Working at Hotel After Learning Japanese

Category : Japanese in Japan



Both from China, Urgenbayar and LIU Sichen work for Tokyo Business Hotel (Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo). Urgenbayar comes from Chifeng in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Lui was born in Mudanjiang, Heilongjiang.

Urgenbayar came to Japan in 2004. After graduating from college in China, he spent two years searching for a job but was unable to find one. Thinking that as Japan was an economic powerhouse there’d be work, he enrolled in a Japanese language school in Hohhot for half a year. His nomad parents approved and gave him money after selling about a third of the livestock they owned.

After coming to Japan, he studied for a year at a Japanese language school and then went on to study at the Faculty of International Development in Takushoku University. His major was Japanese culture and language. The university alone cost 800,000 yen a year, and he struggled economically. One of the ways he saved money was to share the rent of a four-and-a-half-tatami room with a shared bathing room and toilet, with a student friend of Mongolian descent, reducing his rent to 22,000 yen a month.

“I worked at an izakaya (Japanese pub / restaurant) to pay for part of my living expenses. Teachers spoke slowly to me, but patrons spoke rapidly and were hard to understand. I had difficulties with honorific language, too,” says Urgenbayar. After graduation, HASHIMOTO Taiitsu, President of the Tokyo Business Hotel and the father of a friend, gave him a job on the basis of his good character. He first worked at the front desk. Now he’s a cook.

“I want to work in Japan for the foreseeable future because there’s no work in the countryside in China and the pollution is awful. In Japan, your salary is always paid and the food and water are safe. But I intend to return to China eventually to inherit my father’s job,” says Urgenbayar.


LIU Sichen

Liu came to Japan because she had studied Japanese in high school. “Japanese and English were compulsory. Teachers of the Japanese language were usually serious, but at parties they would liven things up with karaoke,” she recalls. She majored in Japanese at college and became an interpreter for a Japanese company.

The salary, however, wasn’t very good for a recent graduate. “Besides, while I was working with Japanese people, I felt my Japanese wasn’t good enough. So I came to Japan in 2010 and went to a language school for a year and then studied business Japanese at a post-graduate course at Musashino University,” says Liu.

The school and her living expenses of a little less than 100,000 yen a month were paid for with money sent by her parents and with her salary from her job at a convenience store. “My parents approved of my studies in Japan at first, but after the Great East Japan Earthquake, they suggested I return. But I had just been admitted to a post-graduate course. I wanted to further improve my Japanese after graduation, so I got a job at this hotel. Besides, Japan is a convenient place to live.”

“At first, sushi disgusted me because it is raw, but I love it now. There was a period when I was obsessed by ramen, too,” laughs Liu. After starting to work at the hotel’s front desk, she began dreaming of having a shop or a hotel of her own in the future. “One day, a Chinese guest fell ill and I went to the hospital with him as an interpreter. That made him so happy that I was glad, too. In the future I’d like to do work that makes people happy. I’d also like to act as a bridge between Japan and China.”

Tokyo Business Hotel

Text: SAZAKI Ryo

[From Hiragana Times December Issue 2013]

Shared Houses Are Best for Learning Japanese

Category : Japanese in Japan


Melodie ALRIC

“It’s been exactly a month since I came to Japan. I can’t speak Japanese yet and it’s frustrating. But at the same time, it also gives me an incentive to study harder,” Melodie ALRIC from France says cheerfully. Melodie is 20 years old and a student at the University of Lyons. She’s been studying the Japanese language for two years. “In my college, the emphasis was on reading and writing. So even if I can communicate with my Japanese friends on Facebook, I can’t talk to them face to face,” she laughs.

Melodie became interested in Japan and the Japanese language through Japanese anime and manga which she became familiar with from a young age. “Naturally I saw and read them in French. I loved a manga called ‘NANA.’ I also found “MONSTER” interesting because it’s set in Germany and has scenes where the main character, who’s Japanese, prepares Japanese dishes for Germans.”

Melodie also gradually became interested in Japanese culture and history. “Japan’s culture and history are completely different from France’s. That’s why I wanted to know more and took Japanese language classes. There’s a student exchange program between the University of Lyon’s and Japan’s Musashi University. I used it and came to Japan with a plan to stay for a year.”

