Domo Arigato, Gomennasai, and Other Japanese Phrases Tourists Need to Know

Across the globe, about 130 million people are able to speak Japanese, which stands to be the 9th most spoken language in the entire world. Nearly 4% of this statistic is composed of foreigners with an intermediate or high level of fluency. A lot of these individuals have come to learn the language through their ancestors, Japanese emigrants, and can be found in different parts of America including Hawaii and Brazil.

Many other foreigners fluent in the Japanese language also exist in various countries and have either learned about it for the purpose of business or leisure. Being able to speak and understand more than one language is always admirable and is highly recommended for everybody, especially avid travelers.

The Basic Japanese Words, Phrases, and Numbers

It can take about a year, or more, of practice for a person to attain a decent degree of fluency in any foreign language. Regardless of whether tourists will want to continue understanding the complexities of Japan’s writing and speaking systems, there is no harm in familiarizing oneself with basic words and phrases that may be useful in one’s trip.

Basic Words and Phrases

  • Eigo – English (language)

  • Nippon – Japan

  • Hai – Yes

  • Iie – No

  • Onegai shimasu – Please

  • Doitashimashite – You are welcome

  • Ohayou gozaimasu – Good morning

  • Konbanwa – Good evening

  • O-yasumi nasai – Good night

  • Omedetou – Congratulations

  • Tabemono – Food

  • Nomimono – Drink

  • O-mizu – Water

  • Iriguchi – Entrance

  • Deguchi – Exit

  • Kippu – Ticket

  • Doko? – Where?

  • Ikura desu ka? – How much is it?

  • (name of item) o kudasai – I would like to have (name of item), please

  • (name of item) ga arimasu ka? – Do you have (name of item)?

Japanese Numbers

  • Ichi - One

  • Ni – Two

  • San - Three

  • Shi - Four

  • Go - Five

  • Roku - Six

  • Nana - Seven

  • Hachi - Eight

  • Kyu - Nine

  • Ju - Ten

  • Ni-ju - Twenty

  • Go-ju - Fifty

  • Hyaku – One hundred

  • Ni-hyaku – Two hundred

  • Go-hyaku – Five hundred

  • Sen – One thousand

  • Ni-sen – Two thousand

  • Go-sen – Five thousand

  • Ichi-man – Ten thousand

  • Ni-man – Twenty thousand

  • Go-man – Fifty thousand

Expressing Gratitude - The Definition / Meaning of Domo Arigato, Arigato Gozaimasu, Domo Arigato Gozaimashita, and More 

One of the most important things that a tourist must be able to clearly express is gratitude. The Japanese language offers different informal and formal phrases that a foreign traveler can use to properly say “Thank you”. It is important to note that each phrase implies a certain level of respect towards the person being thanked and must not be used haphazardly.

Arigato – Thanks

“Arigato”, or “arigatou”, is the most popular Japanese form of saying thanks. It literally means “It is impossible to do”, which is why it is used to express gratitude for a person who has gone out of their way to do a particular task.

However, tourists should understand that it can actually only be used when thanking strangers, friends, family members, co-workers, or subordinates. It is an informal expression of gratitude and must not be used in formal settings or when talking to older strangers, bosses, or esteemed professionals.

Arigato gozaimasu / Arigato gozaimashita - Thank you

“Arigato gozaimasu” and “arigato gozaimashita” serve as more formal versions of “arigato”. Both phrases denote a polite, respectful tone and greatly acknowledge the effort done by the person being thanked.

As a rule of thumb, “arigato gozaimasu” serves as a safe way to express gratitude and can be used in almost any situation. On the other hand, using the phrase “arigato gozaimashita” is more suitable for cases where something has already been done for the person, given its use of past tense (-mashita).

Domo arigato / Domo arigato gozaimasu / Domo arigato gozaimashita – Thanks a lot / Thank you very much

The word “domo” can be roughly translated to mean “extremely” or “very much” in English. When it is in conjunction with other phrases, the overall meaning is given a stronger effect or deeper sense of sincerity. Accordingly, “domo arigato”, “domo arigato gozaimasu”, and “domo arigato gozaimashita” can be used to express extreme gratitude towards a person.

