Eleanor Barker answers your travel questions
I'm running out of time to learn some Japanese before my holiday. Can you help with just enough to show good manners?
Daijobu desu (no worries!) Any Kiwi who has been paying attention to Māori pronunciation will have an advantage in Japan. Japanese and Māori have the same five phonemes, although technically four of them are slightly different. Both languages have phonemic contrasting based upon length, e.g. kēkē (armpit), keke (pie). I find Romaji (the Romanisation of the Japanese written language) to be fairly phonetic. Anime television shows will help with your pronunciation, as will Terrace House on Netflix.
When I first went to Japan I noticed that many locals do have a bit of English, but tend to be shy about using it. You don't need to be fluent to get around, but locals will be stoked if you have a go at speaking to them in their mother tongue.
When you have words, rather than a real grounding in a language, "wakarimasen" - "I don't understand" - will come in handy. "Nihongo" means Japanese or Japanese language, therefore "Nihongo wakarimasen" ("I don't speak Japanese"). Sukoshi means "a little" and will be handy to remember if anyone thinks you are fluent - high praise!
Sumimasen ("excuse me, sorry") is a very useful word for any gaijin (outsider) negotiating Japanese public transport. Onegaishimasu "oh-nee-gai-shi-mas-(u)" means "please". "Arigatou gozaimasu" means "thank you".
Meal time is a great opportunity to impress. Itadakimasu is heaps of fun to sing out before dinner "ita-daki-mas-(u)!" - it means, roughly, thank you for giving me life. Sometimes it sounds like Japanese speakers are leaving out the "ooh/u" sound in desu, masu, etc, but it is there, it is just hard to hear. "Gochisoosama deshita" ("thank you for the feast"). "Go-chi-soo-sama" on its own is less polite, but means delicious. Your hosts will not mind if you forget your deshita. "Oishii" means yum and "kanpai" means "cheers"!
When entering any shop at least one voice, if not a chorus, will enthusiastically call out "Irasshaimase!". Responding to this with "arigatou gozaimasu" is like responding to a market vendor saying "Come closer, come closer!" with "Thank you! Thank you!". A little bow or a smile is fine. Also handy is "i-ku-ra-des(u)-ka?" ("how much is it?").
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I have a few more. Hai rhymes with kai and means "yes", iie "e-aye" is "no". Eigo "ee-go" is the Japanese word for English. "Mizu" is water, "toire" is toilet, convenience stores are "konbini". "Eki" (train station), "sen" (line), "densha" (train). "Doko" means where; use a noun and doko in combination to get directions (your grammar will be bad, but that's fine). "Kirei na" (clean, pretty), "umai" (nice), "sugoi" (amazing). Ohayo "o-hai-yo" is good morning (add a gozaimasu for more formality), "konbanwa" is good evening.