Because of the exchange program between the universities, there’s no need to pay tuition at Musashi. For a place to live, she chose a shared house near the university after consulting with Tulip Estate, an organization that manages many women-only shared houses and actively welcomes non-Japanese. The living room and kitchen are shared. The rent including utilities is 59,000 yen a month.

“The room is small but private. As we are all women, I feel safe. Another good thing is I can walk to the university and have no transportation expenses. We’re now six or seven in the house and everyone else is Japanese, so it’s the best environment for studying Japanese. When there’s some word I don’t understand, they all explain it to me by writing kanji or drawing images.”

“Because I’ve just arrived in Japan, I needed an extra 1,000 euros this month. I had to pay some insurance fees,” says Melodie. “From now on, I think I’ll only need from 800 to 900 euros a month. It’s for the rent, eating expenses, money to go out with friends and what have you.” She has saved about 4,000 euros because she wants to travel. Her parents gave her 3,500 euros for expenses for September through to December.

In Japan, she strolls around visiting different neighborhoods or museums. “Unlike France where shops are closed on Sunday, convenience stores are always open and handy,” says Melodie.

Melodie likes traveling and wants to work in the travel industry in the future. “I’d like to plan out trips for leisure and business people and organize events.” She intends to travel around and see a lot of Japan in her one year here. “I’m now planning a trip to Kyoto. I want to travel around Japan from Hokkaido to Okinawa.”

Tulip Real Estate Co., Ltd.

Text: SAZAKI Ryo

[From Hiragana Times November Issue 2013]

I’m Experiencing Japanese Culture First Hand

Category : Japanese in Japan



“As a matter of fact, I was in Japan from the age of four to eight for my father’s job,” says American Maria REYES. Growing up, she began to miss Japan and joined a Japanese culture club in college. “I began to read books on Japanese culture and took up tea ceremony as a hobby.”

She made a lot of Japanese friends through these club activities. After one of them told her about the International Cross-cultural Committee, an organization that arranges internships in Japan, she applied. “I was in my second year of Japanese language studies, so my speaking ability was limited. My knowledge of the language, however, compared to other applicants, was an advantage.”

As part of the ICC program, the intern works for two months in Japan and is able to have the experience of going on two trips within the country. The cost, including rent and a 24-hour phone support service, is US$5,500. Maria passed the selection process, but her parents didn’t approve of the idea. Her father had concerns about the cost and whether the program would really be useful for Maria’s studies. Her mother was worried about her safety.

Maria says, “So I persuaded my father by saying, ‘This is a wonderful opportunity.’ I told my mother that ‘Japan is safe and I’ll have some support.’ My family isn’t rich, but they put up the money in the end, saying, ‘If it’s for Maria…’”

Maria arrived in Japan on June 25 and settled into a shared house in Ota Ward, Tokyo. The other residents there besides Maria, are two Japanese, one Malaysian and one American. Maria’s bedroom is about 20 square meters in size. The living room and the kitchen are shared. She’s doing her internship at Takaso Inc., a company based in Akihabara with links to the fashion industry. She sometimes goes to their office in Shibuya, too. Her hours are from ten am to four pm.

“I’ve been lucky,” says Maria. “Some companies only give simple tasks to interns, but I’ve been put in charge of a project. Also, when they learned my major was international marketing, I was asked to ‘Please do a presentation on how this company’s marketing should be done.’”

“The best thing about this internship is I’m actually using knowledge of Japanese culture I acquired from books,” says Maria. “For example, when I made my presentation, I asked if there were ‘Any questions?’ However, no one said anything. I anticipated this, so I made eye contact with my boss. He then encouraged questions by saying, ‘Does anybody have any questions?’ Then they all began to ask questions.”

“The difficulty of Japanese is that people don’t voice their opinions. You have to read the atmosphere,” says Maria. “But if you are in trouble, people sense this and come to your rescue. One day four or five people came to my help.” On her days off, she wanders around searching for nice cafes. “Japanese sweets aren’t too sweet and that’s what’s great about them. I love matcha and tea so much that I’m thinking of opening a cafe one day to introduce the custom of tea drinking to the US.”

