Top 3 Essential Japanese Phrases You Must Know! (Podcast Recap! S1E1)

Published January 18th, 2021

If you don’t already know yet, Nihongo Master has a podcast! Our podcast series talks about basically every area of Japan — culture, nature, history and of course, language. Everything from informative to contemporary topics, you name it, we got it! We’re bringing podcast recaps to the blog section — for listeners to be able to refer back to the content we covered and for our blog readers to have a sneak peek of what we talk about in the podcast. Win-win, right? Our podcast series started off with a few keystone pieces of survival Japanese which will help you navigate the complexities of everyday life in Japan. These simple pieces of vocab are the Swiss army knives of the Japanese language, useful in every place, context, and at every level. Let’s briefly look at the top three essential Japanese phrases we covered in Nihongo Master podcast, EP 1!

Daijoubu (大丈夫)

First up, we have daijoubu (大丈夫). There’s a few meanings to this phrase — it can be a yes or no depending on the situation, and it roughly translates to “it’s okay”. It’s so flexible that you’re gonna be using it every day! Depending on the context — daijobu really is a real multipurpose lifesaver for first-time visitors to Japan! We looked at three different ways of using it:

  1. You can use it as a rejection. Tounger generation uses it more often than the older generation, and it’s a softer tone than saying a straight-up “iie” (いいえ, no), implying more or less “there is no need for you to take the trouble” or “it’s okay”.

  2. You can also use it to say “don’t worry about it”. It’s kind of like saying “it’s okay” or “no worries”, or even to accept an apology.

  3. The third way of using it is to ask if something is allowed or okay to do. There’s a lot of customs in the Japanese culture that are extremely foreign to some of us. They have rules we have no idea even existed, and some activities are carried out in very specific ways. So when it doubt on whether you’re about to totally disgrace yourself or not, use “daijobu” as a question to check first.

Onegaishimasu (お願いします)

The second essential Japanese multitool phrase on our list is onegaishimasu (お願いします). It’s used like the English word “please”. Onegaishimasu is just as versatile as daijobu but for completely different situations. It has a more positive colour, and represents the richly polite culture of the Japanese. Similarly, we talked about three ways to use it in the podcast:

  1. First off, we looked at how to order food with this phrase. It kind of translates to “give me” when ordering. We had a few examples in the podcast episode, and dropped more than a few vocabulary along with it, but generally it’s saying the orders you want and adding “onegaishimasu” at the end”. If you don’t know the name of it, just go “kore onegaishimasu” (これお願いします) to mean “this one, please.”

  2. The second usage is when you’re making requests and asking for help. If you’re seeking someone’s assistance, sliding in a polite little “please” is always a good idea — and we all know the Japanese are nothing if not polite. Onegaishimasu not only has the meaning of “give me” when ordering food, but also “help me”.

  3. The third way of using this phrase is when accepting offers. The Japanese are very generous in general, with a big gift-giving culture which you’ll often find yourself on the receiving end of if you land a job here. They’re also very generous when it comes to customer service.

Sumimasen (すみません)

Our last multitool phrase on the list is sumimasen (すみません). Sumimasen doesn’t really have a direct translation per se— it depends on how it’s used. Depending on the context, sumimasen can be anything from a sorry to a thank you, which is pretty bizarre — but the closest translation to help you understand its most common usages is “excuse me”. We looked at two ways of using this phrase:

  1. We can use this phrase to apologise. It’s the most common way of usage. Some would say that sumimasen is the more formal version of gomennasai — others would disagree and say it’s the casual version.

  2. Another way of using “sumimasen” is to get someone’s attention. The closest meaning to this way of usage is “excuse me”.

Vocab Recap

With every episode of Nihongo Master podcast, we have a vocab recap in each section to tie it up neatly. It’s also great for those interested in adding more Japanese words into their personal dictionary. And we’re making it easier with a recap online as well! Here’s the vocab recap from the three essential Japanese phrases podcast: Konbini (コンビニ) — convenience store Fukuro () — bag Zenzen (全然) — not at all Kutsu () — shoes Bīru (ビール) — beer Eru saizu (エルサイズ) — L size Hotto (ホット ) — Hot Rate (ラテ) — latte Sōsēji (ソーセージ) — sausage Piza (ピザ) — pizza Bātā (バーター ) — butter Chikin (チキン) — chicken Karē (カレー) — curry Kore (これ) — this Eki () — station Made (まで) — until Ga aru (〜がある) — I have Atatmemasuka? (あ貯めますか?) — Do you want it heated up? Oriru (おりる) — to get off


And that is a brief insight of our very first episode of the Nihongo Master podcast – we have daijobu, the all-rounder; onegaishimasu, the key to politeness; and sumimasen, the subtle social tool. Clip these three onto your Nihongo keyring and you’ll be opening all sorts of doors in no time. Even without the fully-fledged Japanese language abilities to hold a proper conversation, these little gems of vocab can set you on your way to effectively communicating in the majority of basic everyday situations. We covered even more content in the podcast. If you want to know how to use these phrases in detail and with examples, give our Nihongo Master podcast a listen — we are on Apple Podcast and Spotify, as well as other podcast listening platforms.