As we all know by now, Japanese culture is based on politeness and respect. Japanese culture is also rich in history and tradition.
But before embarking on a linguistic stay to improve your proficiency in Japanese, or a simple tourist trip to discover the beautiful Japanese culture, mythical Mount Fuji, or the beautiful city of Kyoto via Tokyo or Osaka, it is important to master some of the basics.
This is especially true for those aiming to work in Japan and live there for a long or short period.
As a foreigner, you will probably learn Nihongo. Learning Japanese for beginners usually takes this form as a second language. You will be pleased to know that Japanese grammar is not hard at all when compared to English, but getting on top of the Japanese characters is a little bit more tricky!
This is because Japanese writing system is built on borrowed characters from Chinese, and therefore doesn't use the Latin alphabet in the same way that English and other European languages do.
But at the end of the day, Japanese is like any other language, It has adjectives, nouns, words and phrases. In order to become fluent, you will need to come to terms with all aspects of the language.
In this article, we will teach you the basics in order to get by in Japanese. It will be a kind of initiation and introduction to the language and all its different components: phonetic pronunciation, kanji and the associated kana (hiragana katakana), as well as transcription in romaji.
Although the Japanese alphabet is radically different from the Latin alphabet and even though the ideograms change up the entire writing system of the Japanese language--do not be discouraged!
Learn Basic Japanese: How to Introduce Yourself
First of all, when you meet a person for the first time, you use the formula "Haijimemashite" (は じ め ま し て て) that can be transcribed and translated into "Nice to meet you." It is customary to bend slightly when pronouncing it (phonetically: "hajimemachite.")
It's a way of thanking your interlocutor for meeting someone new.
There is also a way to close the conversation formally.
The expression is "Yoroshiku onegaishimasu" (よ ろ し く お 願 (ね が) い し ま す), an expression that is impossible to translate into English, but is close to the idea that one is happy to have made contact with a new discussion partner.
To answer this you should use "kochira koso yoroshiku onegaishimasu" to testify reciprocity of feeling.
A concrete example of greeting someone is:
Hajimemashite. (Nice to meet you),
Watashi no namae wa Paul desu. (My name is Paul),
Watashi wa ni-juu go sai desu. (I am 25),
New York nor sunde imasu. (I live in New York),
Gakusei desu. (I am a student),
Douzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu. (I am honored to meet you)
Such Japanese phrases are imperative, and it would be worth while memorising them early in your Japanese learning.
Simple Japanese: Greet, Ask, Thank
When learning a foreign language, presenting yourself is one of the first topics covered. There are some fun facts about the Japanese language which govern how you present yourself in the land of the rising sun. When studying Japanese, please be aware that Japanese people take these seriously, so pay close attention to make sure your are using the correct expressions! Remember, the language and culture are closely linked in Japan and so you need to be aware of the cultural intricacies when going through your language learning in Japanese.
Greetings Depending on the Time of Day
Like other foreign languages, there are many ways to greet someone according to the time of day. The first is "Konnichiwa" (こ ん に ち は and 今日 は in Kanji) which is versatile and can be used at any time of the day--but don't use it in all situations! You can use it during a job interview for example!
The more specific ways to greet someone are the following:
- Hello (morning): "Ohayo Gozaimasu" (お 早 う ご ざ ざ い ま ま す). We also use this phrase to greet colleagues, whatever the time of day,
- Hello (afternoon): "Konnichiwa" is used a lot in this case. A more familiar and less polished form also exists ("Osu") that we can use with friends for example,
- Good evening: After 18 hours, we say "Konbanwa" (こ ん ば ん は and 今 晩 は in Kanji),
- Goodnight: "Oyasumi" (お 休 み) or "Oyasumi nasai" (お や す み な さ い い) is more formal and used in a more formal setting.
Goodbye in Japanese
There are also many ways to say goodbye in Japanese, as we might find distinctions in France depending on the context. Indeed, "see you later" and "goodbye" are two very different things.
- Goodbye (or goodbye in some cases): sayônara (さ よ う な ら),
- See you later: atodene (あ と で ね),
- See you tomorrow: mata ash'ta (ま た 明日),
- See you next week: mata raisu (ま た 来 週),
- Saying goodbye to co-workers: osakini shitsurè shimass' (お 先 に 失礼 し ま ま す).
Thanking Someone in Japanese
In Japanese, the most common phrase to use for "thank you" is "aligatô." It can be said as "aligatô gozaimasu" to accentuate it and thank more profusely. In America, one can convey a different emotion according to the intonation of the "Thank you." In Japanese, there are several thanking themes.
For example, in the Kansai region, we say "ôkini" (大 き に) to say thank you. To thank someone for their benevolence or help, use "o-sewani nalimash'ta (お 世 話 に に な り り し し た)". And there is even a way to thank and apologize at the same time: sumimassen (す み ま せ ん)
In Japanese, one will commonly find "uneegaisshimass" (お 願 い し ま) "to send thanks," and 'uneegai-itashimass' is even more respectful.