International Cross-cultural Committee

Text: SAZAKI Ryo

[From Hiragana Times October Issue 2013]

A Good Way to Make Progress in Japanese is “To Like it”

Category : Japanese in Japan


Fredrik NYBERG

Fredrik NYBERG has been studying the Japanese language for just ten months. Arriving from Norway in October 2012 at the age of 23, he enrolled in a Japanese language school called Yokohama International Education Academy. “Japan is fun because it’s so different from Norway,” he says, his eyes lighting up.

It was manga that piqued his interest in Japan. “In Norway, English translations of Japanese manga are sold in bookstores. I started reading them when I was about 20 and began dreaming of coming to Japan.” Worried about the aftermath of the nuclear power plant disaster, his mother tried to dissuade him, but he managed to convince her by explaining that “it is safe now.”

Working as a car mechanic since the age of 17, Fredrik had savings of 2.5 million yen. Though he isn’t currently employed, he gets by on his savings and a monthly scholarship of 48,000 yen from the Japan Scholarship Foundation, an independent administrative corporation. He lives in a one room apartment in the school’s dormitories.

“I need about 120,000 yen a month,” says Fredrik. “My rent is around 60,000 yen. Other than that, I spend roughly 60,000 yen on leisure and eating. I almost always eat out, so it ends up costing a little bit too much.” However, since he found himself a Japanese girlfriend he’s been cooking more frequently. “She comes to my place on weekends. I cook Norwegian, she does Japanese and we eat together.”

Fredrik lives in Yokohama, but he often spends his free time in Tokyo. “In Tokyo, I like places such as Ueno, Akihabara and Shibuya. I like Minato-Mirai in Yokohama. There are many other places I like.” He’s been on domestic trips, too: to Matsumoto (Nagano Prefecture) and Atagawa (Shizuoka Prefecture).

He’s enjoying his life in Japan, but even so, there are some things that bother him. “Japanese dishes often have seafood in them. I can’t eat them because I am allergic.” Also, when he wasn’t familiar with Japanese customs, he was shocked to see Japanese slurping ramen. In addition, he was reprimanded at a hot spring resort for breaking one of the rules.

How did he make such rapid progress in Japanese in only ten months? “I have four hours of class a day at school. Recently we’re mainly preparing for exams. I also study for about an hour at home,” says Fredrik. His hobbies have been useful for his studies. “I learned kanji reading novels and manga. I like TEZUKA Osamu and ‘Ashita no Joe’ manga, and I love MURAKAMI Haruki’s novels. As for anime, I love works by Studio Ghibli. I love and often watch variety programs on TV. I have difficulties with grammar, honorifics and especially the difference in particles between, “は, が, を, に,” so I’m listening to recordings on my iPod.”

In the future, Fredrik says he wants to study game or web design. “I’d like to obtain the N1 level of the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) before graduating from my Japanese language school, but it’s unlikely,” he says, scratching his head.

Yokohama International Education Academy

Text: SAZAKI Ryo

[From Hiragana Times September Issue 2013]

They Came to Japan Drawn by an Interest in Games and Samurai

Category : Japanese in Japan

Alberto SESTI

Alberto SESTI and Giulia VALENTI came to Japan in March and are studying Japanese at TOPA 21st Century Language School in Koenji, Tokyo. Alberto and Giulia are both from Rome, Italy. Alberto played Japanese games as a child and this led to his interest in Japanese culture. He studied Japanese language and history in college.

Giulia was interested in Japan’s samurai, and she studied karate for more than ten years in Italy. After developing a fondness for Japanese pop culture, including fashion and visual-kei bands, she decided to go to Japan to study. Both share an interest in cosplay. They often cosplay as characters from the popular game “Final Fantasy.”

“Before coming to Japan, my family and I were worried because the Italian media had reported that the water in Tokyo was contaminated after the Great East Japan Earthquake. But I was relieved to hear from a Japanese friend that these news reports were exaggerated and I didn’t change my resolve to go to Japan,” says Alberto.

