Giles's Rough and Ready Guide to Holiday Japanese

DISCLAIMER! In writing this my only consideration has been the minimum knowledge you will need to make yourself understood while visiting Japan. If you're trying to learn Japanese "properly" or are concerned about speaking japanese "correctly" then this guide is not for you. In particular no attention is given to grammar, levels of politeness, word order, verb endings and the like (since learning these is rather tedious and pointless anyway.) Enjoy your holiday!

A. The Japanese you already know.

The Japanese rather cheekily have poached a lot of words from English which means that you probably already know alot more Japanese than you realise. Take a quick look at the following list, paying particular attention to the strange pronounciation.

(A hyphen in the Japanese words indicates a long vowel sound.)

orenji ju-su - orange juice
bi-ru - beer
mineraru uo-ta- - mineral water
aisu kuri-mu - ice cream
chokore-to - chocolate
ba-ga- - burger
furaido poteto - fried potato (french fries)
so-su - sauce
chi-zu - cheese
ke-ki - cake
to-suto - toast
tomato - tomato
chikin - chicken
furu-tsu - fruit
bata- - butter
naifu - knife
fo-ku - fork
supu-n - spoon
sutoro- - straw
kichin - kitchen
dainingu ru-mu - dining room
toire - toilet
eakon - air-con (air conditioning)
terebi - television
bideo - video
kamera - camera
teberu - table
sinku - sinku
furai pan - frying pan
beddo - bed
doa - door
erebe-ta - elevator
esukare-ta - escalator
takushi- - taxi
basu - bus
hoteru - hotel
resutoran - restaurant
tsua - tour
ofu pi-ku - off peak
sama- se-rusu - summer sales
shi-to beruto - seat belt
asupirin - aspirin
chansu - chance
ATM (ei chi emu) - ATM
ka-do - card
ru-ru - rule
ko-to - coat
su-tsu - suit
se-ta- - sweater
shatsu - shirt
suka-to - skirt
inta-netto - internet
uebu - web
nyu-su - news
bijinesu - business
supo-tsu - sports
sa-ka - soccer
tenisu - tennis
bo-ru - ball
chi-mu - team

B. Making it up as you go along

So now you've got a bit of an idea about how Japanese words are formed from English words its time to learn how to make up new Japanese words. Yes thats right - you can make up a new Japanese word from any English word and provided you get the right pronounciation you'll be understood. Check out this list of pseudo-Japanese words all of which have proper Japanese equivalents (shown in parenthesis) but all of which are prefectly understandable to your average Japanese.

hotto - hot (atsui, atatakai)
biggu - big (o-ki-)
sumo-ru - small (chi-sai)
happi- - happy (ureshii)
reddo - red (akai)
sutoroberi- - strawberry (ichigo)
mappu - map (chizu)

Here are some simple rules for constructing Japanese words from English words.

1. No groups of consonants. No lone consonants at the ends of words

Consonants in Japanese are always followed by a vowel sound except for N. To separate constants put a U between them, except after T and D which add an O. Constants that are not pronounced strongly in English can be dropped (e.g. Rs are frequently dropped)

straw adds U after the S and O after the T to make sutoro-
start adds U after the S, drops the R and adds O after the final T to make suta-to
Spain adds U after the S and the N remains unchanged to make supein

2. tu -> tsu, si -> shi, ti -> chi

Japanese has no real sounds for TU, SI or TI

tour becomes tsua
seat belt becomes shi-to beruto
team becomes chimu

3. v->b, w->u, l->r

Japanese has no sound for V. It has a sound for W but in Japanese W can only be followed by an A. And of course the Japanese famously are not able to distinguish between l and r.

video becomes bideo
web becomes uebu
terminal one becomes ta-minaru wan
live (e.g. live TV) - raibu

4. th -> s, wh -> h

theatre -> shiata-
thank you -> sankyu-
white -> howaito

5. Discussing sports

When discussing sports the same rules apply but can be used for entire phrases or sentences. All of the following can be frequently heard listening to sports commentary.

daun za rain pasu - down the line pass (tennis)
sa-bingu fo za setto - serving for the set (tennis)
wan oba- fo za raundo - one over for the round (golf)

C. Essential phrases

Unfortunately having mastered the art of vocabulary creation you will still need a tiny amount of real Japanese in order to make yourself understood. Here are a few simple words and phrases to sort you out.

