Easy & Useful Japanese for Ordering Food in Japan: Five Must-Know Short Phrases

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     Japanese is not an easy language to learn, especially for English speakers. However, while in-depth study of the language is essential for mastery, complete fluency isn’t necessarily essential for daily life in Tokyo. 

     In fact, there are several situations in which even a rudimentary understanding of Japanese can be enough to get you by; in addition to the many restaurants in places like Shinjuku with English-speaking staff, some rudimentary Japanese can help you order food at most chain restaurants throughout the city. Today, we’ll be talking about some words and phrases that can help you navigate the menus.

1. This & That (これ・それ)

  • これ “kore”:this
  • それ “sore”:that

    “Kore” and “sore” (pronounced “koh ray” and “soh ray”) roughly translate to “this” and “that”, respectively. Even if you can’t read Japanese, most chain restaurants in Tokyo will have menus either on the table or by the register with pictures of the items; because of this, a combination of pointing and these two words will allow you to get across to the cashier or waitstaff exactly what you want.

2. Counters (一つ・二つ)

  1. 一つ (“hitotsu”)
  2. 二つ (“futatsu”)
  3. 三つ (“mittsu”)
  4. 四つ (“yottzu”)
  5. 五つ (“itzutzu”)
  6. 六つ (“muttzu”)
  7. 七つ (“nanatzu”)
  8. 八つ (“yattzu”)
  9. 九つ (“kokonotzu”)
  10. 十 (“tou”)

     “Hitotsu” means “one (thing)” and “futatsu” means “two (things)”. While the Japanese language has many different counters for different types of things, hitotsu and futatsu are generalized counters, and can be used in most situations to convey quantity. 

     In the case of restaurants in particular, especially when you go with someone else, being able to convey whether you want one or two of different items can be essential, as the pointing strategy outlined earlier can be a little less effective if you and your dining partner want the same thing. 

3. There is / There isn't (ある・ない)

  • ある “aru”/あります “arimasu”:there is
  • ない “nai”/ありません “arimasen”:there isn’t

     “Aru” translates roughly to “there is” and “nai” translates roughly to “there isn’t.” These two phrases (technically the same verb, conjugated differently!) are two of the most versatile in the language. It’s also worth noting that these are the casual forms of this verb: the polite forms would be “arimasu (あります)” and ”arimasen (ありません)”, respectively. 

  • A:_____がある?( “_____ ga aru?”):

  • Do you have_____?

  • B:ない (“nai”)/ありません (“arimasen”)

  • No, I don’t have it.

     In daily contexts, they can be used as part of a question (“_____ ga aru?”) to mean something close to “Do you have this?” Similarly, as a negative statement, you can use it to mean “I don’t have (this thing).”

  • A:ポイントカードお持ちですか? ( “pointo kaado omochi desu ka?”):

  • Do you have a point card?

  • B:
  • ある (“aru”) there is
  • ない (“nai”) there isn’t

     Oftentimes at the registers of chain restaurants, they will ask you something along the lines of “Pointo kaado omochi desu ka?” (ポイントカードう持ちですか?), or “Do you have a point card?” Just as often, the simplest way to respond to this question is “nai,” which, while not the grammatically perfect response, effectively conveys your lack of point card. If you do get yourself a point card, responding to this question with “aru,” will effectively communicate your possession of a point card, if you haven’t already pulled it out.

4. Eat here / To Go (店内で・お持ち帰りで)

  • 店内で (“Tennai de”)
  • Eat here
  • お持ち帰りで (“omochi kaeri de”)
  • Take out

     “Tennai de” translates pretty directly to “inside the shop,” whereas “omochi kaeri de” translates to “to be taken home”. Looking at the translations, it should be pretty readily apparent what these phrases mean; at the end of your order at restaurants like McDonald’s, you can use these phrases to let the cashier know where you intend to eat, so that they can prepare it properly.

5. That's All (以上です。)

  • 以上です。(” ijou desu”)
  • That’s all 

     “Ijou desu” translates roughly to “That’s it” or “I’m done.” This is used to indicate to the person taking your order that you’re done ordering. 

     While far from a comprehensive list of terms and phrases, these phrases should get you through a rudimentary order at places like McDonald’s and Hidakaya Ramen. In the future, I hope to go over more useful basic Japanese phrases, but until then, I hope this proves useful!

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