The two of them study at school every day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Giulia says kanji is the hardest to study. Alberto says kanji is his forte, but he has a hard time studying sentence patterns. In addition to studying at school, they also learn a lot of Japanese by watching Japanese dramas. “I’ve recently been watching ‘Last Cinderella’ and ‘35-year-old High School Student,’” says Alberto.

Alberto and Giulia live together in Toshima Ward. They spend a lot of time together watching TV and going to their local Book Off (a store selling used books and CDs). “Japanese houses are small. We quarrel from time to time, maybe because we are in the same room most of the time,” they say, half joking.

On her days off, Giulia often goes to Harajuku and Shibuya. “In Japan there are many people who enjoy all kinds of fashions. I like that it’s acceptable for people to dye their hair all kinds of colors,” she says. Giulia cooks both Italian and Japanese food. “I like things like curry rice, soba, omuraisu (omelet with rice) and oyako-don (chicken and egg on rice).”

Alberto says he often goes to Akihabara on his days off. “Wherever you go in Italy, the landscape looks the same, but Japan has all kinds of scenery, old towns, new towns. I never get bored.” Alberto says he wants to get a job with a Japanese game developer in the future. Giulia wants to find a job in Japan related to fashion.

TOPA 21st Century Language School


[From August Issue 2013]

Learning Japanese in Japan

Category : Japanese in Japan

The best way to learn a language is to live in the country where it’s spoken. In Japan, most learners go to a Japanese language school. Japan has many such schools. And there are a lot of learning materials.

The Kichijoji Language School in Musashino City, Tokyo, has four terms a year. It has about 100 students, though this depends on the time of year. Courses are run for eight different levels. In addition to these, there are also private lessons and preparation courses for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test.

“The goal of the Kichijoji Language School is to get you to be able to produce the language that you’ve studied,” says principal TSUCHIYA Iwao. “Teaching only to read or only to write isn’t effective. So we put emphasis on conversation practice where students use what they’ve learned at each level. Living in Japan, they hear honorific language used in everyday conversations. Since it’s hard for them to use such language, they practice it until they can.”

One good thing about Japanese language schools is that the students can learn about Japanese culture and make friends through school events. The Kichijoji Language School offers excursions for those who wish to participate. Excursions are to well-known spots or places where they can learn Japanese history, places like Kamakura or Mt. Takao. Events like yearend parties or summer evening festivals, commonly held at Japanese companies or schools, are also organized. “Sometimes students organize their own trips and invite along classmates,” says Tsuchiya.

At the Kichijoji Language School, about 20% of graduates go on to higher education institutions in Japan. “Some go to Japanese college or vocational school while others continue their studies in their own countries. We had a student who came to Japan to work after working as a cartoon animator in his country.”


Evergreen Language School

The Evergreen Language School is in Meguro Ward, Tokyo. In addition to running courses for those wishing to enter higher education, the school runs standard courses, two or three days a week courses and private lessons. Though it varies over the course of the year, the total number of students is currently about 20. The school takes part in events held in shopping arcades, holds speech contests and organizes cultural exchanges with private high schools.

“It’s been 25 years since we founded our Japanese language school and during that time, people from 70 countries have studied with us,” says principal NAITO Sachiko. “Currently we only have a few students because we haven’t been recruiting overseas at study abroad centers.” The Evergreen Language School was founded in 1949 as an English conversation school. “We give lessons that are tailored to suit our students’ needs. In terms of Japanese lessons, five years ago the ambassador to Senegal studied with us every day for a year and a half and after this, ties between Japan and Senegal were strengthened,” says Naito.

“We had a case in which a German who had come to Japan to start a headhunting business was transferred to our school from the Japanese language department of a famous private university. After graduation, some students stay in Japan to go on to higher education, to work, or to start a business. I’m glad they are active in so many areas.”


Academy of Language Arts

“Since we have students of so many different nationalities, I’ve often noticed a difference in each student’s background and general knowledge,” says KUROKAWA Hikaru who is an administrator for the Academy of Language Arts (Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo). The school has about 100 students and average class sizes of about 12.

“We offer Japanese language classes that focus on improving communication skills in conversation, in conjunction with using a textbook we have lots of discussions, debates and pair work. I’m happiest when I see students making progress who didn’t speak a word before,” says Kurokawa.

