you already know some japanese, you just didn't know it!

Yes, this is true. And I'm going to prove it.

Most people think it's the hardest language to learn, but with what you're about to read, you'll soon see that this isn't the case. Have a look below.

  • panasonic

    — a well-known Japanese electronics company...

See? You could insert Honda, Subaru, Mitsubishi, Yamaha, Nakamichi, Nissan, Datsun in there too! Music also has been influenced by Japan, and Japanese. Need proof? Okay, how about "Mr. Roboto" by Styx? What is it they're saying? You'll have to read further to find out! Kraftwerk – a pioneering German electronic band – wrote a song called "Numbers", and you most likely have heard it, and didn't know what was being said. You'll see what they were counting as you read along here.

Some of you out there are sushi eaters, drink sake (pronounced: sah-keh), and may even know what yakitori is. Whatever your current knowledge of the Japanese language is, I hope to help spark an interest in it's learning, because of all the fun I've had in learning it, and the sheer ecstasy of getting to use what I have learned to expand my knowledge of another culture outside of my own, and make friends where ever and whenever I can! Let's get started, shall we?

Now, let's break this down into it's proper Japanese syllables. I'll use English (which the Japanese call ro-ma-ji) to help you pronounce it how the Japanese do, okay? In the parentheses are the Japanese phonetic characters, called Katakana. Look below.

  • pa (パ) na (ナ) so (ソ) ni (ニ) ku (ク)

Okay, interesting, yes? Fun? I hope so! It's definitely fun for me. Want to know more? Keep reading!

japanese: the characters

Japanese has three sets of syllabaries:
  • hiragana (hee-ra-gah-nah)

    Hiragana is the syllabary you (usually) learn first. This is for particles and words that of Japanese origin.
  • katakana (kah-tah-kah-nah)

    Katakana is the syllabary you learn next. This is used mainly for foreign (non-Japanese) words and sounds.
  • kanji (kah-n-gee)

    Kanji are those dense characters which are from China originally, and there are literally THOUSANDS of them.

example: the word "creation" in the three syllabaries.

  • そうぞう — in hiragana

    This is "creation" in Hiragana. It's pronounced "soh-zoh".
  • クリエション — in katakana

    This is "creation" in Katakana. It's pronounced "ku-ri-eh-shyo-nn".
  • 創始 — in kanji

    This is "creation" in Kanji. It's pronounced "soh-zoh".

numbers in japanese

Would you believe me if I told you, that you may have heard these before too? I won't list the countless movies I've seen – which you have probably seen too – that have someone counting in Japanese. The Japanese counting systems (yes, that's PLURAL, and for a good reason) are quite interesting, as there's the borrowed Chinese numerals, known as On'yomi Readings (pronounced ohn-yo-mee), and the Japanese style called Kun'yomi Readings (pronounced kuun-yo-mee). Both are in use today, and intermingled with one another on a constant basis, depending on what's being discussed. Below is the basic 1 through 10, with the mechanism to count further. Enjoy!

Number Character Reading
1 ichi
2 ni
3 san
4 yon, shi
5 go
6 roku
7 nana, shichi
8 hachi
9 kyu
10 jyu

Now you can count to 10 in Japanese! See, it's not as difficult as you think!

numbers in japanese: going past 10

Now that you know how to count from 1 to 10 in Japanese, what about the rest of the numbers? Like 451 for example. Well, all is not lost, and wait until you see how easy and logical this really is! Let's break 451 into its units:

  • 4 is in the hundreds place

    4, which is yon (四), and 100 (百) is hyaku = yon-hyaku (四百)
  • 5 is in the tens place

    5, which is go (五), and 10 (十) is jyu = go-jyu (五十)
  • 1 is in the ones place

    1, which is ichi (一).

  • And here's how you say it, and write it. Ready?
  • 451 = yon-hyaku-go-jyu-ichi

    I know it's a mouthful, but start slow, and you'll gain speed as you use it.
  • 451 in japanese characters: 四百五十一

    Pretty sweet isn't it?
  • 451¥ = 451 yen

    In Japan, the Yen is pronounced "en", dropping the "Y". This is equal to about $4.51 roughly.

  • Here's how I think of it. Ready?
  • 400 (4 x 100) + 50 (5 x 10) + 1 = 451

    Makes sense, doesn't it?!?

beware of the irregulars!

When writing, the Japanese use the Roman numerals and the Japanese ones, so knowing the numbers is not only handy, it's really important when reading! You'll also learn about the irregulars, like when hyaku, when matched with other numbers like 3 (san), hyaku turns into byaku, and when you use 6 (roku), hyaku turns into roppyaku! When using 1,000 (sen), and you couple it with 3, or 6, sen turns into zen (san-zen, and roku-zen) respectively. If you want to know more about Japanese, why not check out the Resources Page?

Here are some more number combinations:

Number Character Reading
11 十一 jū ichi
17 十七 jū shichi
151 百五十一 hyaku go-jū ichi
302 三百二 san-byaku ni
469 四百六十九 yon-hyaku roku-jū kyū
2025 二千二十五 ni-sen ni-jū go

japanese phrases

Now what kind of Otaku would I be if I didn't tell you how to say "Hello!" or say "Good Night!" when seeing someone off? Below are some phrases to get your conversation going, and wrapped up. Please let me know how you make out when you use these, as I love hearing stories about how people came into using them!

in japanese: Hellos and Good-byes

  • ohayo gozaimasu!

