28 Insane Japanese Conversation Starters

japanese conversation startersMany people who live in Japan report finding it difficult to strike up conversations with Japanese people.

I did too, when I lived in Tokyo.

Here’s why:

  1. I didn’t have the necessary language level 
  2. 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 Japanese friends for 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!

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 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

Typical_saisenbako…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

japanese on the train

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

japanese conversation starterIn 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 it simple!

I asked a few Japanophiles on Twitter about their favourite conversation starters.

24)  @blacktokyo summed it up best:

black tokyo

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:

So there you have it. 28 conversations starters for (almost) any occasion, to get you speaking more Japanese than ever before!

Here are two things for you to do:

  1. Please share this post, or click here to send a Tweet.
  2. Leave me a comment below with your favourite Japanese conversation starter!

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  • Thomas DiMattia

    I had lived in Japan for five years, studying hard the whole time.
    Other than what you have mentioned, I found that talking to the very elderly who want to talk to someone is the best.

    My favorite was on a weekday afternoon when shoppers were quite few, and at a booth selling shoes was an elderly man who had nothing to do but sit and wait for customers who really didn’t come at that particular time.

    So taking your cue of asking key questions was part of the answer.

    The other was to never forget that in life there is the “quid-pro-quo” where you must give as well.
    So I would come already prepared to answer common questions he would most likely ask me, as well as being able to answer myself the questions I was posing to him.

    The conversation lasted over an hour, with him almost constantly doing all the talking!
    Of course, it also helped to have these key points:
    1. I am in love with the Japanese people, their culture, and their language, and so had spent many, many hours learning these. . .
    2. I love the elderly, and knew already respectful, polite Japanese grammer to use with him;
    3. I knew all of the key phrases and responses that showed I was listening and understood. I also did not show a confused or flustered face when I didn’t really understand “that last sentence”, but still showed a great appretiation while trying sometimes to ask for clarification without giving the impression I was totally lost. I wasn’t, but sometimes we make things worse by trying to force them to speak slower. You only need to ask early in the conversation that you often need for him to talk a little slower than normal for you. But to repeat this request begs for a shutdown in the whole conversation.
    So don’t get flustered that you don’t understand everything the other says. be very thankful for the whole conversation experience, and that you understood the general point in it, and you will most likely get a second chance to speak with that person.

    Which is what happened with me and the elderly shoe salesman.

    • Hi Thomas, thanks for sharing that story. I love your approach to “meta” skills. I’ve found that pro-actively analysing your own strengths and weaknesses really is the key to making positive progress and raising your speaking level, and it sounds like that’s exactly what you managed to do!

      “Coming prepared to answer common questions” and making an effort to learn key phrases and responses, especially, is fantastic!

  • 暑いですね is one of my favourites too! Also, because I’m a pro when it comes to navigation, asking ‘[place]にどういけばいいのでしょうか?’ was also very, very effective for starting a convo.

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  • Lukyan Hotsuin

    i wish tolive in japan but is not difficult but a little i started last night and memorized a little i think if i study hard i can learn like you did >,< my father family is japanese but don't know even how end a question soo thanks for the posts and i wish great fortunes to you also A big Happy Life ^^…

  • Students can join a online Japanese course like Yomuzoku, in which there are stories and news shared for students to help them understand Japanese language with Japanese examples.