The advantage of studying Japanese in Japan is of course that you have more opportunities to engage in conversations in Japanese. When you go out, most people on the street are speaking Japanese. Most station names are written in kanji, but they are often also written in hiragana and the roman alphabet. You can practice reading those names.

Watching TV is another effective way to learn. Advanced learners can pick up common Japanese expressions as well as words that have recently entered the language. Advanced learners can also learn about what’s happening in Japan and study the Japanese way of thinking. Beginners are ought to watching news shows with sign language. As they are aimed at people with hearing difficulties, the announcers speak slowly and the subtitles are accompanied by hiragana text. It’s possible to learn Japanese conversation while at the same time enjoying dramas and animations.

For those who like to sing, karaoke is another good way to learn. The lyrics are shown on screen. So you don’t fall behind, the letters of the lyrics change color to indicate which part you should be singing. It’s important to choose slow tunes as most new hit songs have many words to pronounce in quick succession and are hard to sing.

Working full time or part time is also a good way to learn. With your Japanese colleagues, you not only talk about work but also chat, so your vocabulary grows. At work, you are obliged to use honorific language which many foreigners tend to avoid. It is good practice. However, you need to be careful because, depending on the type of visa you have, the occupation you can have and hours you can work may be restricted.


Japanese textbook section at a bookstore / Manga section

Large bookstores often have a section containing textbooks for learning Japanese in which books for all levels are sold. Those bookstores also stock useful learning materials, such as cards for memorizing kanji. If you go to the children’s book section, you’ll find many easy, useful books such as illustrated dictionaries and picture books.

Manga are also excellent materials for study. Most manga are covered in plastic film, so you can’t see the contents before buying. Some popular ones, however, come with samples that show what kind of manga it is. Manga cafes stock a wide range of comic books for you to browse. There it’s possible to choose a title based on whether the kanji has hiragana readings and on the kind of language used.

Text: SAZAKI Ryo

[From Hiragana Times February Issue 2013]

Japanese Maps and the Meaning of Place-Names

Category : Japanese Language


Do you know that the kanji “日本” and “日” (ni / nichi / hi) means “day” and/or “sunshine”? Do you also know that “本” (hon / moto) means “book,” but also “origin,” and/or “home”? In brief, together “日本” means “the origin of sunshine.” This is why Japan is often referred to, in English, as “the land of the rising Sun.”

On a map you can see that Japan is mainly made up of four big islands, the largest one being “本州”/Honshu(u). “州”/shu(u) usually means “state,” but on some occasions it may also mean country. “本州”/Honshu(u) means “home state,” and can generally be translated as “mainland.”

The smallest of the four islands is “四国”/Shikoku. Previously it was made up of four independent States (countries), which have now become four distinct prefectures. Originally in the southern islands of “九州”/Kyushu(u) there were nine States. Now, they have become a group of seven prefectures. The northernmost island is “北海道”/Hokkaido(u) which literally means “North Sea Road.” The kanji “道”/do(u) road is said to have been used because there were already main arteries such as “Tokaido(u)” and “Tohokudo(u)” in the area.

Japan is divided into eight regions; Hokkaido(u), Shikoku and Kyushu(u) form one region, while Honshu(u) is subdivided into 5 regions that include Tohoku, Kanto(u), Chu(u)bu, Kinki and Chu(u)goku. The kanji “東北”/To(u)hoku exactly fits the English word “northeast.” Kanto(u) is considered to be the center of Japan’s economy and culture and also where To(u)kyo(u), Japan’s present capital, is located. Chu(u)bu is physically located in the middle of the country, while the Kinki region is commonly referred to as “Kansai.” Chu(u)goku is often confused with the neighboring country of China as it is also written and pronunced “中国”/Chu(u)goku, and is therefore often referred as the Chu(u)goku region.

In Japan’s 8 regions there are 47 ken/prefectures, but in To(u)kyo, O(o)saka, Kyo(u)to and Hokkaido(u), the word “ken” is replaced with other names. Instead, they are called To(u)kyo(u)-to, O(o)saka-fu, Kyo(u)to-fu and Hokkaido(u). Since “do(u)” is already part of its name, no additional ending is required. This is somewhat similar to the capital of the U.S.A., Washington, which is commonly referred to as Washington D.C.

