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The Top 10 Japanese Filler Words

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When learning a foreign language, one studies the phrases and grammar rules laid out in their textbook or taught in the classroom. But once a language student begins to practice what they’ve learned in the real world, it’s not long until they encounter a number of unfamiliar expressions in the spoken language.

Filler words are a great example of this. 

Japanese filler words are small words or sounds often used to fill pauses in conversation, emphasize a point, soften a statement, and so on. 

Once you master Japanese filler words and start using them in conversations, you’ll begin to sound more and more like a native speaker. But while filler words can help your speech sound more natural, overusing them can be annoying or leave an undesirable impression of you on others. The key is to use them naturally and effectively. 

In this article, we’ll introduce the top 10 Japanese filler words, explain the characteristics and functions of each, and discuss the pros and cons of using them.


A Woman in a Yellow Sweater Standing with Folded Arms and Thinking

ええと・・・ (eeto…) – “umm…” You can use this Japanese filler when you’re thinking.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese Table of Contents
  1. What are filler words?
  2. Top 10 Japanese Filler Words
  3. Pros and Cons of Filler Words
  4. Conclusion

1. What are filler words? 

Filler words are short words or sounds used to fill pauses in conversations, usually to let the other party know you’re not done speaking yet. In English, commonly used filler words and sounds include: 

  • “Uh…”
  • “Um…” 
  • “Er…”
  • “Well…”
  • “So…”
  • “You know…”
  • “I mean…”
  • “Like…” 

Although filler words and sounds add no particular meaning to the speaker’s statement, they do have a function in speech. As mentioned, filler words are most often used to let the other party know that you’re thinking about what to say next and that you’re not finished speaking. This signals to the other party that they should keep listening rather than take their turn to speak. 

Fillers can also be used for a variety of other purposes, depending on the context. For example, they can be used to… 

  • …speak more indirectly in order to be polite.
  • …approach a delicate topic gently.
  • …emphasize an idea.
  • …provide clues about the speaker’s emotions or behaviors.
  • …communicate uncertainty.

A Young Asian Woman in Deep Thought

Filler words are used to fill the little pauses in conversations.

How are they used in Japanese?

Filler words in Japanese are used in almost the same way as those in English.

Most Japanese filler words are casual. That said, some of them—such as あの (ano) and その (sono)—can also be used in formal/official situations. Others are only used by young people or thoughtless adults and are referred to as 若者言葉 (wakamono kotoba) or “young people’s words.” Fillers that fall into this category include てゆーか (te yū ka) and てかさー (teka sā).

In the following section, we’ll go into more detail about the usage of each commonly used Japanese filler word.

A Man Standing in Front of a Blackboard That Has a Thought Bubble Drawn on It

The most frequently used Japanese filler words are あのー (anō), meaning “um…” / “er…,” and ええと (eeto…), meaning “well…”

2. Top 10 Japanese Filler Words

#1 ええと (eeto) / えっと (etto) / えー (ē) 

English Equivalents: “er” / “err” / “uh” / “um”

This is one of the most common Japanese filler words. You can use it to indicate that you’re pausing to think or to precede something that you’re hesitant to say. 

While ええと (eeto) and えー (ē) can be used both casually and in formal situations—such as in an official speech or a business presentation—えっと (etto) should only be used casually. These filler words may be used multiple times in one sentence.

Examples

  • ええと、何を言おうとしていたんだっけ・・
    Eeto, nani o iō to shite ita n dakke…
    “Err, what I was trying to say…”
  • えっと、今から授業が始まるから、後でね。
    Etto, ima kara jugyō ga hajimaru kara, ato de ne.
    “Um, maybe later because the class is starting now.”
  • えー、先ほども述べた通り、えー、今期の営業利益はマイナスです。
    Ē, sakihodo mo nobeta tōri, ē, konki no eigyō rieki wa mainasu desu.
    “Uh, as I mentioned before, um, the operating profit of this period is negative.”

#2 あの (ano) / あのー (anō)

English Equivalents: “well” / “uh” / “um”

This is another frequently used Japanese filler word that can be used in both casual and formal situations. It’s very similar to ええと(eeto) and えー (ē), but this one can also be used to get the listener’s attention.

Examples

  • あの、ちょっといいですか、あの、言いたいことがあります。
    Ano, chotto ii desu ka, ano, iitai koto ga arimasu.
    “Err, can I have a minute, um, I have something to say.”
  • ええと、ここに問題があります。あのー、ようするに流通の問題です。
    Eeto, koko ni mondai ga arimasu. Anō, yōsuruni, ryūtsū no mondai desu.
    “Um, the problem lies here. Well, in a word, the distribution problem.”

Two Asian Coworkers Chatting Together After Work

田中さん、あの、ランチ一緒に行きませんか。
Tanaka-san, ano, ranchi issho ni ikimasen ka.
“Ms. Tanaka, um, would you like to have lunch together?”

#3 その (sono) / そのー (sonō)

English Equivalents: “well” / “uh” / “um” 

These are similar to あの (ano) and あのー (anō). They’re used to pause a little so you can think of what to say next, or before talking about a delicate subject.

Examples

  • 私は、その、これが良い案とは思いません。
    Watashi wa, sono, kore ga ii an to wa omoimasen.
    “I, uh, I don’t think this is a good idea.”
  • そのー、いわゆる、それはザイアンス効果によるものです。
    Sonō, iwayuru, sore wa Zaiansu kōka ni yoru mono desu.
    “Well, so to speak, it is due to the mere-exposure effect.”

#4 うーん (ūn) / うーんと (ūnto

English Equivalent: “umm”

This is the Japanese version of “umm.” It’s an example of 擬態語 (Gitaigo), or “onomatopoeia,” used to describe a state of “thinking.” You can use this filler to let the other person know you’re gathering your thoughts, or to precede something that you’re hesitant to say. 

Examples

  • うーん、どっちにしようかな。 うーん、この二つから決めるのは難しい。
    Ūn, dotchi ni shiyō ka na. Ūn, kono futatsu kara kimeru no wa muzukashii.
    “Umm, which one should I choose? Ummm, it’s hard to decide between these two.”
  • うーんと、今週の土曜日なら大丈夫です。
    Ūnto, konshū no do-yōbi nara daijōbu desu.
    “Umm, it’s okay on this Saturday.”

A Japanese Businessman Expressing Distaste for Something He’s Reading in a Folder

うーん、それはちょっと難しいです。
Ūn, sore wa chotto muzukashii desu.
“Umm, that’s a bit difficult.”

#5 なんか (nanka)

English Equivalents: “like” / “you know”

As a casual filler word, なんか (nanka) is similar to the English word “like,” but it has a nuance that’s more like saying “hey” or “wait” after noticing or discovering something that you want to share with another party. 

Examples

  • なんか、私にとってはどっちでもいいって感じ。
    Nanka, watashi ni totte wa dotchi demo ii tte kanji.
    “Like, I don’t care whichever.”
  • なんか、今日はいつもより道が混んでるよ。
    Nanka, kyō wa itsumo yori michi ga konde ru yo.
    “Hey, it seems there is more traffic today than usual.”

#6 ていうか (te iu ka

English Equivalents: “I mean” / “you know”

This Japanese filler word is very casual and it’s often used to express disagreement with something in a softer way.

There are a few variations of this filler, including:

  • なんていうか (nante iu ka) – “what do I say…” / “let me see..” 
    • This variation can also be used in formal situations.
  • てゆーか (te yū ka) – “I mean” / “you know” 
    • This one is very casual, and used primarily among young people.
  • てかさ (teka sa) – “I mean” / “you know”  
    • This one is very casual, and used primarily among young people. 