Interestingly, “domo”, alone, is also accepted by the Japanese community as an informal way of saying thank you. However, it is often only used between males.

Apologizing in Japanese – The Definition / Meaning of Sumimasen, Gomennasai, and More

Tourists must also know how to properly apologize in Japanese if ever they are put in regrettable situations. Similar to expressing gratitude, the Japanese language offers formal and informal phrases that can be used to imply various levels of sincerity and politeness.

Sumimasen – Excuse me / I’m sorry

For mild offenses like accidentally bumping into someone on the street or subway, the phrase “sumimasen” can be used as a short but sincere apology. It may also be used in other situations such as approaching a local for help with directions as a form of saying “Excuse me”.

Sumimasen deshita – I’m sorry (Past Tense)

In cases that the act being apologized for has happened a significant time prior to the apology, the phrase “sumimasen deshita” may be more suitable, given its use of past tense (-deshita).

Domo sumimasen – I’m sorry

The adverb “domo” may also be used in conjunction with “sumimasen”. Just as with expressing gratitude, “domo” also makes an apology sound more sincere and meaningful. However, “domo”, itself, is never interpreted as an apology.

Chotto sumimasen – Excuse me for a while

“Chotto” can be used in different ways to imply various things such as saying no, getting someone’s attention, or hesitating. When used with “sumimasen”, the overall idea means something along the lines of “Excuse me for a bit” or “Excuse me for a while”.

Shitsurei – I am being rude

Another informal and mild apology is “shitsurei”, which means “I am being rude” in English. It is often used at the dinner table when a person is reaching for something far from his place.

Shitsureishimashita – I was rude

Making use of the past tense for most Japanese phrases implies a more formal tone. “Shitsureishimashita” can be translated to mean “I was rude” in English and is often used when a person has done a clumsy thing such as spilling his drink on the table.

Gomennasai – Sorry

“Gomennasai” serves as a formal familiar in the sense that it denotes a sense of formality but may only be used between people with close relationships. As such, it is rarely used when apologizing to bosses or strangers.

Gomen ne – I’m sorry, okay?

A variation of “gomennasai” is “gomen ne”, which is a slightly casual and loving way of saying sorry to a close friend or relative. A perfect example for a person to use this would be him being late to a date with his girlfriend.

Gomen – Sorry

“Gomen” is another variation of “gomennasai” and is considered to be slang language. Although it is an extremely informal apology, it may only be used between family members or close friends.

Moushiwake gozaimasen deshita

“Moushiwake gozaimasen deshita” is a polite and formal way of apologizing to another individual. It is often used when a person has done something incredibly horrible or wrong.

Meeting or Greeting People - The Definition / Meaning of Konnichiwa, Sayonara, and More

Smiling, nodding, or waving to the locals are nice gestures tourists can do to greet the locals. Saying a short “hello” or “take care” can instantly add more effect to one’s sincerity. Some short and easy to memorize Japanese phrases tourists can use when meeting or conversing with members of the Japanese community include:

Konnichiwa – Hello

“Konnichiwa” used to be a part of the lengthy sentence “konnichi wa gokien ikaga desu ka?” (How are you today?). Throughout the years, the polite question has been shortened numerous times before becoming what it is today. The short phrase is now used as a casual, mid-day greeting similar to “hello”.

Sayonara – Farewell / Goodbye

“Sayonara” serves as a formal way of bidding another person farewell or goodbye. It literally means “If that is the way it is” and is often used in schools when classes are done for the day. However, the phrase is rarely used by the Japanese community on a daily basis.

Jaa mata – See you

“Jaa mata” serves as a casual way of saying goodbye to a person and implies that the speaker and listener will have a chance to meet again at another time or day. A politer version of this phrase is “dewa mata”. For those who will be seeing the other person again the following day, the phrase “jaa mata ahita ne” (see you tomorrow) may be more appropriate.

