Basic Japanese words you need to know to build your Japanese vocabulary

Common Japanese words: facts and figures

Known in English as Shogakukan’s Japanese Dictionary, the Nihon kokugo daijiten (often abbreviated as the Nikkoku) is the largest Japanese language dictionary. Its second and most recent edition was published in 2000-2001 and includes more than 500,000 words.

However, the answer isn’t as simple as that. Japanese can’t be compared to Western languages in this aspect because it uses three different alphabets: hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Kanji, for instance, are logograms, so each character represents a different word. Knowing this, you won’t be surprised to learn that the Japanese language includes 50,000 kanji. Despite that, only 3,000 of them are in common use in Japan today, with 500 of the most common accounting for 80% of the entire kanji in regular text, such as one from a newspaper.
Luckily, Mondly makes everything easier and helps you learn Japanese in a fun, easy and effective way. The app focuses on teaching you the most frequently used Japanese words so you can build a practical vocabulary that allows you to speak the language fluently. Mondly will help you learn the most useful Japanese words fast because:

  • ● Each Mondly lesson tackles a certain topic so you can deepen your understanding of it before moving forward;
  • ● The app uses a unique spaced repetition system that improves your ability to memorize new words;
  • ● Instead of endless Japanese word lists, Mondly uses gamification to boost your learning with picture quizzes;
  • ● It focuses on practical topics so you can build hands-on language skills for real-life situations.

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Common Japanese words

When you know the most common 100 Japanese words

You can understand 50% of the texts written in Japanese

Top 10 most common Japanese words pronounced by fluent Japanese speakers

  1. 1. こんにちは。 = Hello

    It’s nice to be properly greeted, isn’t it? Then let's start with こんにちは。(Kon'nichiwa) which means “Hello” in Japanese. This is one of the most common words in Japanese and a great way to start a conversation with someone from Japan. Click play below to listen to the pronunciation:


  2. 2. = Love

    Love is the best feeling in the world. For this reason alone, “love” should be one the first words you learn in any language. In Japanese, the word for “love” is 愛 (ai). Simple, yet powerful. Hear it pronounced here:

  3. 3. 幸福 = Happiness

    You know how the song goes: clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth. Japanese people refer to “happiness” by saying 幸福 (kōfuku). Here’s how to properly pronounce it in Japanese:


  4. 4. = Cat

    The world is all about cats these days. No matter how much you scroll, you’ll always find a purr-fect photo of a cat or 猫 (neko) – if you want to say it in Japanese. Hear the pronunciation:

  5. 5. = Dog

    Nothing feels better than a walk with our best friend, the dog. “Dog” means 犬 (inu) in Japanese and it’s a very useful word regardless if you’re a dog person or not. Listen to its pronunciation:

  6. 6. 微笑む = Smile

    Our smiles are contagious. They spread joy, make people happy and lift their spirits. If you think about it, there no good reason not to smile. The word for “smile” in Japanese is 微笑む (hohoemu). Say it with us:


  7. 7. 日本の = Japanese

    You never know when this will come in handy. The word you are looking for if you want to say “Japanese” in Japanese is 日本の (Nihon no). Here’s how a fluent speaker would pronounce this word.


  8. 8. はい。 = Yes

    Everyone appreciates a positive answer. A simple “yes” or はい。(hai) can go a long way toward smoothing things over. Enhance your understanding by listening to how a person from Japan would say it:


  9. 9. ありがとうございます。 = Thank you

    No matter how busy life gets, always take the time to say “thank you” or ありがとうございます。(arigatōgozaimasu) in Japanese. It’s the most you can achieve with the least amount of effort. Hear the pronunciation:


  10. 10. さようなら。 = Goodbye

    Every “hello” ends with a “goodbye” or さようなら。(sayōnara) if you are parting ways with your Japanese friends. Here’s how to properly pronounce this farewell in Japanese:


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Speaking Japanese

Japanese nouns for places
If you want to become fluent in Japanese fast, it’s essential to focus your efforts on learning common words that may come up in daily conversations more often than others. Here are some of the most frequent Japanese nouns for places.

  • 市場 (ichiba): market
  • 病院 (byōin): hospital
  • 郵便局 (yūbinkyoku): post office
  • 店 (mise): shop
  • 大使館 (taishikan): embassy
  • アートギャラリー (ātogyararī): art gallery
  • 寺院 (jiin): temple

Japanese nouns for transportation
Traveling to Japan? Knowing the right words can go a long way if you find yourself in a foreign place. Make sure you learn words that can help you get out of a difficult situation, such as finding a train station. Here are eight such useful Japanese words related to transportation.

  • 空港 (kūkō): airport
  • 橋 (hashi): bridge
  • トンネル (ton'neru): tunnel
  • 駐車場 (chūshajō): car park
  • 鉄道 (tetsudō): railway
  • 駅 (eki): train station
  • 道 (michi): street
  • ビーチ (bīchi): beach

Speaking Japanese

Common Japanese words

People speaking Japanese

Japanese nouns related to People

  • 家族 (kazoku): Family
  • 女性 (josei): Woman
  • 男 (otoko): Man
  • 女の子 (on'nanoko): Girl
  • 男の子 (otokonoko): Boy
  • 友達 (tomodachi): Friend
  • 母 (haha): Mother
  • 父 (chichi): Father

Japanese nouns related to Directions and Positions

Another highly useful lesson is the one related to directions and positions. Learning these basic Japanese words will help you get around and ask for directions when needed.

  • 周りに (mawari ni): Around
  • 後ろに (ushironi): Behind
  • の間に (no aida ni): Between
  • 階下へ (kaika e): Downstairs
  • 階上へ (kaijō e): Upstairs
  • ここに (koko ni): Here
  • そこ (soko): There
  • 左に (hidari ni): Left
  • 右に (migi ni): Right

People speaking Japanese

Core Japanese verbs

Top Japanese words

Once you’ve learned the nouns mentioned above, move on to core Japanese verbs. Learning simple but powerful words will help express a lot without getting lost in details. Avoid focusing on how little you know. Instead, emphasize its importance of it.
出来る (Dekiru): To be able to do” or “can do
する (Suru): To do
です (Desu): To be
なる (Naru): To become
言う (Iu): To say
行く (Iku): To go
見る (Miru): To see
送る (Okuru): To send
持つ (Motsu): To have
待つ (Matsu): To wait
会う (Au): To meet
呼ぶ (Yobu): To call
置く (Oku): To put
受ける (Ukeru): To receive
作る (Tsukuru): To make
着く (Tsuku): To arrive
使う (Tsukau): To use
学ぶ (Manabu): To learn
食べる (Taberu): To eat
飲む (Nomu): To drink
帰る (Kaeru): To return home

Top Japanese words

Why learn the most common Japanese words first?

Make Japanese learning fun and easier

Starting with the Japanese basics means you will begin by learning the easiest words first and gradually increase difficulty. This way you will feel great while learning and see how your language knowledge broadens.

Have basic Japanese conversations in no time

You'll be able to speak to someone from Tokyo or Osaka about regular topics like weather, politics or family. This will make you confident in your Japanese skills and eager to learn more.

Become fluent in Japanese faster

By learning the most basic Japanese words first you are learning the smart way. Why learn the most unusual words in Japanese when you might never use them in real life?

You improve your Japanese vocabulary list

Each new Japanese word you learn piles up until your vocabulary builds stronger and stronger. Each lesson gets you one step closer to fluency.

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