Examples

  • ていうか、むしろ彼に感謝したほうがいいよ。
    Te iu ka, mushiro, kare ni kansha shita hō ga ii yo.
    “I mean, you should rather thank him.”
  • ええと、なんていうか、この計画は見直しが必要だと思います。
    Eeto, nante iu ka, kono keikaku wa minaoshi ga hitsuyō da to omoimasu.
    “Er, I mean, I think this plan needs to be reviewed.”
  • てかさ、前にも言ったけど、勝手に私の部屋に入らないで。
    Teka sa, mae ni mo itta kedo, katte ni watashi no heya ni hairanaide.
    “You know, as I said before, don’t enter my room without asking me.”

#7 まぁ・・()

English Equivalent: “well”

This filler word is used to express hesitance or to mildly approach a delicate topic.

For reference, the sound ま (ma) has different nuances depending on how it’s said. For example:

  • まぁ!(mā!) – “Wow!” / “Oh!”
    • In this variation, there is an accent over the a in ma. It’s often expressed with a small Hiragana “あ.”
  • まぁ まぁ (mā mā) – “so-so” 
    • When the long mā is repeated, it means “so-so.”

Examples

  • まぁ、別に私はいいけど、他の人にも意見を聞いた方がいいと思う。
    Mā, betsu ni watashi wa ii kedo, hoka no hito ni mo iken o kiita hō ga ii to omou.

“Well, I don’t mind, but I think it’s better to ask other people their opinions.”

  • まぁ、仕方ないです。誰も天気をコントロールできないですから。

Mā, shikatanai desu. Dare mo tenki o contorōru dekinai desu kara.

“Well, it can’t be helped, because nobody can control the weather.”

#8 それで (sorede

English Equivalents: “so” / “and then”

This Japanese filler is typically used at the beginning of a sentence to start a new topic in the conversation or to ask for additional information. It can also be used to explain something involving a series of events. 

The short version of それで  (sorede) is just で (de), which is used very casually.

Examples

  • それで、週末に釣りに行く計画はどうなったんですか。

Sorede, shūmatsu ni tsuri ni iku keikaku wa dō natta n desu ka.

“So, what happened to the plan to go fishing on the weekend?”

  • で、何が言いたいの?

De, nani ga iitai no?

“So, what do you want to say?”

A Group of Four Japanese Students Chatting After School

それで、第2話はどんな展開になったの?

Sorede, dai-ni-wa wa donna tenkai ni natta no?

“So, what happened in the second episode?”

#9 そうか (sōka

English Equivalents: “is that so” / “I see” / “oh”

You could use this filler word to indicate that you’ve finally realized or understood something. 

.

There are two other variations you could use: 

1. そっか (sokka) – the very casual version 

2. そうですか (sō desu ka) – the most polite version using 敬語 (Keigo), or honorifics 

Examples

  • そうか、その形には重要な意味があったのか。

Sōka, sono katachi ni wa jūyō na imi ga atta no ka.

“I see, there is an important meaning for that shape.”

  • そっか、わかった!やっと謎が解けたよ。

Sokka, wakatta! Yatto nazo ga toketa yo.

“Oh, I understand it. Finally the mystery is solved.”

#10 そうそう (sō sō)

English Equivalent: “yes, yes” / “that’s right”

This filler word is used to affirm something or agree with someone.

Examples

  • そうそう! まさにこれが欲しかったんです!ありがとう。

Sō sō! Masani kore ga hoshikatta n desu! Arigatō.

“Yes, yes! This is exactly what I wanted! Thank you.”

  • そうそう、そういうこと!

Sō sō, sō iu koto!

“Yes, yes, that’s what I’m talking about!”

3. Pros and Cons of Filler Words

Japanese people use a variety of filler words in their daily conversations. As these words are short and often found at the beginning of a sentence, you may easily pick them up while watching Japanese anime or TV shows, for example. 

But even though they’re simple to pick up, there are some tips to keep in mind regarding how to use Japanese filler words effectively and wisely!

1 – Pro: Using filler words makes you sound like a local.

Every language learner would appreciate the obvious benefit of using filler words: it instantly makes you sound more natural and “like-native” in everyday conversations. 

For beginners and intermediate learners, filler words can serve two key functions: 

1) Helping you avoid the awkward sentence examples sometimes found in textbooks

2) Giving you a simple way to gain time in a conversation to conjure up vocab words and construct sentences

If you have an advanced level of fluency, learning the differences in nuance and usage of similar Japanese conversation fillers can help you sound like a native speaker. Using them in the right contexts will impress locals and give the impression that you’re truly fluent.

A Group of Four Girls Sitting on Steps Outside and Talking

Using filler words in conversations makes it sound natural.

2 – Con: Overusing them can leave a bad impression.

Here’s the tricky part of using filler words. 

Overuse can create the impression that you’re indecisive and lack confidence. In addition, there are variations of Japanese filler words for different levels of formality; if you use overly casual ones all the time, people might think you’re childish or even stupid.

Especially in formal settings—such as when you’re giving a public speech, a business presentation, or an interview—it’s wise to avoid using filler words. This is because they will distract your listener(s) from the point you’re trying to make. It’s often pointed out that poor speakers frequently use えー (ē), あのー (anō), and そのー (sonō) in their speech.

In order to avoid overusing filler words in your important speech, and to give the impression that you’re a confident and smart professional, please consider the following tips. 

(1) Use short sentences.

You probably use filler words unconsciously, especially when saying a long sentence or when you have a lot to say. To avoid this, make the important points clear and state them in short sentences. This will keep you from needing to pause often or connect your ideas with filler words. Stating things clearly also makes a confident and crisp impression.

(2) Don’t be afraid to pause. 

Some people hate awkward silences in conversations. However, when giving a public speech or business presentation, you are the sole speaker. As such, you shouldn’t be afraid of long pauses or moments of silence. 

While many people feel that they must continue speaking and rush to find their next words, a short pause is actually an effective way to draw the audience’s attention. In addition, it gives the listeners more time to follow along with and understand the content of the speech. 

For these reasons, it’s better to pause every once in a while rather than filling that pause with unnecessary words.

A Man Scratching His Head

The repetition of filler words like あのー (anō…) and ええと (eeto…) in a presentation does not give a good impression.

4. Conclusion

In this article, we introduced the top 10 Japanese filler words. We also outlined the pros and cons of using them in your speech and gave you tips on how to limit their use. How many of these Japanese filler words did you already know, and did you find any new useful ones?   

If you would like to learn more about the Japanese language and other useful Japanese phrases, you’ll find lots of helpful content on JapanesePod101.com. We provide a variety of free lessons designed to help you improve your Japanese language skills. 

To learn more everyday Japanese, make sure to see our article The 10 Most Useful Japanese Questions and Answers. Or, if you’re curious how to pick up the language even faster, you’ll enjoy reading The Top 10 Japanese YouTube Channels to Improve Your Japanese.

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

Before you go, let us know in the comments if there are any not-in-the-textbooks spoken Japanese phrases you still want to know! We’d be glad to help, and we look forward to hearing from you!

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

Say “I Love You” in Japanese with These Love Phrases

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Love phrases are often very romantic…

“My sweet love.”
“Your eyes are very beautiful.”
“You’re my dream girl.”

But keep in mind that Japanese love phrases are usually mild in comparison to those above. People could view you as a player or sleazy flirt if you use such artificial romantic words in Japan!

There are some things to consider before expressing your love in Japanese.

Japanese people are usually shy compared to Western people when it comes to expressing love. For example, while hugs and kisses are a common greeting between couples or good friends in Western culture, this is not common in Japan—even between couples. In Japan, thoughtfulness (気遣い [kizukai]) and caring behavior (思いやりのある行動 [omoiyari no aru kōdō]) are much preferred over very amorous words in romantic relationships. 