O genki de – Take care

When parting ways with strangers, saying “o genki de” may be more suitable for the situation. It literally translates to mean “be healthy” in English and is understood by the Japanese community as a way of saying “Take care” or “Good luck”. Compared to “jaa mata”, this phrase offers a more respectful tone.

O namae wa nan desu ka? – What is your name?

A respectful way of asking a person’s name is to say “o namae wa nan desu ka?” (What is your name?). The question is a bit of a mouthful but, fortunately, can be shortened to “o namae wa?” (Your name? / You are?) without losing its polite tone.

Other Useful Japanese Phrases

Tourists may also want to go through the lists of other useful phrases for various situations below to fully prepare themselves for their trip:

Phrases for Conversations

  • Genki desu – I am fine

  • Wakarimasen – I do not understand

  • Yoku wakarimasu – I can understand you well

  • Watashi no nihongo wa heta desu – My Japanese is not that good

  • Watashi wa nihongo ga sukoshi shika hanasemasen – I can speak a little Japanese

  • Motto yukkuri hanashite kudasai – Can you please speak a little slower?

  • Mouichido itte kuremasuka? – Can you please repeat that?

  • Eigo o hanasemasu ka? – Can you speak English?

  • Koko ni eigo o hanaseru hito wa imasu ka? – Does anyone here can you speak English?

  • O-genki desu ka? – How are you doing?

  • Toshi wa ikutsu desu ka? – How old are you? 

  • Nante iimashita ka? – What did you say?

  • Arewa nihongo de nanto iimasu ka? – What do you call that in Japanese?

  • Nanji desu ka – What time is it?

Phrases for Dining / Eating Out

  • Itadakimasu – Let us eat (an expression said before eating)

  • Oishii desu – It is delicious

  • Mazui desu – It is not good

  • Onaka ga ippai desu – I am full

  • Onaka ga suite imasu – I am hungry

  • Mada tabete imasen – I have not yet eaten

  • Kore o tabete mitai desu – I would like to try this

  • Gochisousama deshita – Thank you for the food/meal

  • Okaikei / Okanjou, onegaishimasu – The bill/check, please

  • Menyuu, onegaishimasu – Please give me a menu

  • Menyuu, onegai dekimasu ka? – May I please have a menu?

  • (name of item) arerugii ga arimasu – I am allergic to (name of item)

  • (name of item) ga taberaremasen – I cannot eat (name of item)
  • (name of item) tsuki desu ka – Does the dish/meal come with (name of item)

Phrases for Shopping

  • Irasshaimase – Welcome

  • Chotto takai desu – It is a little expensive

  • Sore o itadakimasu – I will take it

  • Kurejitto kaado wa tsukaemasu ka? – Can I use my credit card for this?

  • Tsutsunde itadakemasu ka? – Can it be gift wrapped?

  • Hoka no iro ga arimasu ka? – Do you have it in another color?

  • Kore wa ikura desu ka? – How much is this item?

  • Kore wa nan desu ka? – What is this?

  • Kore wa nan to iu mono desu ka? – What is this called?

Phrases for Saying Goodbye or Keeping in Touch

  • Tegami kaku yu – I will write to you

  • Tsuitara denwa shimasu / meeru shimasu – I will give you a call or e-mail you upon arrival

  • Mata sugu ni kimasu yo – I will visit again soon

  • Kite kudasai ne – Come and visit me

  • Meado o oshiete moraemasu ka? – Can you give me your e-mail address?

Phrases for Emergencies

  • Keisatsu wo yonde kudasai – Please call the police

  • Kyuukyuusha wo yonde kudasai – Please call an ambulance

  • Taishikan ni renraku shitai desu – I want to speak with the Embassy

  • Bengoshi to sodan shitai desu – I want to speak with a lawyer

  • Byouin ni ikitai – I need a doctor