
  • hachi-ji = 8 o'clock
  • kyu-ji = 9 o'clock
  • ju-ji = 10 o'clock
  • ju-ichi-ji = 11 o'clock
  • ju-ni-ji = 12 o'clock

  • gozen = in the morning / a.m.
  • gogo = in the afternoon / p.m.
  • ban = in the evening
  • han = half, as in half past the hour “Gogo san-ji han desu” = It’s 3:30 in the afternoon
  • shogo = noon/midday
  • mayonaka = midnight


  • Gogo sanji desu = It is 3 o'clock in the afternoon
  • Shogo desu = It is midday/noon
  • Gozen hachi-ji desu = It is 8 o'clock in the morning
  • Ban shichi-ji desu = It is 7 o'clock in the evening
  • Yo-ji desu = It’s 4 o’clock

In Japan, the 24 hour clock is used on all train schedules.

  • 12:00 = noon
  • 13:30 = 1:30 pm
  • 19:00 = 7 hours after noon, so it’s 7:00 pm
  • 24:00 = midnight

kinō = yesterday

kyo = today
ashita = tomorrow

MONTHS: tsuki

( have no names, are numbered 1 – 12 )




  • Getsuyobi = Monday
  • Kayobi = Tuesday
  • Suiyobi = Wednesday
  • Mokuyobi = Thursday
  • Kin’yobi= Friday
  • Doyobi = Saturday
  • Nichiyobi = Sunday

kissaten = coffee shop (for snacks and sandwiches)

supa(maketto) = supermarket

depato = department store

kaimono = shopping

macudonarudo = McDonald’s

Adding “-yo” to a word indicates a “shop” that specializes in that item.




okane = money

yen (pronounced “en”) = approx. 1 cent.

- Don’t faint if your soft-drink costs 120 en

genkin = cash

***Note: Tipping is not customary.
Ask someone you are with.

shokuji = meal (s)

chōshoku = breakfast (
or asa-gohan = morning rice)

chūshoku = lunch (
or hiru-gohan = midday rice)

yūshoku = evening meal
(or ban-gohan = evening rice or dina = dinner)

Onaka ga suite imas = I am hungry

uetoresu = waitress (sounds like waitress)

ueta = waiter

mizu = water

gyūnyū = milk (
or miruku = milk with an “r” )

tabemono = food

taberu / tabemas = to eat

gohan = rice

pan = bread

bata = butter

hashi / o-hashi = chopsticks

oishii desu = it's delicious, tasty

kohi = coffee

kohi o-negai shimasu = coffee please

ocha / kocha = Japanese tea / black tea

ti = English tea

sato = sugar

kurimu = cream

aisu-kurimu = ice cream

Hai, o-negai shimasu = yes please

iie (ee-ay) = no

iie kekko desu = no thanks ( or just "kekko desu" )

Nanika nomimasen ka? = Would you like something to drink?

sandoitchi = sandwich

menyu = menu

tori = chicken ( toriniku = chicken meat )

niku = meat / flesh (beef, pork)

gyūniku = cow meat / beef

butaniku = pig meat / pork

baniku = horse meat (
never tried this one <(©¿©)>)

sakana / zakana = fish

yaki- = grilled- (yakitori, yakiniku, etc.)

sushi = raw seafood on sweet vinegary rice

sashimi = bite-sized slices of raw seafood

tempura = batter-dipped deep-fried seafood & vegetables (or chicken)

sukiyaki = thin-sliced beef & veg. in soy & sugar

sutēki = steak

rāmen = noodle soup with beef & veg.

keki ( kay-kee) = cake

raisukeki = rice cake

udon = standard noodles

soba = buckwheat noodles

sarada = salad

teberu (teh-beh-roo) = table

isu = chair

Ikura desu ka? = How much does it cost?

chokoreto = chocolate

**Chinese and American foods are also popular and available in some restaurants & homes.



shujin = husband

go-shujin = husband (politely referring to someone else's husband)

tsuma = wife

kanai = (one's own) wife

okusan = (someone else's) wife

oto-san = Father

chichi = dad, papa

haha = mother (your own mom)

okaasan = mother (someone else’s)

ane = older sister

imouto = younger sister

ani = older brother

otouto = younger brother

otoko = man

onna = woman

shojo = girl

musuko = son

musume = daughter

kodomo = child, kids

akanbou = baby

kazoku = family

tomodachi = friends

Watashi-tachi wa tomodachi desu = We are friends

sensei = teacher



kuko = airport

hikoki = airplane

nimotsu = luggage

sutsukesu = suitcase

kippu = ticket

takushī = taxi

shingō = traffic light

eki = station

iriguchi = entrance

deguchi = exit

ressha = train

densha = electric train

shinkansen = Bullet train

shuppatsu = departure

zaseki bangō = seat number

(JR = Japanese Railway)

basu = bus

ferri = ferry

jinrikisha = rickshaw



-san added to family name = Mr. , Mrs., Miss, Ms. , etc. (Matsuo-san = Mr. or Mrs. Matsuo)

Can be used with a given name, like Tiffany-san (Miss Tiffany) if you are on a first-name basis.