With such characteristics in mind, we’ll introduce natural and practical Japanese love phrases you can use at each stage of your romantic endeavors: first contact, your first date, taking your relationship to the next level, and even proposing marriage! At the end of this article, we’ll also show you some inspirational Japanese love quotes.

Learn Japanese love phrases here at JapanesePod101.com and win the heart of someone special!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese Table of Contents
  1. First Contact / Show Your Interest: Pick-Up Lines
  2. Get Closer: Phrases to Use While Dating
  3. Fall in Deeper: “I Love You,” and More
  4. Take it One Step Further: “Will You Marry Me?” and More
  5. Japanese Love Quotes
  6. How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

A Book with Two Pages Folded Down to Look Like a Heart

Learn some romantic Japanese love phrases that touch his/her heart.

1. First Contact / Show Your Interest: Pick-Up Lines 

When someone catches your interest at a bar, during an event, or even on the street, the following phrases are useful. For your first contact with this person, using the formal form (polite honorific) would be nice; it will give them the impression that you’re a polite and decent person. Unless you’re a teenager, talking to someone for the first time in the informal/casual form may sound like flirting. Nonetheless, we’ve included the casual form for each phrase as well. 

1 – 今ちょっといいですか。

Reading: Ima chotto ii desu ka.
Meaning: Is it okay to talk for a second? / Can I talk to you now?
Informal / Casual Form: 今ちょっといい? (Ima chotto ii?)

Example:

A:
すみません、今ちょっといいですか。
Sumimasen, ima chotto ii desu ka.
“Excuse me, can I talk to you?”

B:
はい、なんですか。
Hai, nan desu ka.
“Yes, what is it?”

2 – ここによく来るんですか。

Reading: Koko ni yoku kuru n desu ka.
Meaning: Do you come here often?
Informal / Casual Form: ここによく来るの? (Koko ni yoku kuru no?)

Example:

A:
このバー、今年オープンしたんですよね。ここによく来るんですか。
Kono bā, kotoshi ōpun shita n desu yo ne. Koko ni yoku kuru n desu ka.
“This bar seems to have opened this year. Do you come here often?”

B:
いいえ、初めて来ました。
Iie, hajimete kimashita.
“No, I came here for the first time.”

3 – 名前はなんて言うんですか。

Reading: Namae wa nan te iu n desu ka.
Meaning: What is your name?
Informal / Casual Form: 名前はなんて言うの? (Namae wa nan te iu no?)

Example:

A:
名前はなんて言うんですか。聞いてもいいですか。
Namae wa nan te iu n desu ka. Kiite mo ii desu ka.
“What is your name? Can I ask?”

B:
ええと、、さとみです。
Ēto…Satomi desu.
“Well…I’m Satomi.”

4 – 友達 / 彼氏 / 彼女と来たんですか。

Reading: Tomodachi / kareshi / kanojo to kita n desu ka.
Meaning: Did you come with your friend(s) / boyfriend / girlfriend?
Informal / Casual Form: 友達 / 彼氏 / 彼女と来たの? (Tomodachi / kareshi / kanojo to kita no?)

Example:

A:
今日はここに友達と来たんですか。
Kyō wa koko ni tomodachi to kita n desu ka.
“Did you come here with your friend(s) today?”

B:
はい、友達と来ました。あそこにいるのが私の友達です。
Hai, tomodachi to kimashita. Asoko ni iru no ga watashi no tomodachi desu.
“Yes, I came with my friend. My friend is over there.”

5 – 連絡先を聞いてもいいですか。

Reading: Renrakusaki o kiite mo ii desu ka.
Meaning: Can I ask for your contact information?
Informal / Casual Form: 連絡先を聞いてもいい? (Renrakusaki o kiite mo ii?)

Example:

A:
連絡先を聞いてもいいですか。ライン使ってますか。
Renrakusaki o kiite mo ii desu ka. Rain tsukatte masu ka.
“Can I ask for your contact information? Do you use LINE?”

B:
はい、いいですよ。私のラインIDは____です。
Hai, ii desu yo. Watashi no rain ID wa ____ desu.
“Yes, it’s okay. My LINE ID is ____.”

6 – また会いたいです。

Reading: Mata aitai desu.
Meaning: I’d like to see you again.
Informal / Casual Form: また会いたいな。(Mata aitai na.)

Example:

A:
もっとゆっくり話したいので、また会いたいです。
Motto yukkuri hanashitai node, mata aitai desu.
“I’d like to see you again because I want to talk more when we have more time.”

B:
そうですね。ここは少しうるさいので、今度はどこか静かなところで話しましょう。
Sō desu ne. Koko wa sukoshi urusai node, kondo wa dokoka shizuka na tokoro de hanashimashō.
“I agree, it’s a bit noisy here, so let’s talk somewhere quiet next time.”

7 – 今度一緒に食事でもどうですか。

Reading: Kondo issho ni shokuji demo dō desu ka. 
Meaning: How about dining out together next time?
Informal / Casual Form: 今度一緒に食事でもどう? (Kondo issho ni shokuji demo dō?)

Example:

A:
今度一緒に食事でもどうですか。
Kondo issho ni shokuji demo dō desu ka.
“How about dining out together next time?”

B:
いいですね。平日は忙しいですが、週末なら大丈夫です。
Ii desu ne. Heijitsu wa isogashii desu ga, shūmatsu nara daijōbu desu.
“Sounds good. I’m busy on weekdays but weekends are okay.”

A Man and Woman Chatting and Laughing at a Party with Drinks

今度一緒に食事でもどうですか。 (Kondo issho ni shokuji demo dō desu ka.) – “How about dining out together next time?”

2. Get Closer: Phrases to Use While Dating

After the first meeting and maybe a few message exchanges, you may think you’re getting to know the person better and feel closer to them. At this point, it’s okay to use the informal/casual form if you’re in the same age group as her/him and if you feel comfortable enough to talk casually. If the other person is much older than you, or if you still feel like you don’t know her/him very much, then talking in the formal register would be better.

8 – また会えて嬉しいです。 

Reading: Mata aete ureshii desu. 
Meaning: I’m happy to see you again.
Informal / Casual Form: また会えて嬉しいよ。 (Mata aete ureshii yo.)

Example:

A:
来てくれてありがとう、また会えて嬉しいよ!
Kite kurete arigatō, mata aete ureshii yo!
“Thank you for coming, I’m happy to see you again!”

B:
こちらこそ、誘ってくれてありがとう。
Kochira koso, sasotte kurete arigatō.
“Likewise, thank you for asking me out.”

9 – 手をつないでもいいですか。

Reading: Te o tsunaide mo ii desu ka.
Meaning: Can I hold your hand?
Informal / Casual Form: 手をつないでもいい? (Te o tsunaide mo ii?)

Example:

A:
手をつないでもいい?
Te o tsunaide mo ii?
“Can I hold your hand?”

B:
うん、いいよ。
Un, ii yo.
“Yeah, it’s okay.”

10 – ___ は 優しい / かわいい / かっこいい / 面白い ですね。 

Reading: ___ wa yasashii / kawaii / kakkoii / omoshiroi  desu ne. 
Meaning: ___ (insert their name*) is thoughtful / cute / handsome / fun. **
Informal / Casual Form: ___ は 優しい ね。 (___ wa yasashii ne.)

*Add さん (san) after their name when using the formal form. This gives a polite impression.
**In Japanese, calling someone by their name is more common than saying “you are…” (あなたは [anata wa]).