How to Learn Japanese Vocabulary: The Numbers
Naturally, to learn to speak Japanese, you will need to deal with numbers. But counting in Japanese doesn't need to be a difficult task. For those of you who have already started to learn Chinese, the number learning process will be simpler. Indeed, Japanese digitization was initially borrowed from Mandarin. In fact, the Chinese characters (or sinograms) found in Chinese digitization are the same as the Japanese kanji, with a few rare exceptions.
For those of you who have never studied Chinese, don't worry. Your Japanese course will have you covered early on in this department.
Did you know that with only 11 different words we can count up to 999 in Japanese? The following table records the basic numbers from 0 to 9 with all the possible variations, from the different scripts, to the translation, and the way of pronouncing them.
|1||一||いち/いつ||ichi / itsu||itchi / itsu|
|4||四||し / よん||shi / yon||chi / yonne|
|7||七||しち / なな||shichi / nana||chitchi / nana|
|9||九||きゅう/く||kyū / ku||kyou / kou|
To learn the numbers correctly, the following table is useful for counting up to 1000.
|1 0000 (ten thousand)||万||まん||man||manne|
|10 0000 (a hundred thousand)||十万||じゅうまん||jūman||jou-manne|
|100 0000 (a million)||百万||ひゃくまん||hyakuman||hyakoumanne|
|1000 0000 (ten million)||一千万||いっせんまん||issenman||issennemanne|
|1 0000 0000 (a hundred million)||億||おく||oku||okou|
For example, for the number 30, we add the number 3 in kanji with the number 10. It is as if 30 is equal to 3 times 10. This is the logic for numbers in Japanese.
In order not to make any mistakes with Japanese numbers, it is essential to know that the Japanese divide their numbers in groups of four digits rather than three as we are used to seeing in the western world. For us, one hundred thousand is broken down as 100 times 1000. But in Japanese it is broken down as ten times ten thousand. It's the same thing for a hundred thousand:
- English: 100,000
- Japanese: 10 0000
These rules are always valid with a few exceptions, which are to facilitate pronunciation. This is the case, for example, for 800--where we say "happyaku" instead of "hachihyaku."
Of course, numbers can be used in a different context than counting. In Japanese, many different counters (often with suffixes) are used depending on what we count with. For example, to count people we will use the kanji "人" which means, much like in Chinese, a person.
To speak of a person, we use "一 人". On the other hand, pronunciation changes. We will not find the sound "itchi" or "itsu" which designates a thing, because we will pronounce "hitoli." You can designate more than one person with the same principle.
There are numerous exceptions to the rules that include objects as varied as drinks, books, clothes, small animals, buildings, or even months. It is therefore necessary to learn them.
Some Temporal References: Time, Day, Month, and Year
Time in Japanese
For any beginner learning to talk about times and dates in Japanese, you need to know that there are some similarities, and some differences with English.
When one tries to learn English, one quickly sees the time and the distinction between AM and PM. The Japanese use the same principle. The Japanese word "gozèn" (午前) designates the hours between midnight and midday, and "gogo" ( 午後), refers to the hours from noon to midnight.
Long before you reach intermediate, you will need to know the following useful phrases:
- "Ma (wa) nan'ji soon? (今 (は) 何時 で す か), an English-Japanese dictionary would translate this to "What time is it now? "
- "Ima wa gozèn go-dji soon" (今 は 午前 5 時): It is five o'clock in the morning.
Also keep in mind that as far as writing goes, the kanji 分 designates the minutes, while 時 designates the hours.
Dates: Days, Months, and Years
It is important to memorize the writing and pronunciation of each day of the week or each month of the year in Japanese.
The days of the week :
|Sunday||日曜日||nitchi-yôbi||the day of the sun|
|Monday||月曜日||guètsu-yôbi||the day of the moon|
|Tuesday||火曜日||ka-yôbi||the day of the fire|
|Wednesday||水曜日||sui-yôbi||the day of the water|
|Thursday||木曜日||moku-yôbi||the day of the wood|
|Friday||金曜日||kin-yôbi||the day of the gold|
|Saturday||土曜日||do-yôbi||the day of the earth|
The months of the year:
In other countries, the week begins on Sunday and not on Monday! It will be noted that the kanji "日" stands for the first day of the week.
The years are also different in Japanese. Years can be written according to the Gregorian model, but also the current era, with each era corresponding to the beginning of an Emperor's reign. We are currently in the 29th year of the Heisei Era, which began on January 7, 1989 with Emperor Akihito. The kanji of the year is the following: 年.
- This fact sheet is not intended to teach Japanese to neo-learners, nor does it aim to teach Japanese writing. Nevertheless, it can provide a foundation base and useful tools for learning Japanese which you can later go on to refine by taking more intensive language courses.
- It is first and foremost a practical guide for anyone who wants to take a trip to Japan and see the local culture, which is so beautiful and bright. It is a communication tool for the basic themes as well as an great tool to help you start talking with Japanese speakers.
- You should normally be able to present yourself to a Japanese person, be able to understand the amount of the bill when you go for a drink, or even order a traditional dish at a restaurant or master the most common time references.
So, are you ready to become a black belt in Japanese?