I’m back from the land of the rising sun, Japan. Great times were had by all, but communicating with people in a language you don’t really know is hard.
Imagine someone coming up to you on the streets and asking, “Excuse me, noble sir, but I was wondering a question whether you could direct me toward the nearest drink-serving place.” That’s pretty much exactly what most of the people around me were doing in Japanese, because they didn’t really have a grasp of basic grammar, pronunciation, or common-parlance communication. While they only had a few phrases in their collection, those phrases were stilted and awkward in most settings.
I didn’t use any more Japanese phrases than the next guy, but thanks to Making Out in Japanese I got much better responses.
This book contains hundreds of phrases loosely divided into categories of use. The categories are:
- What’s Up? – Basic phrases
- Yes and No – ways to say these things and related concepts
- Got a Minute? – ways to interrupt people and ask basic questions
- Say What! – phrases related to communicating (including the very powerful “You speak English very well”)
- Comings and Goings – phrases about moving around
- Eat, Drink, Be Merry – phrases about dining and drinking
- The Way I Feel – feeling phrases (including the well-known “Kawaii”)
- Making the Scene – socializing and phrases about social media
- Chit Chat – phrases useful at clubs, etc
- Check it Out! – phrases about looking and asking people out
- Curses and Insults – pretty much exactly that
- Fighting Words – Insults that are very severe
- On the Phone – phrases useful in phone conversations
- Love and Sex
- The Other Side – when relationships end
Many of these phrases come with a bit of explanation, as the cultural differences come into play when using them. For example, “Eigo umai-ne” means “You speak English very well,” and it’s important because most Japanese people are shy about their English skills. I found that this simple compliment was all it really took to have some great (English) conversations in Tokyo.
There are also phrases which make more sense for men to say than women, and vice versa. The book often provides two or three phrases that mean the same thing, along with a symbol to denote whether it’s more appropriate for a male or female speaker. For example, “sugoi” means “awesome”, but a man will often use the word “suge” instead. Or women will use the word “Atashi” to mean “me” while men will use “Boku”. These little things make all the difference, because they demonstrate you’re really trying.
I picked this up on the Kindle, but as with most reference books it’s probably better in solid form (for easier reference). That said, I found this book excellently laid out for quick searching and phrase absorption. Every night I put an hour into the book and copied a few phrases that seemed particularly useful into a pocket notebook, which I would then reference throughout the next day. It made things substantially easier.
Each of the many phrases contains the English translation, the phonetic pronunciation, and the way you’d write it (usually a mixture of Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana). With a bit of practice on pronunciation and inflection (best way is to watch subtitled Anime), you can quickly whip out a few dozen phrases for almost any situation before you have to go back to English.
I spent weeks on language-learning apps and classical Japanese phrasebooks, but this beat them all. If you’re thinking about going to Japan, this is the one book you should absolutely keep on hand.