    This is "Good Morning!". When said, bow right after.

  • Pronounced: oh-hi-yo-goh-zai-mahs

  • Written: おはよごうざいます!
  • konnichiwa!

    This is "Good Afternoon!", but also used everyday as "Hello!".

  • Pronounced: kohn-nee-chee-wah

  • Written: こんいちわ!
  • konnbanwa!

    This is "Good Evening!". Usually said when ending a conversation.

  • Pronounced: kohn-bahn-wa

  • Written: こんばんわ!
  • oyasuminasai!

    This is "Good Night!". When said, you should bow to show politeness.

  • Pronounced: oh-ya-sue-min-nah-sigh

  • Written: おやすみなさい!
  • sayonara!

    This is "Good-bye". When said, it's pronounced like "sayonada". Details here

  • Pronounced: sigh-yo-nah-dah

  • Written: さよなら!

Isn't this fun? And you thought this was going to be hard! Just like anything else you don't know, it can be difficult to wrap your head around what's being discussed, but knowing even a fraction of this stuff can take you places you never thought you'd see, meet people you may have just passed by otherwise, and learn something that only those "in-the-know" would never part with unless you made the effort to learn of them and their cultures. Now let's get you asking simple questions...

in japanese: questions

For these, put "Sumimasen," (soo-mee-mah-sen) before these phrases. In this context, "Sumimasen" means "Excuse me". NOTE: When you get to the "ka" part of a Japanese sentence, make sure you raise the intonation, because your asking a question. Here we go! Ready?
  • ima, nanji desu ka?

    "What time is it now?"

  • Pronounced: Ee-mah, nahn-gee dess kah?
  • kono omise ni wa koshu denwa arimasu ka?

    "Does this store have a public phone?"

  • Pronounced: koh-no oh-mee-say nee wa koh-shoo dehn-wah ah-ree-mahs kah?
  • toide wa doko desu ka?

    "Where is the toilet?"

  • Pronounced: toy-de wa doh-koh dess kah?
  • nansai desu ka?

    "How old are you?"

  • Pronounced: nahn sigh dess kah?
  • kore wa ikura desu ka?

    "How much is this?"

  • Pronounced: kor-reh wa ik-ku-la dess ka?

And the answers to these questions...

in japanese: answers

  • ima, jyu-ni ji ni desu.

    "Now, it's 12 o'clock."

  • Pronounced: Ee-mah, jyoo-nee gee nee dess.
  • hai! koshu denwa asoko desu yo!

    Yes! The public phone is over there!

  • Pronounced: high! koh-shoo dehn-wa ah-so-koh dess yoh!
  • masugu susumu, hidari ni magaru. soko desu.

    "Go straight, turn left. It's there."

  • Pronounced: mah-soo-goo su-su-moo, he-dah-dee nee mah-gah-roo. soh-koh dess.
  • san-jyu-nana sai desu.

    "I'm 37." (The "I'm" part is inferred, and it is assumed whomever the subject is about is 37.)

  • Pronounced: sahn-jyoo-nah-nah sigh dess.
  • kore? kore wa sen en desu yo! takai!

    "This? This is 1,000 yen! Expensive!"

  • Pronounced: koh-reh? koh-reh wa sehn ehn dess yoh! tah-kai!

Here's some Japanese you've already heard in your life...

in japanese: phrases you've heard already

  • "domo arigato, mister roboto!"

    "Than you very much, Mr. Roboto!" in the song "Mr. Roboto" by Styx.

  • Pronounced: doh-mo ah-ree-gah-toh = Thank you very much
  • karate

    The martial art. Okinawaians called it "Te" meaning "hand", later it was changed to "Kara te" meaning "empty hand".

  • Pronounced: kah-lah-teh
  • Aso!

    The casual version of the polite phrase: "Ahh! So desu!" Which is: "Ahh, I see!"

  • Pronounced: ahh-so!
  • "Daniel-san!"

    Noriyuki "Pat" Morita's way of calling Ralph Machio in the Karate Kid movies. "San" in Japanese acts as their "Mr.", "Mrs.", "Miss"

  • Pronounced: sahn
  • "gojira!"

    The real name of what Americans call "Godzilla".

  • Pronounced: goh-gee-dah!
  • atari

    Not only has this phrase been in your childhood, but it's centuries old. How old? Well, it's a word that the Japanese use in the ancient game of Go, which came from China, over 2500 years ago.

in conclusion

Well now, don't you feel even a little bit smarter? A bit more informed? It's a very contextual language, and one of the few languages (if not the only one) that once the subject of the discussion is mentioned, it's dropped, and all that remains are the parts of speech tossed from one person to the other. Imagine trying to walk in to a discussion and know what they're talking about without asking someone "What's going on?". It's tough enough doing that in English, let alone another language. If you liked what you've read and experienced and want to learn more, then head on over to the Resources Page and take your Japanese even further! Ganbattemasu! (Try hard!)

— Brian K. James