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Why learn Japanese? Here are 10 great reasons.

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Are you interested in learning Japanese but are not yet committed to the idea? Then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll outline a few reasons why you should learn Japanese for either personal (travel, entertainment, culture) or professional (career and business opportunities) gain. 

Whether you’re a fan of Japanese anime, a Karate trainee, an adventurer who’s willing to travel around Japan to experience the amazing culture and enjoy the mouthwatering Japanese food, or an ambitious international businessperson, learning Japanese will bring you a lot of benefits. Japanese is not as common a language as English, for example, but it’s worth learning if you’re even remotely interested in Japan.

Get to know the benefits that are in store for you with JapanesePod101.com!

A Tourist Holding a Map

Knowing the language will make your trip even more fun and satisfying.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese Table of Contents
  1. Japan and the Japanese Language
  2. Benefits of Learning the Language
  3. Personal Aspects
  4. Professional Aspects
  5. Is Japanese Easy to Learn?
  6. Conclusion

1. Japan and the Japanese Language

If you’re wondering why to learn Japanese, you should consider the language’s remarkable history as well as its massive popularity as an internet language. Take a look: 

1. Japan: A Country of Rich Culture and High Technology

Japan has an abundant and rich culture, as the country’s history can be traced back as far as 16,500 years ago to the 縄文時代 (Jōmon Period) via scientifically proven cultural records. Nowadays, both traditional Japanese culture from the ancient times and the modern subcultures are known worldwide and attract many foreigners. 

A study carried out by the Bank of Korea found that of 5,586 companies older than 200 years in 41 countries, 56% were in Japan. Japan also has 32 companies that were established more than 500 years ago, and 7 companies older than even 1000 years. No other country has nearly as many centuries-old companies as Japan does.

While Japan is one of the top leaders of timeless tradition and universal craftsmanship in the world, Japan is also known for modern high-technology. Toyota, Sony, Cannon, Panasonic, Toshiba, Mitsubishi, Honda, Yamaha, Hitachi, Nintendo…the list of examples is endless. Although Japan is a small island country with scarce natural resources, it has the third largest economy in the world (with China having taken over Japan’s second-place position in the last decade). 

Learning the language of a country with such amazing characteristics would never be a waste!

2. Japanese is a Popular Internet Language

What do you know about the Japanese language? While Japanese is not as commonly used worldwide as English or Romance languages are, it is one of the top 10 languages used on the internet. 

Most of the languages on this list would not surprise you. After all, these languages are either spoken in many different countries (English and Spanish), essential for international business (Arabic), or spoken by a massive population (Chinese). 

On the other hand, Japanese is spoken almost exclusively in Japan but has still earned a spot on this list. That is to say: There’s much information available in Japanese, especially when it comes to content regarding Japan. A lot of the most interesting and attractive information available online—whether it be about a new anime or manga series, the latest technology, the best local restaurants, or little-known but nice places to visit—is not translated into other languages.

Learning Japanese will allow you to access this exclusive content, make new friends online, or even create a new opportunity for yourself. If you own websites, localizing them into Japanese means creating more traffic and increasing your potential for business growth. Though the language is spoken almost exclusively in Japan, there are approximately 125 million Japanese speakers!

    → To learn more about the Japanese language, also check out our articles Japanese Language Overview: All the Facts You Need to Know and How Long Does it Take to Learn Japanese?
A Globe Showing Japan and Japanese Cities

Japan is an incredible country that has a unique language and a fascinating culture.

2. Benefits of Learning the Language

While studying the Japanese language can help you gain insight into the culture and history of Japan—not to mention open up new business opportunities in the internet world—the potential gains do not end there! Other benefits of learning Japanese include gaining a broader perspective on the world and learning more about other Asian cultures. 

3. Gain New Insights and Global Perspective

When you learn a new language, you’re doing so much more than studying vocabulary and grammar rules—you’re also giving yourself the opportunity to explore a new culture and a unique slice of history. The more dissimilar a language is from your mother tongue, the more you’ll expand your mind by learning it! 

Through learning the Japanese language, you’ll deepen your understanding of unique values and philosophies that will allow you to see things from different perspectives. With this new knowledge and insight, you’ll be more flexible and resilient whenever you need to deal with cultural differences. 

This whole process also trains your brain to expand your potential and enhance how attractive you are to potential employers (or romantic partners, or friends…). 

4. Gateway to Other Asian Cultures and Languages

Because Japan’s history was closely influenced by other Asian countries, especially China and Korea, there are a few similarities between Japan and these countries. 

For example, many of the Japanese Kanji characters were originally brought to Japan from China. If you know Japanese Kanji, you would be able to recognize some of the Chinese characters as well (especially traditional Chinese), even though the Chinese language is very different from Japanese grammatically and phonetically. On the contrary, Korean and Japanese share grammatical and phonetic similarities instead of a writing system. 

While each country has its own culture, East Asian countries have many similarities to each other. These include things like religious beliefs (Buddhism, Confucianism), values, ethics, and aesthetics—all of which are very different from those of Western cultures.

In short: Learning Japanese will make it easier for you to learn and familiarize yourself with other East Asian languages and cultures.

A Dish of Sushi, with Chopsticks, Dishes, and Soy Sauce for Dipping

Sushi and Tempura are not the only Japanese words you should know!

3. Personal Aspects

Are you wondering how a knowledge of the Japanese language can improve your personal, everyday life? Here are three great examples for you to consider! 

5. Enjoy Japanese Culture in the Original Language

Learning Japanese will allow you to enjoy the Japanese culture deeply. 

Whether we’re talking about traditional Japanese calligraphy, martial or culinary arts, or a modern subculture represented by anime, manga, literature, movies, games, etc., there’s no better way to understand and enjoy them than in the original language! 

There are actually a lot of Japanese words that cannot be translated into other languages, due to the culture’s unique concepts and philosophies. When such words are translated, they lose subtle nuances and implicit contexts. Speaking Japanese allows you to understand the culture more deeply and better enjoy the original version. You’ll discover a whole new world in the original version that you would never be able to in translated versions.

To learn more about this fun topic, please check out our article Untranslatable Japanese Words.

A Woman Watching a Video with Headphones on Her Tablet

Enjoy Japanese anime, movies, and games in the original language!

6. Traveling Will Become Easier and More Fun 

Japan is one of the most popular destinations to visit among Asian countries. In 2018, more than 31.2 million people traveled to Japan.

Although Japanese people are known to be very kind and polite, always willing to try their best to help you when you ask for directions, you’ll find that it’s difficult to communicate unless you speak Japanese. Most of the local people are not good at speaking English.   

If you know Japanese, you’ll be able to easily get around, find the most useful local information, and discover the best eateries that don’t appear in travel guidebooks written for foreigners. And most of all, you’ll meet new people and communicate with locals, which will make your experience more enjoyable and memorable.

People Dining at a Sushi Bar

Knowing Japanese will allow you to find the best restaurants popular among locals easier.

7. It Will Make You a Different and Unique Person

Knowing Japanese will make you different from others, especially if you’re from an English-speaking country. Because many people choose to learn Spanish, French, or German as a second language, learning Japanese will automatically set you apart from others and will encourage others to see you as an earnest and open-minded person. You may enjoy special privileges and get rare opportunities that most people would not have access to. 

In addition, because learning such a unique language gives you new insights and the ability to see things from other perspectives, you’ll be able to understand and appreciate your own language and culture better. 

4. Professional Aspects

While learning Japanese can improve your personal life, it also comes with plenty of benefits for your professional life! 

8. More Career Options

As mentioned, Japan has the third biggest economy in the world with multi-billion businesses in various industries. Even if you don’t live and work in Japan, knowing Japanese will enhance your professional value and increase your career options in various sectors, including import/export business, aviation, journalism, diplomacy, technology, and science (to name a few). 

By learning Japanese, you’ll also understand the culture. Being aware of the Japanese work culture and business etiquette is valued in the professional world, and it means that you’re more likely to have a chance to work for branches of Japanese multinational corporations that are located all around the world (or for domestic companies that have offices in Japan).

Moreover, as the economies of Asian countries grow, more career opportunities are becoming available. And this includes areas outside of Japan, such as those in Asia-Pacific regions. 

Wherever you are, knowing Japanese is beneficial for your career!

Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo is one of the biggest business cities in Asia.

9. More Business Opportunities

Likewise, having a good command of the Japanese language and understanding the culture behind it will create more business opportunities for you. If you’re a businessperson or diplomat, you’ll likely be expected to manage making deals and to avoid conflicts caused by misunderstandings. 

Pushed by the growing popularity of Japanese culture, there are increasing business opportunities related to Japanese cultural exports/imports. In addition to things like Karaoke bars and Sushi restaurants, there are new types of businesses that are gaining fans nowadays. These include cat cafes, manga cafes, Ramen and Okonomiyaki restaurants, Real Escape Room games, cosplay events, etc. Knowing the Japanese language and culture will help you find local Japanese partners faster and boost your marketing efforts.

There are also business opportunities in tourism. Japanese people love traveling overseas, from budget backpackers to luxury resort-lovers who don’t hesitate to spend money on shopping and nice experiences. You can strengthen the marketing of local businesses toward Japanese tourists by posting ads and attractive information on social media and various websites in Japanese. You could also make booking/purchasing systems available in the Japanese language and list prices in Japanese Yen. 

Even if you don’t live and work in Japan, there are countless ways to make use of your command of the Japanese language for business opportunities!

Papers being Signed while Two Businessmen Shake Hands on a Deal

Knowing Japanese is useful for business opportunities.

5. Is Japanese Easy to Learn?

Anyone interested in learning Japanese has asked this question at some point. The FSI (Foreign Service Institute) ranks Japanese as a Category 5 language, meaning it’s one of the most difficult languages for native English speakers to learn. 

However, that’s not technically true if you focus on oral communication alone. Which leads us to reason #10: Learning Japanese is actually a lot easier than you think.

The Japanese writing system with its three different character sets is, of course, very different from what speakers of alphabet languages are used to, and it takes a lot of time and effort to master. Still, learning Hiragana and Katakana as well as basic Kanji does not require endless effort. Once you master Hiragana, you’ll know how to pronounce any Japanese word. At the beginner level, using Roma-ji (romanization of Japanese) is really helpful in understanding and familiarizing yourself with Japanese. 

Putting aside the writing system, speaking and listening to Japanese is much easier compared to doing so in English as there are fewer vowel and consonant sounds. In addition, Hiragana and Katakana are very simple; each character represents a specific sound and there’s no variation like there is in English (e.g. the pronunciation of “a” varies from word to word: “ant” / “ace” / “cat”). Therefore, Japanese phonetics is very easy to learn.

From a grammatical point of view, Japanese grammar is indeed very different from English grammar. However, it’s also said that Japanese grammar is simpler than that of English or Romance languages in many ways. 

For example: 

  • There is no distinction between singular and plural.
  • We do not use articles (such as “a” or “the”).
  • There is no verb conjugation according to the speaker (“I do” / “she does”).
  • Japanese only has two simple tenses: the present and the past (there is no “perfect tense” form or “future”).

Now, you can relax a bit and enjoy learning Japanese with this newfound hope!

A Woman Smiling with a Book on Her Head

Listening and speaking Japanese is not actually so difficult!

6. Conclusion

In this article, we’ve explained the reasons why you should learn Japanese. Learning Japanese will bring you to a new world where you can enjoy a lot of benefits in both your personal life and your professional life. 

If you’re wondering where to learn Japanese online, look no further. Create an account with JapanesePod101.com for the fastest and easiest way to fluency. With a variety of rich, free lessons and tools, your Japanese-language skills will improve immensely. 

Don’t forget that you’re not alone. When you use our Premium PLUS MyTeacher service, you get your very own tutor who can always help you practice and guide you through personalized assignments.

Before you go, let us know in the comments if you feel ready to start learning Japanese. If not, we’d love to hear your questions or concerns, and we’ll be glad to help any way we can.

Now, it’s time to get started at JapanesePod101.com!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese

Japanese Tenses: Simple Yet Unique

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Did you know that the Japanese language does not have a future tense nor any perfect tenses like English does? Japanese tenses are much simpler to handle, as there are only two: the present tense and the past tense. However, there are some unique rules concerning tenses in Japanese that are quite different from what English speakers are used to.

Auxiliary verbs and post positional particles play important roles in the Japanese language, especially in verb conjugations. This is because Japanese tenses are expressed via auxiliary verbs that connect to verbs. So forget about how you form tenses in English (I do, I will do, I did, I have done, I had done, etc.), and learn Japanese tenses with new rules!

In this article, we’ll explain Japanese tenses and cover the following points: 

  • How Japanese verb conjugations work 
  • The role of auxiliary verbs
  • The present and past tenses
  • How to express things about the future in Japanese

By the end of this article from JapanesePod101.com, you’ll be able to grasp the whole picture of Japanese verbs and tenses—in fact, you’ll better understand Japanese grammar in general!

Three Signs with the Words Now, Tomorrow, and Yesterday on Them

In Japanese, there’s no particular future tense form like the word “will” in English.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese Table of Contents
  1. Japanese Tenses Overview
  2. Present Tense
  3. Past Tense
  4. How to Express the Future in Japanese
  5. How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

1. Japanese Tenses Overview

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s go over some basic information regarding Japanese verb tenses and forms. 

How Many Tenses are There in Japanese?

Japanese has only two verb tenses, which are the present tense and the past tense. The present tense is also used to express things about the future in Japanese, so there’s no clear distinction between the present tense and the future tense.

Having said that, Japanese grammar technically does not treat verbs for tense. Rather, Japanese verbs take one of five basic conjugation forms and are followed by 助動詞 (jodōshi), or auxiliary verbs/post positional particles, in order to express and determine their tense. 

Verb Conjugations and Auxiliary Verbs

As mentioned, there are five basic Japanese verb conjugation forms. When verbs conjugate, the verb base (or “stem”) does not change; the stem rather takes on a different suffix or auxiliary verb to convey the proper meaning. 

The correct form is determined by elements such as voice, mood, tense, and politeness level. 

  • Voice

    There are two types of grammatical voice:

    能動態 (nōdōtai) – “active voice”
    受動態 (judōtai) – “passive voice”
  • Mood
    Mood is the attitude of the speaker toward the action of the verb. Was the speaker giving an order? Making an assumption? Offering a suggestion?
  • Tense
    Tense refers to the time of the verb’s action: past, present, or future.
  • Politeness Level
    The Japanese language has honorific speech called 敬語 (keigo). There are three types of honorific language depending on the level of respect intended:

    丁寧語 (teinei-go) – “polite language”
    尊敬語 (sonkei-go) – “respectful language”
    謙譲語 (kenjō-go) – “humble / modest language”

Example: Tense as an Influential Factor 

  • 食べる (tabe-ru) – “eat” [present and plain/informal form]
    食べ (tabe-) is the verb stem and る (ru) is the suffix.
  • 食べた (tabe-ta) – “ate” [past and informal form]
    食べ (tabe-) is the verb stem and た (-ta) is an auxiliary verb that expresses the past form.

To learn more details about Japanese verbs and verb conjugations, please see our articles 100+ Most Common Japanese Verbs and Ultimate Japanese Verb Conjugation Guide.

A Dish of Sushi with Chopsticks and Soy Sauce on the Side

Tenses are expressed by the post positional particles or auxiliary verbs that connect to the verbs:
寿司を食べ /食べ
Sushi o tabe-ru / tabe-ta.
([I] eat / ate Sushi.)

Formal and Informal Forms

As mentioned in the previous section, there are three Japanese honorific speech levels. Native Japanese people, especially in official settings, are expected to have total command over the three different levels so they can use them according to the situation and to whom they’re talking. However, you won’t experience any problems as a foreigner, as long as you can use polite language in daily conversations.

The polite language usually ends with です(-desu) or ます (-masu) in the present/future tense, and でした (-deshita) or ました (-mashita) in the past tense.

The polite language is generally used as a formal form, and casual/plain language is used as an informal form. While the latter is used for talking with family and friends, most people use the former when talking to strangers or staff members at a store or restaurant. 

Example:

歩く(あるく) (aru-ku) – “to walk” 

  • ある (aru-) = verb stem
  • 歩く (あるく) (aru-ku) = informal/plain form
  • 歩きます (あるきます) (aru-kimasu) = formal/polite form

A Worker at a Train Station in Japan

Each Japanese tense has a formal form (honorific) and an informal form:
列車が到着します、ご注意ください。
Ressha ga tōchaku shimasu, go-chūi kudasai.
(The train is coming, please be careful.) [formal and polite form]

2. Present Tense

The Japanese present tense is used to talk about things that are happening now, recurring actions, and events set to happen in the future. 

Present Tense 

Japanese verbs in their informal form always end in -u or -ru. These suffixes correspond to the syllables found in the う段 (u-dan) or “U row” of the Hiragana table. 

Japanese verbs in their formal or polite form end with an い段 (i-dan) or え段 (e-dan) syllable followed by ます (-masu): -imasu or -emasu

Examples [Informal / Formal]

飲む・のむ (no-mu) – “drink”
[ の (no-) is the verb stem ]

    ➢ 私は水を飲む / 飲みます
        Watashi wa mizu o nomu / nomimasu.
        I drink water.

付ける・つける (hira-ku) – “turn on”
[ つけ (tsuke-) is the verb stem ]

    ➢ 寒いので暖房をつける / つけます
        Samui node danbō o tsukeru / tsukemasu.
        I turn on a heater because it’s cold.

開く・ひらく (hira-ku) – “open”
[ ひら (hira-) is the verb stem ]

    ➢ お店は午前9時に開く / 開きます
        O-mise wa gozen ku-ji ni hiraku / hirakimasu.
        The store opens at 9:00 a.m.

Present Progressive Tense

The present progressive tense is used when expressing a continuous action or things that are happening now. 

This tense is formed by adding -て いる (-te iru) for informal verbs or -て います (-te imasu) for formal verbs that conjugate in the te-form. Below is a quick description of how to conjugate in the te-form for different verb types. 

For u-verbs (Class 1 Verbs):

Add either して (-shite), いて (-ite), って (-tte), or  んで (-nde) after the verb stem.

  • 話す (hanasu), “talk” → 話して (hanashite)
  • 書く (kaku), “write” → 書いて (kaite)
  • 買う (kau), “buy” → 買って (katte)
  • 読む (yomu), “read” → 読んで (yonde)

For ru-verbs(Class 2 Verbs):

Drop the る (-ru) part of the verb and add て (-te). 

  • 食べ (taberu), “eat” → 食べ (tabete)
  • 調べ (shiraberu), “investigate” → 調べ (shirabete)

As an exception to this pattern, some verbs change form slightly accompanying the sokuon (促音) “っ” before て (-te) for easier pronunciation (in the alphabet, it’s expressed with a double “t”). 

  •  座 (suwaru), “sit” → 座って (suwatte)
  • 当た (ataru), “hit on,” “bump into” → 当って (atatte)
  • (furu), “fall (such as rain, snow, etc.)” → 降って (futte)

Unlike that in English, the Japanese progressive tense cannot indicate an action that is going to happen in the near future. (E.g. In English, it’s okay to say: She is moving to the USA this coming summer.) The Japanese present progressive tense only indicates actions that are ongoing.

Examples [Informal / Formal]

    ➢ 私はいすに座っている / 座っています。
        Watashi wa isu ni suwatte iru / suwatte imasu.
        I’m sitting on a chair.

        [座る・すわる (suwa-ru) or “sit”]:  すわ (suwa-) is the verb stem.

    ➢ 彼はテレビを見ながら食べている / 食べています
        Kare wa terebi o minagara tabete iru / tabete imasu.
        He is eating while watching TV.

        [食べる・たべる (tabe-ru) or “eat”]:  たべ (tabe-) is the verb stem.

    ➢ 猫と犬が庭で遊んでいる / 遊んでいます。
        Neko to inu ga asonde iru / asonde imasu.
        A cat and a dog are playing in the garden.

        [遊ぶ・あそぶ (aso-bu) or “play”]:  あそ (aso-) is the verb stem.

Someone Pointing to Their Wristwatch

今行きます。(Ima ikimasu.) – “I go now.” [ in a polite/formal form ]

3. Past Tense

Forming the Japanese past tense is very simple! Whether an action took place just a few minutes ago, happened many centuries ago, or was being talked about by someone in the past who was talking about an even older past, the Japanese past tense has just one form. There are no such variations as “did,” “have done,” “had done,” etc.

Past Tense 

Japanese verbs in the past tense normally end with た (-ta) in the informal form, though sometimes (-ta) changes to った (-tta) or (-da) depending on the verb. In the formal form, verbs conjugating into い段 (i-dan) or え段 (e-dan) end with ました (-mashita). I-dan and e-dan refer to the rows of syllables on the Hiragana table that end with the vowel sound “i” or “e” respectively.

Examples [Informal / Formal]

    ➢ 彼は映画を見た / 見ました。
        Kare wa eiga o mita / mimashita.
        He watched a movie.

        [見る・みる (mi-ru) or “watch”/”see”/”look”]:  み (mi-) is the verb stem.

    ➢ 昨日友達と泳いだ / 泳ぎました
        Kinō tomodachi to oyoida / oyogimashita.
        I swam with my friend yesterday.

        [泳ぐ・およぐ (oyo-gu) or “swim”]:  およ (oyo-) is the verb stem.

    ➢ 父親が昔宝くじに当たったことを話した / 話しました。
        Chichioya ga mukashi takarakuji ni atatta koto o hanashita / hanashimashita.
        My father told a story about winning a lottery in the past.

        [当たる・あたる (ata-ru) or “win prize/lottery”]:  あた (ata-) is the verb stem.
        [話す・はなす (hana-su) or “talk”/”tell”]:  はな (hana-) is the verb stem.

Past Progressive Form

The past progressive tense is used when expressing continuing actions in the past. In order to form the Japanese past progressive tense, add -て いた (-te ita) [informal] / -て いました (-te imashita) [formal] after a verb that conjugates in the te-form as explained in the Present Progressive Tense section.

Examples [Informal / Formal]

    ➢ 彼女が来た時、彼は寝ていた / 寝ていました。
        Kanojo ga kita toki, kare wa nete ita / nete imashita.
        When she came, he was sleeping.

        [寝る・ねる (ne-ru) or “sleep”]:  ね (ne-) is the verb stem.

    ➢ 買い物をしていた時、外は雨が降っていた / 降っていました
        Kaimono o shite ita toki, soto wa ame ga futte ita / futte imashita.
        When I was shopping, it was raining outside.

        [する (su-ru) or “do”] Irregular Verb: Please see the detailed explanation of irregular verbs in our conjugation article.
        [降る・ふる (fu-ru) or “fall (rain/snow/etc.)”]:  ふ (fu-) is the verb stem.

    ➢ そのとき、あなたは何をしていた / していましたか。
        Sono toki, anata wa nani o shite ita / shite imashita ka.
        What were you doing then?

        [する (su-ru) or “do”]: Irregular Verb

Several Family Photographs

先月家族と旅行に行った。(Sengetsu kazoku to ryokō ni itta.)
“(I) took a trip with (my) family last month.” [informal/casual]

4. How to Express the Future in Japanese

As mentioned, the Japanese present tense is also used to talk about actions in the future. Speakers can express the future using the present tense in the following ways.  

Context

With context and extra information, listeners can understand that an action is set in the future.

