Basic Japanese Phrases

Here are some of the extremely basic Japanese phrases that I think everyone should learn! Dictionary meanings are all taken from!

よろしくお願いします (Yoroshiku onegaishimasu) – Please remember me; please help me; please treat me well; I look forward to working with you.
I have been translating this as ‘we ask for your favor’ as well. It’s a greeting/expression that you hear a lot, a lot. Maybe it’s just me, but I think ‘we ask for your favor’ sounds so much more awkward in English. I guess it’s because we don’t greet people that way in English? But this phrase is on the top of my list on words that I wish to leave in Japanese.

Broken down, お願いします (onegaishimasu) just means please. It is used alone a lot. To mean things like ‘please stop it’, or ‘please be serious’, or just ‘please help us/treat us well’ etc etc. Like when someone screws up in VSA, and Nino goes ‘onegaishimasu!’, he’s trying to tell that person to please stop messing up/fooling around etc… I think you can get the idea.

よろしく (宜しく, yoroshiku) on it’s own has several meanings. I quote from my favorite website:
1. Well; properly; suitably.
2. Best regards; please remember me; please treat me favorably (favourably); please take care of.
3. Just like…; as though one were…
4. By all means; of course. (as よろしく…べし)

For this phrase… I’ve pretty much only seen it used as no. 2. Basically the same way as yoroshiku onegaishimasu.

ありがとうございます (arigatou gozaimasu) or just ありがとう (arigatou). Aw come on, you know this one right? It just means thanks, or thank you. It’s a very straight forward meaning.

おはようございます (ohayou gozaimasu) or just おはよう (ohayou) – good morning. (Pronunciation wise it’s o-ha-yo. But the “yo” is a long sound, hence the u at the back)

こんにちは (今日は, konnichiwa) – Hello; good day (daytime greeting)
The kanji literally means ‘today is’. It used to be that they would greet each other by say ‘Today is a good day’ or something, but as language go, they evolve with usage, and eventually it was just shortened to ‘today is’.

こんばんは (今晩は, konbanwa) – Good evening
Again, like konnichiwa, it literally means ‘tonight is’.

お休みなさい (oyasuminasai) – Good night

Now, you may have noticed. What does ございます (gozaimasu) mean? Well that phrase actually can be written in kanji! It goes like this: 御座います – To be; to exist.
It’s used in the polite form, so saying ohayou gozaimasu is more polite and formal than just saying ohayou.

いただきます (itadakimasu) – Expression of gratitude before meals.
Ah this! Another phrase with no English equivalent! Nor a proper Chinese equivalent either.

ごちそうさまでした (gochisousama deshita) – That was a delicious meal (said after meals); what a wonderful meal.
Gochisou literally means a feast, or a treat.

ただいま (tadaima) – I’m home
Used as an expression to announce your arrival at home. We know that Jun says this when he arrives home too. Even though he stays alone. He says he wants to practice for marriage life or something hahaha. He says oyasuminasai to himself too.
Well besides being used as a greeting, this phrase can also mean “Presently; right away; right now; just now”.

おかえりなさい (okaerinasai) – Welcome home
Used as a greeting to welcome someone home. So the person who just returned will say ‘tadaima’, and the one at home would say ‘okaerinasai’ or ‘okaeri’ for short.
And since we are talking about Okaeri, as you know Arashi has a song with that title. Besides being a short form for Okaerinasai, it also means ‘return’.

失礼します (shitsurei shimasu) – Excuse me
Well 失礼 (shitsurei) literally means you ‘lost manners’, i.e. impolite. As an expression it literally means ‘I’m going to be rude’. It’s generally used to mean ‘excuse me for disturbing’ or ‘excuse me for the intrusion’. This is being said when you enter rooms.

おじゃまします (お邪魔します, ojyama shimasu) – Excuse me for disturbing (interrupting) you; greeting used when entering someone’s home.
邪魔 (jyama) means ‘Hindrance; obstacle; nuisance.’ So similar to the earlier phrase it literally means ‘I’m going to be a hindrance’.

済みません (すみません, sumimasen)
1. excuse me; pardon me; I’m sorry
2. thank you

Ok, you’d hardly see this word written in kanji… But it’s good to know anyway, right?

So you’re probably wondering what’s the difference between すみません and 失礼します. Shitsure shimasu is used when you’re going to do something rude. Like entering a room (you’re disturbing the people inside!) or picking up a phone call during a meal. Sumimasen means more like a subtle, less apologetic sorry. Like “Sorry, could I ask a question/disturb you for a minute”, or “Sorry, could you please let me through?” Note that it’s not the “I did something bad/wrong and need to apologise sorry,” in which case gomenasai should be used.

いらっしゃいませ (irassaimase) – Welcome (in shops, etc.).
If you go to a Japanese restaurant, you’d hear this phrase spoken in its various levels of accuracy a lot. Well at least that’s the case in my country…

おつかれさま (otsukaresama) – 1. Thank you; many thanks; much appreciated. 2. That’s enough for today.

頑張って (ganbatte) – Hold on; go for it; keep at it.
Well I’m sure we all know this phrase too! It’s hard to get a good English equivalent too, although the concept itself is easy enough to understand. I would translate it as ‘do your best’ (of course, it varies with the context too) as compared to the meanings the website gives me.

2 thoughts on “Basic Japanese Phrases

  1. Cindy

    This is really interesting. I’m excited to read through this blog, as I’m learning nihongo by self-study. Some things I was wondering about:

    -for “excuse me”, I’ve heard of “sumimasen”. When do you use sumimasen and when do you use shitsurei shimasu?
    -for “ganbatte”, I translate it (myself lol) to the English equivalent of “Good Luck!” although it’ll only fit for a certain context
    -as a non-Japanese wanting to learn Japanese, even though I know the meaning of “itadakimasu”, I can never remember to say it! lol I usually remember AFTER I’ve already ate most of my food. Anyone else?

    1. coolohoh Post author

      Glad you are enjoying this site!

      Shitsure shimasu – For use when you’re going to do something rude, say picking up a phone call during lunch/dinner. Most commonly used when entering a room (or leaving, in which case you would use the past tense), or when leaving work early.

      Sumimasen is more like sorry than excuse me. But not the “I’ve done something bad/wrong so I better apologise” type of sorry – in which case you would use gomenasai. But the less serious type of sorry like “sorry can I interrupt you for a minute”, or “sorry could you let me pass through” type of sorry. As you can see, usage wise, it often sounds like ‘excuse me’ even though the meaning is not quite the same.

      That’s the case with ‘ganbatte’, good luck may fit in some sentences with ‘ganbatte’, but it’s not the actual meaning of the word. Ganbatte is really more about asking the addressee to work hard, try hard, do their best, then to wish them good luck. Rather than hoping that said person would get lucky and get a good outcome, they are encouraging said person to perform well and get a good outcome.

      Ahh… As a Chinese, I was brought up to greet my elders before meals so I do remember that I’m supposed to say something (I don’t say itadakimasu unless I’m with my sister, or other Japanese speaking friends). After the meal you’d want to say gochisousama deshita though 😉

      Hope that helps! (PS: Just noticed that sumimasen isn’t on the list, thanks!)


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