Japanese is consistently ranked as one of the most useful languages to learn for business. But it’s also one of the most challenging languages for English speakers to learn.
While building fluency in Japanese takes a long time, you can quickly master a few everyday phrases that will make you feel more at ease if Japanese is spoken at your workplace or if you are meeting with business associates who speak Japanese. These are our suggestions for the best Japanese phrases to learn for business, or a basic encounter.
Everyday Greetings in Japanese
Hello – こんにちは Konnichiwa
Good morning – おはようございます Ohayoo gozaimasu
Good afternoon/evening – こんばんは Konbanwa
Japanese culture note: Say “ohayoo gozaimasu” until 11 a.m. and then switch to “konnichiwa” after that. Then around 5 p.m. or so, or when the sun starts to set, switch to “konbanwa.”
Good night – おやすみなさい Oyasumi nasai
Answering the phone – もしもし Moshi moshi
Goodbye – さよなら Sayonara
See you! – じゃね Jaa ne!
See you tomorrow! – また明日 Mata ashita!
Introductions in Japanese
My name is _____. — Watashi no namae wa ______.
It’s nice to meet you. — Hajimemashite.
Asking Questions in Japanese
When you don’t know the Japanese word for something, you can ask a colleague by saying “____ wa nihongo de nanto iimasu ka?” Simply put the word you don’t understand in front and add the phrase after with inflection at the end to indicate you are asking a question.
How do you say “pencil” in Japanese?
“Pencil” wa nihongo de nanto iimasu ka?
If you need to ask someone to repeat themselves, say “Mou ichido ittekudasai.” もう一度言ってください。
Here’s how to ask a few more common questions in Japanese:
Where is …?
____ wa doku desu ka.
Where is the bathroom?
Toire wa doko desu ka.
In this case, bathroom is “toire” and pronounced [toy-ee-lay] with the “lay” portion being a mixture of the r/l sound.
How many …? — xxxx.
Ikutsu desu ka?
どのぐらい dono gurai
Dono gurai desu ka?
How many?/ About how many?
“Ikutsu” is referring to something specific, and “dono gurai” is a more general way of asking how many. However, Japanese has specific counters for everything that is counted, such as, “nankai” for how many times and “nanmai” for how many flat objects (like sheets of paper).
For a more specific object, use “nan” (meaning “what”), attach the counter’s equivalent and then add “desu ka” to complete your question.
For example, when asking for sheets of paper:
Nanmai desu ka?
What …? —
Nan/nani is the common way to ask “what.” and the same as before, you would simply add “desu ka” to make it a question form.
A note on “desu” and “ka”: In Japanese there are varying degrees of politeness. Adding “desu” to the end of the sentence makes the sentence polite, and it also acts as the be-verb from time to time, as is the case with a sentence like “Watashi wa Sam desu” (“I am Sam”). It is polite and completes the sentence, and it should definitely be used in an office setting. If you want to show off to the Japanese and truly be polite, then it is best to use, “to moushimasu,” making your introduction professional.
Sam to moushimasu.
I am called Sam.
“Ka” 「か」added to a sentence makes it a question. Inflection is not as important in Japanese as it is in English, so Japanese people focus on the grammatical ending “ka.”
How do you do? — This phrase is not often used in Japanese because of the culture. You can ask it in several ways, but don’t be surprised when a Japanese person does not ask you how you are doing. They are not being rude; they just don’t like to pry into people’s private lives.
However, should you need to ask someone how they are doing, there are two ways:
Ogenki desu ka?
How are you?
Choushi wa dou desu ka?
How are you doing?/feeling?
Expressing Needs in Japanese
I need —. ______ が入ります。
______ ga irimasu.
I want —. ______が欲しいです。
______ ga hoshii desu.
Can I ____ ? — _____してもいいですか。
_____ shite mo ii desu ka?
Saying ‘Sorry’ or ‘Excuse Me’ in Japanese
Pardon me — すみません Sumimasen. This is what to say when you need to reach across someone or interrupt in any way.
I’m sorry — ごめんなさい Gomen nasai. This is how to ask for forgiveness for something you’ve done.
We hope this guide has helped prepare you for your next business trip to Japan or an interaction with Japanese speakers. If you would like to learn more Japanese, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (800) 401-3159. We can prepare you for Japanese business trips and showing your coworkers and clients that you are trying to speak their language.