The region’s largest cities are (from north to south): Sapporo, Sendai, To(u)kyo(u), Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyo(u)to, O(o)saka, Ko(u)be, Hiroshima and Fukuoka. Central To(u)kyo(u), where many non-Japanese live and work, is divided into 23 wards.

Kyo(u)to had been the capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years. “都” (to / miyako) means “capital,” so Kyoto means the “Capital of Kyo(u).” “東京”/To(u)kyo(u), is located to the east “東” (tou / higashi) of “京” /Kyo(u), and therefore means, “To(u)kyo(u),” the capital east of Kyo(u). Located within To(u)kyo(u), a big town “新宿” /Shinjuku means “new inn.” “新” (shin / atarashii) means “new” and “宿” (juku / yado) means “inn.” This name was derived from the new inns that were being built in that area. Thus, each place has its own name-history.

What are Common Names for Japanese?

Category : Japanese Language


In Japanese, “namae” usually means a person’s “full name” (given & surname), however, it can also refer to just your given name, a similar concept to English. Generally, Japanese call one another by their surnames, although among close friends they may use given names.

In Japan, it is said there are about 300,000 different surnames, of which 7,000 comprise 96%. It was only in 1875, after the beginning of the Meiji Restoration, that ordinary Japanese people were permitted to use their surnames. Everyone could freely have a surname, in order to distinguish themselves from other families, and as a result, many people used names derived from where they lived, such as near a mountain, valley, tree, river, rice field, field, hill or the sea.

The top 10 surnames in Japan are: 1. Satou, 2. Suzuki, 3. Takahashi, 4. Tanaka, 5. Watanabe, 6. Itou, 7. Yamamoto, 8. Nakamura, 9. Kobayashi, and 10. Saitou. The most common, Satou, is used by nearly 2 million Japanese, while the 10th most frequent, Saitou, is used by nearly 1 million.

Children’s names also reflect the times. In the year the present Emperor married, many girls were named “Michiko,” after the new princess. Then, when MATSUZAKA Daisuke set great high school baseball records, many boys were given his name.

Until roughly the 1970s, kanji symbols for male names included男, 夫, 雄 (these are read as “o”) as 秀男 (Hideo), while for girls in kanji symbols such as 子 (ko) as in 秀子(Hideko) were generally added to the end. This is similar to English names ending in “o” like Antonio and “a” like Antonia.

In the 80s and after, the number of parents giving their children unique names increased. According to the Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Company, which conducts yearly name surveys, 2009’s most popular name for boys was Haruto, while for girls it was Yuna.

Since 2000, the three most popular boy’s names have been: Haruto, Yuuto and Yuuki. while popular girls names included: Ayaka, Yui and Yuna. However, many different kanji are used for those names. They use various uncommon Japanese kanji characters, making them very difficult to read even for Japanese.

大翔 (Taiga / Hiroto and other readings), was the most widely used kanji for boys, embodying the image of flying high. For girls it was陽菜 (Hina / Haruna and other readings), which embodies the image of flowers and the grass gleaming in the sunshine. These names seemingly imply the Japanese wish for optimism and a bright future for their children.

Previously, traditional Japanese boy’s names included Kiyoshi and Makoto, while traditional girl’s names included Kazuko and Ai.

Few Restaurants in Japan Provide English Menus

Category : Japanese Language


Something that non-Japanese must find inconvenient is restaurant menus. Called “oshinagaki” in Japanese, the term “menu” is now also casually used. Nevertheless, most restaurants still only provide ones written in Japanese.

What many restaurants in Japan do provide are menus with photos so that customers can see what food is available, however, it is still difficult to know what ingredients make up each dish.

On most menus you will often see the following kanji: “肉” (niku) or meat, “魚” (sakana) or fish and “野菜” (yasai) or vegetable. Meat dishes usually include these kanji: “牛” (gyuu) or beef, “豚” (ton / buta) or pork and “鶏” (tori) or chicken. Most Japanese know these English words, so you can use them when ordering from the waiter/waitress, just in case you forgot the kanji.

