Japan is a great country to visit and travel, but it can be a very tiring, energy absorbing place if you do not know any Japanese, or cannot read any kanji characters. You would probably spend a lot of time explaining to someone what you want to do or ask, or you might end up playing gesture games with each other.
Don’t worry… Many of the things that you hear at restaurants, on trains, or at the toilets, are memorized scripts. Japan is famous for its advanced technology and robots. Even the people here memorize scripts and serve customers like robots! This is good news for people who do not know Japanese, because you just need to grasp the general flow to understand what is going on.
Here are some common scenarios you might bump into. Of course, different people have different scripts, so this list is non-exhaustive, and will not be 100% accurate. But it would be a good reference if you were to come to Japan one day.
Waiter: Irrasshaimase (Welcome!)
You: Give a simple nod and smile. It’d be the best non-verbal way of replying.
Waiter: Go-yoyaku wa sareteimasuka? (Do you have a reservation?)
You: Hai (Yes)/ Iie (No)
Waiter: Nan-mei-sama deshouka? (How many people do you have?)
You: Just show the number using your fingers if you do not know the numbers in Japanese.
Waiter: Sho-sho o-machi-kudasai (Please wait for a moment)
Waiter: Go-annai itashimasu (Let me show you the way/ bring you to your seat)
You: Arigatou-gozaimasu (Thank you)
Waiter: Oshibori degozaimasu (Here is the warm towel) = In Japan, in almost all restaurants, you would be served with a warm towel called the o-shibori. Use it to wipe your hands. Warning: Using the o-shibori to wipe your face is not wrong, but it usually gives people the impression you are a old ojisan.
Waiter: Nomimono wa o-kimari deshouka? (Have you decided on your drink?) = In Japan, we normally order drinks first, before deciding on the food. It is common to get draft beer (nama-biiru) for everyone for the first drink.
You: Toriaezu nama-biiru (I will have a draft beer first/ for now) = This is a useful phrase that is commonly used.
When you have decided on the food, You: Sumimasen! (Excuse me!)
Waiter: Hai, o-ukagai-shimasu (Yes, I will take your order.)
When food comes…
Waiter: O-matase-shimashita (Sorry to have kept you waiting).
After your meal, when you want to pay…
You: Sumimasen, o-kaikei onegaishimasu (Excuse me, the check please) = There are many ways to say this: O-kaikei, o-kanjyou, go-aisou etc. If you do not want to memorize all these, just cross your two index fingers and show it to the waiter. He will understand what you mean.
When you leave the restaurant…
Waiter: Arigato gozaimashita. Mata o-koshi-kudasaimase (Thank you. Please come again.)
Hopefully the above phrases give you a general picture of what waiters and waitresses are screaming at you at a restaurant!