Examples:

    試験が終わったら、友達と何か美味しいものを食べに行きます。
        Shiken ga owattara, tomodachi to nani ka oishii mono o tabe ni ikimasu.
        When the exams are over, I will go to eat something delicious with my friends.

    彼は毎日ピアノを練習しています。彼は絶対、プロのピアニストになります。
        Kare wa mainichi piano o renshū shite imasu. Kare wa zettai, puro no pianisuto ni narimasu.
        He practices piano everyday. He will definitely become a professional pianist.

    全員の準備ができ次第、出発します。
        Zen’in no junbi ga deki shidai, shuppatsu shimasu.
        As soon as everyone is ready, we will depart.

Time Words

Using time words (such as specific dates or terms like “later” and “tomorrow”) is the easiest way to indicate that an action is set in the future.

Examples:

    明日の午後、小包が届きます。
        Ashita no gogo, kozutsumi ga todokimasu.
        The parcel will arrive in the afternoon tomorrow.

    ➢ 私は3月に大学を卒業します。
        Watashi wa san-gatsu ni daigaku o sotsugyō shimasu.
        I will graduate from university in March.

    ➢ 私の両親は来月沖縄へ旅行に行きます。
        Watashi no ryōshin wa raigetsu Okinawa e ryokō ni ikimasu.
        My parents will take a trip to Okinawa next month.

Words That Indicate an Intention or Plan

Another way to express things about the future is to use words that indicate an intention or plan. 

There are two words often used for this purpose: 

  • つもり(tsumori) – “intend to” or “plan to” 
  • 予定 (yotei) – “plan to” 

Examples:

    ➢ 私はこの仕事を辞めるつもりです。
        Watashi wa kono shigoto o yameru tsumori desu.
        I intend to quit this job.

    ➢ 卒業パーティーには参加しない予定です。
        Sotsugyō pātī ni wa sanka shinai yotei desu.
        I plan not to participate in the graduation party.

    ➢ 彼女は看護師になる予定です。
        Kanojo wa kangoshi ni naru yotei desu.
        She plans to become a nurse.

The Particle に (ni)

A future intention is also expressed by placing the particle に (ni) between two verbs, with the latter verb often being: 

  • 行く (iku) – “go” 

or 

  • 来る (kuru) – “come”

Examples:

    ➢ 彼氏が私に会いに来ます
        Kareshi ga watashi ni ai ni kimasu.
        My boyfriend will come to see me.

    ➢ 美術館の特別展を見に行きます
        Bijutsukan no tokubetsuten o mi ni ikimasu.
        I will go to see the special exhibition at the museum.

    ➢ 兄の引越しを手伝いに行きます
        Ani no hikkoshi o tetsudai ni ikimasu.
        I will go and help (my) brother’s moving.

A Man Running Late to Work

明日の朝9時までに書類を提出しに行きます
Ashita no asa ku-ji made ni shorui o teishutsu shi ni ikimasu.
“I will go to submit the document by 9:00 in the morning tomorrow.”

How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

In this article, we introduced you to Japanese tenses and how they work. We also touched on verb conjugation and the role auxiliary verbs play in the process. Japanese tenses are quite simple, yet there are unique rules that learners of the language should study early on. Once you get used to it, you’ll find that Japanese tenses are very easy! 

If you would like to learn more about the Japanese language and pick up some useful Japanese phrases for any situation, you’ll find tons of helpful content on JapanesePod101.com. We provide a variety of free lessons to help you improve your Japanese language skills and become familiar with the culture. To get you started, here’s some more information regarding the basics of Japanese: 

To learn more about Japanese verbs and other grammar-related topics, check out Basic Kanji for Verbs and The 50 Most Common Japanese Verbs You’ll Find in Textbooks. Useful pages for improving your conversation skills in Japanese include How to Improve Your Speaking Skills and Must-Know Adverbs and Phrases for Connecting Thoughts.

And there’s so much more! Learn Japanese faster and enjoy every minute of your studies at JapanesePod101.com!

Before you go, let us know in the comments if you still have any questions about Japanese tenses. We’d be glad to help, and look forward to hearing from you!

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How Long Does it Take to Learn Japanese?

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If you’re like most aspiring learners, you may be wondering: How long does it take to learn Japanese? Some people think that learning Japanese is too hard, that it takes forever and requires tremendous painstaking effort. But is that really true?

The answer to this question varies depending on multiple factors, such as your…

  • …mother tongue.
  • …educational background.
  • …previous language learning experience.
  • …level of interest and enthusiasm.
  • …learning goals.
  • …study methods.

In this article, we’ll give you some insight on how long it takes to learn Japanese for the different proficiency levels, keeping these influencing factors in mind. We’ll also provide tips to help you make the most of your study time. 

Are you ready? Set your goals and join JapanesePod101.com on the first step of your language learning journey!

A Woman Holding a Map While Traveling

How long does it take to learn Japanese and how can you reach your goals faster?

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese Table of Contents
  1. Japanese Learning Overview
  2. How Long Does it Take to Achieve Beginner Level?
  3. How Long Does it Take to Achieve Intermediate Level?
  4. How Long Does it Take to Achieve Advanced Level?
  5. Conclusion

1. Japanese Learning Overview 

Before we get into the details, let’s go over how the proficiency levels are defined. This will give you a good idea of what to expect at each stage of your learning journey and give you the knowledge you need to prepare accordingly. 

Language Difficulty Rankings

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) projects how difficult it will be and how long it will take for an English speaker to achieve a “Professional Working Proficiency” level in a given language. The difficulty levels are grouped into five categories, from the easiest languages (Category I) to the most difficult (Category IV). Category I languages are the most similar to English, and Category IV languages are the least similar.

Although the length of time needed to achieve proficiency can vary depending on many factors, FSI estimates the average approximate time for Category I languages to be 24-30 weeks (600-750 class hours). On the other hand, Category IV languages like Japanese take about 88 weeks (2200 class hours) to learn. Japanese is considered an “exceptionally difficult” language for native English speakers to master.

This assessment includes proficiency in reading, one of the most difficult parts of le/arning Japanese. The Japanese writing system is very different from the English alphabet, so many English speakers struggle to adapt. 

That said, you can expect the learning process to be less difficult if your goal has more to do with speaking and listening (such as being able to make conversation and watch Japanese movies without subtitles). There are also some areas where Japanese is simpler than English, which can make learning the language a bit easier. For example, Japanese has fewer vowel and consonant sounds, simple rules for using tense, no plural form or articles, and no verb conjugations according to person.

    → Please see our article Is Japanese Hard to Learn? in order to discover the easiest and most difficult aspects of the language.

JLPT: Japanese-Language Proficiency Test

The JLPT (Japanese-Language Proficiency Test) is an official standardized criterion-referenced test that evaluates and certifies the Japanese-language proficiency of non-native Japanese speakers. It assesses language knowledge (grammar and vocabulary), reading ability, and listening ability.

The JLPT has five levels: N1 (the most difficult), N2, N3, N4, and N5 (the easiest).

N1AdvancedThe ability to understand all of the Japanese used in different everyday contexts. 
N2Pre-AdvancedThe ability to understand the majority of Japanese phrases used in different everyday contexts. 
N3Intermediate The ability to understand some of the Japanese phrases used in everyday situations.
N4ElementaryThe ability to understand basic Japanese.
N5BeginnerThe ability to understand some basic Japanese.

The Japanese Language Education Center shows the study-hour data for JLPT by level, as well as the comparison between students with and without prior Kanji knowledge. The information indicates that students without prior Kanji knowledge will need more study time to reach each level.

[JLPT Study-Hour Comparison Data 2010-2015]

 Students with Kanji Knowledge (e.g. speakers of Chinese or Korean)Students without Kanji Knowledge
N11700~2600 hours3000~4800 hours
N21150~1800 hours1600~2800 hours
N3700~1100 hours950~1700 hours
N4400~700 hours575~1000 hours
N5250~450 hours325~600 hours
Businessman Climbing Ladders and Charting Their Success

Make progress step by step to increase your language proficiency level.

Influencing Factors

That being said, there are numerous factors that influence how long it takes to learn Japanese.

Your Mother Tongue / Language Learning Experience

If your native language is similar to your target language, the learning process will be much faster and easier than if you tried learning a very different language. Likewise, if you have some language learning experience and are somewhat familiar with your target language already, this will definitely help you learn faster and more effectively.  

In this regard, English speakers and learners unfortunately have little privilege when it comes to learning Japanese. 

The classification of the Japonic languages (Japanese and its dialects) is still unclear, but many linguists see the Japonic languages as an independent family. Thus, Japanese doesn’t really have a family of close and similar languages, such as the Romance languages (Spanish, Italian, and French). 

However, Japanese Kanji characters were originally brought from Ancient China and incorporated into Japanese. Although Chinese people cannot read or pronounce Japanese Kanji, they can often guess their meanings. While Chinese grammar and phonetics are very different from those of Japanese, the Korean language has some grammatical and phonetic similarities. Therefore, Chinese and Korean speakers (as well as learners of these languages) have a slight advantage when it comes to learning Japanese.

    → For more about the Japanese language, please see Japanese Language Overview: All the Facts You Need to Know.

Your Learning Goal / Motivation 

What is your definition of ‘learning Japanese’ and what is your learning goal? 

If your goal is to learn basic survival Japanese for traveling, then it won’t take very long to achieve. You would only have to learn some essential greetings and other useful phrases. 

However, it would take a lot of time and effort to reach a level where you could watch Japanese movies and anime without subtitles, or speak fluently with Japanese natives. This requires good speaking and listening skills.

Learning to read and write high-level Kanji would also require a lot of time and effort. You would need to attain solid grammatical knowledge and gain a good command of Kanji. This would allow you to read Japanese newspapers and write official documents. 

Whatever your learning goal may be, your motivation and enthusiasm play an important role as well. Whether you’re a big fan of Japanese culture and anime or you wish to live and work in Japan, your motivation impacts your level of commitment and your attitude toward learning Japanese. Your level of motivation determines how much time and effort you’re willing to dedicate to learning.

Study Method / Time You Dedicate to Learning 

As the proverb says, “There is no royal road to learning.” The more time you spend, the more knowledge you get. The accumulation of small but continuous effort is important.

Even for the same hour spent on language learning, the results you’d get will differ depending on how you’re learning and how that time was used. For example, were you watching Japanese anime, reading a textbook, or talking with a Japanese teacher in class?

If you want to focus on daily conversations, then reading a textbook about grammar may not be the best learning method. You would probably fare better talking with a Japanese tutor online and watching Japanese movies with subtitles, as this would improve your speaking and listening skills faster.

Once you set your goal, try to find the best learning methods for your purposes. There are multiple options you can work on from your home, even if you’re outside of Japan. These include online lessons and online tutoring for more effective learning, and using YouTube and Netflix for a more laid-back and fun approach to studying.

A Laptop, Phone, and Tablets

Thanks to the internet, there are numerous ways we can learn from anywhere.

2. How Long Does it Take to Achieve Beginner Level?

Those who are thinking of starting to learn Japanese often wonder where to start, what to aim for as a beginner, and how long it will take to reach the beginner level. In this section, we’ll answer these questions and provide you with tips for how to learn Japanese effectively at this stage. 

JLPT: N5 & N4 Levels

Even if you don’t take an actual exam, JLPT can be a good guideline to help you know what needs to be done to achieve a certain level. If you want to reach the N5 & N4 levels, you’ll need to build a foundation by learning the basic Japanese grammar and vocabulary.

N5 Level: Beginner

Reading

You should be able to… 

  • …understand typical daily expressions and sentences written in Hiragana, Katakana, and very basic Kanji. 

[Example Exercise]

A: 
あの 人 は だれ です か。
Ano hito wa dare desu ka.
Who is that person?

B: 
かれ は 田中さん です。
Kare wa Tanaka-san desu.
He is Mr. Tanaka.

Listening

You should be able to…

  • …listen to and comprehend conversations about topics regularly encountered in daily life and classroom situations. 
  • …pick up necessary information from short conversations spoken slowly. 

[Example Exercise] 

Listen to a question and a conversation and choose the best answer.



男の人と女の人が話しています。男の人は何時に寝ましたか。
Otoko no hito to onna no hito ga hanashite imasu. Otoko no hito wa nan-ji ni nemashita ka.
The man and the woman are talking. What time did the man go to bed?



(女/woman) 
眠そうな顔してるね。 
Nemusō na kao shiteru ne. 
You look sleepy.

(男/man)      
昨夜は遅くまで勉強していて。
Sakuya wa osoku made benkyō shite ite. 
I was studying until late last night.

(女/woman) 
何時ごろ寝たの? 
Nan-ji goro neta no?
Around what time did you go to bed?

(男/man)      
3時半ごろ。
San-ji han goro.
Around three thirty.

N4 Level: Elementary

Reading

You should be able to…

  • …read and understand passages on familiar everyday topics written in basic vocabulary and Kanji. 

[Example Exercise]

パスポート ばんごう を おしえて ください。 
Pasupōto bangō o oshiete kudasai. 
Please tell me the passport number.

ここ に あなた の うちの じゅうしょ を かいて ください。
Koko ni anata no uchi no jūsho o kaite kudasai
Please write your home address here.

Listening

You should be able to…

  • …listen to and comprehend conversations encountered in daily life and generally follow their contents (provided that they’re spoken slowly).

[Example Exercise] 

Listen to the question and answer options, and choose the best answer.



仕事が終わって帰ります。何と言いますか。
Shigoto ga owatte kaerimasu. Nan to iimasu ka.
(You) finished work and are going home. What do you say?

おじゃまします。(Ojama shimasu.)
お大事に。(Odaiji ni.)
お先に失礼します。(Osaki ni shitsurei shimasu.)

Native English speakers, or those who do not have previous Kanji knowledge, need approximately 325-600 hours of studying for N5 and 575-1000 hours for N4 level.

JLPT assesses mainly reading and listening skills, so you may need to put in some extra effort to write and speak at such levels. 

How to Get to Elementary Level Faster

The most important thing for beginners to do is familiarize themselves with the Japanese language. You can get used to Japanese sentence structure, pronunciation, and basic vocabulary by doing simple exercises and repeating them until you feel comfortable with the content or concepts. With apps and online lessons, you can study anytime and anywhere.

Apps: 

Imiwa? and Japanese by Renzo Inc. are dictionary apps that allow you to look up any Japanese word you want to know. You can also use them to check the reading of Kanji, learn how to write Kanji, and see some usage examples.

The NHK Easy Japanese News app is a news app provided by Japan’s national broadcaster. It provides news articles written in simple sentences with 振り仮名 (furigana), or reading aid, for Kanji. 

Online Lessons: 

JapanesePod101.com offers informative yet fun audio and video lessons for absolute beginners. Together with grammar essentials, you’ll learn real and practical spoken Japanese. Our short and easy-to-understand lessons will keep you hooked from Level 1.

A Woman Reading a Book on a Bus

To learn a language, the output of knowledge is just as important as the input.

3. How Long Does it Take to Achieve Intermediate Level?

Depending on your goals, the next logical step is probably to learn even more and reach an intermediate level of fluency. So how long will it take you to learn Japanese to such an extent, and how can you get there? 

JLPT: N3 Level

Reading

You should be able to…

  • …read and understand written materials with specific contents concerning everyday topics.
  • …grasp summarized information such as newspaper headlines. 
  • …read the kind of writing encountered in everyday situations that may be a bit more difficult, understanding the main points (as long as alternative phrases are available to you if needed). 

[Example] 

山本さんはクラスの代表に選ばれた。 
Yamamoto-san wa kurasu no daihyō ni erabareta.
Mr./Ms. Yamamoto was selected as a representative of the class.

その会社は海外から輸入したバッグを日本で売っている。
Sono kaisha wa kaigai kara yunyū shita baggu o Nihon de utte iru
The company sells bags in Japan which they imported from abroad.

Listening

You should be able to…

  • …listen to and comprehend coherent everyday conversations spoken at near-natural speed, while following most of the spoken content and determining the relationships of the people speaking. 

[Example Exercise] 

Listen to the question and answer options, and choose the best answer.



試験に合格したので先生に伝えたいです。何と言いますか。
Shiken ni gōkaku shita node sensei ni tsutaetai desu. Nan to iimasu ka.
(You) passed the exam and you want to tell this to the teacher. What do you say?

1 – 今回はおめでとうございます。(Konkai wa omedetō gozaimasu.) – Congratulations this time.
2 – 今度、合格なさいました。(Kondo, gōkaku nasaimashita.) – This time (he) passed. [in respectful form for others]
3 – おかげさまで、試験に受かりました。(Okage-sama de, shiken ni ukarimashita.) – Thanks to you, I passed the exam.

For native English speakers, it’s estimated that around 950-1700 hours of studying is needed to achieve the N3 level. 

How to Get to Intermediate Level Faster

To reach the intermediate level, you need to increase your knowledge of more complex grammar concepts and memorize a variety of everyday vocabulary words and phrases. In addition, it’s time to get used to the natural and native speaking speed. In order to achieve that, the amount of output is just as important as the amount of input—in other words, you need to practice active listening as well as speaking. Textbooks and lessons can only teach you so much! 

Paper Materials: 

Master intermediate-level grammar from your textbooks, and consider reading light novels and magazines to increase your daily input of Japanese.

Apps: 

Wondering how to learn more Japanese vocabulary? Anki is an intelligent flashcard app that helps you memorize words more easily and increase your vocabulary. 

Once you know the basics of how to compose Japanese sentences and have a solid vocabulary base, it’s time to start practicing. Hello Talk is a language exchange app that you can download on iOS or Android devices. With this app, you can find Japanese online friends to talk to.

Audio/Video Materials: 

There’s a variety of audio/video sources for learning Japanese out there. YouTube and Netflix are easy options. Immerse yourself in Japanese-speaking environments every day—right from the comfort of your couch! 

Need some recommendations? Then check out the following blog posts on JapanesePod101.com: 

Online Lessons and Online Tutoring:  
In addition to online lessons, useful vocab lists, and insightful articles on various topics, JapanesePod101.com provides a one-on-one tutoring service called MyTeacher. This service allows you to interact with your own personal teacher, who can help you personalize your learning program based on your progress and provide you with valuable feedback.

Four Girls Sitting on the Stairs and Talking

4. How Long Does it Take to Achieve Advanced Level?

Are you looking to become completely fluent in Japanese? Then be prepared to dedicate a lot of your time and effort to the task. This is a long journey, and you might begin to feel like you’re not progressing anymore no matter how much time you spend studying. Your progress may be slower than it was reaching the previous two levels, but every small effort counts. You’ll surely advance if you keep at it and don’t give up! 

1. JLPT: N2 & N1 Level 

N2 Level: Pre-Advanced

Reading

You should be able to…

  • …read and comprehend clearly written content on various topics, including articles and commentaries in newspapers and magazines, as well as simple critiques. 
  • …read written materials on various topics, follow their narratives, and understand the writers’ intent. 

[Example Exercise]

(1) 

_____の言葉を漢字で書くとき、最もよいものを一つ選びなさい。 
_____ no kotoba o kanji de kaku toki, mottomo yoi mono o hitotsu erabinasai.
Choose the most appropriate one when the word _____ is written in Kanji.



今日は、ゴミのしゅうしゅう日ですか。 
Kyō wa, gomi no shūshūbi desu ka.
Is it garbage collection today?

1. 拾集、2. 収拾、3. 修集、4. 取集

(2) 

(  )に入るのに、最もよいものを一つ選びなさい。
(  ) ni hairu no ni, mottomo yoi mono o hitotsu erabinasai.
Choose the most appropriate one for (    ).



日本人の平均(  )は、男性が79歳、女性が86歳である。
Nihon-jin no heikin(  ) wa, dansei ga 79-sai, josei ga 86-sai de aru
The Japanese average(  )is male 79 years old and female 86 years old.

1. 生命、2. 寿命、3. 人生、4. 一生
seimei        jumyō   jinsei       isshō

Listening

You should be able to…

  • …understand orally presented materials (coherent conversations, news reports, etc.) on a variety of topics and in different settings, spoken at nearly natural speed. 
  • …follow the main ideas and content of such materials. 
  • …understand the relationships of the people involved. 

[Example Exercise] 

Listen to the sentence and choose the best reply.



あの、今、お時間よろしいでしょうか。
Ano, ima, o-jikan yoroshii deshō ka.
Excuse me, do you have time now? [Can I talk to you?]

1 – えっと、4時5分ですよ。(Etto, yo-ji go-fun desu yo.) – Well, it’s 4:05.
2 – あいにく私も時計がなくて。(Ainiku watashi mo tokei ga nakute.) – Unfortunately, I don’t have a watch either.
3 – 10分くらいなら。(Juppun kurai nara.) – [Yes, I have] about ten minutes.

N1 Level: Advanced

Reading 

You should be able to…

  • …read texts featuring complex logic or abstract ideas on a variety of topics (newspaper editorials, critiques, etc.) and comprehend their structure and content. 
  • …read texts featuring profound content on various topics, follow their narratives, and understand the writers’ intent. 

[Example Exercise] 

(1) 

_____の言葉の読み方として、最もよいものを一つ選びなさい。 
_____ no kotoba o yomikata to shite, mottomo yoi mono o hitotsu erabinasai.
Choose the most appropriate reading for the word_____.



彼は今、新薬の研究開発に挑んでいる。 
Kare wa ima, shin’yaku no kenkyū kaihatsu ni _____iru.
He is now challenging the research and development of new drugs.

1. はげんで、2. のぞんで、3. からんで、4. いどんで

(2) 

(  )に入るのに、最もよいものを一つ選びなさい。
(  ) ni hairu no ni, mottomo yoi mono o hitotsu erabinasai.
Choose the most appropriate one for (    ).



私の主張は単なる(  )ではなく、確たる証拠に基づいている。
Watashi no shuchō wa tan naru(  )de wa naku, kakutaru shōko ni motozuite iru. 
My claim is based on solid evidence, not just (       ).

1. 模索、2. 思索、3. 推測、4. 推移
mosaku     shisaku     suisoku     suii 

Listening

You should be able to…

  • …comprehend spoken content in the form of conversations, news reports, and lectures in various contexts, when spoken at natural speed.
  • …follow the ideas and understand the implicit meaning of such spoken content. 
  • …understand important details of such spoken content, including the relationships of those involved, logical structures, and essential points. 

[Example Exercise]

Listen to the sentence and choose the best reply.



今日は、お客さんからの苦情が多くて仕事にならなかったよ。
Kyō wa, o-kyaku-san kara no kujō ga ōkute shigoto ni naranakatta yo.
I couldn’t work much today because there were many complaints from customers.

1 – いい仕事、できて良かったね。(Ii shigoto, dekite yokatta ne.) – That’s good you have done a great job.
2 – 仕事、なくて大変だったね。(Shigoto, nakute taihen datta ne.) – It must have been tough without work.
3 – お疲れ様、ゆっくり休んで。(Otsukare-sama, yukkuri yasunde.) – You must be tired (well done), rest well.

It’s estimated that it takes about 1600-2800 hours to achieve N2 and 3000-4800 hours to achieve N1. However, if you also want to master the Japanese Kanji of these levels, you’ll probably need to put in even more hours. 

How to Get to Advanced Level Faster

At this point, you probably don’t have any issues with daily Japanese conversations. You just need to focus on expanding your high-level vocabulary, getting a good working knowledge of official and formal language (including different honorifics), and picking up some spoken colloquial language that’s not often found in ordinary textbooks or written documents. Below are a few ways you can speed up your learning process.