Example:

A:
仕事で表彰されたんですか、けんじさんはかっこいいですね!
Shigoto de hyōshō sareta n desu ka, Kenji-san wa kakkoii desu ne!
“You got awarded at work? Kenaji-san, you are cool!”

B:
ありがとう、褒めてくれて嬉しいよ。
Arigatō, homete kurete ureshii yo.
“Thank you, I’m happy you gave me a compliment.”

11 – 今日はとても楽しかったです。

Reading: Kyō wa totemo tanoshikatta desu.
Meaning: Today was really fun. / I enjoyed today very much.
Informal / Casual Form: 今日はとても楽しかったよ。 (Kyō wa totemo tanoshikatta yo.)

Example:

A:
一緒に過ごせて、今日はとても楽しかったです。
Issho ni sugosete, kyō wa totemo tanoshikatta desu.
“It was really fun today to spend time together with you.”

B:
私も楽しかったです。
Watashi mo tanoshikatta desu.
“I enjoyed it, too.”

12 – 彼氏 / 彼女 になってほしいです。

Reading: Kareshi / kanojo ni natte hoshii desu.
Meaning: I want you to be my boyfriend / girlfriend.
Informal / Casual Form: 彼氏 / 彼女になってほしいな。 (Kareshi / kanojo ni natte hoshii na.)

Example:

A:
僕の彼女になってほしいな。
Boku no kanojo ni natte hoshii na.
“I want you to be my girlfriend.”

B:
嬉しい、私も同じこと考えていたよ!
Ureshii, watashi mo onaji koto kangaete ita yo!
“I’m happy to hear that, I was thinking the same!”

13 – 私 / 僕 と付き合ってください。

Reading: Watashi / boku to tsukiatte kudasai.*
Meaning: Please go out / go steady with me.
Informal / Casual Form:  私 / 僕 と付き合って。(Watashi / boku to tsukiatte.)

*私 (watashi), which is “I” in neutral, is normally used by females; 僕 (boku), which is “I” in mild masculine, is used by males.

In Japan, 告白 (kokuhaku), which is a “confession” of one’s romantic feelings, is very common before becoming boyfriend-girlfriend in order to make it clear.

Example:

A:
はるかちゃん、僕と付き合ってください。
Haruka-chan, boku to tsukiatte kudasai.
“Haruka-chan, please go steady with me.”

B:
嬉しいけど、もっとお互いを知るために友達から始めよう。
Ureshii kedo, motto otagai o shiru tame ni tomodachi kara hajimeyō.
“I’m glad, but let’s start from friends to know each other more.”

A Japanese Couple Looking at Something Funny on a Cell Phone

君と一緒にいると楽しいよ。 (Kimo to issho ni iru to tanoshii yo.) – “It’s fun to be with you.”

3. Fall in Deeper: “I Love You,” and More

Once you’ve been seeing each other for a while, you might want to start expressing your deeper feelings for the other person. Here are a few romantic Japanese phrases commonly used among couples—feel free to try them out yourself, keeping in mind that they’re typically used in the informal/casual form. 

14 – 好きだよ。 

Reading: Suki da yo. 
Meaning: I like you.

This is the most common way to express your affection in Japan. When used toward someone special, the Japanese word 好き (suki), meaning “like,” conveys a more affectionate nuance than the English word “like.”

Example:

A:
好きだよ、早く会いたい。
Suki da yo, hayaku aitai.
“I like you, I want to see you soon.”

B:
私も、週末が待ち遠しい!
Watashi mo, shūmatsu ga machidōshii!
“Me too, I can’t wait for the weekend!”

15 – 大好きだよ。 

Reading: Daisuki da yo. 
Meaning: I like you very much.

This phrase is similar in nuance to “I love you,” in English. This is the most common phrase to express love toward a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Example:

A:
はるき、大好きだよ!
Haruki, daisuki da yo!
“Haruki, I like you very much!”

B:
何、いきなり。僕もだよ。
Nani, ikinari. Boku mo da yo.
“What is it suddenly? Me, too.”

16 – 愛してる(よ)。 

Reading: Aishite ru (yo).
Meaning: I love you.

This phrase is used when you really want to express that you love someone. It conveys a profound nuance, so it might sound cheesy if you were to use it too often.

Example:

A:
亡くなった妻の最後の言葉は「愛してるよ」でした。
Nakunatta tsuma no saigo no kotoba wa “aishite ru yo” deshita.
“The last word of my wife who passed away was, ‘I love you’. ”

B:
彼女はとても愛していたんですね。
Kanojo wa totemo aishite ita n desu ne.
“She must have loved very much.”

17 – XXXがいないと寂しいよ。

Reading: ___ ga inai to samishii yo.
Meaning: I feel lonely without ___ (insert their name). / I miss you.

Example:

A:
たかしがいないと寂しいよ。いつ出張から帰ってくるの?
Takashi ga inai to samishii yo. Itsu shucchō kara kaette kuru no?
“I feel lonely without you, Takashi. When do you come back from your business trip?”

B:
来週の金曜日だよ。
Raishū no kin-yōbi da yo.
“Friday next week.”

18 – 次はいつ会える?

Reading: Tsugi wa itsu aeru?
Meaning: When can we see/meet next?

Example:

A:
寂しいな。次はいつ会える?
Samishii na. Tsugi wa itsu aeru?
“I miss you. When can we meet next?”

B:
土曜日はどう?
Do-yōbi wa dō?
“How about Saturday?”

19 – 泊まりに行ってもいい?

Reading: Tomari ni itte mo ii?
Meaning: Can I come to stay over (at your place)?

Example:

A:
今すぐ会いたい!今日泊まりに行ってもいい?
Ima sugu aitai! Kyō tomari ni itte mo ii?
“I want to see you right away! Can I come to stay over tonight?”

B:
ごめん、明日は朝早く起きるから無理。
Gomen, ashita wa asa hayaku okiru kara muri.
“Sorry, you can’t because I have to get up early tomorrow morning.”

A Japanese Couple in Winter Clothes

大好きだよ。(Daisuki da yo.) – “I like you very much.”

Someone Holding a Bouquet of Roses behind Their Back

愛してるよ。(Aishite ru yo.) – “I love you.”

4. Take it One Step Further: “Will You Marry Me?” and More

Are you ready to commit? Do you look forward to spending the rest of your life with this person? Below are several love phrases in Japanese you can use to let your boyfriend or girlfriend know that you want to take your relationship to the next level. 

20 – 一緒に住もう。 

Reading: Issho ni sumō. 
Meaning: Let’s live together.

Example:

A:
一緒に住もう!どうかな? 
Issho ni sumō! Dō ka na?
“Let’s live together! What do you think?”

21 – ずっと一緒にいたい。

Reading: Zutto issho ni itai.
Meaning: I want to be with you forever.

Example:

A:
これから先、ずっと一緒にいたい!
Kore kara saki, zutto issho ni itai!
“From now on, I want to be with you forever.”

B:
うん、一生一緒だよ。
Un, ishhō issho da yo.
“Yeah, we will be together for the rest of our lives.”

22 – ___ がいない人生は考えられないよ。 

Reading: ___ ga inai jinsei wa kangaerarenai yo.
Meaning: I can’t think of my life without you / ___ (insert their name).

Example:

A:
ゆかがいない人生は考えられないよ。
Yuka ga inai jinsei wa kangaerarenai yo.
“I can’t think of my life without you, Yuka.”

B:
私もだよ。
Watashi mo da yo.
“Me, too.”

23 – 一生 幸せ / 大事 にするよ。

Reading: Isshō shiawase / daiji  ni suru yo. 
Meaning: I will make you happy for the rest of my life.

