Many people who live in Japan report finding it difficult to strike up conversations with Japanese people.
I did too, when I lived in Tokyo.
- I didn't have the necessary language level
- The Japanese don't really have a culture of talking to strangers…at least not in the same way as we do in the West.
If I was going to be able to chat to people and practise my Japanese, I was going to have to do things in a more Japanese way.
So I set about asking my friends for Japanese conversation starters that they themselves would use.
This list is the result.
It's broken down into typical situations you might find yourself in in Japan, and conversation starters that you can use in each to start chatting to people!
Use these next time you want to get a bit of practice when you're out and about!
A note of caution: I have some unusual friends. 😉 Not all of these will be to everyone's taste, but hopefully there will be something in here that will serve as inspiration!
By the way, if you really want to learn to speak Japanese with confidence and fluency, you need to follow a comprehensive programme. My top recommendation is Japanese Uncovered, my in-depth online Japanese course for beginners that teaches you through the power of story.
If you're afraid of speaking Japanese, you might like to check out this post first! For 42 of the best-ever ideas for learning Japanese, click here! To find a language partner in Tokyo, read this post, and to learn to write in Japanese, you need this.
At The Japanese Tourist Spot
1) 写真を撮ってもらえませんか？Shashin wo totte moraemasen ka?
Would you mind taking a photo for me?
2) 初めて来たのですが、この辺りで美味しいお店を知っていますか？Hajimete kita no desu ga, kono atari de oishii o-mise wo shitte-imasuka?
It's the first time I've come here, do you know any nice restaurants around here?
3) ここは日本の人もよく来るところですか？Koko wa nihon no hito mo yoku kuru tokoro desu ka?
Is this a place that Japanese people also often come to?
4) 近くに地元の人も行くお店はありますか？Chikaku ni jimoto no hito mo iku o-mise wa arimasu ka?
Are there any restaurants around here that local people go to?
At The Temple
…in front of the 賽銭箱 (saisenbako) where you make a coin offering:
5) いくら入れたらいいですか？ Ikura iretara ii desu ka?
How much should I put in?
Random fact: Did you know that at temples, people often throw 5 yen (or 50 yen) in the box, because 5 yen – ごえん – is the same pronunciation as ご縁, meaning fate or destiny?
At The DVD/CD Shop
6) 邦画を観てみたいのですが、何がいいですか？Houga wo mite-mitai desu ga, nani ga ii desu ka?
I fancy watching a Japanese film – do you know what's good?
7) 最近何を観ましたか？ Saikin nani wo mimashita ka?
What [film] have you seen recently?
8) お勧めの映画はありますか？Osusume no eiga wa arimasuka?
Can you recommend a good film?
On The Train Or At The Station In Japan
9) この電車は「渋谷」へ行きますか？ Kono densha wa [Shibuya] e ikimasu ka?
Is this train heading to [Shibuya]?
10) 何分後に来ますか？ Nan-pun go ni kimasu ka?
How long is the next train going to be? [Lit: in how many minutes is the next train coming?]
11) 「新宿」までどの位かかりますか？ [Shinjuku] made dono gurai kakarimasu ka?
How long does it take to get to [Shinjuku]?
12) どこで乗り換えればいいですか？ Doko de norikaereba ii desu ka?
Where should I change trains? [Follow on from last question]
Note from Olly: Want to learn to read & write Japanese? With the right techniques, you can learn hiragana in just a few hours. Click here to find out how.
For Singles In Japan
In increasing order of depravity (you have been warned!)
13) どこから来たの？ Doko kara kita no?
Where are you from?
14) 何してるの？ Nani shiteru no?
What are you up to?
15) 名前は？ Namae wa?
What's your name?
16) その服どこで買ったの？ Sono fuku doko de katta no?
Where did you get those clothes from? [Lit: buy those clothes]
17) 何飲んでるの？ Nani nonderu no?
What are you drinking?
18) 目の色は何色？Me no iro wa nan-iro?
What colour are your eyes?
19) 違うところで、二人で飲もうよ。 Chigau tokoro de, futari de nomou yo.
Let's go and have a drink together somewhere else!
20) 英語教えてあげようか？ Eigo oshiete ageyou ka?
Shall I teach you a bit of English?
21) 英語教えてあげるから、二人で飲もうよ。 Eigo oshiete-ageru kara, futari de nomou yo.
I'll teach you English if we can have a drink together!
22) 彼氏いる？ Kareshi iru?
Do you have a boyfriend?
23) 近くにラブホありますか？ Chikaku ni ra-bu-ho arimasuka?
Is there a Love Hotel around here?
If In Doubt, Keep Your Japanese Simple!
I asked a few Japanophiles on Twitter about their favourite conversation starters.
24) @blacktokyo summed it up best:
25) @BellvaSymphony called out an old classic:
My friend and Japanese aficionado Luca Toma sent me these tried and tested exchanges:
26) A: Kyou wa ii tenki desu ne! B: Sou desu ne. [Yamada]-san wa kyou….
27) A: Kyou wa hontou ni atsui desu ne! B: Sou desu ne. Mou iya desu ne….
These last few ideas were refreshingly simple, and reminded me of a good rule of thumb when starting conversations with people: keep it simple!<
If you find it difficult or nerve-wracking to start chatting to people, it's good to remember that a simple comment or greeting is more than enough to get the ball rolling! You can save the pyrotechnics for another day!28) If in doubt, just follow @JapanLite‘s lead:
@Olly_IWTYAL never thought about it, really. Atsui desu ne seems to rule all.
— Amy Chavez (@JapanLite) September 8, 2014
How To Learn Japanese Through Story
So there you have it. 28 conversation starters for (almost) any occasion, to get you speaking more Japanese than ever before!
If these conversation starters have given you the inspiration to start your Japanese learning journey then I've got something for you.
It's Japanese Uncovered, my story-based course, that will help you go from Japanese beginner or false beginner to intermediate while immersing yourself in a compelling story.
Instead of learning grammar rules and ending up translating in your head when you speak, your learning takes place as you read and listen to the story.
It's the same process I used to learn Italian in 3 months from home, by just listening to and reading compelling content. I've distilled that method into a comprehensive course where I help you discover Japanese through story.
If that sounds like a learning method you'd like to try, then go check out the course here.
Otherwise, here are two things for you to do:
- Please share this post, or click here to send a Tweet.
- Leave me a comment below with your favourite Japanese conversation starter!