Dec 22, 2017

5 words and phrases to get you around Japan when your Japanese isn't proficient!

I am definitely an advocate for learning Japanese if you can while you're living here. Whether Japan is your permanent home and you've moved here for good, or you're here temporarily as a result of work or study, it's going to make your life immensely easier to know the language at least to some capacity.

In saying that, ironically my Japanese isn't the best. I know enough to get by, but not enough to have full conversations with people. If you're like me and there just aren't enough hours in the day to master a new language right now - but you still love to travel and want to explore as much of this country as possible - then never fear! I've traveled through 37 of 47 prefectures in Japan and have managed to get from A to B with certain words that made it much simpler.

Without further ado, here are five basic words and phrases to help with your travel communication.


In your travels you're inevitably going to use trains at some point. Sometimes you might be wandering out and about and need to ask for help regaining your bearings and finding a train station. Maybe you're hopping in a cab from somewhere and need to get to a specific station. As long as you know the name of the station you need to get to, just pop "eki" on the end. For instance, out exploring Kyoto and need to get back to the station via a taxi? Simply say to the cabbie "Kyoto Eki, Onegaishimasu!" and you'll be on your merry way!

5 words and phrases to get you around Japan when your Japanese isn't proficient! photo

With a few key words you'll find your way to the station like a local!

If you're not traveling by train, it's likely that you might be traveling by plane - which means you've got to get yourself to an airport. Same goes for this - if you need to hop into a cab to get to the airport, just say "Haneda Kuko, Onegaishimasu!" (or naturally, substitute Haneda with whichever airport you need to head to).

5 words and phrases to get you around Japan when your Japanese isn't proficient! photo

Need a cab to the airport? Remember "kuko" and you'll be golden!

Having a sense of direction when you travel is important, so it helps knowing your left from your right. It's also usually the way people are going to explain directions to you. Hidari is left in Japanese, and Migi is right. 


Sumimasen is one of those versatile words that is handy in everyday life in Japan as well as when traveling. It means "excuse me", so it's a good way of not only opening  a conversation and trying to ask for help, but also if you were to bump into someone for instance! 

Eigo o hanasemasu ka?

If you really need to find out more in depth about where you're at, and your beginner level Japanese just isn't cutting it, sometimes it's easier to ask someone if they speak English. You might be surprised at just how many people you'll come across that will be able to speak enough to get you where you need to go, or at least find you someone who can help you out in more detail.

Don't let not having the best grasp of Japanese deter you from exploring all that this country has to offer - if you keep these few words and phrases in your hip pocket you will find it's really not difficult at all to explore and enjoy yourself across Japan!



After spending the last several years in the beating heart of Tokyo, I will be spending the next three in the countryside of Japan. I adore this country and all it has to offer - and I'm always learning more and more about life here as I go along!