Example:

A:
愛してる。一生幸せにするよ。
Aishite ru. Isshō shiawase ni suru yo.
“I love you. I will make you happy for the rest of my life.”

B:
嬉しい!私も愛してる。
Ureshii! Watashi mo aishite ru.
“I’m happy to hear that! I love you, too.”

24 – 私 / 僕 の両親に紹介したい。

Reading: Watashi / boku no ryōshin ni shōkai shitai.
Meaning: I want to introduce you to my parents.

Example:

A:
私の両親に紹介したいんだけど、いつがいい?
Watashi no ryōshin ni shōkai shitai n da kedo, itsu ga ii?
“I want to introduce you to my parents, when is good for you?”

B:
僕はいつでもいいよ。
Boku wa itsu demo ii yo.
“Anytime is okay for me.”

25 – 結婚しよう。

Reading: Kekkon shiyō.
Meaning: Let’s get married.

Example:

A:
大好きだよ、結婚しよう!
Daisuki da yo, kekkon shiyō!
“I like you very much (I love you), let’s get married!”

B:
え?これはプロポーズってこと?
E? Kore wa puropōzu tte koto?
E? Kore wa puropōzu tte koto?

26 – 私 / 僕 と結婚してください。

Reading: Watashi / boku to kekkon shite kudasai. 
Meaning: Will you marry me? [In a polite/official way.]

Example:

A:
僕と結婚してください!
Boku to kekkon shite kudasai!
“Will you marry me?”

B:
はい、喜んで。
Hai, yorokonde.
“Yes, I’d love to.”

27 – 一緒に幸せな家庭を作ろう。

Reading: Issho ni shiawase na katei o tsukurō.
Meaning: Let’s make a happy family together.

Example:

A:
結婚しよう、一緒に幸せな家庭を作ろう!
Kekkon shiyō, issho ni shiawase na katei o tsukurō!
“Let’s get married and let’s make a happy family together!”

B:
嬉しくて泣きそう。
Ureshikute nakisō.
“I’m about to cry with joy.”

A Man Proposing to a Woman on a Bridge

一生幸せにするよ。(Isshō shiawase ni suru yo.) – “I will make you happy for the rest of my life.”

5. Japanese Love Quotes

A quote is a concise and comprehensible statement of a general principle that often expresses the truth of things. Here are some words of wisdom about love by well-known Japanese people.

自分に誠実でないものは、決して他人に誠実であり得ない。

[ by Japanese novelist 夏目漱石 (Sōseki Natsume) ]

Reading: Jibun ni seijitsu de nai mono wa, kesshite tanin ni seijitsu de arienai.
Meaning: Anyone who is not honest with oneself can never be honest with others.

Sōseki Natsume is a famous novelist and literary person, whose portrait is printed on the Japanese 1000 yen note

This quote is a famous line from one of his novels. It’s an enlightening phrase that tells us we need to be honest with ourselves before dealing with others.

恋愛は、チャンスではないと思う。私はそれを意志だと思う。

[ by Japanese novelist 太宰修 (Osamu Dazai) ]

Reading: Ren’ai wa, chansu de wa nai to omou. Watashi wa sore o ishi da to omou.
Meaning: Love is not a chance. I think it is a will.

Osamu Dazai was a talented but distressed famous author who left behind many well-known novels. Though he completed many written works, he also had many romantic relationships throughout his agonized life; he eventually decided his own fate (and that of his lover at the time) by committing a double suicide. 

His words are compelling, telling us that loving someone does not always occur by chance; we can also make the choice to love someone. 

本当の愛は見返りを求めない無償の愛。

 [ by Japanese singer, actor, director, composer, and author 美輪明宏 (Akihiro Miwa) ]

Reading: Hontō no ai wa mikaeri o motomenai mushō no ai.
Meaning: True love is love that asks nothing in return.

Akihiro Miwa is a famous entertainer who survived the atomic bombings of Nagasaki when he was young and has led a life full of ups and downs. Being viewed as a unique and unusual character back in the day, he went through a lot of difficult times. Considering his life experiences, his message is persuasive and resonates with many people’s hearts. 

そのときの出会いが人生を根底から変えることがあるよき出会いを。

[ by Japanese poet 相田みつを (Mitsuo Aida) ]

Reading: Sono toki no deai ga jinsei o kontei kara kaeru koto ga aru yoki deai o.
Meaning: Have a good encounter that can change your life from the ground up.

Mitsuo Aida was a famous Japanese calligrapher and poet who had studied Buddhism and zen when he was young. His poetry conveys messages about humanity and life, written in his unique style of calligraphy. 

This message tells us that an encounter with someone may completely change our lives thereafter, so it’s important to have good encounters.


Two Hearts Drawn in the Sand on a Beach

愛の格言 (Ai no kakugen) – “love quotes”

How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

In this article, we introduced Japanese love phrases you can use at various stages of your romantic relationship. We also covered a few famous Japanese quotes about love to inspire and encourage you to act on your crush! 

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 get you started, here are some more Japanese love vocabulary lists and inspiring Japanese quotes for language learners: 

And we have so much more to offer you!

For instance, you’ll gain access to our personal 1-on-1 coaching service, MyTeacher, when you sign up for a Premium PLUS membership. Your private teacher will help you practice your pronunciation and offer you personalized feedback and advice to ensure effective learning. 

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

Before you go, let us know in the comments which of these Japanese love phrases is your favorite, and why! We look forward to hearing from you.

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Japanese Negation: How to Make Negative Japanese Sentences

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When learning a language, negation is an essential part of grammar that should be mastered as early on as possible. This skill allows us to answer “no” to questions and form negative sentences, which in turn improves our communication with others. 

Japanese negation is not very complicated, but there are some points to note. 

As is often said, a language reflects the culture surrounding it. In Japanese culture, where people are expected to be polite and respect others, saying “no” directly is often considered to be rough and rude as it may offend others’ feelings. In order to avoid conflict and maintain 和 (wa), or “harmony,” Japanese people have particular ways of saying “no.”

In this article, we’ll introduce the Japanese negative forms and show you how to answer “no.” You’ll learn frequently used phrases that make polite impressions, in addition to other Japanese negating words and double negative expressions.

Ready to master Japanese negation with JapanesePod101.com?

A Hand Checking a No Box with a Marker Pen

Negation is an essential topic to master when learning a new language.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese Table of Contents
  1. Negate a Statement
  2. Giving a Negative Response to a Question
  3. Other Japanese Negating Words and Phrases
  4. Double Negatives
  5. Conclusion

1. Negate a Statement

In order to make a sentence or phrase negative, you must negate the verb. There are two types of expressions used for Japanese verb negation: Informal (Plain / Casual) and Formal (Polite). In the following sections, we’ll show you how to conjugate verbs to the negative form for both informal and formal expressions, as well as in both present tense and past tense.

Before learning verb conjugations in the negative form, however, you first need to know the classification of Japanese verbs. All Japanese verbs are categorized into three classes: 

  • Ru-verbs
  • U-verbs
  • Irregular verbs 

Note that there are only two irregular verbs in the positive form (する [suru] – “do” // くる [kuru] – “come”) and three for the negative form (the previous two, with the addition of ある [aru] – “be” for the existence of non-living things). 

While Ru-verbs end in る (ru), U-verbs can end in various Hiragana with u-vowel sounds. These include る (ru), う (u), く (ku), す (su), つ (tsu), む (mu), る (ru), (bu), etc. 

Please check the Japanese Alphabet page on our website as well as our Japanese Verb Conjugation article for more details.

1. Informal Negative Form (Present Tense)

For the informal/plain negative form in the present tense, verbs in different classes conjugate in the following ways. 

