Say you booked a last minute trip to Japan. Then, soon after that, you quickly realize that you don’t speak a word of Japanese (let alone a hundred words). For all of you people out there (or, for all of you beginners of Japanese out there), this list is for you. These 100 words will get you through an untold number of situations, problems, and feelings, just by knowing these all-important words. I’m not saying that there aren’t any other important words out there (and I hope you add to the list by commenting below), but I do think this list of 100 words will get you really, really far if you are, for some reason, only limited to learning 100 words. Enjoy!
Having trouble pronouncing these “crazy” Japanese words? Try out some of the free lessons on TextFugu to become a Japanese pronunciation master.
If you’re traveling to Japan, you’re going to want to know words that have to do with “emergency” situations. You don’t want to be caught off guard in a foreign country. If you’re in trouble, you need to be able to ask for some help, whether that help is finding a bathroom or getting someone who speaks English.
トイレ (toire) = Toilet. Everyone has to use the toilet at some point, so if you need help finding it, this is the word for you.
手洗い (tearai) = Bathroom. Just like toilet, but a little more all-inclusive. You can feel free to use either of these in a pinch, though.
助けて (tasukete) = HELP. Just yell this out and (maybe) someone will come to your aid… if you’re lucky.
わかりません (wakarimasen) = I don’t understand. If someone is speaking to you in Japanese and you don’t understand them (if you’re using this list, then maybe you don’t) then you can just tell them you don’t understand what they’re saying. Follow that up with “eigo, eigo” (which you’ll learn in a minute) and you’ll be golden.
やめて！ (yamete!) = Stop it! Maybe somebody is messing with you and you want them to stop (yakuza? probably not). This is what you’d want to say.
英語 (eigo) = English. Sometimes you just need someone who speaks some English. Everyone in Japan is supposed to be able to speak English, though you might have trouble finding the right person depending on where you are.
服 (fuku) = Clothes. Don’t ask… I just thought it would be terrible to lose your clothes, and with all the hot springs and perverts, you never know.
死にそう (shini sou) = Seems Like I’m Going To Die. When things get really serious, you may need to pull out all the stops.
警察 (keisatsu) = Police. If something really bad happens, these are the guys you’re going to want to ask for.
危ない (abunai) = Dangerous. You’ll see this on signs and stuff too. If someone says “abunai” to you, you should probably watch your step.
危険 (kiken) = Peril, Hazard. Basically, this is a fancier abunai. You’ll see this on signs as well.
Asking broad general questions, then using body language to tell people the rest is a really fun way to get by in a country where you don’t speak the language!
どうした？ (doushita?) = What Happened? Then again, you probably won’t understand what the person responds with, but it’s always nice to ask.
どうして？ (doushite?) = Why? You never know…
なに？ (nani) = What? Unbelievable!
時間 (jikan) = Time. Just ask this with an quizzical tone and people will get the drift.
質問 (shitsumon) = Question. Have a question? Let someone know. Couple this with “eigo! eigo!” and maybe someone who can speak some English will come to answer your shitsumon.
だれ (dare) = Who. Great in case you need to find someone.
いつ (itsu) = When. Pretty important if you’re trying to time something.
Sometimes you need something that has to do with a someone. You can get by without too much here.
先生 (sensei) = Teacher. If you’re a student in Japan, this one comes in handy.
会社員 (kaishain) = Employee. Good if you’re looking for an organization’s employee to ask a question, perhaps.
人 (hito) = Person. For when you need to point out a person in general.
Finding your way around can be pretty important. Here are some words that will help you do that and keep you from getting lost.
ホテル (hoteru) = Hotel. You’ll need to be able to find this if you’re traveling in Japan.
どこ (doko) = Where. Don’t know where something is? Ask where it is with this word.
空港 (kuukou) = Airport. Don’t miss your flight!
駅 (eki) = Station. Gotta catch that train!
日本 (nihon) = Japan. Good to know where you are.
大学 (daigaku) = College. Great for college students studying in Japan, or people who like colleges in general.
本屋 (honya) = Bookstore. Some bookstores are pretty sketchy, be careful!
タクシー (takushi) = Taxi. Expensive, but you can find them everywhere.
家 (uchi/ie) = Home. There’s no place like it.
Oh food, how I love thee. Can’t live without it, either.
おなかすいた (onaka suita) / はらへった (hara hetta) = Hungry. Two ways to say this one. First one is more neutral, second is more casual.
食べます (tabemasu) = To Eat. Do you eat this? Yes I eat this.
食べません (tabemasen) = To Not Eat. Do you eat this? No I don’t.