However, most Japanese do not know the English names of specific fish or vegetables, for instance, maguro (tuna), katsuo (bonito), negi (leek) and nasu (eggplant).

Other important kanji to know are “ご飯” (gohan) or rice and “麺” (men) or noodles, as they are Japan’s staple foods. Also cooking terms such as “~焼” (yaki) or grilled/baked, “~炒め” (itame) or fried, “~揚げ” (age) or deep fried and “~煮” (ni / niru) or boiled are also essential. “甘” (ama / amai / kan) or sweet, “辛” (kara / karai / sin) or hot and “酢” (su / suppai) or sour are also often used.

Regarding drinks, sake is usually written in kanji as “酒.” Sake traditionally means Japanese rice wine, but it can also refer to any alcohol, including beer, wine, whisky, shochuu, and so on.

“O.cha” is generally translated as “tea” in Japanese. Usually in Japan, restaurants serve free drinks such as water “水” (mizu) and Japanese tea “お茶” (o.cha). But if you ask a waiter/waitress for “tea,” he/she will probably bring you red tea, for which you have to pay, just like coffee. So if you want free Japanese tea, please ask for “o.cha” or “green tea.”

Most restaurant signboards written in Japanese read like “日本料理” (Japanese cuisine), “居酒屋” (izakaya) or pub and “寿司” (sushi). Inside some izakaya that many non-Japanese enjoy, there are more menu items written in Japanese on the walls. So, in order to truly enjoy Japanese food, it is necessary to learn a minimum amount of kanji.

While katakana is generally used for the names of animals and plants, so can both kanji and hiragana.

Finding Your Way Around

Category : Japanese Language


While most Japanese do not speak English, they do know some basic English words. When you ask them the way to a station, they will only understand if you use the English word “station.” However, when you lose your way and try asking “Where am I?” few Japanese will understand what you are saying. Instead, you should ask in Japanese, “Koko wa doko desuka?” Furthermore, big city streets in Japan are very complicated, so it is recommended that you bring a map whenever you visit a new place.

Even if you fortunately encounter an English speaking person, they may not be a local. They still may not be able to help you. On such occasions, it may be best to ask someone in a local shop. If you can not communicate in English, try asking “Eigo o hanasu hito imasu ka.” (Is there anyone here who speaks English?) If you can not find anyone who does, then ask “Kouban wa dokodesu ka.” (Where is the police box?)

Japan is said to be one of the world’s safest countries, partly because of the system of neighborhood police boxes. In Japan there are more than 6,000 police boxes, each responsible for overseeing a particular area. Therefore, policemen know their local geography well. Even many Japanese ask for directions at the police box.

“Koko kara donokurai kakarimasu ka” (How long does it take?) is also an useful question. People may reply, “Aruite / kuruma de go-fun” (five minute on foot / by car.” The words “fun / pun” (minute) and “jikan” (hour) are must-learn words.

When people wait for someone at a train station, they usually meet them at the ticket gate. But there are many ticket gates in big stations like Shinjuku and Shibuya. Each one is usually named “East entrance/exit” and/or “South entrance/exit.” Subway stations generally have exit names like “A1” and/or “B2.” Still, even Japanese can sometimes have trouble finding the right gate.

Therefore, many people meet at landmarks in front of stations, such as “Studio Alta” at Shinjuku station and “Hachiko” at Shibuya station. These landmarks are very well known. So, for instance if you lose your way at Shinjuku station, just ask someone, “Aruta sutajio wa doko desu ka,” (Where is Studio Alta?) and they will help you easily find it.

Words and phrases often used when asking for directions include: “~ dori” (~ street), “shingou” (signal), “kado” (corner), “juujiro” (intersection), “T-jiro” (T-junction), “ikidomari” (dead end), “massugu” (go straight), “migi ni magaru” (turn right) and “hidari ni magaru” (turn left). When you go to an unfamiliar place you should learn about some of the area’s landmarks beforehand, such as department stores and public facilities. Those who you ask for directions may say: “xx depa-to no chikaku” (near xx department store), “~ no sangen saki” (three buildings past ~), “~ no mukai gawa / hantai gawa” (the opposite side of ~) and “~ no naname mae” (diagonally across from ~).


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