  • Ru-verbs

Add ない (nai) instead of る (ru) after the verb stem. Let’s look at the Japanese verb for “to eat” as an example:

食べ (taberu) → 食べない  (tabenai)

Here, 食べ/ たべ (tabe) is the verb stem. 

EnglishVerb(Informal/Plain)HiraganaReadingNegative Form(Informal/Plain)Reading
see / look / watch見る みるmiru見ないmi-nai
eat    食べる たべるtaberu食べないtabe-nai
sleep寝る ねるneru寝ないne-nai
change変えるかえるkaeru変えないkae-nai
think考える かんがえるkangaeru考えないkangae-nai

Examples:

私は朝ごはんを食べない。
Watashi wa asagohan o tabenai.
“I don’t eat breakfast.”

かな子は夜テレビを見ない。
Kanako wa yoru terebi o minai.
“Kanako does not watch TV at night.”

彼はよく考えない。
Kare wa yoku kangaenai.
“He does not think well.”

  • U-verbs

To conjugate U-verbs in the informal negative form, conjugate the Hiragana after the verb stem into あ段 (a-dan), which is the line in the Hiragana chart with vowel sound “a,” and add ない (nai).

Let’s look at an example using the Japanese verb for “talk” or “speak.”

(hanasu) → 話さない (hanasa nai)

As you can see, はな (hana) is the verb stem, and we changed the す(su) into さ (sa). 

EnglishVerb(Informal/Plain)HiraganaReadingNegative Form(Informal/Plain)Reading
talk / speak話すはなすhanasu話さないhana-sanai
go行くいくiku行かないi-kanai
wait待つまつmatsu待たないma-tanai
buykauないka-wanai
listen / hear聞くきくkiku聞かないki-kanai

*For U-verbs that end in う (u), replace う (u) with わ (wa).

Examples:

夏休みの間、子供たちは学校へ行かない。
Natsuyasumi no aida, kodomo-tachi wa gakkō e ikanai.
“Children don’t go to school during the summer vacation.”

彼は親の言うことを聞かない。
Kare wa oya no iu koto o kikanai.
“He does not listen to what his parents say.”

彼女は安い服を買わない。
Kanojo wa yasui fuku o kawanai.
“She does not buy cheap clothes.”

  • Irregular Verbs

There are only three exceptions to the conjugation rules above, as shown in this table: 

EnglishVerb(Informal/Plain)HiraganaReadingNegative Form(Informal/Plain)Reading
doするするsuruしないshi-nai
come来るくるkuru来ないko-nai
be(existence of non-living thing)あるあるaruないnai

Examples:

私は休日に何もしない。
Watashi wa kyūjitsu ni nani mo shinai.
“I don’t do anything on a day off.”

バスが時間通りに来ない。
Basu ga jikandōri ni konai.
“The bus does not come on time.”

銀行口座にお金がない。
Ginkō kōza ni o-kane ga nai.
“There is no money in the bank account.”

2. Formal Negative Form (Present Tense)

  • Ru-verbs

For Ru-verbs, change ない (nai) to ません (masen).

So, for the verb “to eat,” this would look like:

食べない (tabe-nai)  → 食べません (tabe-masen)

Negative Form    (Formal / Polite)Reading
見ませんmi-masen
食べませんtabe-masen
寝ませんne-masen
変えませんkae-masen
考えませんkangae-masen 

Examples:

私は朝ごはんを食べません。
Watashi wa asagohan o tabemasen.
“I don’t eat breakfast.”

かな子は夜テレビを見ません。
Kanako wa yoru terebi o mimasen.
“Kanako does not watch TV at night.”

彼はよく考えません。
Kare wa yoku kangaemasen.
“He does not think well.”

  • U-verbs

Conjugate the Hiragana after the verb stem into い段 (i-dan), which is the line in the Hiragana chart with vowel sound “i,” and add ません (masen):

話さない (hanasa nai) →  話しません (hana shi masen)

As you can see, we changed さ (sa) into し (shi). 

  Negative Form    (Formal / Polite)Reading
話しませんhana-shimasen
行きませんi-kimasen
待ちませんma-chimasen
買いませんka-imasen
聞きませんki-kimasen

Examples:

夏休みの間、子供たちは学校へ行きません。
Natsuyasumi no aida, kodomo-tachi wa gakkō e ikimasen.
“Children don’t go to school during the summer vacation.”

彼は親の言うことを聞きません。
Kare wa oya no iu koto o kikimasen.
“He does not listen to what his parents say.”

彼女は安い服を買いません。
Kanojo wa yasui fuku o kaimasen.
“She does not buy cheap clothes.”

  • Irregular Verbs

In the formal negative form, irregular verbs change as follows:

Negative Form    (Formal / Polite)Reading
しませんshi-masen
来ませんki-masen
ありませんari-masen

Examples:

私は休日に何もしません。
Watashi wa kyūjitsu ni nani mo shimasen.
“I don’t do anything on a day off.”

バスが時間通りに来ません。
Basu ga jikandōri ni kimasen.
“The bus does not come on time.”

銀行口座にお金がありません。
Ginkō kōza ni o-kane ga arimasen.
“There is no money in the bank account.”

3. Informal Negative Form (Past Tense)

In the past tense of the informal/plain negative form, change the ない (nai) of the present tense informal/plain form to なかった (nakatta). This is done for all Ru-verbs, U-verbs, and irregular verbs.

  • Ru-Verbs
Negative Form    (Informal / Past)Reading
見なかったmi-nakatta
食べなかったtabe-nakatta
寝なかったne-nakatta
変えなかったkae-nakatta
考えなかったkangae-nakatta 

Examples:

私は朝ごはんを食べなかった。
Watashi wa asagohan o tabenakatta.
“I didn’t eat breakfast.”

かな子は夜テレビを見なかった。
Kanako wa yoru terebi o minakatta.
“Kanako did not watch TV at night.”

彼はよく考えなかった。
Kare wa yoku kangaenakatta.
“He did not think well.”

  • U-Verbs
Negative Form              (Informal / Past)Reading
話さなかったhana-sa-nakatta
行かなかったi-ka-nakatta
待たなかったma-ta-nakatta
買わなかったka-wa-nakatta
聞かなかったki-ka-nakatta 

Examples:

夏休みの間、子供たちは学校へ行かなかった。
Natsuyasumi no aida, kodomo-tachi wa gakkō e ikanakatta.
“Children didn’t go to school during the summer vacation.”

彼は親の言うことを聞かなかった。
Kare wa oya no iu koto o kikanakatta.
“He did not listen to what his parents said.”

彼女は安い服を買わなかった。
Kanojo wa yasui fuku o kawanakatta.
“She did not buy cheap clothes.”

  • Irregular Verbs
  Negative Form    (Informal / Past)Reading
しなかったshi-nakatta
来なかったko-nakatta
なかったnakatta 

Examples:

私は休日に何もしなかった。
Watashi wa kyūjitsu ni nani mo shinakatta.
“I didn’t do anything on a day off.”

バスが時間通りに来なかった。
Basu ga jikandōri ni konakatta.
“The bus did not come on time.”

銀行口座にお金がなかった。
Ginkō kōza ni o-kane ga nakatta.
“There was no money in the bank account.”

4. Formal Negative Form (Past Tense)

In the past tense of the formal/polite negative form, add the expression でした (deshita) after the present tense formal/polite form for all Ru-verbs, U-verbs, and irregular verbs.

  • Ru-Verbs
Negative Form    (Formal / Past)Reading
見ませんでしたmi-masen deshita
食べませんでしたtabe-masen deshita
寝ませんでしたne-masen deshita
変えませんでしたkae-masen deshita
考えませんでしたkangae-masen deshita

Examples:

私は朝ごはんを食べませんでした
Watashi wa asagohan o tabemasen deshita.
“I didn’t eat breakfast.”