飲みます (nomimasu) = To Drink. Glug Glug.
飲みません (nomimasen) = To Not Drink. I don’t drink beer, sorry.
水 (mizu) = Water. I drink water, instead, because that’s how I roll.
飲み物 (nomimono) = Drink. Not the verb, but the noun. Please get me a drink.
食べ物 (tabemono) = Food. Need food? Any food?
美味しい (oishii) = Good Tasting. If something tastes nice (or if you want to be nice), you’d say this.
不味い (mazui) = Bad Tasting. I probably wouldn’t ever say this, but just in case you need to let someone know…
レストラン (resutoran) = Restaurant. Now you need to figure out which one.
コンビニ (konbini) = Convenience Store. Great place to buy small things and food. Convenience Store food in Japan is pretty awesome.
スーパー (suupaa) = Super Market. If you need something a convenience store can’t give you.
You don’t want to piss people off when you’re in their country. Bad things happen if you do…
ありがとうございます (arigatougozaimasu) = Thank You. Do I even need to tell you why you should learn this? I hope not.
すみません (sumimasen) = Excuse Me. The streets can be busy, it’s nice to say excuse me when you walk through people.
ごめんなさい (gomennasai) = Sorry. If you bump into a Yakuza gang member, you might want to whip this one out.
Hopefully you meet some nice people in your travels. Say hello (and then goodbye!) to them.
おはようございます (ohayougozaimasu) = Good Morning. A greeting for morning.
こんにちは (konnichiwa) = Good Afternoon. You can use this around noonish on to the evening.
こんばんは (konbanwa) = Good Evening. Like the other ones, but for evenings.
ではまた (dewamata) = See You Later.
また明日 (mata ashita) = See You Tomorrow.
さようなら (sayounara) = Good bye. Probably won’t see them for a while :(
おやすみなさい (oyasuminasai) = Good Night. Time for sleepy time.
Verbs will get you a long ways. You don’t have to know much else as long as you know verbs, because verbs help you to get things done.
行きます (ikimasu) = To Go.
帰ります (kaerimasu) = To Return (home).
食べます (tabemasu) = To Eat. Nom nom nom.
します (shimasu) = To Do. This is the best verb ever.
見ます (mimasu) = To See. What is it you want to see?
買います (kaimasu) = To Buy. For all of you who like shopping.
待ちます (machimasu) = To Wait.
書きます (kakimasu) = To Write. Have people write the directions down!
止まります (tomarimasu) = To Stop.
教えます (oshiemasu) = To Teach. If you’re a teacher in Japan.
話します (hanashimasu) To Speak.
Adjectives, while not as awesome as verbs, are also very useful. They help you describe things.
新しい (atarashii) = New.
嬉しい (ureshii) = Happy.
大丈夫 (daijoubu) = Okay. As in “I’m okay!”
すごい (sugoi) = Amazing. For the sight seeing.
高い (takai) = Expensive / Tall. Just depends on the context.
大きい (ookii) = Big, Large.
小さい (chiisai) = Small.
近い (chikai) = Near. How close is it?
遠い (tooi) = Far. How far is it?
悪い (warui) = Bad.
いい (ii) = Good.
面白い (Omoshiroi) = Interesting.
楽しい (tanoshii) = Fun.
熱い (atsui) = Hot.
寒い (samui) = Cold.
上手 (jouzu) = Good At.
下手 (heta) = Bad At.
赤 (aka) = Red.
青 (ao) = Blue.
黒 (kuro) = Black.
緑 (midori) = Green.
黄色 (kiiro) = Yellow.
白 (shiro) = White.
馬鹿 (baka) = Stupid! I bet you knew this one already.
一 (ichi) = One.
二 (ni) = Two.
三 (san) = Three.
四 (shi/yon) = Four. Such an unlucky number!
五 (go) = Five. Good way to remember the first five numbers: “Itchy knee! Son, She go!” Imagine that playing out…
六 (roku) = Six.
七 (shichi) = Seven. Also kinda unlucky.
八 (hachi) = Eight.
九 (ku) = Nine.
十 (juu) = Ten.
百 (hyaku) = 100.
千 (sen) = 1,000.
万 (man) = 10,000.
円 (en) = Yen. Not really a number, but goes nicely with the numbers, I think.
Okay, okay. Hold your space horse space cowboy. I know that this list isn’t every important word. That would be impossible, and really depend on the person. But, now’s your chance to let me know what you would have added to this list as a “most important” word. List the word and the meaning down in the comments to help other people out too! That way your comment does some good, not evil.