Paper Materials: 

You can gain exposure to a wider range of vocabulary (including official words and technical terms) by reading more advanced paper materials. These include Japanese newspapers, magazines, and books on topics that interest you (business, biographies, IT, health, etc.). 

Apps: 

If you can, utilize all of the dictionary apps we mentioned earlier; this will surely take you to the next level. Kanji Senpai is another useful app that you can use to brush up on your Kanji skills by practicing and writing characters. Using news apps for daily reading is another effective way to learn official language. 

Audio/Video Materials: 

When using audio/video materials, try to focus on quality. Watching Japanese anime is fun and interesting, but it won’t take you to an advanced level. If you get bored of watching serious news channels and want something fun, you can choose to watch Japanese movies/TV shows in more complex genres (mystery, science fiction, crime thriller, techno thriller, etc.).

Online Lessons / Online Tutoring:

JapanesePod101.com offers plenty of more advanced online lessons in the form of written, audio, and video content. Our materials are designed to help you learn practical and natural Japanese in a fun and effective way. As an intermediate or advanced learner, you’ll greatly benefit from our one-on-one tutoring service MyTeacher; you’ll need the guidance and corrections of a native speaker in order to advance more quickly.

A Japanese Man Reading a Newspaper by a Large Window

Reading newspapers will help you expand your vocabulary and reach an advanced level of Japanese.

Conclusion

In this article, we talked about how long it takes to learn Japanese by level and discussed a number of influencing factors. As you can see, the amount of time it takes you to learn the language has a lot to do with what your goals are: becoming a fluent speaker and listener will be much easier than mastering the Japanese reading and writing system. 

If you would like to explore the Japanese language further, stay with JapanesePod101.com for the fastest and easiest way to fluency. With our variety of rich, free lessons and tools, your Japanese language skills will improve immensely. 

Don’t forget that you’re not alone. When you use our MyTeacher service, your own teacher can always help you practice through personalized activities and assignments. You can also reach out to native speakers and your fellow Japanese learners through the JapanesePod101 forum

Before you go, let us know in the comments if you feel ready to start learning Japanese. If not, we’d love to hear your questions or concerns, and we’ll be glad to help any way we can. 
Now, it’s time to get started with JapanesePod101.com!

Three Japanese Coworkers Talking

Being able to use appropriate business-level Japanese proves that you’ve achieved the advanced level.

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Japanese Proverbs – Gain Japanese Wisdom and Insight

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Based on experience and timeless common sense, proverbs tell a perceived truth, often metaphorically, in a short sentence. Proverbs offer us wisdom and advice, and they’re extremely popular. You can find them quoted in articles, used in daily conversations, and even showcased on people’s wall decor. 

Proverbs often reflect the cultures from which they originate, and Japanese proverbs—called 諺 / ことわざ (Kotowaza)—are no exception. Some Japanese proverbs are very unique and funny, and there are some that are only valued and understood in Japan due to the ideas and values they reference. By learning Japanese proverbs, you’ll not only strengthen your language learning muscles, but also deepen your understanding of Japanese culture and values.

In this article, we’ll introduce thirty popular Japanese proverbs that you’ll be glad to know. Learn Japanese and get inspired here at JapanesePod101.com!

    → By the way, you may also be interested in learning about the Essential Idioms That Will Make You Sound Like a Native Speaker and Japanese Slang Nouns for Conversation.

      The Jizō Statues in Japan

      Japanese proverbs are unique expressions that give timeless wisdom and insight.

      Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese Table of Contents
      1. Life and Society
      2. Relationships
      3. Studying / Learning / Gaining Wisdom
      4. Behaviors / Feelings
      5. A Few More Proverbs For You…
      6. How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

      1. Life and Society

      These Japanese proverbs about life teach us lessons and truths to keep in mind as we go about our daily lives. 

      Note: You may notice that animals often appear in Japanese proverbs.

      1. 猿も木から落ちる (Saru mo ki kara ochiru)

      • Literal Translation: Even monkeys fall from trees.

      • Meaning: Nobody is perfect and anyone can make a mistake, even in what they’re good at.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Even Homer sometimes nods.

      • Example: 

        [when someone made a mistake]

        「猿も木から落ちる」と言うし、気にすることないよ!
        “Saru mo ki kara ochiru” to iu shi, ki ni suru koto nai yo!
        The proverb says “Even monkeys fall from trees,” so don’t worry about it!

      2. 二兎を追う者は一兎をも得ず (Ni-to o ō mono wa itto o mo ezu)

      • Literal Translation: Those who chase after two rabbits will not even catch one.

      • Meaning: If you’re greedy and try to get/do two things at once, you will fail at both.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: If you run after two hares, you will catch neither.

      • Example: 

        「二兎を追う者は一兎をも得ず」だよ。一つずつ着実にやり遂げよう!
        “Ni-to o ō mono wa itto o mo ezu” da yo. Hitotsu zutsu chakujitsu ni yaritogeyō!
        It says, “Those who chase after two rabbits will not even catch one.” Let’s steadily accomplish one thing at a time!

      3. 人のふり見てわがふり直せ (Hito no furi mite waga furi naose)

      • Literal Translation: Watch others’ behavior and correct your own behavior. 

      • Meaning: If you see good or bad behavior in others, you can improve your own behavior based on what you observe. 

      • Equivalent English Proverb: One man’s fault is another’s lesson.

      • Example: 

        友達の言動を批判する暇があったら、「人のふり見てわがふり直せ」だよ。
        Tomodachi no gendō o hihan suru hima ga attara, “hito no furi mite waga furi naose” da yo.
        If you have time to criticize the behavior of your friend, watch his behavior and correct your own behavior.

      4. 悪銭身につかず (Akusen mi ni tsukazu)

      • Literal Translation: Dirty money doesn’t stay with a person for long.

      • Meaning: Money gained through wrongful means such as stealing or gambling will be wasted and quickly disappear.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Easy come, easy go.

      • Example: 

        「悪銭身につかず」というように、賭け事で大金を当ててもお金持ちにはなれないよ。
        “Akusen mi ni tsukazu” to iu yō ni, kakegoto de taikin o atete mo o-kanemochi ni wa narenai yo.
        As it says, “Dirty money doesn’t stay with a person for long.” You won’t become rich even if you win a jackpot in gambling.

      5. 出る杭は打たれる (Deru kui wa utareru)

      • Literal Translation: The stake that sticks out gets hammered down.

      • Meaning: Being different or exceptional will subject you to criticism; the outstanding get ousted.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Envy is the companion of honor.

      • Example: 

        「出る杭は打たれる」と言うけど、出過ぎた杭は打たれない。批判を気にしないでね!
        “Deru kui wa utareru” to iu kedo, desugita kui wa utarenai. Hihan o ki ni shinaide ne!
        It says, “The stake that sticks out gets hammered down,” but the one sticking too far out doesn’t. Never mind criticisms!

      Someone Hammering a Nail into Wood

      出る杭は打たれる (Deru kui wa utareru) – “The stake that sticks out gets hammered down.”


      6. 苦あれば楽あり (Ku areba raku ari)

      • Literal Translation: There are hardships and also there are pleasures.

      • Meaning: After the hard times in life, we can look forward to the fun things. Also, hard work is always rewarded and you’ll feel at ease afterward.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: No pain, no gain. / No cross, no crown. / No rain, no rainbow.

      • Example: 

        人生、「苦あれば楽あり」! 若いうちは苦労をたくさんした方がいい。
        Jinsei, “ku areba raku ari”! Wakai uchi wa kurō o takusan shita hō ga ii.
        Life is “no pain, no gain”! You should work hard a lot when you are young.

      7. 口は災いの元 (Kuchi wa wazawai no moto)

      • Literal Translation: Mouth is a source of disaster.

      • Meaning: Your careless remarks will invite troubles for yourself, so watch your mouth.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Out of the mouth comes evil. / The tongue is the root of calamities.

      • Example:

        人の悪口を言うと良いことないよ。「口は災いの元」だよ!
        Hito no waruguchi o iu to ii koto nai yo. “Kuchi wa wazawai no moto” da yo.
        There’s nothing good about talking ill of someone. It says, “Out of the mouth comes evil!”

      A Man Whispering a Rumor to a Woman

      口は災いの元 (Kuchi wa wazawai no moto) – “Out of the mouth comes evil.”

      2. Relationships

      Wherever you are in the world, relationships are an essential aspect of everyday life. The following Japanese proverbs about relationships lend us some practical wisdom on the topic! 

      8. 一期一会 (Ichigo ichie)

      • Literal Translation: One lifetime, one meeting.

      • Meaning: This proverb refers to a once-in-a-lifetime meeting/opportunity. You should cherish each moment and do your best, as though it were the only chance you would have to do so in your lifetime. This word originates from the traditional Japanese tea ceremony called 茶道 (Sadō), or “the Way of Tea.” It expresses the spirit of Sadō, according to which all participants should be sincere and do their best, as though each tea ceremony were a once-in-a-lifetime event. 

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Live every day as though it were your last.

      • Example: 

        旅先での素敵な出会いは、まさに「一期一会」だ。
        Tabisaki de no suteki na deai wa, masa ni “ichigo ichie” da.
        A wonderful encounter on a trip is truly a “once-in-a-lifetime meeting.”

      9. 犬猿の仲 (Ken’en no naka)

      • Literal Translation: A relationship of dogs and monkeys.

      • Meaning: This phrase refers to a relationship of mutual hatred, or two people who absolutely despise and hate each other.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Fight like cats and dogs.

      • Example: 

        ミカとさゆりは「犬猿の仲」です。
        Mika to Sayuri wa “ken’en no naka” desu.
        Mika and Sayuri have a relationship of mutual hatred.

      10. 蛙の子は蛙 (Kaeru no ko wa kaeru)

      • Literal Translation: The child of a frog is a frog.

      • Meaning: The nature and ability of a child resembles that of his or her parents. The child of an ordinary person is nothing but an ordinary person. A frog is a tadpole when it’s a child, and thus doesn’t look like its parents, but it becomes a frog like its parents in the end.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Like father, like son. / Nits will be lice.

      • Example: 

        「蛙の子は蛙」と言うように、私の息子も数学が苦手です。
        “Kaeru no ko wa kaeru” to iu yō ni, watashi no musuko mo sūgaku ga nigate desu.
        “Kaeru no ko wa kaeru” to iu yō ni, watashi no musuko mo sūgaku ga nigate desu.

      11. 同じ釜の飯を食う(Onaji kama no meshi o kū)

      • Literal Translation: Eat rice/food out of the same pot.

      • Meaning: This saying refers to a very close friendship/relationship, especially those who spend a lot of time together each day.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Two peas in a pod.

      • Example: 

        たかしとケンタは「同じ釜の飯を食った」仲だ。
        Takashi to Kenta wa “onaji kama no meshi o kutta” naka da.
        Takashi and Kenta have a very close friendship.

      12. 金の切れ目が縁の切れ目 (Kane no kireme ga en no kireme)

      • Literal Translation: The end of money is the end of relationship.

      • Meaning: When the money runs out, the relationship also ends. In other words, relationships dependent upon wealth will end when the money does.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: The end of money is the end of love. / When poverty comes in at the door, love flies out the window.

      • Example: 

        「金の切れ目が縁の切れ目」と言うし、友達にお金を貸さない方がいいですよ。
        “Kane no kireme ga en no kireme” to iu shi, tomodachi ni o-kane o kasanai hō ga ii desu yo.
        It says, “the end of money is the end of relationship,” so you shouldn’t lend money to your friends.

      Someone Serving Up Rice with a Wooden Spoon

      同じ釜の飯を食う (Onaji kama no meshi o kū) – “to eat out of the same pot”

      3. Studying / Learning / Gaining Wisdom

      Continuing to accumulate wisdom is key to long-term success and happiness. Here are a few Japanese proverbs on success and the necessity of learning. 

      13. 初心忘るべからず (Shoshin wasuru bekarazu)

      • Literal Translation: Should not forget our original intention.

      • Meaning: We should never forget the beginner’s spirit of when we first started learning or doing something. Don’t be arrogant or underestimate things, even if you’ve mastered it. 

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Don’t forget where you came from. / Don’t let success get to your head. 

      • Example: 

        一度成功しても、「初心忘るべからず」で、気を抜かないように。
        Ichi-do seikō shite mo, “shoshin wasuru bekarazu” de, ki o nukanai yō ni.
        As it says “don’t forget beginner’s spirit,” don’t lose focus even if you once succeeded.

      14. 千里の道も一歩から (Sen-ri no michi mo ippo kara)

      • Literal Translation: A thousand Ri begins with a single step on the road.

      • Meaning: You achieve big things by taking them one step at a time, slow and steady. 千里 (sen-ri) literally means “thousand 里 (Ri),” which is the old Japanese measurement unit for distance (1 Ri is about 4 km). It’s also used to indicate a far distance. 

      • Equivalent English Proverb: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

      • Example: 

        語学の習得は簡単ではないけれど、「千里の道も一歩から」。小さな積み重ねが大切です。
        Gogaku no shūtoku wa kantan de wa nai keredo, “sen-ri no michi mo ippo kara”. Chiisana tsumikasane ga taisetsu desu.
        Mastering a language is not easy, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The accumulation of small steps is important.

      15. 雨降って地固まる (Ame futte ji katamaru)

      • Literal Translation: After the rain, the earth hardens.

      • Meaning: Just as ground that gets rained on hardens later, so will our troubles result in good situations over time. 

      • Equivalent English Proverb: After a storm comes the calm. / Good comes out of evil. / Adversity strengthens the foundations.

      • Example: 

        「雨降って地固まる」と言うように、二人は大喧嘩をした後、かえって仲良しになった。
        “Ame futte ji katamaru” to iu yō ni, futari wa ōgenka o shita ato, kaette nakayoshi ni natta.
        As it says “after the rain, the earth hardens,” after they had a big argument, they became closer friends than before.

      16. チリも積もれば山となる (Chiri mo tsumoreba yama to naru)

      • Literal Translation: When dust accumulates, it becomes a mountain.

      • Meaning: Even something as small as dust particles can grow to be as large as a mountain when piled up. This proverb means that we shouldn’t neglect the little things, as they will make a big difference later.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Many a little makes a mickle. / A penny saved is a penny earned. / Little strokes fell great oaks. 

      • Example: 

        地道な基礎練習が大切です。「チリも積もれば山となる」ですよ。
        Jimichi na kiso renshū ga taisetsu desu. “Chiri mo tsumoreba yama to naru” desu yo.
        Steady and basic practice is important. It says, “Many a little makes a mickle.”

      17. 三人寄れば文殊の知恵 (San-nin yoreba monju no chie)

      • Literal Translation: When three people gather, get the wisdom of Manjushri.

      • Meaning: Even ordinary people can come up with good ideas when brainstorming with others. It’s better to have multiple brains working on something than only one. Manjushri, or 文殊 もんじゅ (monju), is one of the Bodhisattva that’s on the path toward Buddhahood.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Two heads are better than one.

      • Example: 

        「三人寄れば文殊の知恵」!一人で悩むより周りの人に相談したほうがいいよ。
        Sannin yoreba monju no chie! Hitori de nayamu yori mawari no hito ni soudan shita hōga iiyo.
        Two heads are better than one! Rather than worrying alone, you should talk to people around you and ask for advice.

      18. 長所は短所 (Chōsho wa tansho)

      • Literal Translation: Strength is weakness.

      • Meaning: One’s strength can also be his own weakness, depending on the context and on one’s point of view. If you rely too much on your strength, it may become a cause of failure, so be careful.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: One’s strength is his weakness. / Every medal has two sides.

      • Example: 

        自信があるのは良いことですが、人の意見を聞くことも大事ですよ。「長所は短所」です。
        Jishin ga aru no wa yoi koto desu ga, hito no iken o kiku koto mo daiji desu yo. “Chōsho wa tansho” desu.
        It’s good to have confidence in yourself, but listening to others is also important. It says, “One’s strength is his weakness.”

      A Road with Arrows Pointing Forward

      千里の道も一歩から (Sen-ri no michi mo ippo kara) – “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

      4. Behaviors / Feelings

      It should come as no surprise that there are plenty of Japanese sayings on behaviors and feelings, since they play a large role in a person’s identity—and in how we view them. Here are some of the most common ones. 

      19. 耳にたこができる (Mimi ni tako ga dekiru)

      • Literal Translation: Grow calluses on ear.

      • Meaning: This saying refers to someone who’s fed up with hearing the same thing over and over again. They’re so annoyed that they form “calluses” on their ears to stop hearing—just like how calluses grow as a response to repeated friction and pressure. 

      • Additional Note: たこ (Tako) is pronounced the same way as 蛸 (Tako), meaning “octopus” in Japanese, but it is a homonym in this case. To avoid confusion, one can use the Kanji characters 胼胝 (Tako), meaning “callus,” but the Kanji version is difficult and not commonly used. Instead, the word is usually written in either Hiragana or Katakana.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Talk one’s ear off.

      • Example: 

        その話もう100回は聞いたよ。「耳にたこができる」!
        Sono hanashi mō hyakkai wa kiita yo. “Mimi ni tako ga dekiru”!
        I’ve heard that story 100 times already. Calluses are growing in my ear!

      20. 馬の耳に念仏 (Uma no mimi ni nenbutsu)

      • Literal Translation: Buddhist invocation into horse’s ears.

      • Meaning: If you were to tell a horse a Buddhist invocation, it would not understand or appreciate it. Likewise, you could give someone the best advice or opinion about something, but it’s in vain if the other person doesn’t want to hear it. 

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Preaching to the deaf.

      • Example: 

        いくらあなたが親身になって助言しても、彼には「馬の耳に念仏」だよ!
        Ikura anata ga shinmi ni natte jogen shite mo, kare ni wa “uma no mimi ni nenbutsu” da yo!
        No matter how much thoughtful advice you give, it’s like preaching to the deaf!

      21. 灯台下暗し (Tōdai moto kurashi)

      • Literal Translation: It is dark under the candle stand.

      • Meaning: We tend not to notice things that are familiar to us, and we often overlook things that lie near at hand.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: It is darkest under the lamp post. / It’s hard to see what is under your nose.

      • Example: 

        ペンを探していたけど、胸のポケットに入っていた!「灯台下暗し」だね。
        Pen o sagashite ita kedo, mune no poketto ni haitte ita! “Tōdai moto kurashi” da ne.
        I was looking for a pen, but it was in my chest pocket! It’s hard to see what is under your nose.

      22. 豚に真珠 (Buta ni shinju)

      • Literal Translation: Pearls to pigs.

      • Meaning: It’s meaningless and useless to give something worthwhile to someone who doesn’t know its value.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Cast pearls before swine.

      • Example: 

        赤ちゃんに$500のブランドの洋服を着せるのは、私は「豚に真珠」だと思う。
        Akachan ni $500 no burando no yōfuku o kiseru no wa, watashi wa “buta ni shinju” da to omō.
        I think it’s like casting pearls before swine to dress a baby in $500 luxury brand clothes.

      23. 因果応報 (Inga ōhō)

      • Literal Translation: Cause brings result.

      • Meaning: Bad actions bring bad results (and vice-versa). This proverb originally comes from the Buddhist concept that those who do good deeds receive good rewards in return, and those who do bad deeds will have retributive justice.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: What goes around comes around.

      • Example: 

        彼は昔ひどいイジメっ子だったので、今は困った時に助けてくれる本当の友達がいない。「因果応報」だね。
        Kare wa mukashi hidoi ijimekko datta node, ima wa komatta toki ni tasukete kureru hontō no tomodachi ga inai. “Inga ōhō” da ne.
        He does not have real friends now to help when he’s in trouble, because he was a terrible bully in the past. It is “what goes around comes around.”

      24. 開いた口が塞がらない (Aita kuchi ga fusagaranai)

      • Literal Translation: Open mouth does not close.

      • Meaning: You might use this phrase when someone’s words or behavior are appalling and beyond understanding, and you’re lost for words. 

      • Equivalent English Saying: To be at a loss for words

      • Example: 

        またギャンブルのためにお金借りたいの?「開いた口が塞がらない」よ!
        Mata gyanburu no tame ni o-kane karitai no? “Aita kuchi ga fusagaranai” yo!
        You want to borrow money for gambling again? I’m appalled and lost for words!

      A Candle Glowing in the Darkness

      灯台下暗し (Tōdai moto kurashi) – “It is dark under the lamp post.” / “It’s hard to see what is under your nose.”

      5. A Few More Proverbs For You…

      To conclude our Japanese proverbs list, here are just a few more proverbs you may enjoy. 

      25. どんぐりの背比べ (Donguri no sei kurabe)

      • Literal Translation: Height comparison among acorns.

      • Meaning: This phrase is used in situations where everything or everyone seems about the same, and there’s no one who has outstanding strength, ability, or skill.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Neither barrel the better herring. / Much of a muchness.

      • Example: 

        今回の美人コンテストの応募者は全員普通で、勝者を選べません。「どんぐりの背比べ」です。
        Konkai no bijin kontesuto no ōbosha wa zen’in futsū de, shōsha o erabemasen. “Donguri no sei kurabe” desu.
        All the applicants for this beauty contest are ordinary and we cannot choose the winner. They are all much of a muchness.

      26. 蛇足 (Dasoku)

      • Literal Translation: Legs of a snake.

      • Meaning: Something that is unnecessary, redundant, and superfluous.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Put a fifth wheel to the coach/Gilding the lily.
      • Example: 

        お祝いの席であんなコメントは「蛇足」でした。
        O-iwai no seki de anna komento wa “dasoku” deshita.
        Such a comment was unnecessary on the occasion of celebration.

      27. 雲泥の差 (Undei no sa)

      • Literal Translation: Difference between clouds and mud.

      • Meaning: This refers to a wide difference. Because clouds represent heaven and mud is the ground, this phrase alludes to a big gap like that between heaven and earth.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: As different as night and day. 

      • Example: 

        都市部と田舎では生活費に「雲泥の差」があります。
        Toshibu to inaka de wa seikatsuhi ni “undei no sa” ga arimasu.
        There is a huge difference in living costs between urban and rural areas.

      28. 青天の霹靂 (Seiten no hekireki)

      • Literal Translation: Sudden thunder in the blue sky.

      • Meaning: The sudden occurrence of unexpected events or changes.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: A bolt out of the blue.

      • Example: 

        あの有名俳優が突然逮捕されたのは、青天の霹靂だ。
        Ano yūmei haiyū ga totsuzen taiho sareta no wa, “seiten no hekireki” da.
        It’s a bolt out of the blue that that famous actor got suddenly arrested.

      A Thunderstorm Appearing Over a Green Field

      青天の霹靂 (Seiten no hekireki) “a bolt out of the blue”

      29. 後の祭り (Ato no matsuri)

      • Literal Translation: After the festival.

      • Meaning: This phrase means that someone has missed their chance or an event has occurred too late. After the festival is over, it’s meaningless to go to see the festival. 

      • Additional Note: A traditional Japanese 祭り (matsuri), or “festival,” usually has main events such as 神輿担ぎ (Mikoshi katsugi), which is “carrying a portable Shinto shrine,” 山車 (dashi), or “floats” parade, and group dances. There’s also a variety of food stalls and entertainment booths around the area.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: A day after the fair. / After death, the doctor.