かな子は夜テレビを見ませんでした
Kanako wa yoru terebi o mimasen deshita.
“Kanako did not watch TV at night.”

彼はよく考えませんでした
Kare wa yoku kangaemasen deshita.
“He did not think well.”

  • U-Verbs
  Negative Form    (Formal / Past)Reading
話しませんでしたhana-shi-masen deshita
行きませんでしたi-ki-masen deshita
待ちませんでしたma-chi-masen deshita
買いませんでしたka-i-masen deshita
聞きませんでしたki-ki-masen deshita

Examples:

夏休みの間、子供たちは学校へ行きませんでした
Natsuyasumi no aida, kodomo-tachi wa gakkō e ikimasen deshita.
“Children didn’t go to school during the summer vacation.”

彼は親の言うことを聞きませんでした
Kare wa oya no iu koto o kikimasen deshita.
“He did not listen to what his parents said.”

彼女は安い服を買いませんでした
Kanojo wa yasui fuku o kaimasen deshita.
“She did not buy cheap clothes.”

  • Irregular Verbs
Negative Form    (Formal / Past)Reading
しませんでしたshi-masen deshita
来ませんでしたki-masen deshita
ありませんでしたari-masen deshita

Examples:

私は休日に何もしませんでした
Watashi wa kyūjitsu ni nani mo shimasen deshita.
“I didn’t do anything on a day off.”

バスが時間通りに来ませんでした
Basu ga jikandōri ni kimasen deshita.
“The bus did not come on time.”

銀行口座にお金がありませんでした
Ginkō kōza ni o-kane ga arimasen deshita.
“There was no money in the bank account.”

A Man Wearing a Tie Eating a Salmon Filet with Vegetables

彼は肉を食べません。でも、魚は食べます。
Kare wa niku o tabemasen. Demo, sakana wa tabemasu.
“He does not eat meat. However, he eats fish.”

2. Giving a Negative Response to a Question

There are a few different Japanese negative forms and set phrases used to answer questions in the negative. Remember that saying “no” directly is often considered impolite, so this is reflected in how Japanese speakers give negative responses as well.

1. How to Say “No” to a Question

When you’re asked a yes-or-no question and want to reply “no,” typical answers are as follows:

With verb:

    いいえ (iie) – “no” 、+  — Negative Form 

Without verb:

    いいえ (iie) – “no”、 +  —では ない              — de wa nai  [Informal]

    いいえ (iie) – “no”、 +  —では ありません   —de wa arimasen  [Formal]

では (de wa) can be substituted with じゃ (ja), which is typically used in spoken conversations.

Examples:

[With verb]

Q: お肉を食べますか。(O-niku o tabemasu ka.) – “Do you eat meat?”
A: いいえ食べません。(Iie, tabemasen.) – “No, I don’t eat it.”

Q: 普段運動をしますか。(Fudan undō o shimasu ka.) “Do you usually do exercise?”
A: いいえ、日常的な運動はしません。(Iie, nichijōteki na undō wa Iie.) – “No, I don’t do daily exercise.”

[Without verb]

Q: この本はあなたのですか。(Kono hon wa anata no desu ka.) – “Is this book yours?”
A: いいえ、それは私の本ではありせん。(Iie, sore wa watashi no hon de wa arimasen.) – “No, it’s not my book.”

Q: 映画館の入り口はここですか。(Eigakan no iriguchi wa koko desu ka.) – “Is the entrance to the cinema here?”
A: いいえ、入り口はここではありません。(Iie, iriguchi wa koko de wa arimasen.) – “No, the entrance is not here.”


A Woman Holding a Plate and Refusing a Sausage

いいえ、お肉は食べません。
Iie, o-niku wa tabemasen.
“No, I don’t eat meat.”

2. Polite Expressions for Saying No in Japanese

Japanese people are expected to be polite and respectful to others, and they tend to avoid saying “no” directly because it sounds rough and rude. In order to say “no” without sounding rude, we often use クッション言葉 (kusshon kotoba), literally “cushion words,” or words to soften awkward topics, when rejecting an unwanted offer or invitation.

Following is a list of frequently used kusshon kotoba for saying “no” politely.

3. 残念ですが ___。(Zannen desu ga ___.)  – “I’m afraid but ___.”

Example:

A:
ビールをどうぞ。
Bīru o dōzo.
“Please have a beer.”

B:
残念ですが、私はお酒を飲めません。
Zannen desu ga, watashi wa o-sake o nomemasen.
“I’m afraid but I cannot drink alcohol.”

4. せっかくですが ___。 (Sekkaku desu ga ___.) – “Unfortunately ___.”

Example:

A:
無料券があるので、明日一緒に映画を見に行きませんか。
Muryōken ga aru node, ashita issho ni eiga o mi ni ikimasen ka.
“I have a free ticket, would you like to go see a movie together tomorrow?”

B:
せっかくですが、明日は予定があるのでご一緒できません。
Sekkaku desu ga, ashita wa yotei ga aru node go-issho dekimasen.
“Unfortunately I have a plan tomorrow and we can’t go together.”

5. 申し訳ないのですが ___。(Mōshiwake nai no desu ga ___.) – “I’m so sorry but ___.”

Example:

A:
来週末にホームパーティをやるので来ませんか。
Raishūmatsu ni hōmu pātī o yaru node kimasen ka.
“I will have a home party next weekend and would you like to come?”

B:
申し訳ないのですが、来週末は兄の結婚式があるので行けません。
Mōshiwake nai no desu ga, raishūmatsu wa ani no kekkonshiki ga aru node ikemasen.
“I’m so sorry, but I can’t go because there’s my brother’s wedding on that weekend.”

6. お気持ちは嬉しいのですが ___。(O-kimochi wa ureshii no desu ga ___.) – “I’m glad for your thoughtfulness but ___.”

Example:

A:
クッキーをたくさん焼いたので食べませんか。
Kukkī o takusan yaita node tabemasen ka.
“I baked a lot of cookies, would you like to have some?”

B:
お気持ちは嬉しいのですが、小麦アレルギーなので食べられません。
O-kimochi wa ureshii no desu ga, komugi arerugī na node taberaremasen.
“I’m glad for your kindness, but I’m allergic to wheat and I can’t eat them.”

A Japanese Man with an Uncertain Look on His Face while Reading Something in a Yellow Folder

Saying “no” directly sounds a bit too strong, or even rude, in Japanese.

3. Other Japanese Negating Words and Phrases

The basic Japanese negation forms are ない (nai) [Informal / Plain] and ません (masen) [Formal / Polite]. However, there are other negation expressions, such as those for partial negation, emphatic negation, and the imperative form.

Negation in Japanese can take the following forms:

 Partial Negation
  決して (kesshite)  
ほとんど (hotondo)  
これ以上 (kore ijō)
[Verb] (ない [nai] / ません [masen])
[Noun] + ではない (de wa nai)
[な na-adjective] + ではない (de wa nai)
[い i-adjective] + くない (kunai)

1. 決して ___ない (kesshite ___nai) – “never ___”

Examples:

同じ日は決して来ない。 
Onaji hi wa kesshite konai.
“The same day will never come.”

彼は決して嘘をつきません。 
Kare wa kesshite uso o tsukimasen.
“He never lies.”

その部屋へ防護服なしに決して入ってはいけません。
Sono heya e bōgofuku nashi ni kesshite haitte wa ikemasen.
“Never enter that room without protective suits.”

