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Some Basic Japanese Phrases and Words

Are you are soon planning a stay in the wonderful country of Japan or possibly already in the “Land of the Rising Sun”? Are you possibly studying about Japanese language and culture for a class in school or maybe even just brushing up on a little Japanese as a personal hobby? If so, then there are some really important and basic Japanese phrases that are essential for everyday social interaction in Japanese society.

Arigato (Thank You)

The Japanese word “Arigato” is possibly one of the most famous Japanese words in the Western world that isn’t actually used as a loan word, like “Sushi” is. It is possibly so popular in the West due to a famous pop song called “Mr. Roboto” which highlights some of the intriguing aspects about the pronunciation of Japanese. It can be surprisingly challenging to get the pronunciation and timing correct, since Japanese is a very rhythmic language in many ways. The Japanese language is spoken in syllables which are intended to have an equal beat of rhythm for each syllable spoken. Words are not spoken as words, but more as a combination of distinct syllables. Thus, “Arigato” should be pronounced “Ah-ree-gah-toe” with each syllable having an equal amount of timing. The tendency for speakers from Western languages and many other world languages is to treat it as one word and inflect part of it while giving imbalanced timing to parts of the word since it is treated as one object. Words in Japanese can be very different if an “Oh” sound is, for instance, held for two syllabic beats rather than just one. This generally takes some getting used to. For more emphasis or in a formal setting say “Domo Arigato”.

Doitashimashite (You’re Welcome)
An appropriate response to the above Japanese word “Arigato” is the phrase “Doitashimashite” (Doh-ee-ta-she-mah-she-tay) and it essentially is equivalent to “You’re Welcome” or rather (It was nothing, don’t mention it). In Japanese culture it is common to find phrases which are humble and non-indebting. Everything is usually implied and rarely, if ever, actually spoken. Gift giving, for instance, is a very dynamic social game of friendship and business relation. An expensive gift could be an issue if the person receiving it could not easily reciprocate and thus the giver could be construed as either insulting the receiver or simply showing off monetarily. In either case, it could be an issue if the receiver is too concerned about reciprocating. It could lead to the recipient later having reluctance to contact the giver.

Sumi Masen (Excuse Me)
This particular phrase is very useful for a person who does not speak Japanese natively to use quite often while learning to get around in Japan and handle daily activities. It is pronounced “Soo-mee-mah-sen” and essentially means “Excuse me” as in, “Excuse me, do you have a moment?” This is not all though, it like many Japanese phrases, can have many different meanings depending on context. It can also be used as an apologetic “Thank You” if a person feels they may have inconvenienced someone.

These are some basic, but useful terms to understand and use during your stay in Japan.