Never call yourself "MyName-san". It is a polite suffix of honor... for others.

Typically, one would introduce themselves with family name first, then their given name. For example:

“Watashi no-namae wa Matsuo Hiroshi desu.” = “My name is Hiroshi Matsuo.” Address him as Matsuo-san.

When introducing yourself, the bow (ojigi) is preferred to a handshake

- from a nod of the head to a full bow from the waist. The deeper the bow, the higher the respect.

All dwellings, and some hotels, schools, restaurants, etc., have a "genkan" or entrance hall where you take off your outdoor shoes and put on "house slippers" (surippas).

**Never wear your "street shoes" in someone's home.

A Japanese bath tub is for soaking, not washing. Wash with soap and rinse thoroughly before entering tub. The same water is shared by all family members.

Cash (in Yen) is universal. Credit cards accepted at some merchants in larger cities. Buy yen at banks or use cards in ATM’s. Take travelers checks and cash to exchange for yen upon arrival.


iesu kirisuto = Jesus Christ イエス キリスト

anata no tame ni inori masu = I pray for you

kami ha anatagata wo aishi masu = God/Jesus loves you

odorite, odoru, dansa = dancer

bareriina = ballerina

Watashi wa odorite desu = I'm a dancer

Watashi no musume wa odorite desu = my daughter is a dancer

washitsupudansu = worship dance

oshieru = teach

chuchu = tutu

shashin = photographs

shashin o-torimasu = take photos

kamera = camera

bideo teepu = video tape

denwa = telephone

Denwa o-negai shimasu = (where is / may I use) the telephone please

o-toire (toi reh) = toilet (a bathroom is for baths)

O-toire o-negai shimasu = (where is the) toilet please

Toire wa doko desu ka? = Where is the toilet?

o-furu = bath

shawa = shower

ranpu = lamp

denki = light

futon ( fu-tōn / hu-ton ) = Japanese-style bed

betto / beddo = bed

neru = sleep

doa = door

mado = window

akeru = to open

teberu (teh-beh-roo) = table

isu = chair

computer = computer

piano = piano

mo = very

motto = more

atsui (ah-tsoo-ee) = hot (Atsui desu = It is hot)

neko = cat

= dog (kai inu = a pet dog)

nami = wave ( on the ocean ) tsunami = tidal wave

yama = mountain ( Fujiyama = Mt. Fuji)

doko = where?

Aso = Oh, I see.

Tasukete! = help! (tasukete kudasai = help please)

koko = here

soko = there

asoko = over there

kochira = this way ( Kochira e dozo = this way, please )

sochira = that way

yuki = snow

gomen nasai = I’m sorry (when you’ve done something foolish)



Some are Kanji characters, some are Katakana

= inori nasai = pray

ダンス = dansu = dance ダンサー = dansā = dancer

礼拝 = reihai = worship    賞賛 = shousan = praise

聖書 = seisho = Bible / holy scriptures    .. or ..     バイブルbaiburu = Bible

= kami = God       福音fukuin = gospel, word of God

= yorokobi = joy,pleasure = ki = rejoice, take pleasure in

栄光 = eikou = Glory

歓迎 = kanjei = welcome

= geijutsu no saiten daijin = Celebration Ministry of Arts

神を礼拝するダンス kami wo reihai suru dansu = dance to worship God

(ゴスペルミュージックを使用するバレエのダンス)  = Dance of ballet which uses gospel music

= ai = love in Kanji

= ravu = love in Katakana

= watashi ha taihen anata wo aisu ru = I love you very much

= aijou = love, affection


= Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

イエス・キリストは主です = Jesus Christ is Lord







Katakana Vowels

Katakana Chart

Katakana is a set of Japanese symbols representing vowels and syllables, used for writing foreign words and names.

In determining how to break up words to pronounce them one syllable at a time, these charts are a good reference. Each character (including vowels and “n”) is a syllable.

Even “ai” is technically two syllables: (ah-ee) When said together quickly it sounds like “I” or “eye”.


Hiragana Chart

Hiragana is a set of symbols representing vowels and syllables, used for writing Japanese based words and names that do not have a Kanji (ancient Japanese/Chinese symbols).

When you see Japanese writing, you may notice the use of all three forms of characters, Kanji, Katakana and Hiragana.