      • Example: 

        テストが終わった後に勉強を始めても、「後の祭り」です。
        Tesuto ga owatta ato ni benkyō o hajimete mo, “ato no matsuri” desu.
        It’s too late to start studying after the test is over.

      30. 縁の下の力持ち (En no shita no chikaramochi)

      • Literal Translation: Powerful man under the edge.

      • Meaning: A person who does a thankless task and makes an effort to support others in ways that are not visible to others.

      • Additional Notes: The 縁 えん (en) is the long wooden porch in traditional Japanese-style houses. Though unseen, there are many foundation pillars under the en that hold up the porch.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Unsung hero.

      • Example: 

        この社会はたくさんの縁の下の力持ちがいるおかげで成り立っています。
        Kono shakai wa takusan no en no shita no chikaramochi ga iru okagede naritatte imasu.
        This society is made possible by the existence of many unsung heroes.

      A Woman Is Standing on the 縁 (en) or 縁側 (engawa), Meaning

      To learn more about Japanese proverbs and quotes, please also check out our article Japanese Quotes That Enrich Your Life.

      6. How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

      In this article, we introduced thirty popular Japanese proverbs and idioms in various categories. I hope you enjoyed today’s topic, gained some useful insight from these Japanese words of wisdom, and deepened your understanding of Japanese culture! 

      Which of these Japanese proverbs is your favorite, and why? And what are some common proverbs in your language? We look forward to hearing from you! 

      If you would like to learn more about the Japanese language, you’ll find even more helpful content on JapanesePod101.com. We provide a variety of free lessons to help you improve your Japanese language skills. To start, why not study these inspiring Japanese quotes and motivational phrases for language learning?

      And there’s so much more! 

      By subscribing for a Premium PLUS membership, you’ll also gain access to MyTeacher. This service gives you a private teacher who will help you practice pronunciation and give you personalized feedback and advice.

      Learn Japanese in the fastest, easiest, and most effective way possible with JapanesePod101.com!

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Tokyo Travel Guide: See Japan’s Incredible Capital City!

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Have you ever been to Tokyo or thought about visiting? Japan is a very unique and fascinating country, and you can never get bored in Tokyo, one of the biggest capital cities in the world!

Tokyo has a range of sights and experiences for travelers to take in: traditional and cutting-edge modern culture, a wide variety of food choices, shopping, entertainment, nightlife, and even nature and outdoor activities. With so many reasons to visit Tokyo, it’s worth making the trip at least once in a lifetime to enjoy what this wonderful city has to offer.

In this Tokyo travel guide, we’ll help you plan a visit to Tokyo by introducing you to some of the best locations in the city. We will also provide you with basic city and travel information, as well as a list of useful Japanese travel phrases. Let’s get you all ready for your Tokyo adventure!

Central Tokyo Has a Range of Skyscraper Buildings.

Central Tokyo has a range of skyscraper buildings.


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Table of Contents
  1. Basic Information for Traveling
  2. Must-See Places for a 1-3 Day Trip
  3. Highly Recommended Places for a 4-7 Day Trip (or Longer)
  4. Nature and Outdoor Activities in Tokyo
  5. Japanese Survival Phrases for Travelers
  6. How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

1. Basic Information for Traveling

While international travel can be fun, exciting, and relaxing, we know that it can also be a stressful experience. To give you a hand, we’ve compiled some of the most useful information about Tokyo, including when and how to visit for the best experience. 

City of Tokyo

Facts

Tokyo is one of the biggest cities in the world, with a population of approximately 14 million (2020) and a total land area of 2,194 km². To give you an idea, this is larger than London (approx. 9.3 million & 1,572 km²), New York (approx. 19 million & 1,213 km²), and Paris (approx. 2.3 million & 105km²).

History

The history of modern-day Tokyo can be traced back to the Edo period, some 400 years ago. The Tokugawa Shogunate was established by a Shōgun (Japanese General) named 徳川家康 (Tokugawa Ieyasu) in 1603. Over time, the city grew to become the capital of Japan and has flourished to this day. Prior to this, 京都 (Kyoto) was Japan’s capital for more than a thousand years.

People and Language

Being a huge capital city, Tokyo serves as the center of business, culture, and fashion. This draws many Japanese people from other prefectures to study and work here. 

Although Japanese is the main language used here, there are many people in Tokyo who can communicate in English, especially among the younger generations. English is also used at public transportation facilities and large commercial buildings, as well as in some restaurants (especially those in central areas and touristic places).

Food and Accomodation

In this huge city of Tokyo, you can find food and accommodation to suit any budget. Whether you’re a backpacker or a posh traveler who seeks only the finest lodging and dining, Tokyo has what you need. 

There’s a variety of restaurants, from those offering one-coin meals (¥500 Yen coin) to high-end Michelin-starred restaurants. You can also find a wide diversity of cuisines here: Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian, French, American, Greek, Turkish, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, and the list goes on. Believe it or not, Tokyo is the world’s most Michelin-starred city, with 226 restaurants receiving stars for the thirteenth consecutive year, according to the Michelin Guide Tokyo 2020!

居酒屋 (Izakaya)-style bars are also popular among locals and they make for a great experience for those visiting the city. You’ll get to taste variations of Japanese tapas and Japanese sake for a relatively low price.

Likewise, you can find any type of accommodation in Tokyo, from hostels/guest houses to five-star luxury hotels. 

To learn more about Japanese food, please check out our Guide to the Best Japanese Foods.

The Best Time to Visit Tokyo

The two best seasons to visit are spring and cherry blossom season, but you can enjoy traveling in Japan any time of year. Do keep in mind that the middle of summer can be very hot and winter can be a bit too cold to get around comfortably. But with the right preparation, the weather won’t prevent you from enjoying the city! 

Each season has its own positive features and benefits. Following are the key points of each season.

  • Spring (March, April, May)

    The climate starts to warm up in March, and April is the best time to view beautiful full-bloom cherry blossoms. The month of May also has nice and comfortable weather, and it’s the final month of mild temperatures before it gets really hot in the summer.
  • Summer (June, July, August)

    The rainy season, or 梅雨 (Tsuyu), starts in June and lasts until the beginning of July. There are many rainy days during this time, which makes it less pleasant to spend time outdoors. Although there are a lot of indoor facilities and activities you can enjoy in Tokyo, it’s recommended to avoid traveling during this season.

    After Tsuyu is over, full-blown summer arrives and the temperature increases to as high as 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). The heat usually continues until the middle of September.

    Because the summer season is so hot and humid, it’s a bit tiring to get around outdoors. But don’t worry too much, as Japanese trains and subways have cool air conditioning!
  • Autumn (September, October, November)

    Autumn is a nice season to visit Tokyo as the temperature has cooled down but is not yet cold. In addition, there is far less rainy weather during this season. The Japanese consider autumn to be 食欲の秋, or a “season of good appetite,” and you can enjoy a lot of good foods made with seasonal ingredients.

    In November, it’s very beautiful to see the leaves changing colors on the mountains with a gradation of yellow, orange, and red. It’s worth visiting mountains in the outskirts of Tokyo, which are less than two hours from the center.
  • Winter (December, January, February)

    If you plan to visit Tokyo during winter, keep in mind that it gets very cold, with temperatures often plummeting below freezing; sometimes it even snows in January and February. However, as long as you wear warm clothes, it’s still manageable. It’s a good season to enjoy 温泉 (Onsen), or “hot springs,” and a variety of 鍋料理 /鍋物 (Nabemono), or “hot pot dishes.”

    Depending on how much time you have, you can also extend your Tokyo trip to include ski resorts so you can enjoy winter sports activities.

How to Get Around

Due to the massive size of Tokyo, trains are the most useful means of transportation. The train systems connect the different smaller cities within Tokyo, including so-called Central Tokyo with its 23 wards (each of which can be broken down into smaller cities and areas, as well). 

First-time visitors may find the train system in Tokyo a bit complicated at first. There are many lines for overground trains, which include the public JR (Japan Railway) service and the private Odakyu Line, Seibu Line, and Keiō Line services. There are also two subway systems in central Tokyo: Tokyo Metro and the Toei Subway (which literally means, “metropolis managed subway”). 

While you can buy tickets each time you need to board, it’s recommended to get one of the smart cards (Suica or Pasmo). These are rechargeable contactless cards which you can use to pay fare; they can also be used as electronic money to buy things at kiosks and convenience stores, for example. They’re available at train/subway stations. 

If you plan to visit other regions and cities outside of Tokyo (such as Kyoto, Osaka, or Hiroshima) by using 新幹線 (Shinkansen), or the super express train, buy the Japan Rail Pass in advance. This will allow you to use transportation at a cheaper price. 

Taxis are available anywhere in the central part of Tokyo, but fare can be expensive. Also, the doors of Japanese taxis open automatically, so don’t be surprised!

Other Travel Tips

  • What to Bring

    It’s recommended to have some Japanese Yen in cash while you’re traveling in Japan. Although there are many places where credit cards and Smart Pay are available, cash transactions are still big in Japan, especially at local stores and restaurants.

    You should also buy a SIM card so you can use the internet on your phone at the airport. Availability of free public wifi is still limited even in Tokyo, although there’s free wifi at most of the JR and Subway stations as well as in the main touristic areas. Internet access is the most useful thing for traveling!

    In case of an unexpected rainy day, a foldable umbrella would be useful; you can buy one at any convenience store in Japan. As a matter of fact, you can find almost anything you could need in Japan—especially in Tokyo—so don’t worry too much!
  • Emergency

    In case of an emergency, here are some important phone numbers you can call for free:

    110: 警察 (Keisatsu) – “Police”
    119: 救急車 (Kyūkyūsha) – “Ambulance”
    119: 消防 (Shōbō) “Fire Fighting”

    You should also find the telephone number and location for an embassy of your country in advance; this will be useful in case you lose your passport or run into a similar issue.

2. Must-See Places for a 1-3 Day Trip

Just a couple of days isn’t enough to experience what Tokyo has to offer, but if you plan to stay in other regions and spare a few days in Tokyo, the following cities and areas are not to be missed!

新宿 (Shinjuku)

Shinjuku is the busiest city in Tokyo. The Shinjuku Station is the hub of many extended lines that connect to various regions, including the surrounding prefectures.

Shinjuku itself is a big city which can be divided into different areas, each with its own unique aspects.  

From the center of the station, there are a few key places to visit, outlined below. Note that it’s very easy to get lost around the Shinjuku Station because there are hundreds of exits and paths, both underground and aboveground. Make sure you have Google Maps with you.

  • West (West Exit) 

    After passing the Izakaya bars close to the station, you’ll find a range of skyscraper buildings, most of which are offices and luxury hotels. One of the tallest buildings is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Its observatory on the 45th floor (202m from the ground) is very famous and it’s popular among tourists as well as locals. What’s even more amazing is that it’s free of charge to visit!

    Drinking a cocktail at the “Peak Bar” of Park Hyatt Tokyo on the 41st floor will take you to the world of the movie Lost in Translation.
  • Southeast & East (South Exit and Central East Exit) 

    There are thousands of dining bars and restaurants here, but this area is especially a paradise for shopping-lovers! There are many department stores and large shopping buildings, starting from above the station itself. In addition to clothing and fashion shops, there are also mega electronic stores that are not to be missed. Even if you don’t purchase anything, just window shopping can be very interesting.

    Further southeast, there is an oasis in the midst of the Tokyo Desert (a metaphor for a crowded city with buildings, neons, and concrete), which is 新宿御苑 (Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden). You’ll enjoy relaxing in the beautiful Japanese garden after your time in the hustle and bustle of the city areas.
  • Northeast (East Exit) 

    There are thousands of bars and restaurants here as well, but this area—known as 歌舞伎町 (Kabukichō)—is famous for its nightlife and for being a red-light district. There are thousands of neons around Shinjuku that never go off and it’s a city that never sleeps. When you walk around this area at night (it’s safe to walk around at night), you’ll see some interesting people.

    Some of the most popular places to visit in this area among tourists are ゴールデン街 (Golden Gai) and ロボットレストラン (Robot Restaurant). Golden Gai is a small area which preserves the traditional small buildings for restaurants and bars. Its retro atmosphere reminds one of the old times and foreigners find it fascinating. Robot Restaurant is literally a restaurant that features huge robots which people can actually get on.

    Throughout the area, customers can enjoy shows while having meals and drinks in the colorful restaurants decorated with thousands of flashy neons.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

The observatory in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is one of the most famous observatories in Tokyo.

渋谷 (Shibuya)

Shibuya is known as the epicenter of younger generations, new cultures, and venture and startup businesses. The city has everything that young people and trendsetters need: fashion shops, art galleries, shared workspaces, hip cafés and bar restaurants, night clubs, entertainment facilities, and the list goes on. 

If you’re interested in Japan, you may have seen a picture of Shibuya’s iconic scramble crossing where thousands of people cross the street in just a few minutes. While chaotic, this crossing is also rather organized and reputable because Japanese people follow the traffic lights decently—even during the more hectic times of year like Halloween and New Year’s Eve. Another iconic feature is the faithful dog Hachiko statue in front of the Shibuya Station; the story behind it is so famous that it even became a Hollywood movie.

Shibuya is another energetic city that never sleeps, as youngsters enjoy drinking and clubbing all night long till dawn.

A Huge Crowd of People Crossing at Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing is famous for thousands of people crossing in a couple of minutes.

原宿 (Harajuku)

Harajuku is famous for new fashion and the “Kawaii” culture of the younger generations, especially teenagers and those in their early 20s. 

There are thousands of trendy fashion shops, hair salons, and cafés on every street in Harajuku. The most famous streets, which have recently become a bit too touristy, are 竹下通り (Takeshita Dōri) and キャットストリート (Cat Street).

If you keep walking east, there’s a big main street for high fashion called 表参道 (Omotesando Street), where many fashion-conscious people love to go. At the end of Omotesando Street, there’s another trendy area called 青山 (Aoyama). Here, there are many chic fashion shops, hair salons, art galleries, fancy bars, and trendy restaurants. This area is regarded as a sophisticated city for stylish adults. You might even have a chance encounter with Japanese celebrities! 

Harajuku is a city within Shibuya Ward, which is the first municipality in Japan to acknowledge same-sex partnership. In addition, Harajuku and Shibuya lead the new LGBTQ+ culture. The biggest rainbow parade in Japan is conducted in Harajuku every year.

While the Harajuku area is renowned for its openness to new cultures, you can also find old Japanese traditions preserved here. A great example is the 明治神宮 (Meiji Shrine). Located just behind Harajuku Station, it’s one of the largest and most famous shrines in Tokyo. Here, VIPs conduct festive events and celebrities have traditional Japanese weddings.

Right next to Meiji Shrine, there is 代々木公園 (Yoyogi Park) where you can find flea markets, world food festivals, and other events on the weekend. 

The Meiji Jingu Shrine

明治神宮 (Meiji Jingu Shrine) is the most famous and important shrine in Tokyo.

皇居 (Imperial Palace and Imperial Garden)

In order to deepen your understanding of the hearts of Japanese people, it’s recommended to visit the Imperial Palace and gain insight on the Imperial House system

Located right in the center of Tokyo (next to Tokyo Station), the Imperial Palace is a symbol of Japan. To enroll in a guided tour of the Imperial Palace and walk around the beautiful Imperial Garden, you have to queue in the time slots which are limited per day. Make sure you check the opening schedule on their official website (there’s an English page). 

The surroundings of the Imperial Palace are stunning during cherry blossom season, as you can see hundreds of beautiful cherry trees along the moat of the palace.  

The architecture and landscape of the Imperial Palace and Imperial Garden represent the ultimate sense of Japanese beauty. That said, you may be surprised to see that it’s far from luxurious when compared to palaces in Europe. The Japanese sense of beauty values simplicity and quality rather than luxury.

The Japanese Imperial Palace in Tokyo

The Japanese Imperial Palace is located close to Tokyo Station.

浅草 (Asakusa)

In Tokyo, you can find both old and new traditions downtown. In Japanese, downtown is called 下町 (Shitamachi), and literally translates to “down town.” It’s the physically low part of central Tokyo along the east side of the Sumida River, and it refers to areas that are traditional and rooted in local communities from the Edo period.

Asakusa is one such Shitamachi city in Tokyo. The most famous things here are:

  • 雷門 (Kaminarimon) – “Thunder Gate”
  • 浅草寺 (Sensō-ji Temple)
  • 仲見世通り (Nakamise Dōri) – the street that approaches the temple

Along the lively street of Nakamise Dōri, there are hundreds of gift shops that sell a variety of traditional Japanese goods, arts, and crafts, as well as traditional snacks and sweets. 

After visiting the temple and tasting some delicious Japanese snacks, you can enjoy strolling around the Asakusa area or riding on the 人力車 (Jinrikisha) or Rickshaw (“human-powered vehicle”), which is pulled by a man dressed in traditional clothing.

Or, you can also enjoy the river cruise. Right next to Asakusa is the mighty Sumida River, along which there are many landmarks. These include the Tokyo Skytree Tower and the huge golden sculpture on the Asahi headquarters building. From the pier near Asakusa Station, you can cruise up to 日の出 (Hinode Pier), お台場 (Odaiba) Marine Park, 浜離宮 (Hama-rikyu Japanese Gardens), and 豊洲 (Toyosu).

Many People Visiting the Kaminarimon Gate of Sensō-ji

The 雷門 (Kaminarimon Gate of Sensō-ji) Temple is a popular site for taking pictures.

上野 (Ueno)

Ueno is another well-known Shitamachi city and it has some features that are worth visiting.

  • Ueno Park: 上野公園 (Ueno Park) is very famous for cherry blossoms and お花見 (O-hanami) parties where people view the blossoms. Even after cherry blossom season, you can enjoy walking around this huge park.
  • Museums: Next to Ueno Park, there are a range of famous museums, such as the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum of Western Art, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. If you’re a fan of art and science, you’ll need to set aside more than a day to explore the many museums located here! 
  • Ueno Zoo: This is the only zoo you can find in central Tokyo. Here, you can meet cute panda bears.
  • Ameyoko Market Street: アメヤ横丁 (Ameya Yokochō), or アメ横  (Ameyoko) for short, is a bustling market street where you can find a variety of things at relatively low prices: vegetables, fish, dried foods, spices, snacks, utensils, clothing, etc. It’s interesting to see the lively markets.

Up-close Shot of Cherry Blossoms Blooming at Ueno Park

Ueno Park is famous for the beautiful blooming of cherry blossoms and hanami parties.

秋葉原 (Akihabara)

If you’re a fan of gadgets, Anime, and Manga, you can’t miss this city. Akihabara is known for electronics and Anime/Manga, so it’s often called the city of オタク (Otaku), or “geeks,” and subcultures.

There are hundreds of shops selling all kinds of electronics and gadgets, video games, Manga comics, Anime figures, cosplay costumes, and accessories. You may also see cosplayers and amateur pop-idols gathering on the street of Akihabara on the weekends, as well as Otaku photographers having photo sessions.

Maid café and other themed cafés (such as a particular Manga comic theme or an animal café where you can see and touch animals such as cats, owls, or hedgehogs) are also popular and fun to experience!

The Street of Akihabara in Tokyo

Akihabara is a famous city in Tokyo, known for Anime and Manga.

3. Highly Recommended Places for a 4-7 Day Trip (or Longer)

Are you planning a longer trip? Great! That means you’ll also be able to experience these must-visit Tokyo places. 

お台場 & ゆりかもめモノレール (Odaiba & Yurikamome Monorail) 

Odaiba is the waterfront area of Tokyo Bay. Not only does it have a spectacular ocean and city view, but there are also so many things to enjoy on these artificial islands.

  • Shopping Malls: There are huge shopping malls here, such as Diversity, Venus Fort, and Aqua City.
  • Entertainment Facilities: If you’re bored of shopping or walking around, there are tons of other things you can enjoy:

    Cinema
    A Virtual Reality (VR) experience
    Joypolis (an indoor amusement park that offers arcade games and amusement rides)
    RoundOne/Spoccha

    The last place we mentioned is an all-you-can-play amusement center that offers a variety of indoor/outdoor activities. These include bowling alleys, arcade games, karaoke, Manga room, billiards, batting cages, basketball, volleyball, tennis, futsal, driving range, rollerblades, and more.
  • Museums: The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation is fun to explore and allows you to enjoy a huge planetarium. The Tokyo Water Science Museum is an interactive museum where you can learn about water.
  • Yurikamome Monorail: Running from 新橋 (Shinbashi) all the way to 豊洲 (Toyosu), this monorail system is not only a means of transportation but also a fun ride that allows you to explore the waterfront and enjoy the wonderful 360° view of Tokyo Bay.  
  • Onsen Hot Spring: 大江戸温泉 (Ōedo Onsen) is a hot spring facility. Onsen is an important aspect of Japanese culture, and you can enjoy Onsen in the central city! When you’re tired from walking around all day, you can wash your sweaty body and relax in a hot tub.

Odaiba and the Replica of the Statue of Liberty

Odaiba is located right in Tokyo Bay, which is the artificial land. There is a replica of the Statue of Liberty here.

六本木 (Roppongi)

Roppongi is traditionally known as a city of nightlife, having many bars and popular nightclubs. In addition, many foreign embassies are located around the Roppongi area and lots of expats enjoy the city’s nightlife as much as the locals do. This gives the city a sort of international atmosphere.

In recent decades, Roppongi has undergone a variety of new development projects and has become a place to enjoy high-end shopping, fancy restaurants, and posh entertainment thanks to the mega-complex buildings called Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown. Both buildings are huge skyscrapers incorporating office spaces, luxury apartments, shops, restaurants, cafés, movie theatres, a museum, a hotel, an outdoor amphitheatre, and some parks.

The Tokyo Midtown Building in Roppongi

Roppongi is famous for night clubs and high-grade shops and restaurants in commercial skyscraper buildings.

銀座 & 築地 (Ginza & Tsukiji)

If you love sophisticated shopping, go to Ginza. 

銀座中央通り (Ginza Chūō-dōri), or Ginza Central Avenue, is the Tokyo version of 5th Avenue in New York. It’s very famous for shopping, and its main road turns into a pedestrian precinct that bans cars on the weekends. There are a number of high-end boutiques, department stores, commercial buildings, hair salons, beauty shops, and exclusive restaurants in Ginza. 

Even if you’re a budget traveler who’s trying to avoid expensive shopping, please don’t miss the デパ地下 (Depachika), or “basement floors of department stores,” such as those in 銀座三越 (Ginza Mitsukoshi) and 松屋銀座 (Matsuya Ginza). There are thousands of delicious choices of sweets, delicatessen foods, and ingredients sold in Depachika and it’s all worth tasting!

If you’re interested in the traditional Japanese Kabuki theatre, visit 歌舞伎座, or Kabukiza Theatre, in Higashi Ginza (East Ginza). Kabuki is a classical dance-drama which has more than 400 years of history behind it and is registered as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO. You have to buy tickets in advance to see a Kabuki performance, but you can also visit the Kabukiza building if you just want to buy souvenirs.

If you keep walking southeast from Ginza, you’ll enter the 築地 (Tsukiji) area. It’s traditionally famous for the world’s biggest fish market, called 築地市場 (Tsukiji Shijō), as well as its tuna bidding (マグロの競り). The fish market itself was relocated to 豊洲 (Toyosu) in 2018, but there are still many sushi restaurants and seafood shops just outside the area of the old market. Tsukiji is home to 江戸前寿司 (Edomaezushi), or Tokyo-style sushi, and it remained a famous place to eat fresh sushi even after the relocation of the fish market.

