Heading to Japan to ski? Seasoned Japan skier, GREG TUCHIN, reveals all the Japanese phrases you need.

Locals around the world love it if you try to speak in their language, even if you do it badly. Japan is no exception. I did a 16 week night course in Japanese that got me on my way before my first of five Japan ski trips thus far, but the truth is mastering Japanese is a very difficult task.

The good news is that having a conversation is much simpler.  When you are in Japan you will hear that many of their words have been anglicised. You’ll soon learn which ones will help you.

I know you can get by through pointing, writing things down, or using Google translate on your phone but these simple phrases will endear you to the Japanese people you meet on the slopes, in the bars and at your hotel.

kudusai – ( koo- des, I ) please. The way to ask for anything in Japan is to say the name of the thing you want first and then add  ‘o kudusai’ on the end. For example,  Beer o kudusai. This is a lot simpler than asking ‘Can I have a beer please’.  Substitute anything you like such as Wine o kudusai, Whisky o kudusai, Ticketta o kudusai.

sumimasen ( soo-me-mass- sen) excuse me. I use this all the time when I am trying to wheel my skibag through the busy Tokyo Metro. It’s also great on the slopes as you fly past beginners on the slopes. Sumimasen then translates as ‘coming through’ or ‘look out’.

desu ka ( dess- ka? ) is it?   This is put on the end of the phrase or sentence to ask a question. Even though they write it as ‘desu’ the ‘u’ on the end is silent, so it’s pronounced ‘dess.’ For example, Hakuba bus desu ka?  Is this the Hakuba bus? Toyko Shuttle bus des ka? Is this the Tokyo Shuttle Bus? Kirin desu ka?  Is this one the Kirin beer?  This is not perfect Japanese but everyone understands it.

ga arimas ka ( gah- ar-ee-mus-ka) do you have it. Just like the previous example by putting the ‘ka’ on the end you can make a question. Say the thing you want first and then put ga arimaska on the end. For example, ‘coffee ga arimaska’  do you sell coffee? Mizo ga arimas ka – do you have water?

genki desu ka –( gen-key-des-ka) how are you? And for some strange reason the answer is always genki desu. I think it is something like asking, how’s it going? And the answer is  ‘ it’s going’.  Just like Aussies say ‘how are you? Instead of hello, the Japanese love it.

doko desu ka ( dock-oh-dess- ka) -where is it? Once again with the Japanese word order you put the thing you want to know about first- Bussu Stoppo, doko desu ka? Where is the bus stop? Eiki, doko des ka?  Where is the train station? The Japanese people might also ask you, Da doko des ka?, which is their polite way of asking where you come from. To which you can reply Aww stra- lee ah.

ikuradesu ka ( Ee- kurah- dess ka) How much is it? Putting it into the right Japanese word order you get, Tokyo Bussu Ticket, ikuradesu ka. How much is the Tokyo bus ticket? Now unless you are really good at Japanese you won’t understand the reply but most ticket offices will write it down for you or if you are at a supermarket the assistant will turn the cash register display around so you can see it.

watashi wa ( wot-ash-ee- wah) – I am. I use this all the time because I am a teacher and teachers are very respected in Japan, more than a person’s parents. Watashi wa Sensei desu. I am a teacher. However you can insert your occupation here because many occupations are understood from their English names. It is a good conversation starter when you are going up in the gondola because after stating your occupation you can point at the Japanese person, or say anata-wa (you)  and they often tell you their occupation. 

ichi-ni-san- yon- go- roku-nana- hachi-ku ju– ( 1-10) Counting from one to ten is important in any language although the Japanese are pretty good at it. It helps if you need 3 rooms or 4-tickets, 6 beers

domo arigato ( do-zom- a-ree-gar-to) thank you, and thank you very much. I have left this until last because it is one of the first words people learn in Japan, however it is one of the most important in a country which prides itself on politeness. It is usually accompanied by a bow. In fact, I use this so much in Japan that I am often bowing to people in Australia many weeks after I get back.

Greg and his family have travelled to Japan five times. He has travelled all over the world and found that by trying to speak to a local in their language adds a new dimension to your trip. Check out his website.

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  1. Dozo = this way. Desu = the verb to be (is) verb + ka Create a question. Desuka = is it. Kore = this.
    Issho no = together. Iii desuka? = is it ok?
    Lift line…. issho ni ii desu ka = is it ok together (share a chairlift)
    Verbs are at the end of sentences in Japanese.
    Verb endings are easy to hear.
    Yo = certainty desuyo = definitely is
    Sho = uncertainty desusho = maybe it is
    Masen = negative desumasen = it is not (that one needs more teaching but it will get you by)
    Ka = question desuka = is it.
    Tabete = eat tabemasen = don’t eat
    Iki = to go ikimasho = shall we go?
    Suru = to do surumasen don’t do it.
    It’s not a perfect grammar lesson but there’s a start.


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