2. ほとんど ___ない (hotondo ___nai) – “barely/hardly ___”

Examples:

この公園にはほとんど人がいない。 
Kono kōen ni wa hotondo hito ga inai
“There are barely even a few people in this park.”

Mサイズはほとんど残っていません。 
Emu saizu wa hotondo nokotte imasen.
“There is hardly/almost no M size left.”

商店街のお店はほとんど開いていません。
Shōtengai no o-mise wa hotondo hiraite imasen.
“Most of the shops in the shopping district are not open.”

3. これ以上 ___ない (kore ijō ___nai) “no more/no longer/anymore ___”

Examples:

その子は怖くて、これ以上目を開けていられない。
Sono ko wa kowakute, kore ijō me o akete irarenai.
“The kid is scared and can’t open his eyes anymore.”

これ以上の幸せはありません。 
Kore ijō no shiawase wa arimasen.
“There is no more happiness than this.”

今日はこれ以上勉強したくない。
Kyō wa kore ijō benkyō shitakunai.
“I don’t want to study anymore today.”

4. 誰もいない (dare mo inai) – “nobody”

Examples:

ここには誰もいない。 
Koko ni wa dare mo inai.
“There is nobody here.”

この映画を見たい人は誰もいません。 
Kono eiga o mitai hito wa dare mo imasen.
“There is no one who wants to watch this movie.”

その試験に合格した人は誰もいませんでした。
Sono shiken ni gōkaku shita hito wa dare mo imasen deshita.
“There is no one who passed the exam.”

5. どこにもない (doko ni mo nai) – “nowhere”

Examples:

完全に自由になれる場所はどこにもない。 
Kanzen ni jiyū ni nareru basho wa doko ni mo nai.
“There is nowhere you can be completely free.”

靴下の片方がどこにも見つからない。 
Kutsushita no katahō ga doko ni mo mitsukaranai.
“I can’t find one of my socks anywhere.”

金のなる木はどこにもありません。
Kane no naru ki wa doko ni mo arimasen.
“There is no tree that money grows on anywhere.”

6. どちらも ___ない (dochira mo ___nai) – “neither ___ nor ___”

Examples:

りんごもみかんも、どちらも食べたくない。 
Ringo mo mikan mo, dochira mo tabetakunai.
“I don’t want to eat either apples or oranges.”

桜もひまわりも、どちらも咲いていません。 
Sakura mo himawari mo, dochira mo saite imasen.
“Neither cherry blossoms nor sunflowers are in bloom.”

どちらも大したことはありません。
Dochira mo taishita koto wa arimasen.
“Neither of them is a big deal.”

7. [Imperative Form] (“Do not ___.”)

 [casual/strong] ___(する)な              ___(suru) na 
 [polite/mild]   ___ないでください   ___naide kudasai 

Examples:

壁に落書きするな。 
Kabe ni rakugaki suru na.
“Don’t scribble / do graffiti on the wall.”

ここで子供を遊ばせないでください。 
Koko de kodomo o asobasenaide kudasai.
“Please don’t let children play here.”

この危険区域に立ち入らないでください。
Kono kiken kuiki ni tachiiranaide kudasai.
“Please do not enter this dangerous area.”

A Woman Holding Both Palms Out in Front of Her to Say No or Stop

私は決してお酒を飲みません。
Watashi wa kesshite o-sake o nomimasen.
“I never drink Sake/alcohol.”

4. Double Negatives

When negative forms are used twice in the same sentence, it’s called a double negative. While some double negative expressions intensify the negation, most double negatives cancel each other out and produce a positive. 

Keep in mind that when a double negative constructs a positive meaning, the nuance is not the same as that of a normal positive sentence. Rather, its meaning is closer to that of a negative sentence. Such expressions often lose their nuance when translated into English.

There are various double negative expressions in Japanese, but it’s recommended not to use them often (especially in business contexts), because using double negatives is not straight to the point and is a bit difficult to understand.

1. ___ないはずがない (___nai hazu ga nai) – “can’t be ___”

Examples:

彼がお酒を飲まないはずがない。 
Kare ga o-sake o nomanai hazu ga nai.
“It can’t be true that he doesn’t drink.”
[He definitely drinks.]

ここに置いた財布がないはずがない。 
Koko ni oita saifu ga nai hazu ga nai.
“The wallet I put here can’t be gone.”
[The wallet I put here should be here.]

天気予報によると、明日は晴れないはずがない。 
Tenki yohō ni yoru to, ashita wa harenai hazu ga nai.
“According to the weather, it can’t be not sunny tomorrow.”
[It must be sunny tomorrow.]

2. ___ないとも限らない (___nai to mo kagiranai) – “may possibly ___” / “perhaps it might be ___”

Examples:

いつも上手くいくからといって、次は失敗しないとも限らない。 
Itsumo umaku iku kara to itte, tsugi wa shippai shinai to mo kagiranai.
“Just because it always works well doesn’t mean it won’t fail next time.”
[It may possibly fail.]

その件について親が反対しないとも限らない。 
Sono ken ni tsuite oya ga hantai shinai to mo kagiranai.
“It is not always the case that parents do not object to the matter.”
[Parents may possibly object.]

努力すれば必ず夢が叶うわけではないが、叶わないとも限らない。 
Doryoku sureba kanarazu yume ga kanau wake de wa nai ga, kanawanai to mo kagiranai.
“Although making efforts does not mean a dream will definitely come true, it may not be the case that the dream won’t come true.”
[The dream may possibly come true.]

3. ___ ないことはない (___ nai koto wa nai) – “There is nothing ___ not do.”

Examples:

期限内に完了できないことはない。 
Kigennai ni kanryō dekinai koto wa nai.
“There is nothing I cannot complete within the deadline.”
[I am probably able to complete everything within the deadline.”

彼が知らないことは何もない。 
Kare ga shiranai koto wa nani mo nai.
“There is nothing at all that he doesn’t know.”
[He knows everything.]

強い意志と努力があれば、あなたは難関試験に合格できないことはない。
Tsuyoi ishi to doryoku ga areba, anata wa nankan shiken ni gōkaku dekinai koto wa nai.
“With a strong will and effort, there is no way you cannot pass the difficult exam.”
[You may be able to pass the difficult exam.]

4 ___なしには ___ない (___nashi ni wa ___nai) – “There is no / can’t ___ without ___.”

Examples:

この話は、涙なしには語れない。 
Kono hanashi wa namida nashi ni wa katarenai.
“(I) can’t tell this story without tears.”

ここは許可なしには通れません。 
Koko wa kyoka nashi ni wa tōremasen.
“You cannot pass here without permission.”

バナナケーキはバターなしには美味しく作れません。 
Banana kēki wa batā nashi ni wa oishiku tsukuremasen.
“Banana cakes cannot be made delicious without butter.”

Storm Clouds Forming

今日は雨が降らないとも限らない。
Kyō wa ame ga furanai to mo kagiranai.
(“It might rain today.” / “It wouldn’t be that it won’t rain today.”)

5. Conclusion

In this article, we introduced Japanese negation and discussed a number of relevant topics: 

  • negative expressions for answering “no” to questions 
  • being polite when rejecting an invitation
  • using partial negation
  • double negatives

Although Japanese has informal and formal forms to remember, Japanese negation is easy to handle once you learn the patterns! 

If you would like to learn more about the Japanese language and other useful Japanese phrases for any situation, you’ll find more helpful content on JapanesePod101.com. We provide a variety of free lessons to help you improve your Japanese language skills. 

To learn more about Japanese grammar and syntax, check out the following blog posts: 

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

Before you go, let us know in the comments if there are any Japanese grammatical rules you still want to know! We’d be glad to help, and we look forward to hearing from you!

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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!

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

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

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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! 

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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!

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

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!

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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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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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