People Walking Around Ginza

Ginza is a high fashion street that turns into a pedestrian precinct that bans cars on weekends and national holidays.

東京タワーとスカイツリー (Tokyo Tower and Skytree)

If you want to visit iconic landmarks and see the city of Tokyo from different angles, Tokyo Tower and Skytree Tower are both wonderful options. 

Established in 1958, Tokyo Tower is one of the earliest landmarks in Tokyo. It’s 333m tall, which is taller than the famous Eiffel Tower in Paris at 300m. Tokyo Tower has two observatories: the main deck at 150m and the top deck at 250m. You’ll get to enjoy a stunning 360° view of the world’s metropolitan city.

Tokyo Skytree is a relatively new landmark, established in 2012. The tower is 634m and it’s the tallest building in Japan. The observatory is 450m above the ground, and there are also restaurants with skyscraper views. In addition to taking in the view, you can enjoy shopping and cinemas in the complex commercial building.

The Skytree Tower in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo Skytree, the tallest tower in Japan, is the new iconic tower of Tokyo.

東京ディズニーランド & ディズニーシー (Tokyo Disney Resort & DisneySea)

Whether you’re a Disney fan or not, the Tokyo Disney Resort is worth visiting—especially Tokyo DisneySea, which is the only sea-themed Disney park in the world! You’ll experience something amazing and unique that can only be found in Tokyo. Located right next to Tokyo in the Tokyo Bay, it will take you to a dream world with a scent of sea breeze. The parks are very crowded on weekends and holidays, so it’s recommended to visit during weekdays.

DisneySea in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo DisneySea is the only sea-themed Disney park in the world.

Outside of Central Tokyo

There are many more cities outside of Tokyo’s city center. 

If you have plenty of time, take a twenty-minute ride on the Chūō Line of the JR train from Shinjuku to visit 吉祥寺 (Kichijoji). There are shopping department stores, shopping arcades, movie theaters, and 井の頭公園 (Inokashira Park) which is often used as a shooting location for TV dramas and movies.

Also, if you’re a big fan of Ghibli movies and director 宮崎駿 (Hayao Miyazaki), you can visit Studio Ghibli Museum in 三鷹 (Mitaka) to immerse yourself in the world of Ghibli. Make sure you make a booking in advance.

If you’re a fan of Ghibli Anime movies, the Ghibli Museum is worth visiting.

4. Nature and Outdoor Activities in Tokyo

Don’t be surprised that there are mountains in Tokyo! As a prefecture, Tokyo Metropolis spreads to the mountains in the west. Believe it or not, Tokyo has an abundance of nature less than two hours from the central city. 

Following is a list of places that are worth visiting when you have a lot of time in Tokyo and want to do something different.

高尾山 (Mt. Takao)

Located two hours away when taking a train from the Shinjuku 中央本線 (Chūō Line), Mt. Takao is one of the most-visited mountains in Tokyo. The mountain is just 599m above sea level, and it offers an easy hiking/climbing path while allowing you to get out in the fresh air and enjoy the spectacular nature view. You don’t need a heavy set of gear for the mountain, but sneakers are a good idea.

Once you come down from the mountain, you can refresh and relax at the Onsen facility called 極楽湯 (Gokurakuyu). 

奥多摩 (Okutama)

Okutama is another popular destination from the city center, and it’s a two-hour train ride from Shinjuku and at the end of the train line 青梅線 (Ōme Line). Basically, Okutama is in a location between mountains where you’ll find 奥多摩湖 (Lake Okutama), valleys and rivers, a water dam, 日原鍾乳洞 (Nippara Limestone Caves), and more.

You can enjoy hiking in the forests, fishing, rafting, canyoning, BBQ by the riverside, local cuisine, and the Onsen hot spring at もえぎの湯 (Moeginoyu). There are also camping sites and lodges for overnight stays.

秋川 (Akigawa)

Akigawa is another great option for nature and outdoor activities. It’s about 1.5 hours by train from Shinjuku to the final station of 武藏五日市線 (Musashi-itsukaichi Line).

It’s a popular spot for hiking in the forest, fishing, BBQ, and riverside activities in 秋川渓谷 (Akigawa Keikoku Valley).

There are also Onsen hot spring facilities at つるつる温泉 (Tsurutsuru Onsen) and 瀬音の湯 (Seotonoyu Spa), where you can relax in an open‐air bath with beautiful views of nature and the greenery. Onsen facilities also offer massages and restaurants where you can taste local cuisines. 

If you want to stay overnight, there are camping sites and lodges.

5. Japanese Survival Phrases for Travelers

Due to Tokyo’s diverse cultural scene and immense size, many younger Japanese people do pretty well with English. That said, knowing at least a few Japanese phrases will make your whole trip go a lot smoother and allow you to form deeper connections with locals. Here are just a few survival phrases you should definitely try to memorize before your trip! 

Hello. 

Japanese: こんにちは (Kon’nichiwa)

Example

こんにちは、私たちはカナダから来ました。
Kon’nichiwa, watashi-tachi wa Kanada kara kimashita.
“Hello, we come from Canada.”

Thank you.

Japanese: ありがとう (Arigatō)

In order to say it more politely, add ございます (gozaimasu) so that it becomes: ありがとうございます (Arigatō gozaimasu).

For the past tense, add ございました (gozaimashita).

Example

親切にしていただき、ありがとうございます。
Shinsetsu ni shite itadaki, arigatō gozaimasu.
“Thank you for being kind to me.”

Goodbye.

Japanese: さようなら (Sayōnara)

Example

どうもありがとうございました、さようなら。
Dōmo arigatō gozaimashita, sayōnara.
“Thank you very much, goodbye.”

I’m sorry.

Japanese: すみません (Sumimasen)

Sumimasen is a very useful phrase that can also be used to say, “Excuse me.”

To express a deeper apology, you can also say ごめんなさい (gomen nasai) or, more politely, 申し訳ございません (mōshiwake gozaimasen). This is something you would hear staff members/businesspeople saying to customers.

Example

[When you bump into someone or take someone else’s baggage by mistake]

すみません! 
Sumimasen!
“I’m sorry!”

To learn more on the topic, please read our articles about Japanese Etiquette and How to Say Sorry.

I don’t understand. / I don’t know.

Japanese: わかりません (Wakarimasen)

Example

すみません、日本語がわかりません。
Sumimasen, Nihon-go ga wakarimasen.
“Sorry, I don’t understand Japanese.”

Is there anyone who speaks English?    

Japanese: 英語を話せる人はいますか。(Eigo o hanaseru hito wa imasu ka.)

Example

すみません、英語を話せる人はいますか。
Sumimasen, Eigo o hanaseru hito wa imasu ka.
“Excuse me, is there anyone who speaks English?”

Where is the restroom?

In Japanese: トイレはどこですか (Toire wa doko desu ka.)

Example

ここから一番近いトイレはどこですか。
Koko kara ichi-ban chikai toire wa doko desu ka.
“Where is the nearest restroom from here?”

How much is it?

Japanese: いくらですか (Ikura desu ka.)

Example

これはいくらですか。
Kore wa ikura desu ka.
“How much is this?”

I want/take this.

Japanese: これをください (Kore o kudasai)

Example

[While pointing out what you want on the menu or at a store:]

これをください。いくらですか。
Kore o kudasai. Ikura desu ka.
“I’ll have this. How much is it?”

For more useful phrases for restaurants, please check out our vocabulary lists of Vocabulary and Phrases at the Restaurant and Restaurant.

Help!

Japanese: たすけて! (Tasukete!)

In order to say it more politely, add ください (kudasai) to make it: 助けてください (Tasukete kudasai).

Example

助けてください! 友達が事故にあいました。
Tasukete kudasai! Tomodachi ga jiko ni aimashita.
“Please help! My friend had an accident.”

To learn more useful travel phrases, please read our article on Japanese Travel Phrases.

A Couple Ordering Something from a Waitress

これをください (Kore o kudasai) – “I’ll have this one.”

How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

In this article, we introduced the must-visit places in Tokyo, gave you an overview of the city, presented you with useful travel tips, and went over a few practical Japanese travel phrases. I hope you enjoyed this article and that it made you feel like traveling to Tokyo right away! Which of the locations we mentioned is first on your list, and why? 

If you would like to learn the Japanese language together with cultural information, you’ll find a lot more helpful content on JapanesePod101.com. We provide a variety of free lessons to help you improve your Japanese language skills. Here are some pages with useful words and phrases for Japan travel:

You can also get personal one-on-one coaching through our MyTeacher service, which is available when you subscribe for a Premium PLUS membership. Your private teacher will help you practice pronunciation and give you personal feedback to help you constantly improve.

And there’s so much more! Enjoy studying Japanese with JapanesePod101.com!

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English Words in Japanese: Do You Know Japanglish?

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The Japanese language can be very difficult for English speakers to learn as these two languages are completely different in every aspect: origin, writing system, grammar, and phonetics. But when it comes to vocabulary, you may be surprised to hear that this isn’t really the case. There are actually quite a few English loanwords in Japanese!

There’s even a name for the mixing of these two languages: Japanglish. 

Some of the English words used in Japanese have the same meaning as the original ones, while others have been localized and modified (often shortened), combined with Japanese words, and/or used with a completely different meaning. 

In this article, we’ll introduce English words that are commonly used in Japanese. Although you may find some of them very weird, learning Japanglish is one of the easiest parts of learning Japanese and it will be helpful in your language studies.

A Map of Japan

There is a lot of Japanglish vocabulary used in Japan.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese Table of Contents
  1. Introduction to Japanglish
  2. Typical English Loanwords in Japanese
  3. Japanglish Wasei Eigo
  4. How to Say These Names in Japanese
  5. English Words Borrowed From Japanese
  6. How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

1. Introduction to Japanglish

There are two types of English words used in the Japanese language: loanwords and Wasei-Eigo. Let’s take a closer look at each group. 

Loanwords Used in Japanese

Loanwords, or 外来語 (gairai-go), are commonly used in modern Japanese. After two centuries of isolation, called 鎖国 (Sakoku), Japan became “open” to foreign countries in the mid-nineteenth century. This new status brought with it influences from Western cultures, and many of the first loanwords in Japan came from Portuguese, Dutch, French, and German. English loanwords started to gain prevalence during the post-World War II period. Since then, Japanglish has continued to evolve and grow in popularity. 

While the younger Japanese generations often use loanwords without even realizing they’re originally from foreign languages, the older population hardly uses or understands them.

The most basic loanwords are English words used in Japanese with the same meaning, but with Japanese pronunciation. Examples include: 

  • カメラ (kamera) – “camera”
  • タクシー (takushī) – “taxi”
  • クリック (kurikku) – “click”

You have to keep in mind that loanwords are normally written with カタカナ (Katakana) letters and follow Japanese pronunciation rules. Also, when they’re written in alphabet form using ローマ字 (Roma-ji), or the romanization of Japanese, the spelling is often different from that of the original English words. This is because they’re transcribed according to how the Japanese read and pronounce words.

For example, all of the consonants in Japanese end with a vowel (あ a, い i, う u, え e, お o). In addition, since there’s no particular distinction between L and R in Japanese, all of the “L” sounds in English are expressed using “R” in Japanese. Thus, “click” is expressed as kurikku in Japanese.

To learn more about Japanese pronunciation, please see our “Japanese Pronunciation” article!

A Katakana chart

カタカナ (Katakana) characters are used to write loanwords.

Japanglish Wasei-Eigo: English Made in Japan 

There are also English words used in Japanese that have been more fully integrated into the language. These are called 和製英語 (Wasei Eigo), or literally, “English made in Japan.”

Wasei Eigo refers to English words adopted into Japanese with unique meanings, word combinations, and/or abbreviations only used in Japan. Examples include:

  • サラリーマン (sararīman
    • from “salaryman,” meaning “businessman who works at a company and gets a monthly salary”
  • シャーペン (shāpen) 
    • short for “sharp pencil,” meaning “mechanical pencil”

A Japanese Businessman Getting Ready to Leave for Work

サラリーマン (sararīman), or “salaryman” meaning “businessman,” is one of the most typical Japanglish words.

2. Typical English Loanwords in Japanese

These loanwords have the same meaning as their English counterparts and are commonly used in daily Japanese conversations.

LoanwordRoma-ji / ReadingEnglish Word
グラスgurasuglass
スプーンsupūnspoon
フォークfōkufork
ナイフnaifuknife
ビールbīrubeer
ワインwainwine
バスbasubus
バイクbaiku(motor) bike
コンピューターconpyūtācomputer
インターネットintānettointernet
ウェブサイトwebusaitowebsite
ホテルhoteruhotel
レストランresutoranrestaurant
テーブルtēburutable
サービスsābisuservice
エレベーター erebētāelevator
ドアdoadoor
サイズsaizusize
シャツshatsushirt
ネクタイnekutainecktie
サンダルsandarusandal
サングラスsangurasusunglasses
テストtesutotest

A Table Set with Wine Glasses, Silverware, and Plates

Words that are associated with Western-style restaurants are often used as loanwords in Japanese. These include レストラン (resutoran) – “restaurant” / ナイフ (naifu) – “knife” /ワイン (wain) – “wine.”

3. Japanglish Wasei Eigo

Learning Wasei-Eigo may be a bit more difficult, as these words and phrases have undergone alterations during their journey into the Japanese language. In this section, we’ll give you several Japanglish examples and explain them in more detail as needed.

English Words Used With Different Meanings

Wasei EigoRoma-ji / ReadingEnglish WordMeaning
マンションmanshonmansionapartment (bigger building than アパート)
アパートapātoapartapartment (smaller building than マンション)
コンセントconsentoconsent electrical outlet

Many Japanese people use the word “consent” to mean “electrical outlet.” It is said that it originates from the word “concentric plug.”
メイクmeikumakemakeup
リンスrinsurinsehair conditioner
アイスaisuiceice cream
ホットケーキhotto kēkihot cakepancake
スーパーsūpāsupersupermarket
レジrejiregisterIt originally comes from “cash register,” meaning “checkout counter” or “cashier.”
ファイト!faito!fightThis word is used to cheer someone up. It can mean “Hang in there,” “You can do it,” or “Do your best.”
ハイテンションhai tenshonhigh tensionvery excited / hyper
テキストtekisutotexttextbook / school manual 
カンニングkanningucunningcheating on an exam
タレントtarentotalenttelevision personality / entertainer

Examples

  • 次の試合は必ず勝つよ!ファイト
    Tsugi no shiai wa kanarazu katsu yo! Faito!
    “You will definitely win the next match! Do your best!”
  • 彼は昨日なぜかとてもハイテンションでした。
    Kare wa kinō naze ka totemo hai tenshon deshita.
    “He was very excited yesterday for some reason.”
  • あなたの一番好きなタレントは誰ですか。
    Anata no ichi-ban suki na tarento wa dare desu ka.
    “Who is your most favorite TV personality?”

Two Pancakes on a Griddle

 ホットケーキ (hotto kēki), or “hot cake,” means “pancake” in Japan.

Abbreviated Word Combinations

In Japanese, it’s common for two or more English words to be shortened into one word (usually with four syllables). Let’s see some examples.

Wasei EigoRoma-ji / ReadingEnglish WordMeaning / Description
リモコンrimokonremote controllerremote controller

In Japanese, the first syllables from each word are combined.
マスコミmasukomimass communicationmass communication / mass media / the press / journalism
エアコン/ クーラーeakon / kūrāair conditioner / cooler air conditioner

クーラー (kūrā), or “cooler,” is also commonly used to mean “air conditioner.”
パソコンpasokonpersonal computercomputer

Along with コンピューター (conpyūtā), パソコン (pasokon) is also commonly used when talking about computers.
コンビニkonbiniconvenience storeThis word refers to convenience stores that are open 24 hours a day and seen everywhere throughout Japan.
イメチェンimechenimage changeThis refers to changing one’s image, especially in terms of one’s hairstyle or clothing.
OL (オーエル)ōeruoffice ladySimilar to “salaryman,” this word refers to a woman who works at an office. This word is also an abbreviation.
CM (シーエム)shīemucommercial messagecommercial

This abbreviation is used to mean “commercial” in Japanese.
BGM (ビージーエム)bījīemubackground musicThis refers to background music, especially when it’s played in a store, cafe, restaurant, etc. 

Examples

  • 昨日私の古いパソコンが壊れました。
    Kinō watashi no furui pasokon ga kowaremashita.
    “Yesterday, my old computer broke.”
  • イメチェンしたいなら髪型を変えるのが一番だよ!
    Imechen shitai nara kamigata o kaeru no ga ichi-ban da yo!
    “If you want to change your image, it’s best to change your hairstyle!”
  • あのカフェのBGMはジャズがかかっていておしゃれです。
    Ano kafe no bījīemu wa jazu ga kakatte ite oshare desu.
    “That cafe plays jazz as background music and it’s fashionable.”

Someone about to Change the Channel with a Remote Controller

リモコン (rimokon) is an abbreviation of “remote controller.”

Words That Combine English and Japanese

Wasei Eigo can also get creative, with some words being a combination of an English loanword and a Japanese word. 

Wasei EigoRoma-ji / ReadingComposition of WordsMeaning
省エネshōene省 (Kanji that represents “save”) + energyenergy-saving 
軽トラkeitora軽 (Kanji that represents “light”) + trucklight (engine) truck / small truck
ガス欠gasuketsugas + 欠 (Kanji that represents “lack”)running out of gasoline (petrol)
懐メロnatsumero懐 (Kanji that represents “nostalgic”) + melodynostalgic song / all-time favorite song
ドタキャンdotakyan土壇場 (dotanba), meaning “last moment” + cancellationcancellation at the last moment
イタ飯itameshiItalian + 飯 (meal/food)Italian food
猛ダッシュmōdasshu猛 (Kanji that represents “fierce” / “intense” / “acute”) + dash sprint / run as fast as one can

Examples

  • 新しい冷蔵庫は省エネモデルです。
    Atarashii reizōko wa shōene moderu desu.
    “The new refrigerator is an energy-saving model.”
  • ガス欠により道の真ん中で車が止まった。
    Gasuketsu ni yori michi no mannaka de kuruma ga tomatta.
    “The car stopped in the middle of a road due to running out of gasoline.”
  • まりこはいつもデートをドタキャンする。
    Mariko wa itsumo dēto o dotakyan suru.
    “Mariko always cancels a date at the last moment.”

Loanwords Turned Into Japanese Verbs

By adding the Japanese word する (suru), or “to do,” after a loanword (whether it’s a noun or a verb), it becomes a verb in Japanese.

Wasei EigoRoma-ji / ReadingComposition of WordsMeaning
ドライブするdoraibu surudrive + suruto go for a drive
ノックするnokku suruknock + suruto knock
キャンセルするkyanseru surucancel + suruto cancel
ジョギングするjogingu surujogging + suruto jog
リラックスするrirakkusu sururelax + suruto relax
ジャンプするjanpu surujump + suruto jump
キスするkisu surukiss + suruto kiss
メイクするmeiku surumake + suruto put on makeup
パーティーをするpātī o suruparty + o + suruto party
ギャンブルするgyanburu surugamble + suruto gamble

Examples

  • 私はお風呂に入ってリラックスするのが好きです。
    Watashi wa o-furo ni haitte rirakkusu suru no ga suki desu.
    “I like to take a bath and relax.”
  • 私たちは週末に誕生日パーティーをする予定です。
    Watashi-tachi wa shūmastu ni tanjōbi pātī o suru yotei desu.
    “We plan to have a birthday party over the weekend.”
  • 入る前にドアをノックしてください。
    Hairu mae ni doa o nokku shite kudasai.
    “Please knock on the door before entering.”

To learn all about conjugation in Japanese, please see our article on Japanese Verb Conjugations.

A Party

パーティーをする (pātī o suru) – “to party”

4. How to Say These Names in Japanese

In Japan, world-famous brand names are pronounced according to Japanese pronunciation rules and are sometimes called something different. Here are a few examples.

  • Google: グーグル (Gūguru)
  • Apple: アップル (Appuru)
  • Starbucks: スターバックス (Sutābakkusu)

     A shortened version, スタバ (Sutaba), is commonly used in daily conversations.
  • Kentucky Fried Chicken: ケンタッキー フライド チキン (Kentakkī furaido chikin)

    There are also a couple of shortened versions often used in daily conversations: ケンタッキー (Kentakkī) and ケンタ (Kenta).
  • McDonald’s: マクドナルド (Makudonarudo)

    Depending on the region of Japan, there are different shortened versions for this brand name.
      ➢ Kanto (Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama, Kanagawa) and other regions: マック (Makku)
      ➢ Kansai region (around Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Hyogo, etc.): マクド (Makudo)

A McDonald’s Cheeseburger and French Fries

There are even different dialect forms for “McDonald’s” in Japanese!

5. English Words Borrowed From Japanese

Due to globalization, there are also plenty of popular Japanese words in English! Let’s look at a few of these borrowed words: 

Food-Related WordsKanji / HiraganaMeaning / Description
Sushi寿司 / すしSushi is a famous Japanese food, consisting of vinegared rice and raw and/or cooked seafood.
Teriyaki照り焼き / てりやきTeriyaki is a Japanese cooking technique and flavor. Foods are broiled or grilled with a glaze of sauce made of soy sauce, mirin, and sugar. 照り(teri) refers to a shine/luster and 焼き (yaki) means “grill.”
Tofu豆腐 / とうふTofu is bean curd made of soybeans. The Japanese word Tofu originates from the Chinese word 豆腐 (dòufu), which literally means  (“bean”) + (“curdled” or “fermented”).
Edamame枝豆 / えだまめEdamame is a dish of immature soybeans, usually boiled and salted.
Sake酒 / さけSake literally means “alcoholic drink” in Japanese, but it often refers to Japanese rice wine, or 日本酒 (Nihonshu).
Matcha抹茶 / まっちゃMatcha refers to green tea leaves that have been finely ground into a powder. Green tea leaves for Matcha are grown and processed using a specific method.
Bento弁当 / べんとうBento is a reusable lunch box that can contain a single-portion meal, usually consisting of rice and some sides.

Culture-Related WordsKanji / HiraganaMeaning / Description
Bonsai盆栽 / ぼんさいBonsai is an artform of planting that uses cultivation techniques to produce small trees in containers. Bonsai literally means “tray planting.”
Origami折り紙 / おりがみOrigami is the art of folding papers, usually done with square papers that have color on one side and white on the other side. Origami breaks down as:

折り(ori) – “fold” 



紙 (kami/gami) – “paper”
Emoji絵文字 / えもじEmoji is a type of pictograph that is used in electronic messages, originally invented in Japan. Emoji breaks down as:

絵 (e) – “picture”



文字 (moji) – “character”
Manga漫画 / まんがManga refers to Japanese-style comics that are often animated.
Cosplay (Kosupure)コスプレThe word コスプレ (Kosupure) comes from “costume play.” It is a type of performance art in which participants (cosplayers) dress up as characters from their favorite manga or anime. 
KaraokeカラオケKaraoke is a shortened version of 空 (kara), meaning “empty,” and オーケストラ (ōkesutora), meaning “orchestra.” 