1. Pointing at what you want. (This and that and that one over there)

As with speaking any foreign language, if you don't know the name of something the easiest thing to do is to point at it. While pointing feel free to sprinkle the following vocabulary into the conversation.

kore - this one
sore - that one (near you)
are - that one (over there)

2. The verb "to be"

Tokyo desu - This is Tokyo
Kyoto desuka - Is this Kyoto?
nandesuka - What is this?

3. Determining if something is allowed.

The word for OK is daijoubu or ii (ii actually means good but is frequently used with the meaning OK)
The word for "not OK" is dame (when saying dame the Japanese put their arms together to form a cross shape for emphasis)

daijoubu desuka?/ii desuka? - is it OK?
hai, daijoubu desu/ii desu - yes it is OK.
do-zo - go ahead (also used when letting someone walk in front of you)
iie, dame desu - no, its not OK.
(you can also say "okke" for OK - you will be understood)

4. Asking where something is.

(Name of place), doko (desuka)? (with rising intonation)

toire, doko? - Where is the toilet?
yuniba-su hoteru, doko? - Where is the Universe Hotel?

5. Do you have?

(Thing you want), arimasuka?

chi-zu ke-ki arimasuka? - Do you have cheese cake?
sake arimasuka? - Do you have sake?

6. Asking the Price

ikura (desuka)? - how much is it?
takai (desu) - its expensive
yasui (desu) - its cheap

7. I want to go to ...

(Name of place) e ikitai

Ginza e ikitai - I want to go to Ginza
baru e ikitai - I want to go to the bar

8. Please and Thank-you and No Thank-you

onegai shimasu - please (literally "I make a request")
domo - thank-you (this is the shortest and simplest version of thank-you and therefore preferable to other variants such as "arigato-" and "domo arigato-" and "domo arigato- gozaimashita")
kekko- (desu) - no thank-you (literally "it [what I already have] is enough")

9. Eating out

eigo no menyu arimasuka? - Do you have an English menu?
pikucha menyu arimasuka? - Do you have a picture menu?

Many restaurants have plastic replica dishes outside - if you have a camera phone or digital camera with LCD I recommend photographing the dish you want and showing it to the waiter/waitress

ii desuka? - we'd like to order (literally "Is it OK [to order now])?")
okaikei onegai shimasu - the bill please (or just che-ku if thats easier to remember)
karai (desu) - this is spicy
daijoubu (desu) - that's OK
oishii - delicious

After the meal, leaving the restaurant
gochisousama deshita - that was delicious! (literally "I had a feast")

For the incredibly ambitious
nanika susumemasuka? - can you recommend something?

10. Greetings

konnichi wa - good day (this is the most general greeting - stick with this if you can't be bothered learning "konban wa" good evening or "ohayo gozaimasu" good morning)

11. When it all goes wrong

sumimasen - excuse me/ I'm sorry (when attracting attention or apologizing)
sumimasen nihongo hanasemasen - I'm sorry I don't speak Japanese
wakarimasen - I don't understand
mo- ichido onegai shimasu - please can you repeat that? (literally "Once again please")
eigo hanasemasuka? - Do you speak English?
eigo hanaseru hito imasuka? - Is there someone who can speak English?

12. Making conversation

(Name of Country) jin desu.

sukottorando jin desu - I'm Scottish
supein jin desu - I'm Spanish

Other country names:
amerika - America, aruzenchin - Argentina, igirisu - England, doitsu - Germany, kanada - Canada

nihon suki - I like Japan
subarashii kuni desu - it is a great country

13. Dogs and babies

You will inevitably see lots of very cute children and pets on your travels round Japan so there will be plenty of opportunity to use the following essential piece of vocabulary.

kawaii - cute
kaawaaii - really cute

14. Numbers

ichi(1), ni(2), san(3), yon(4), go(5), roku(6), nana(7), hachi(8), kyu-(9), ju-(10), ju- ichi(11), ni ju-(20), hyaku(100), sen(1000), man(10000)

15. Days

today - kyo-
tomorrow - ashita
yesterday - kino-
getsuyo-bi (Mon), kayo-bi (Tu), suiyo-bi (Wed), mokuyo-bi (Th), kinyo-bi (Fri), doyo-bi (Sat), nichiyo-bi (Sun)

16. Weather

tenki - weather
ii tenki desune? - good weather isn't it?
atsui desune? - its hot isn't it?
so- desune? - yes it is - isn't it?

17. Miscellaneous

nihongo kantan desune? - Japanese is easy isn't it?
so- desune? - yes it is - isn't it?