It is a form of entertainment where an amature sings popular songs using a microphone, following along with the instrumental music/melody and lyrics displayed on a video screen.   
Sudoku数独 / すうどくSudoku is a logic-based number-placement puzzle. The word 数独 (Sudoku) is an abbreviation that means “number” + “single,” coming from the rule of this puzzle: “the digits must be single” or “the digits are limited to one occurrence.”

 Other Famous WordsKanji / HiraganaMeaning / Description
Kaizen改善 / かいぜん改善 (Kaizen) is literally translated as “improvement.” Kaizen in English often refers to “continuous improvement” in business atmospheres. It became known as the Japanese way of doing business to optimize processes and produce better results.
Karoshi過労死 / かろうし過労死 (Karoshi) literally means “death of overwork.” It refers to death as the result of mental and/or physical illness from working too much or being under too much pressure.
Tsunami 津波 / つなみ津波 (Tsunami) literally means “port wave.” It is a series of huge waves, usually in an ocean. A Tsunami can be caused by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and other underwater explosions.
Typhoon 台風 / たいふうA Typhoon is a huge tropical cyclone that can be seen in the Northern Hemisphere, in the region called the Northwestern Pacific Basin. The Japanese word 台風 (taifū) became the English “typhoon.”

A Tsunami Washing Over Buildings

Tsunami (津波) is one of the most famous Japanese words that was adapted into English.

How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

In this article, we introduced English words used in Japanese. We covered the history of loanwords in Japan and how Japanglish developed, basic loanwords from English and various types of Wasei Eigo, as well as famous Japanese words in English. While some Japanglish terms sound funny and weird, they are definitely helpful to learn and can help you understand Japanese better!

Did you learn anything new about Japanese today? Are there any important words or terms you know about that we didn’t include? Let us, and your fellow language learners, know in the comments! 

If you would like to learn more about the Japanese language and culture, you’ll find a lot more helpful content on JapanesePod101.com. We provide a variety of free lessons to help you improve your Japanese language skills. For example, you can view the following vocabulary lists to learn the very basics of Japanese: 

You can also take advantage of our personal one-on-one coaching service, MyTeacher, when you subscribe to a Premium PLUS membership. Your private teacher will help you practice pronunciation and give you personalized feedback and advice to help you improve efficiently. 

And there is so much more we have to offer you! Learn Japanese faster and enjoy studying with JapanesePod101.com!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese

A Brief Overview of Japanese Culture

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What do you know about Japanese culture? While you may be familiar with sushi, anime & manga, and maybe even martial arts such as Karate and Jūdō, there’s so much more! 

Japanese culture is unique and multifaceted, characterized by rich traditions that boast thousands of years of history. It’s continuously evolving and influencing both domestic and international society, especially in the fields of subculture, cuisine, fashion, and technology. 

Understanding and immersing yourself in the culture of Japan will not only make any future visits more enjoyable, but also accelerate your language learning. In this overview of Japanese culture from JapanesePod101.com, you’ll learn about its most essential aspects: Japanese values, philosophy, beliefs and religions, family, work, art, food, and traditional holidays. 

Are you ready? Then let’s begin.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese Table of Contents
  1. Japanese Values and Philosophies
  2. Religions and Beliefs
  3. The Family and Home
  4. School and Work
  5. Art and Entertainment
  6. Table Etiquette and Food
  7. Traditional Holidays and Celebrations
  8. How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

1. Japanese Values and Philosophies

A Japanese Girl Wearing a Kimono and Holding a Fan in Front of Her Face

Japanese culture is unique and fascinating.

Japan is said to be one of the most socially and ethically homogenous countries in the world. Although Japan does have a minority ethnic group, the アイヌ (Ainu) people of the Hokkaido prefecture, the Japanese as a whole share essential values. 

Unlike other countries, which place importance on diversity and house multiple ethnic groups and cultures, 和 (wa), or “harmony,” is the most important value in Japan. Japanese people prioritize the harmonious balance and peace of a society (and of the groups they belong to), rather than asserting and pursuing one’s personal desires. Doing so would be considered bad manners as it would break the balance of harmony and create disorder. 

Japanese culture values collectivism, contrary to most Western societies which promote individualism. Thus, Japanese people are generally polite and kind to others, and they try to avoid causing conflict. For example, expressing an opinion contrary to that of the majority can be considered a source of conflict.

Confucianism has also influenced Japanese values, particularly those revolving around seniority. Respecting parents and seniors is important, and the concept of seniority is often seen in school club activities (where senior students have a more confident attitude than juniors, even if the juniors perform better) and in traditional workplaces (where seniority affects pay raise and promotion). 

Many Japanese values are based on the idea of 神道 (Shinto), which is the traditional Japanese religion. Shinto is polytheistic and believes that “gods” or “divine spirits” inhabit all things in nature, and thus, all things should be treated with respect. As a result, the Japanese tend to subconsciously respect things and handle things with care.

The Jizō Statuettes in Japan

Harmony, or 和 (wa), is one of the most important Japanese values.

2. Religions and Beliefs

Japanese religious beliefs can be characterized as a mix of Shinto and Buddhism, both of which greatly influence Japanese cultural values.

Shinto originated from Ancient Japan, making it almost as old as Japanese culture itself. During that time, people believed in an animistic spirituality. According to this belief, every single thing in nature contained an enormous number of divine spirits referred to as 八百万の神 (Yaoyorozu no Kami), or literally “eight million gods.” Buddhism came later from India via China in the sixth century and the two religions have been coexisting since then.

However, Japanese people nowadays are not religious nor do they gather together to worship like believers of many other religions do. This is because Shinto and Buddhism are more like moral codes or philosophies on how to live. 

In Japanese culture, Shinto and Buddhism are embedded in a variety of festive and life events, such as New Year, festivals, births, coming of age ceremonies, and funerals. For such occasions, Japanese people visit shrines and temples and follow the religious ceremonies, but people regard them as cultural traditions rather than displays of religious piety.

In this way, Japanese people are not religious and their mindset toward religions is quite open. Interestingly, the Japanese import other religious traditions into the culture as “entertaining events,” without adding (or even knowing) their religious meaning. Examples include exchanging gifts and eating cakes on Christmas, conducting wedding ceremonies at church (often a fake one) with a white wedding dress, and giving chocolates to loved ones on St. Valentine’s Day. It’s said that real Christians in Japan comprise only about 0.7% of the total population.

What’s the difference between Shrines and Temples?

Many people, including the Japanese themselves, don’t clearly know the difference between shrines and temples. Basically, shrines are of Shinto and temples are of Buddhism. 

The easiest way to identify shrines is by the 鳥居 (Torii), a huge wooden gate (usually vermillion red in color) placed before the premises or in front of the shrine. It is a symbol of the border between the mundane world and the sacred place. Vermillion red is often used for the pillars and frames of shrine buildings as well.

On the other hand, Buddhist temples are identified by Buddhist statues and the temple cemetery. Buddhist monks live in temples and chant Buddhist sutras as necessary. Most temples are dark in color, usually constructed of brown wood and a gray tiled roof.

A Shrine in Japan with a Red Gate

There are thousands of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples throughout Japan.

3. The Family and Home 

Every culture has its own perception of family and facilitates a certain way of life. Let’s delve into the specifics of Japanese culture and customs associated with family and the home.

A- Japanese Family

The Japanese family system is traditionally very patriarchal. This is represented by the Imperial Family—which has a history of over a thousand years—where only a male offspring can inherit the imperial throne. 

In Japanese society, the nuclear family is very common and the average Japanese family has one or two children. There is a patriarchal tendency in the household, with the husband/father acting as breadwinner and the wife/mother filling the role of caregiver. Even in families where both parents work, the wife/mother often has more of a burden in terms of household chores and childcare.

Although modernization and changes in the family structure have been influential in making the modern family less patriarchal over time, the first son in a family is still considered its successor and is expected to live with and take care of his elderly parents.

Due to this patriarchal tradition and subconsciously embedded mindset, Japan is still a strongly male-dominant society, as seen in the Global Gender Gap Report 2020. Further, Japan ranks 121st out of 153 countries in terms of gender equality, way below the average for OECD countries.


A Japanese Family Consisting of a Mother, a Father, and Two Children

A nuclear family with one or two kids is very common in Japan.

B- Japanese Houses

In Japanese culture, taking off shoes before entering the main part of a house is important. A Japanese home, whether it’s an independent housing unit or a small apartment, has an entrance area called 玄関 (genkan) where you remove your shoes. Genkan is located inside of the main door and its floor is lower than that of the main part of the house. It separates the dirty/dusty shoe area and the clean, dirt-free home area. The height of the elevated floor depends on the house, from as low as 5 cm to knee-level. 

When entering a house, it’s good manners to say one of the following greetings:

  • ただいま (Tadaima) – “I’m home.”
    • when coming back to your own home
  • おじゃまします (Ojama shimasu) – Literally: “I disturb.” / Meaning: “Let me enter,” in a polite way.
    • when you’re visiting someone else’s house

The toilet and bath are usually located in separate rooms, except in small apartments for one person. Every household has a bathtub as the Japanese bathe in hot water to relax or soothe their fatigue after a long day. Benefitting from its volcanic geography, Japan has a lot of areas and towns where people can enjoy 温泉 (Onsen), or “hot springs.”

A Wild Monkey Enjoying an Onsen During Winter

Hot springs, or 温泉 (Onsen), are also popular among wild monkeys in the mountains, especially during winter.

Traditional Japanese-style houses and rooms use 畳 (tatami) mats, which are made of woven soft rush straw, for flooring. 

If you were to go to a traditional 旅館 (ryokan) hotel in Japan, the guest room would have tatami flooring. You would sit on the floor with a low table for eating and sleep in 布団 (futon) bedding placed directly on the tatami without using a bed.

A Tatami Floor

Tatami floors are seen in traditional Japanese houses.

4. School and Work 

Are you looking to work or study in Japan? Then you should become familiar with typical Japanese culture in business and school. 

A- School and Education

The Japanese school system has four levels: elementary school (six years starting from age 6), middle school (three years), high school (three years), and higher education. Higher education can consist of junior college (two years), university (four years), or vocational school (one to three years). Elementary school and middle school are compulsory and for free.

Most schools have a school uniform and school rules that keep order and uniformity among students. Also, students are taught throughout their education that they should follow the rules, not cause trouble for other people, and prioritize uniformity. Students are also taught, especially in elementary schools, the importance of taking responsibility and keeping things clean for the public good. For example, they learn to serve lunch themselves at lunch time and to clean classrooms and school facilities themselves after school. 

Educated in such a way, Japanese people are good at cooperation and uniformity in states of emergency, such as natural disasters. In most cases, people act in a decent manner to minimize panic and try to help each other. During these times, looting and violence hardly ever happen in Japan.

While these Japanese culture characteristics are part of what make the country so beautiful, they’re not without criticism. Some argue that teaching students to prioritize uniformity discourages the cultivation of personality and keeps individuals from fine-tuning their gifts and abilities. This may result in a person who is unable to state his or her opinions with confidence.

A Group of Four Japanese Students Wearing Uniforms, Talking with Each Other

Most Japanese middle and high schools have school uniforms and school rules that keep order and uniformity among students.

B- Work

Japanese people are known for being diligent, responsible, and punctual workers. This is a very good thing for customers or clients who benefit from fast, accurate, punctual, polite, and kind services. However, the workers who are expected to deliver such excellent services (and Japanese customers/clients do expect such a high standard) may struggle and suffer a bit.

As mentioned before, Japanese people are taught to keep harmony and not to cause trouble for others. This applies to Japanese workplaces as well. No matter how tight the schedule is or how much work you have, you’re expected to meet deadlines and/or clients’ requirements. Thus, working overtime is common in most traditional Japanese workplaces. Workers are unable to say, for example, “I have a family to take care of, I will continue tomorrow,” at 5 or 6 pm (which is supposedly the end of the work day). Taking consecutive paid holidays can also be difficult, as Japanese employees feel guilty about taking leave while other colleagues have to cover their absence.

Another essential aspect of Japanese work culture is social drinking with colleagues and bosses—or even with clients—to create rapport for smoother work. These occasions are often very difficult to decline, as it can be considered rude or uncooperative to do so.

There are still a lot of traditional Japanese practices to be improved upon, such as: 

These aspects of Japanese business culture encourage employee retention until retirement, and base promotions and pay raises on age (regardless of performance). On one hand, this is good for less-capable employees as employment and salary are secured. On the other hand, such customs result in low productivity, unfair opportunity, and an inflexible labor market. In addition, male-dominant workplaces accelerate the gender inequality in job positions, salaries, and stability of employment.

However, the government is eager to reform the work environment by introducing new policies, and the situation has been slowly improving among large corporations in particular. That said, it may take a little more time to create the ideal work environment.


5. Art and Entertainment

In many ways, the country’s rich history of art and entertainment is what makes Japanese culture unique. In this section, we’ll discuss some of the most popular Japanese art forms and entertainment industries.

A- Ukiyo-E Art

浮世絵 (Ukiyo-e) is one of the traditional Japanese painting styles, which flourished between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. As the name 浮世絵 (Ukiyo-e), literally meaning “picture of floating/transient world,” indicates, it depicts the lifestyle of the Edo period, especially the pleasure-seeking aspects. 

The subjects range from people to landscapes, and from folk tales and travel scenes to erotica. One of the most internationally famous Ukiyo-e paintings is 葛飾 北斎 (Katsushika Hokusai‘s) The Great Wave off Kanagawa which illustrates huge waves making a big splash and features Mt.Fuji in the background. Today, some Ukiyo-e paintings are used as designs for T-shirts and other products.

An Ukiyo-e Depicting a Kabuki Actor.

An Ukiyo-e depicting a Kabuki actor.

B- Shodō

書道 (Shodō), which literally means “way of writing,” refers to Japanese calligraphy used for special purposes or artistic reasons. Examples of when this would be used include 書き初め (Kakizome), or “first calligraphy” written at the beginning of the year, and 年賀状 (Nengajō) meaning “New Year’s Day postcards.”

Japanese calligraphy originated from that of Chinese, as Kanji originally came from China. There are several writing styles and techniques that can be used to leave different impressions. 

Shodō is taught at every elementary school and some middle schools in Japan.

C- Kabuki

歌舞伎 (Kabuki) is a traditional Japanese drama theatre that’s performed by only male actors. 

Kabuki theatre is characterized by its unique drama and acting style as well as the exquisite stage makeup called 隈取 (Kumadori) worn by Kabuki actors. Basically, major Kabuki actors and their names are passed down from generation to generation according to the hereditary system. Kabuki theatre is managed by the strict traditional system and rules.

Kabuki theatre is said to have been created in the seventeenth century and it was listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2008. 

D- Haiku

俳句 (Haiku) is a Japanese poetry form characterized by its use of three phrases. Part of the Haiku’s artistic appeal is that it has to portray an idea well using a balanced choice of words. 

In order to make a Haiku, one must follow these three specifications: 

  • The first phrase must have 5 syllables, the second must have 7, and the third must have 5. The Japanese morae or syllable is called 音 (On). 
  • The Haiku must include 季語 (kigo), or a word that is associated with a particular season, to provide economy of expression.
  • It must also have the essence of 切れ (kire), or “cutting,” which cuts the phrase with an accent of sound. Good kire is said to give the words a sense of feeling. Within a small interval, readers are evoked to imagine its scene and context, as well as the emotion of the author.

The Haiku is thought to have developed from the early modern period around the fifteenth or sixteenth century. One of the most famous Haiku poets, 松尾芭蕉 (Matsuo Bashō), enhanced its artistic quality in the seventeenth century.

In addition to the Haiku, there are two other forms of Japanese poetry: 和歌 (Waka) and 短歌 (Tanka). These forms are longer than the Haiku

E- Manga and Anime 

There are two modern Japanese art genres that are very popular today:

  • 漫画 (Manga) – “comics” 
  • アニメ (Anime) – “animated cartoon film” 

There are many Manga/Anime fans in a range of different age groups.

Japanese Manga is said to have developed during the late nineteenth century. From the 1950s to this day, Manga has been evolving to become one of the most popular Japanese subcultures. There are numerous genres of Manga, from adventure and comedy, to science fiction, horror, and erotica. 

Manga is so influential that popular Manga are made into cartoon films and movies, which are then translated into multiple languages and broadcasted in many different countries. Manga and Anime have also created new industry opportunities and subcultures, such as コスプレ (Kosupure), or “costume play.” This is a performance art where cosplayers wear costumes and fashion accessories to pretend to be a specific character from Manga/Anime


F- Video Games

Japan is known for its video games, many of which have been influencing countless children and adults all around the world. Before the emergence of the internet and gaming apps in smartphones, the Japanese gaming industry was prosperous with major electronic and video game companies, such as Nintendo, Sony, Sega, Conami, Bandai Namco, Capcom, and the list goes on. 

A number of popular video game hardwares and softwares have been created in Japan and the video game subculture has become a phenomenon. Today, due to the fast-changing technology and trends (such as Virtual Reality and social gaming), as well as the multi-platform availability of video games, the gaming industry has become more competitive than ever. New types of video games are being created every day.

In addition to games for individuals, there are many video games and gaming entertainment facilities in Japan for the public in Japan. These include game centers and amusement parks where people can enjoy real physical games and attractions.

6. Table Etiquette and Food

Japanese culture and food go hand in hand. The country is famous for its range of tasty dishes, from Sushi to Rāmen—but how much do you know about the full spectrum of Japanese cuisine? Or the proper table etiquette while dining in Japan? Keep reading to learn more!

A- Table Etiquette 

Japanese people like to be clean, and kids grow up being taught to wash their hands after using the toilet, when coming back home after being outside, and before eating.

At restaurants, おしぼり (oshibori), or a wet hand towel, is usually provided to clean your hands. In Japan, it’s uncommon to pick up food directly with your hands (a common occurrence in many other countries when eating bread, for example). 

It’s considered important to be grateful for the food and to respect the cook. Traditionally, proper etiquette requires that you say these greeting words before and after eating:

Before:

  • いただきます (itadakimasu) – “I eat/receive.” [Humble]

After:

  • ごちそうさまでした (gochisō-sama deshita) – “It was delicious food.” [Grateful and respectful]

For Japanese people, these greetings are as natural as cleaning their hands before eating.

Also keep in mind that playing with chopsticks or food is considered bad manners. In addition, never stick chopsticks vertically on rice in a bowl as this is associated with funerals (specifically, the food offered to the deceased in heaven). 

On the other hand, drinking (miso) soup directly from a bowl and making slurping sounds while eating soup noodles are not considered bad manners in Japan. Don’t be surprised when you hear people making noise while eating Soba, Udon, or Rāmen in Japan.


B- Japanese Food

Japanese food culture is one of the best in the world, proven by the fact that Tokyo has been announced the world’s most Michelin-starred city for the thirteenth consecutive year according to the Michelin Guide Tokyo 2020. That’s right: it’s not Paris or Rome, but the capital city of Japan. Japanese people are known to be foodies who can wait in line for two hours just to get a bowl of Rāmen.

Japanese cuisine is characterized by its diversity, ranging from local casual food to traditional authentic Japanese food. You’ll find restaurants throughout the country where you can get a meal for as little as ¥300 (around $3) as well as super high-end restaurants. You can find delicious food at any level, any budget, and any restaurant type. (Not to mention there are also international cuisines available in Japan!)

Another place you can experience the rich Japanese food culture is in convenience stores and supermarkets. There are all kinds of bento boxes, delicatessen foods, and dried and instant foods. After all, instant cup noodles are a notable invention of Japan!

A Variety of Japanese Dishes Arranged on a Table

Appetizers of Kaiseki cuisine, consisting of multiple dishes. Each dish is usually small and artistically decorated.

7. Traditional Holidays and Celebrations

There are many traditional holidays and celebrations in Japan. 

  • January 1 –  元旦 (gantan), “New Year’s Day”

    The official national holiday is only on January 1, but New Year’s Day celebrations usually last until at least January 3. These extended celebrations are referred to as 正月 (O-shōgatsu), and this is one of the biggest celebrations in Japan. To welcome the new year, family members and relatives get together, visit shrines to pray for happiness, have a special meal such as 御節 (Osechi) or お雑煮 (O-zōni), give お年玉 (Otoshidama) or “gift money” to children, and so on.
  • Second Monday of January – 成人の日 (Seijin no hi), “Coming of Age Day”

    20 years old is the official age of adulthood in Japan. Every year on Coming of Age Day, all the young people who turn 20 that year celebrate their adulthood, typically dressed up in traditional 着物 (kimono).

Japanese Women Dressed in Traditional Kimonos for Coming of Age Day Ceremony

On Coming of Age Day, those who turned 20 years old that year dress up in traditional Kimono and celebrate their official adulthood.

  • February 11 – 建国記念日 (Kenkoku kinenbi), National Foundation Day

    This holiday celebrates the mythological foundation of Japan, and the date corresponds to when the first Emperor of Japan came to power on February 11, 660 BC. Festive ceremonies are conducted at major shrines throughout Japan.
  • March 3 – ひな祭り (Hinamatsuri), “Girls’ Day

    Although this day is not a public holiday on which public services and schools close, it’s one of the remarkable traditional celebrations of Japan. To celebrate the healthy growth of girls, it’s tradition to display 雛人形 (hina-ningyō), or a set of ornamental dolls that represent the Emperor, Empress, attendants, and musicians in the traditional court dress of the Heian period.
  • April 29 to May 5 – ゴールデンウィーク (Gōruden Wīku), “Golden Week”

    It is called “Golden Week” because it contains many national holidays, making it a whole holiday week when combined with Saturday and Sunday. April 29 is Shōwa Day, May 3 is Constitution Day, May 4 is Greenery Day, and May 5 is Children’s Day.

    Around Children’s Day, it is tradition to put 鯉のぼり (Koinobori), or “carp-shaped windsocks,” outside of one’s house to wish for the healthy growth of children.

Three Koinobori Waving against a Blue Sky

Around Children’s Day, a lot of households put Koinobori carp flags outside to wish for the healthy growth of children.

  • Around August 15 – お盆 (O-bon)

    While this is not an official holiday, August 15 and the surrounding days are considered important. This is when families get together to honor the spirits of their ancestors. Derived from Buddhist custom, it’s believed that ancestors come down from heaven to earth around this time, once a year. Many Japanese people return to their parents’ or grandparents’ home, spend family time together, and then visit their ancestors’ graves to clean them and leave offerings.
  • Third Monday of September – 敬老の日 (Keirō no hi), “Respect for the Aged Day

    Influenced by Confucianism, Japanese culture values respecting and taking care of the elderly. This day is to show gratitude and respect for them. Usually, families celebrate and give gifts to their grandfather and grandmother.
  • December 31 – 大晦日 (Ōmisoka), “End of Year Day”

    Ōmisoka is not an official national holiday, but most companies offer time off for winter holidays as well as the Year End and New Year holidays. It is Japanese tradition to celebrate the last day of the year with family by giving thanks for having come through the previous year safe and sound, and by welcoming the new year with hope for good things to come.

    In order to welcome the fresh new year, Japanese people clean their house and eat 年越しそば (Toshikoshi soba), or “year-crossing noodle,” to wish for a long life. Before midnight, families go to a temple to hit a 除夜の鐘 (Joya no kane), or “bell,” to remove all unwanted states of mind. This custom originally derives from Buddhism.

To learn the essential vocabulary for New Year’s, check out our list of Japanese Vocabulary for New Year’s Holiday!

8. How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

In this Japanese culture overview, we covered a range of essential topics from values and religions, to family, art, and food. I hope you enjoyed learning these unique facts and that you’re now more interested in this fascinating culture! 

If you would like to learn more about the Japanese language and culture, JapanesePod101.com contains plenty of useful information for learners at every level. We provide a variety of free lessons to help you improve your Japanese language skills in the most fun way possible. To give you a small sample of what we have to offer, here is some content on the basics of Japanese:

You can also take advantage of our personal one-on-one coaching service, MyTeacher, when you create a Premium PLUS account. Your private teacher will help you practice pronunciation and give you personalized feedback and advice so you can improve efficiently. 

And there’s still so much more! Learn faster and enjoy studying Japanese at JapanesePod101.com!

Before you go, let us know in the comments what you learned about Japanese culture today. Were there any facts that caught your attention? We look forward to hearing from you!

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Japanese Showa Day: The First Day of Golden Week

While many of us are enjoying the beginning of spring and looking forward to all that April (and May and June…) have in store, this feeling of excitement is perhaps strongest in Japan right now. 

You see, April 29 (Showa Day) marks the beginning of Golden Week! This is a several-day period during which many Japanese people receive time off work, allowing them to travel and enjoy the refreshing spring weather at will. 

The Showa Day holiday in Japan, or 昭和の日 (Shōwa no hi), commemorates one of the most trying (and most successful) periods of the nations’ history: the Showa era. In this article, you’ll learn all about Showa Day in Japan and gain some knowledge about the emperor behind it!

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1. What is Showa Day in Japan?

A Sketch Drawing of Emperor Showa

Showa Day is meant to be a time of reflection on the past and anticipation of the future, or 将来 (shōrai). The day shares a name with 昭和天皇 (Shōwa tennō), or Emperor Showa, who ruled as Emperor of Japan from 1926 to 1989—the Showa Period, which was marked by both crippling obstacles and amazing successes. 

In Japanese, the word 昭和 (Shōwa) means “enlightened peace.” This is the name given Emperor Hirohito (Showa) posthumously and the name of the era during which he reigned. 

Many consider Emperor Showa to have been a strong leader and credit him with having helped Japan recover economically following such tragedies as World War II, the Second Sino-Japanese War, and Japan’s first-ever occupation by foreign forces. Despite these setbacks, the nation was able to rise and become one of the leading nations from an economic standpoint—this success was further spurred onward by the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

    → Want to learn more about Japan’s most notable figures? Then head over to our lesson series Top 10 Japanese Historical Figures to learn about such people as Ieyasu Tokugawa and Takeda Shingen.

2. Showa Day Traditions

Several People Admiring Cherry Blossoms

Because Showa Day marks the beginning of Golden Week, many people begin making travel plans far in advance. 

Showa Day celebrations in Japan tend to be laidback in nature, with many people traveling to see friends, family, and other loved ones for quiet reunions. Emperor Showa was well-known for his great love of nature and the outdoors; in this spirit, many people opt to spend the day cherry blossom viewing or organizing other outdoor activities such as picnics. 

Some people also visit shrines, museums, or the Musashino Imperial Mausoleum in Tokyo (where the body of Emperor Showa is buried). Many museums, such as the National Showa Memorial Museum in Tokyo, hold lectures on this day and teach visitors about the Showa Period and World War II.


3. Greenery Day

Once upon a time, April 29 was known as Greenery Day. It was so named because of Emperor Showa’s love of nature, and the day encouraged things such as spending time outdoors and promoting environmental health. 

In 2007, Greenery Day was moved to May 4, and April 29 was renamed Showa Day. This allowed for Golden Week to contain a holiday dedicated to Emperor Showa himself and another holiday for the environment.

Even earlier on, before Emperor Showa’s death, April 29 was simply the Emperor’s holiday. 

Confused, yet? 


4. Essential Vocabulary for Showa Day in Japan

Black and White Image of the Show Era in Japan

Want to impress your Japanese-speaking friends by talking about Showa Day in Japanese? Here are some of the vocabulary words from the article, plus a few more. 

  • 祝日 (shukujitsu) – holiday [n.]
  • 誕生日 (tanjōbi) – birthday [n.]
  • 将来 (shōrai) – future [n.]
  • 昭和の日 (Shōwa no hi) – Showa Day [n.]
  • 昭和天皇 (Shōwa tennō) – Emperor Showa [p.]
  • 昭和 (Shōwa) – Showa era [n.]
  • 4月29日 (shigatsu nijū kunichi) – April 29 [p.]
  • 偲ぶ (shinobu) – commemorate [v.]
  • 復興 (fukkō) – reconstruction [n.]
  • 日本国憲法 (Nihonkoku kempō) – Constitution of Japan [p.]
  • 文化功労者 (Bunka kōrōsha) – Person of Cultural Merit [p.]
  • 顧みる (kaerimiru) – think back [v.]

Make sure to visit our Showa Day vocabulary list to hear and practice the pronunciation of each word and phrase! 

Final Thoughts

Due to the strength of leadership shown by Emperor Showa, Japan was able to bounce back better than ever after some of the nation’s most unfortunate and trying times. 

Are there any leaders of your nation, past or present, who have immensely helped your country in hard times? Is there a holiday to commemorate them? We look forward to hearing from you! 

If you enjoyed this lesson and would like to read more insightful blog posts on Japanese culture or the language, you might enjoy these articles:

To get the most out of your JapanesePod101 learning experience, create your free lifetime account today and gain access to tons of practical and fun lessons. Not ready to commit yet? Then head over to the JapanesePod101 YouTube channel and watch any number of our exciting, engaging video lessons.

Happy learning!

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A Guide to the Best Traditional Japanese Foods

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How many different Japanese foods have you eaten? Have you ever ventured outside of the familiar Sushi and Rāmen? 

Japanese cuisine features a variety of delicious dishes ranging from cheap, local foods to high-end meals. In Japan, you’ll find both authentic and traditional foods as well as foods that have evolved through the influence of other cultures.

Believe it or not, Tokyo is the world’s most Michelin-starred city—it’s not Paris or Rome, but the capital city of Japan! According to the Michelin Guide, 226 of its restaurants received stars for the thirteenth consecutive year. Japanese people are avid foodies and they’re quite picky when it comes to the taste of their food. 

In this article, we’ll introduce a list of Japanese foods you must try. We’ll also give you some tips to help you enjoy Japanese food even more, an overview of unique Japanese dishes, food-related Japanese vocabulary, and a couple of easy Japanese recipes! 

Ready to explore Japanese cuisine with JapanesePod101.com? Then let’s go!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Let's Cook in Japanese Table of Contents
  1. Must-Try Japanese Food
  2. Authentic Japanese Food vs. Overseas Japanese Food
  3. Unique Japanese Foods
  4. Food-Related Japanese Vocabulary
  5. Easy and Simple Recipes
  6. How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

A Variety of Japanese Dishes

1. Must-Try Japanese Food

There are a few Japanese cuisine staples that everyone should try at least once. Exploring the flavors, ingredients, and presentation of these dishes will work wonders for your language studies by immersing you in the culture! 

1 – 寿司 (Sushi)

Sushi is one of the most popular Japanese food items, both internationally and in Japan. In old times (before there were refrigerators), Sushi was originally a preserved food using pickled fish. In the Edo Period, fresh fish and shellfish were used on rice seasoned with vinegar; this is the same style of Sushi we have today.

As an island country surrounded by Mother Seas, Japan benefits from affluent fresh seafoods. 

There are various types of Sushi, such as: 

  • にぎり(Nigiri) – “hand-formed”
  • 軍艦 (Gunkan) – “warship-roll”
  • 太巻き (Futomaki) – “thick-rolled”
  • 細巻き (Hosomaki) – “thin-rolled”
  • 手巻き (Temaki) – “hand-rolled”
  • ちらし寿司 (Chirashizushi) – “(ingredients) scattered sushi”

In Japan, people can easily enjoy Sushi through takeout from casual Sushi restaurants or by purchasing it from supermarkets. There are also specialized Sushi restaurants for celebrations or special occasions.

There are several types of Sushi restaurants, ranging from budget Conveyor Belt Sushi / Sushi-Go-Round (回転寿司) restaurants to high-end restaurants that cost at least ¥20,000-¥30,000 (around $190-$280) per person. The price differences account for the quality and freshness of ingredients, how skilled the Sushi chef is, and the restaurant’s level of service and hospitality.

A Dish of Authentic Japanese Sushi

Authentic Japanese Sushi uses a variety of fish.

2 – ラーメン (Rāmen)

Originally imported from China, Japanese Rāmen evolved uniquely and became a very popular casual dish in Japan. Rāmen is inexpensive and you can find Rāmen restaurants, or ラーメン屋 (Rāmen’ya), throughout the country. Some Rāmen restaurants are very popular and have long lines to enter.

Rāmen is a bowl of soup noodles with various types of ingredients. There are several different soup flavors based on the ingredients used, such as: 

  • しょうゆ (Shōyu) – “soy sauce-flavored broth”
  • とんこつ (Tonkotsu) – “creamy broth made of pork bones and vegetables”
  • みそ (Miso) – “fermented soybean paste-flavored broth”
  • しお (Shio) – “salt-flavored broth”
  • 鶏白湯 (Toripaitan) – “creamy broth made of chicken bones and vegetables”

The soup is a very important element of Japanese Rāmen. It’s made with bones and vegetables, typically boiled for several hours or even for days, to extract flavors that have depth and richness. Every Rāmen restaurant has its own soup recipe, and some Rāmen restaurants are so popular that you have to wait in a long line to enter.

The 麺 (Men), or “noodle,” used in Rāmen is just as important as the soup. Each type of soup is matched with a certain type of noodle; the noodles can be thin, thick, straight, or curly. A good soup-noodle combination should have a good balance of stiffness, taste, and texture.

Rāmen is an easy and budget-friendly option when you’re traveling in Japan. Make sure you research which Rāmen restaurants are popular and have good local reviews in advance!

A Bowl of Japanese Ramen Featuring Egg, Meat Slices, Dried Seaweed, and Narutomaki

For Japanese Rāmen, the taste of the soup is very important and it takes several hours to make.

3 – カレーライス (Japanese Curry Rice)

Japanese curry is definitely one of the most popular Japanese foods! It’s usually cooked at home, but you can also find it in specialized curry restaurants called カレー屋 (karēya) or other restaurants. It’s typically a casual dish.

Originally from India, curry was introduced to Japan in the Meiji Era. Since then, its flavor and preparation/serving methods have developed to reflect Japanese food culture. Thus, the texture and flavor of Japanese curry is very different from those in Indian curry, Thai curry, or any other type of curry.

Japanese curry is served with white steamed rice and it’s commonly called カレーライス (karē raisu) or ライスカレー (raisu karē), both meaning “curry rice” in Japanese. Japanese curry typically uses a カレールー (karē rū), or “curry roux,” which is concentrated curry seasoning in block or powder form; it’s composed of curry powder, flour, oils, and other various flavorings. 

Curry is cooked with various ingredients, typically meat and vegetables. One of the most popular curry recipes is カツカレー (Katsu karē), which is a perfect coupling of a Japanese pork cutlet and curry rice. There are a few other variations of Japanese curry, such as: 

  • スープカレー (sūpu karē) – “soup-style curry”
  • カレーうどん (karē udon) – “curry-flavored udon noodle”
  • カレードリア (karē doria) – “curry-flavored béchamelle on rice baked with cheese”

A Dish of カツカレー (Katsu Karē)

Katsu (pork cutlet) curry is one of the most popular recipes for Japanese curry rice.

4 – 天ぷら (Tempura)

Tempura is another one of the famous Japanese cuisine dishes you should try. It’s typically served at 和食 (wasyoku) Japanese restaurants or in specialized Tempura restaurants. You can have Tempura in casual, inexpensive restaurants as well as in high-class restaurants. 

Tempura is made using a variety of ingredients, typically seasonal vegetables and seafood. The ingredients are lightly battered and delicately deep-fried, then served with 天つゆ (tentsuyu) dipping sauce and grated Japanese radish. It’s recommended to eat this dish while it’s still hot, immediately after frying, to enjoy the crispy texture.

Tempura is eaten as a main dish served with white rice and miso soup, though it’s also popularly served as 天丼 (Tendon), which is a Tempura bowl with salty-sweet soy sauce, or as a topping for noodle dishes such as うど(Udon) and そば (Soba).

A Tempura Plate Using Prawns and Vegetables

The main ingredients of Tempura are vegetables and seafood, especially prawns.

5 – しゃぶしゃぶ (Shabu-shabu)

Shabu-shabu is a Japanese hot pot dish with a variety of vegetables, tofu, and thin-sliced meat. It’s typically served at specialized Shabu-shabu restaurants and you’re expected to share a hot pot with at least one other person.

The hot pot, filled with だし (dashi) soup (seasoned broth), is placed in the middle of a table with a stove, and the ingredients are brought to the table raw. The fun part of this dish is to cook the ingredients yourself. Firstly, you put all vegetables into the pot to boil. While you wait for them to be boiled, you can pick up a very thin slice of meat with chopsticks and submerge it into the pot’s soup, swishing it back and forth for a few seconds as it quickly cooks. The name Shabu-shabu is the onomatopoeia of the swishing movement.

Once the vegetables and meat are cooked, you dip them in a citrus-based ポン酢 (ponzu) sauce or sesame sauce before eating them.

It’s most popular in the colder seasons of autumn and winter, as cooking and eating this delicious soup will warm you up.

A Shabu-shabu Hot Pot Bowl with Vegetables Being Boiled

Ultra-thin meat boils quickly when it’s dipped and stirred in the hot pot.

6 – 丼ぶり (Donburi) 

丼ぶり (Donburi), or “bowl,” dishes feature white rice on the bottom and other ingredients on top of the rice. Donburi dishes are also called  丼もの (donmono), or “bowl meals.”

There are various types of Donburi dishes and they’re available at casual budget restaurants as well as 和食 (washoku), or “Japanese food,” restaurants. Many people also cook these meals at home. There are two popular versions of this dish:

  • 牛丼 (Gyūdon)

牛丼 (Gyūdon), meaning “beef bowl,” is one of the most popular bowls. The ingredients include thin-sliced beef, onions, and sometimes しらたき (shirataki) noodles topped with pickled ginger. The ingredients are simmered in a slightly sweet sauce seasoned with soy sauce, みりん (mirin) or “sweet rice wine,” and だし (dashi) or “fish stock.”

A 牛丼 (Gyūdon) Dish
  • カツ丼 (Katsudon)

Katsu means “pork cutlet.” This is a breaded deep-fried pork, also called とんかつ (tonkatsu). 

Katsudon is prepared by simmering tonkatsu and onion with beaten eggs on rice. It’s then flavored with some soy sauce, みりん (mirin) or “sweet rice wine,” and だし (dashi) or “fish stock.”

There are some variations, such as the ソースカツ丼 (sōsu katsudon), or “sauced cutlet bowl.” Here, とんかつ (tonkatsu) is served on rice without simmering the onion and eggs, and it’s flavored with a tonkatsu sauce.

A カツ丼 (Katsudon) Dish

Katsudon is a rice bowl with a Japanese pork cutlet, usually boiled with egg (Photo by Hajime Nakano, under CC BY 2.0).

  • 天丼 (Tendon)

Tendon is served with several Tempura on rice with salty-sweet soy sauce. Popular ingredients are prawn, eggplant, pumpkin, sweet potato, and squid.

A 天丼 (Tendon) Dish

Tendon is a Tempura bowl with sweet-salty soy sauce.

7 – 麺 (Men) – Traditional Japanese Noodles

There are many types of traditional Japanese noodles, and the ones on our list are the most popular in both restaurants and homes. Japanese noodle dishes are typically inexpensive.

  • そば (Soba)

Soba is a traditional Japanese noodle made from buckwheat and wheat flour with water. The noodle is squared and typically around two millimeters in width. Soba is enjoyed hot in soups with toppings or cold with つゆ (tsuyu) dipping sauce. 

  • うどん (Udon)

Udon is another type of traditional noodle that’s made of white wheat flour and water. This thick and round noodle has a five- to six-millimeter width. Udon is also served hot or cold, in hot soups with toppings or with cold dipping sauce.

A うどん (Udon) Noodle Dish
  • そうめん (Sōmen)

Sōmen noodles, made of wheat flour, are very popular in the summertime. The noodles are very thin and typically eaten cold with つゆ (tsuyu) dipping sauce. It’s considered to be a very easy meal that cooks in just a few minutes in boiling water.

A そうめん (Sōmen) Noodle Dish

(Photo by A. Koto, under CC BY 2.0)

2. Authentic Japanese Food vs. Overseas Japanese Food

Since Japanese cuisine gained its worldwide popularity, it’s easy to find Japanese restaurants in any big city in the world. However, many overseas Japanese restaurants are not Japanese-owned nor are the foods cooked by Japanese chefs. Some dishes look and taste very different from the authentic ones.

An Overseas Japanese Sushi Dish

Although some creative Sushi dishes taste good, some are very different from authentic Sushi.

1 – Overseas Sushi

Sushi ranks among Japan’s most popular foods and it’s eaten all around the world. As it becomes more popular, especially in Western countries, Sushi is being made in various styles. Overseas chefs are using their bold imagination and creativity to create Sushi dishes featuring different forms and flavors.

Transformed Sushi, often seen in 巻き寿司 (makizushi) or “roll sushi,” uses various ingredients that are never used in authentic Sushi, such as avocado, cream cheese, chili sauce, and sometimes even mangos and strawberries! In addition, some “healthy” Sushi uses brown rice or black rice instead of traditional white rice.

In addition to using different ingredients, overseas chefs are offering Sushi dishes in a variety of forms. Take for example the 裏巻き (uramaki), or “inside-out roll,” represented by the California roll and the Tempura roll (or fried Sushi) where the entire roll is battered and fried Tempura-style.

A Dish of Strawberry Sushi

Would you try Strawberry Sushi?

2 – Overseas Rāmen

Due to the increasing popularity of Japanese cuisine nowadays, Rāmen restaurants are booming overseas. However, real Rāmen is much more than just noodles in soup. Some restaurants serve soup noodles and name it “Rāmen,” though these dishes are very different from authentic Japanese Rāmen. 

As mentioned earlier, the soup and noodles are crucial elements of Japanese Rāmen. The soup in particular is very difficult to make as it requires perfectly balanced ingredients and many hours of boiling.

If you want to taste good Rāmen with authentic flavor, go to a specialized Rāmen restaurant (Rāmen’ya) that exclusively serves Rāmen. In most cases, “Rāmen” served in restaurants with a variety of other menu items have disappointing soup or use different kinds of soup noodles.

A Vietnamese Ramen Dish

Don’t get the wrong idea that Rāmen is similar to Chinese or Vietnamese soup noodles! Authentic Rāmen tastes totally different from other soup noodles.

3 – Overseas Japanese Curry Rice 

Japanese-style curry is also becoming well-known and you can find it in big cities overseas, sometimes even at Japanese fast-food franchise restaurants. Katsu curry (pork cutlet curry) is especially popular.

However, some of the Japanese curry dishes available overseas don’t taste authentic. Some probable reasons include not using the proper ingredients or using less Japanese curry roux blocks in favor of other seasonings. 

If you want to taste authentic Japanese curry overseas, make sure you ask if the restaurant’s owner or its chefs are Japanese! 

3. Unique Japanese Foods

Are you planning a trip to Japan and want to try some unique dishes? For the best food experiences in Japan, we highly recommend the following foods!

1 – B-Class Cuisine: Casual, Inexpensive Local Cuisine

So-called B級グルメ (B kyū gurume), or “B-class cuisine,” is very popular in Japan.

B-class cuisine is unofficially distinguished from other “decent” Japanese dishes in that they are very casual, low-budget, and locally available.

Following is a Japanese food list of some notable B-class cuisine items. 

お好み焼き (Okonomiyaki)

Okonomiyaki (meaning “as-you-like-it pancake”) is essentially a salty pan-fried pancake. It’s often cooked at home, but it’s also available at specialized Okonomiyaki restaurants.

You can choose any ingredients you’d like and put them into the batter (which is made of flour and cabbage). Common ingredients include meat, seafood, vegetables, cheese, and rice cakes. Put the mixture onto a pan or griddle and fry both sides until it’s cooked. It’s served with:

  • Okonomiyaki sauce
  • 青のり (aonori), or “dried seaweed particles”
  • かつお節 (katsuobushi), or “dried bonito flakes” 
  • Japanese mayonnaise

お好み焼き (Okonomiyaki) Being Cooked

Okonomiyaki is originally from Osaka region (Photo by Marcel Montes, under CC BY-SA 3.0).

タコ焼き (Takoyaki)

Takoyaki is a very popular B-class cuisine item and snack. It’s cooked at home and is also available at 屋台 (yatai), or market stalls often seen at festivals. 

Takoyaki can be explained as “octopus balls,” where octopus is the main ingredient. It’s used together with wheat flour batter, Tempura scraps or 天かす (tenkasu), pickled ginger or 紅しょうが (beni shoga), and green onion or ネギ (negi). It’s cooked in a special molded pan that features many holes shaped like half-balls. 

This dish is eaten with all of the same toppings as Okonomiyaki is, and it’s usually eaten with toothpicks.

A Takoyaki Dish

Takoyaki is also originally from Osaka region (Photo by heiwa4126, under CC BY 2.0).

コロッケ (Korokke)

Korokke is a Japanese deep-fried dish originally inspired by the French croquette. This dish is typically cooked at home, though it’s also sold at specialized Korokke shops and delicatessen corners in supermarkets.

Standard Korokke is made of mashed potato and minced beef, shaped into flat and oval forms. Each patty is coated with flour, beaten eggs, and パン粉 (panko), or “Japanese breadcrumbs,” and then deep-fried until the surface becomes brown. 

There are some popular Korokke flavor variations: 

  • カニクリーム (Kani kurīmu) – “crab meat and white sauce”
  • かぼちゃ (kabocha) – “pumpkin”
  • カレー (karē) – “curry-flavored potato”

A コロッケ (Korokke) Dish

2 – Other Unique Foods

Here are a few more traditional Japanese dishes that are a bit higher-grade than those in the previous section. 

納豆 (Natto)

Natto is made of fermented soybeans and is often eaten with white rice. It’s known as a Japanese superfood that offers many nutritional benefits. Natto is normally eaten at home (purchased from supermarkets), but it’s not usually available in restaurants.

Although Natto has a mild taste, some people may not be able to accept its unique smell and slimy texture. Without any forewarning, a foreigner may be shocked after smelling it and seeing its texture for the first time. If you focus on the taste, however, you’ll enjoy its flavor in combination with the white rice.

A Natto Dish

Natto is made of fermented soybeans.

馬刺し (Basashi)

Horse meat is eaten in some regions of Japan. 馬刺し (basashi), or sliced raw horse meat, is especially  popular, eaten with grated ginger or garlic, sliced onions, and soy sauce. It’s served at 居酒屋 (Izakaya)-style dining bars.

A 馬刺し (Basashi) Dish

Raw horse meat tastes similar to beef.

海藻 (Kaisō)

Kaisō, or “seaweed,” is commonly eaten in Japan, usually as an ingredient in みそ汁 (miso) soup or salad. There are several kinds of seaweed, but わかめ (wakame) is one of the most popular types.

A 海藻 (Kaisō) Dish

Kaisō is often eaten in salad or as a small side dish.

4. Food-Related Japanese Vocabulary

Now that we’ve whetted your appetite, it’s time to look at some Japanese food vocabulary that you can start practicing today! 

1 – Ingredients

English KanjiHiraganaReading 
meat肉 にくniku
chicken meat鶏肉とりにくtoriniku
pork豚肉ぶたにくbutaniku
beef牛肉ぎゅうにくgyūniku
fish魚 さかなsakana
vegetable野菜やさいyasai
mushroomきのこkinoko
egg卵・玉子たまごtamago
milk牛乳ぎゅうにゅうgyūnyū
riceご飯ごはんgohan
noodleめんmen
soy sauce醤油しょうゆshōyu
saltしおshio
sugar砂糖さとうsatō
spices香辛料こうしんりょうkōshinryō

To learn more food-related vocab with audio, please check out our vocabulary lists “Food” and “What’s Your Favorite Japanese Food?

2 – Cooking Methods

English KanjiHiraganaReading 
deep-fried揚げたあげたageta
stir-fried /pan-fried炒めたいためたitameta
steamed蒸したむしたmushita
boiled茹でたゆでたyudeta
simmered煮たにたnita
fermented発酵したはっこうしたhakkō shita
half-cooked半熟のはんじゅくのhanjuku no
raw生のなまのnama no
matured / aged / ripened熟成したじゅくせいしたjukusei shita

3 – Phrases for Ordering Food

  • メニューをもらえますか。(Menyū o moraemasu ka.) – “Can I have a menu?”
  • これはどんな料理ですか。(Kore wa donna ryōri desu ka.) – “What kind of food is this?”
  • 私は___を食べられません。(Watashi wa ___ o taberaremasen.) – “I cannot eat ___.”
  • 私は___のアレルギーがあります。(Watashi wa ___ no arerugī ga arimasu.) – “I am allergic to ___.”
  • これに___は入っていますか。(Kore ni ___ wa haitte imasu ka.) – “Does this have ___ inside?”
  • これはどのくらい辛いですか。(Kore wa dono kurai karai desu ka.) – “How hot/spicy is this?”
  • おすすめは何ですか。(Osusume wa nan desu ka.) – “What do you recommend?”
  • これをお願いします。(Kore o onegai shimasu.) – “I will have this one, please”

For more phrases, see our list of Useful Phrases for Ordering Food and learn useful vocabulary with audio.

5. Easy and Simple Recipes

Before you go, check out these easy recipes for Japanese cuisine to make at home! With only a few ingredients and a little spare time, you can eat delicious Japanese food without needing to find a specialized restaurant. 

1 – Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki is very simple to make! Basically, all you need to do is mix all of the ingredients together and pan-fry it. Serve with Okonomiyaki sauce and toppings.

For two servings, 

Ingredients:

  • 100g wheat flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 120ml water
  • 3 teaspoons spoons dashi powder
  • 200g cabbage, sliced and roughly chopped
  • your favorite ingredients (e.g. sliced pork meat / seafood mix / cheese / spinach)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Sauce & toppings:

  • Okonomiyaki sauce
  • Katsuobushi / Bonito flakes
  • Aonori seaweed flakes
  • Japanese mayonnaise

Step 1: Mix all ingredients well in a bowl. For sliced pork meat, add in the next step.

Step 2: Put vegetable oil into a small- or middle-sized heated pan. Pour the mixture onto a heated pan and spread it to approximately 2 cm thickness. If you’re using thin-sliced pork meat, place it on the mixture.

Step 3: Fry it until the frying surface is cooked and turns brown. Flip Okonomiyaki over and cook it for about 5 minutes with the lid on.

Step 4: Open the lid and fry it until it’s well-cooked inside. Flip it again to cook as needed.

Step 5: Serve Okonomiyaki with Okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, bonito flakes, and aonori seaweed flakes on top.

2 – Oyakodon

Oyakodon is one of the easiest bowl dishes to make at home. Oyako means “parent and child,” referencing the dish’s ingredients: chicken and egg.

For two servings,

Ingredients:

  • 400g cooked white rice (Japanese rice) 
  • 1 small onion, cut in half and thin-sliced 
  • 200g chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 eggs, beaten 
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Condiments:

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons cooking sake (or white wine)
  • 2 tablespoons mirin 
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dashi powder

Step 1: Pour vegetable oil into a pan on middle heat. Stir fry the chicken meat until it changes color.

Step 2: Add onions and cook until they become soft and then pour all the condiments into a pan.

Step 3: Simmer until liquid is evaporated to about half the original amount, and then pour ⅔ of the beaten eggs.

Step 4: When eggs are cooked, add the rest of the beaten eggs and cook it for around 10-15 seconds.

Step 5: Put it on the warm white rice in a donburi / bowl and serve. If you have nori/seaweed paper, sprinkle it on the top.

An Oyakodon Dish

6. How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

In this article, we introduced several Japanese foods that you must try, including those you should only eat in Japan and others to make at home. We also provided you with some useful food-related vocabulary for cooking and ordering. I hope you enjoyed this article and that you’ve become more interested in such a fascinating cuisine!

If you would like to learn more about the Japanese language and culture, you’ll find more helpful content on JapanesePod101.com. We provide a variety of free lessons to help you improve your Japanese language skills. If you’re just starting out, here are a few vocabulary lists we recommend you review:

Personal one-on-one tutoring is also available through our MyTeacher service when you upgrade to Premium PLUS. Your private teacher will help you practice pronunciation and you’ll get personalized feedback and advice to improve efficiently. 

And there’s so much more we have to offer you! Learn faster and enjoy studying Japanese at JapanesePod101.com!

Before you go, let us know in the comments what you learned about Japanese food today. How many of these dishes have you tried before? We look forward to hearing from you.

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An Easy Guide to Japanese Grammar

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Are you interested in learning Japanese and wondering where to start? Or have you been studying a while and want to know more about Japanese grammar and the logic behind it? Our easy guide to Japanese grammar will give you insight into the essentials of the Japanese language.

Japanese grammar works quite differently from that of English, but that doesn’t mean it’s more difficult. Some rules are actually much simpler and easier to understand than those in English or the Romance languages. For example, Japanese does not have articles, gender, or the singular/plural forms; Japanese has only the present and past tenses. Learning the characteristics of Japanese grammar will deepen your understanding of the language and accelerate your language acquisition. 

Without further ado, JapanesePod101.com’s concise summary of Japanese grammar!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese Table of Contents
  1. General Japanese Grammar Rules
  2. Nouns & Pronouns
  3. Verbs
  4. Adjectives
  5. Ancillary Words
  6. How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

1. General Japanese Grammar Rules 

When written, Japanese sentences do not have spaces between the words like English does. This may be confusing for foreign learners at first, but you’ll quickly get used to it once you learn the basic rules. Here’s an example of what a Japanese sentence looks like: 

  • 私の母は仕事へ行きました。(“My mother went to work.”)

Keep in mind that literal translation from English to Japanese doesn’t work because the grammar rules and sentence structures are different. 

Words, Phrases, and Sentences

  • Words, or 単語 (tango), are the minimum unit in a sentence and cannot be reduced any further.

For example, this is a breakdown of each word in, “My mother went to work.”

私 (Watashi)の (no)母 (haha)は (wa)仕事 (shigoto)に (ni)行きました。 (ikimashita.)
“I”” -‘s ““mother”topic-particle“work”locative-particle“went”

  • Phrases, or 文節 (bunsetsu), are the smallest coherent components that form a sentence. 

Here’s a breakdown of the phrases in the same sentence:

私の (Watashi no)母は (haha wa)仕事に (shigoto ni)行きました。(ikimashita.)
“My”“mother”“to work”“went”

Japanese phrases are divided into the minimum components that still make sense (have meaning).

When breaking down a sentence, phrases are typically divided before 独立語 (dokuritsugo), or “independent words,” such as nouns, adjectives, and verbs.

  • Sentences, or 文 (bun), are texts that end with 句点 (kuten), the punctuation mark (“。”), which is comparable to a full stop (“.”) in English. 

Sentences consist of phrases, which typically contain a subject and a predicate to convey a statement or question. Sentences and phrases are also punctuated with 読点 (tōten), the Japanese comma (“、”).

今朝、私の母は仕事に行きました。(Kesa, watashi no haha wa shigoto ni ikimashita.)
“This morning, my mother went to work.”

Classification of Phrases

There are several types of Japanese phrases, classified by function. They include:

  • 主語 (shu-go) – “subject”
  • 述語 (jutsu-go) – “predicate”
  • 修飾語 (shūshoku-go) – “modifier”
  • 接続語 (setsuzoku-go) – “conjunction”
  • 独立語 (dokuritsu-go) – “independent phrase”

Subject Phrase

A subject phrase indicates “what” or “who” in a sentence. It usually takes the form of a noun followed by a grammatical particle, such as は (wa), が (ga), orも (mo).

Examples:

  • 私は学生です。(Watashi wa gakusei desu.) – “I am a student.”
  • 彼も食べます。(Kare mo tabemasu.) – “He eats, too.”

Predicate Phrase

A predicate phrase explains something about the subject, usually what it is or what it’s like. The predicate is located at the end of a sentence. 

Examples:

  • 彼は医者です。(Kare wa isha desu.) – “He is a doctor.”
  • その子は痩せています。(Sono ko wa yasete imasu.) – “That kid is skinny.”

Modifier Phrase

A modifier phrase adds detail to other phrases within a sentence. 

Examples:

  • 私は赤いりんごを買いました。(Watashi wa akai ringo o kaimashita.) – “I bought a red apple.”

Here, “a red apple” explains what “I bought.”

  • 桜の花がとてもきれいです。(Sakura no hana ga totemo kirei desu.) – “Cherry blossoms are very beautiful.”

Here, “very” further explains “Cherry blossoms are beautiful.”

Conjunction Phrase

A conjunction phrase connects a phrase to a sentence, or one sentence to another sentence. 

Examples:

  • 私は雨が嫌いです。しかし、雪は好きです。(Watashi wa ame ga kirai desu. Shikashi, yuki wa suki desu.) – “I don’t like rain. However, I like snow.” 

“However” connects the former sentence with the latter.

  • 紅茶にしますか、それとも コーヒーにしますか。(Kōcha ni shimasu ka, soretomo kōhī ni shimasu ka.) – “Would you like tea or would you like coffee?”

“Or” connects the former phrase with the latter.

Independent Phrase

An independent phrase does not have a direct relationship with another phrase or sentence. 

Examples:

  • さあ、出かけましょう。(, dekakemashō.) – “Well, let’s go out.” 

“Well” is independent from “Let’s go out.”

  • こんにちは、 お元気ですか。(Kon’nichiwa, o-genki desu ka.) – “Hello, how are you?”

“Hello” is independent from “How are you?”

Word Class System

Japanese words are classified into two categories: 

  • 自立語 (jiritsu-go) – “independent words” that have lexical meaning
  • 付属語 (fuzoku-go) – “ancillary words” that have grammatical functions

自立語 (jiritsu-go) and 付属語 (fuzoku-go) are further divided into two groups: 

    ❖ 活用語 (katsuyōg-o) – word classes that conjugate
    ❖ 非活用語 (hikatsuyō-go) – word classes that do not conjugate

There are ten word classes (nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc.) as follows:

Chart of Grammatical Classes

SOV Sentence Structure

Japanese is an SOV language, which means the basic word order of a sentence is: S (Subject)O (Object)V (Verb). This is different from English, which is an SVO language with the S (Subject)V (Verb)O (Object) pattern.

     (S)    (O)      (V)

Japanese: 私は寿司を食べます。(Watashi wa sushi o tabemasu.)

                (S)     (V)     (O)

English:  “I  eat   sushi.”

Compared to English, the Japanese sentence structure is flexible:

  • The subject can be omitted (especially when you can guess the subject from the context).
  • The subject and object(s) can be placed in a variable order.

For example, “I will eat sushi later,” can be expressed in Japanese as:

    ❖ (私は)寿司を後で食べます。([Watashi wa] sushi o ato de tabemasu.) 
    ❖ (私は)後で寿司を食べます。([Watashi wa]  ato de sushi o tabemasu.)

Note that the subject 私は (watashi wa), or “I,” can be omitted.

For more explanation about Japanese word order, please see our article on Japanese Sentence Structure & Word Order.

Differences From English

When foreigners first start learning Japanese grammar, they may think it’s a difficult language to learn. However, in regard to the following points, Japanese grammar is simpler and easier than that of English. 

Simple Tense System

Japanese has only the present tense and the past tense, while English has several more. For example, English also uses the future tense (“I will go”), perfect tense (“I have done“), and past perfect tense (“I had known“).

In Japanese, things to take place in the future are expressed using the present tense combined with a “time” word that indicates the future. These words include 後で (ato de), meaning “later,” and 来月 (raigetsu), meaning “next month.”

Things about the past are all expressed in the past tense, regardless of other factors such as timing.

No Singular / Plural 

Unlike English and the Romance languages, Japanese grammar does not distinguish between the singular and plural forms. A plural state is expressed by simply adding a word that indicates a number or quantity.

No Articles

Japanese doesn’t use any articles (such as “a” or “the”).

No Conjugation by Person 

In Japanese grammar, verb conjugation is consistent regardless of the 人称 (ninshō), or “grammatical person.” This is different from English, where verbs do conjugate according to grammatical person (“I am” / “she is” / “he does” / “they do“).

A Page in a Book Forming a Heart

Learning gives us pleasure.

2. Nouns & Pronouns

Next up in our Japanese grammar overview are a few quick notes concerning how nouns and pronouns are used. 

Nouns

  • Nouns do not undergo declension; they are independent words that have lexical meaning. 
  • Nouns can be the subject of a sentence.
  • Japanese nouns do not have grammatical gender, number (singular/plural), or articles. 

For example, 子供 (kodomo) can be translated as “child,” “children,” “a child,” “the child,” or “some children,” depending on the context. 

In order to specify, we add a demonstrative or numeral word to a noun. For example, その子供 (sono kodomo) means “that child” and 二人の子供 (futari no kodomo) means “two children.”

For example:

    ➢ 皿 (sara) – “plate”              : お皿       (o-sara)
    ➢ 挨拶 (aisatsu) – “greeting” : ご挨拶 (go-aisatsu)

To learn more about Japanese nouns, please see our Guide to the Top 100+ Japanese Nouns.

Pronouns

  • Pronouns are used to substitute nouns (typically people or things) in a sentence.
  • Pronouns can be the subject of a sentence, though do remember that Japanese can just omit the subject altogether if it’s clear from the context.
  • There are different types of pronouns, especially for the first person. These are used according to gender and politeness level.

For example, here are some of the commonly used pronouns:

First Person (“I”): 

    ➢ 私 (watashi)      [unisex, polite/informal]
    ➢ 私 (watakushi)  [unisex, very polite]
    ➢ あたし (atashi) [female, informal]
    ➢ 僕 (boku)          [male, polite/informal]
    ➢ 俺 (ore)             [male, impolite]

Second Person (“you”)

    ➢ あなた (anata)               [plain, polite]
    ➢ あなた様 (anata-sama) [very polite]
    ➢ 君    (kimi)                     [informal]
    ➢ お前 (omae)                  [very impolite]
    ➢ あんた (anta)                [very impolite]

Third Person  

    ➢ 彼 (kare)                [“he,” plain/polite]
    ➢ 彼女 (kanojo)         [“she,” plain/polite]
    ➢ あの人 (ano hito)   [“that person,” plain/polite]
    ➢ あの方 (ano kata)  [“that person,” very polite]
    ➢ あいつ (aitsu)        [“that person,” impolite]
    ➢ 彼ら  (kare-ra)       [“they,” plain/informal]

For more details about Japanese pronouns, please check out Your Ultimate Guide to Japanese Pronouns.

Japanese Nouns

Japanese nouns don’t have articles or singular/plural forms.

3. Verbs 

Because verbs are one of the most important parts of speech, it’s crucial that you know how they work in Japanese!

  • In Japanese grammar, verbs are 自立語 (jiritsu-go), or “independent words,” and they conjugate.
  • Verbs represent movement, action, existence, and the presence of things.
  • The conjugation of Japanese verbs is consistent regardless of person, number, or gender (e.g. English verb conjugation: I am / He is / You are / We go / She eats).
  • Japanese verbs always end in “u” or “ru” when written in ローマ字 (Rōmaji), and verbs are categorized into three groups: (1) U-verbs, (2) Ru-verbs, and (3) Irregular verbs. 

For example:

(1) U-verbs: 行く (iku) – “go” / 話す (hanasu) – “talk” / 習う (narau) – “learn”

(2) Ru-verbs: 乗る (noru) – “ride” / 着る (kiru) – “wear” / 忘れる (wasureru) – “forget”

(3) Irregular verbs: する (suru) – “do” / 来る (kuru) – “come”

  • Japanese verbs consist of a stem and a suffix. The suffix conjugates according to the form, such as casual, polite, plain, or negative.

For example, look at the conjugation of the U-verb 話す・はなす (hana-su), meaning “talk.” The stem is はな (hana-) and the suffix is す(-su).

    ❖ 話す (hana-su)                       : standard/casual form
    ❖ 話します (hana-shimasu)      : polite form
    ❖ 話さない (hana-sanai)           : negative/casual form
    ❖ 話しません (hana-shimasen) : negative/polite form

Once you’ve memorized the patterns and rules of conjugation, it will become simple and easy to use Japanese verbs. In addition, there are only two irregular verbs: する (suru), meaning “do,” and 来る (kuru), meaning “come.”

For more details about Japanese verbs, please see The 100+ Most Common Japanese Verbs and our Ultimate Japanese Verb Conjugation Guide.

Japanese Verbs

The conjugation of Japanese verbs is not influenced by person, number, or gender.

4. Adjectives 

You need adjectives to spice up your writing and conversations. Here are the basics for you!

  • Adjectives are 自立語 (jiritsu-go), or “independent words,” and they undergo inflection.
  • Adjectives can modify nouns or serve as the predicate of a sentence.
  • Adjectives explain characteristics, a state of being, or the condition of something.
  • Japanese adjectives are not influenced by grammatical person, gender, or number.
  • Most Japanese adjectives end with the Hiragana い (i) or な (na) in the present tense, and they are categorized as I-adjectives and Na-adjectives.

Example:

静か人  (Shizuka na hito) – “quiet person”
彼の家は大き。(Kare no ie wa ōkii.) – “His house is big.”

  • Japanese adjectives consist of a stem and a suffix. The suffix changes according to the form, such as casual, polite, plain, or negative, in the present or past tense. 

Let’s look at the inflection of the I-adjective 強い・ つよい (tsuyo-i), meaning “strong.” The stem is つよ (tsuyo-) and the suffix is い (-i).

    ➢ 強い (tsuyo-i)                                      : standard/casual form
    ➢ 強いです (tsuyo–i desu)                     : polite form
    ➢ 強くない (tsuyo-kunai)                       : negative/casual form
    ➢ 強くありません (tsuyo-ku arimasen) : negative/polite form

To learn more about Japanese adjectives, please see our article on The Top 100 Essential Japanese Adjectives.

Japanese Adjectives

There are two types of Japanese adjectives: I-adjectives and Na-adjectives. Can you guess which type these are?

5. Ancillary Words

An ancillary word doesn’t have meaning itself, but rather becomes part of a phrase when it’s placed after independent words.

However, ancillary words play a very important role in Japanese sentences. A sentence only makes sense when ancillary words are used. 

Example:

私 家 食べる。     (Watashi ie taberu.)            – “I” / “home” / “eat”
食べる。(Watashi wa ie de taberu.) – “I eat at home.”

Grammatical Particles

In Japanese grammar, particles called 助詞 (joshi), also known as てにをは (te-ni-o-ha), are suffixes and postpositions that do not inflect. Particles immediately follow the modified component (such as a noun, verb, adjective, or sentence).

Please note that there are exceptions in the pronunciation and spelling of the following particles:

  • wa (written は [ha] in Hiragana, pronounced わ [wa] as a particle)
  • e (written へ [he], pronounced え [e]) 
  • o (written を [wo], pronounced お [o])

There are various types of particles, and each type has different functions.

  • Case markers / 格助詞 (kakujoshi
    • 青い。(Sora ga aoi.) – “The sky is blue.”
    • It represents a theme/topic/subject.
  • Parallel markers / 並立助詞 (heiritsu-joshi)
    • 彼はりんごみかんを買った。(Kare wa ringo to mikan o katta.) – “He bought an apple and an orange.” 
    • It’s used to enumerate things.
  • Adverbial particles / 副助詞 (fukujoshi)
    • まで数えてください。(Hyaku made kazoete kudasai.) – “Please count up to 100.”
    • It indicates a range, limit, or reaching point of something. Adverbial particles follow a noun. 
  • Conjunctive particles / 接続助詞 (setsuzoku-joshi)
    • やったけれども達成できなかった。(Yatta keredomo dekinakatta.) – “Although I did, I couldn’t achieve.”
    • It connects sentences by representing a semantic relationship.
  • Sentence ending particles / 終助詞 (shūjoshi)
    • 明日は雨が降る。(Ashita wa ame ga furu yo.) – “It will rain tomorrow.”
    • It has a nuance of telling someone an idea, suggestion, notice, warning, etc.
  • Interjectory particles / 間投助詞 (kantō-joshi)
    • あの、私、(Ano ne, watashi ne,) – “You know, I….”
    • It’s used in casual conversations to soften one’s tone of voice.

Auxiliary Verbs

  • Auxiliary verbs are placed after the stem forms of verbs or adjectives, and they conjugate as verbs.
  • Auxiliary verbs do not have meaning when used alone, but they add meaning when attached to verbs or adjectives.

Examples:

    ➢ ます (-masu) : makes a sentence polite
       食べる (tabe-ru) – “to eat” → 食べます (tabe-masu) – “to eat” in a polite form
    ➢ れる・られる (-reru/-rareru) : makes a verb passive/potential/honorific
       見る (mi-ru) – “to see” → 見られる (mi-rareru) – “to be seen”
       読む (yo-mu) – “to read”  → 読まれる (yo-mareru) – “to be read” or “to read” in a respectful form
    ➢ せる・させる (-seru/-saseru) : makes a verb causative
       作る (tsuku-ru) – “to make” → 作らせる (tsuku-raseru) – “to cause to make”
       知る (shi-ru) – “to know” → 知らせる (shi-raseru) – “to cause to know”

Japanese Grammatical Particles

Use of 助詞 (joshi), or “grammatical particles,” is essential in Japanese.

6. How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

In this Japanese grammar guide, we introduced you to the very basics of Japanese grammar. I hope you have a better understanding of how Japanese grammar works and that we’ve encouraged you to keep learning! 

If you would like to learn more about the Japanese language, you’ll find much more helpful content on JapanesePod101.com. We provide a variety of free lessons to help you improve your Japanese language skills. Here are some vocabulary lists you can study to get started:

Of course, you can also check out our Japanese grammar resources to fine-tune your understanding of the topics we covered today. 

And we still have so much more to offer you! 

For example, you gain access to our personal one-on-one coaching service, MyTeacher, when you sign up for a Premium PLUS account. Your private teacher will help you practice your pronunciation, give you personalized feedback, and offer advice on how to improve efficiently. 

Learn faster with JapanesePod101.com!

Before you go, let us know in the comments what you learned about Japanese today. Were there any facts that caught your attention? We look forward to hearing from you!

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