There are so many ploys and scams out there that promise to teach you just enough Japanese to enjoy your big once-in-a-lifetime trip that even contemplating which one to choose is impossible.
My trips to Japan generally involve a trip to The Tokyo Disney Resort (surprise! … not) and I'm always scouring websites for the latest little titbit of new information. One of the few accessible ones (since most are in Japanese) is TDR Explorer. All the latest news, free, with good photography.
I like that the webmaster is actually thinking about things which would be of real practical value for a traveler not just to the Disney Resort, but often anywhere in Japan. And thus we come to his list of 17 basic phrases that you might find helpful.
The problem is that if you look at the center column of the list, you won't have any idea how to pronounce these Japanese words. They are written in what is called "romaji," or the Romanization of Japanese characters into western characters. This makes them extremely simple to say if they are broken down phonetically.
For example, "Yes" is pronounced "hi," even though the romaji spelling is "hai." If you didn't know better you might say "hi-ee," or "ha-i" or whatever.
So here is a simple tip: every syllable in Japanese is given the same emphasis. My friend Satoshi's name is not pronounced "Sa-TOE-shi," but "Sa-tō-she." Equal emphasis on all syllables.
Here, then is my own version of a list of Japanese words, all spelled out phonetically so you can pronounce them properly (or at least closely) with some ease. Note that my spellings have nothing to do with the true romaji spellings of the actual Japanese word: my only goal is so that the sounds comes out of your mouth in a way that is understood by a Japanese person and easy for you to remember. The only letter I've noticed that is often silent is "u." I should add that the following phonetic pronunciations are highly eccentric and will draw guffaws from knowledgeable folks, but they work.
Yes = hi (but don't say it slowly the way Americans do, like "hiiiiii, or hi-eee"); you sort of bark it out)
Hello or Good Afternoon = kō-knee-chee-wă
Good Morning = ō-hī-yō gō-zī-mă-sue
Good Evening = cone-băn-wă (though when you hear it said, it sounds like "cōm-bă-wă)
Thank You = dōugh-mō ăh-ree-gă-tō gō-zī-măs
Please = koo-dĕ-sī
Excuse Me (or for calling a waiter or waitress) = sue-mee-mă-sĕn (in actual use, the "u" is almost silent and the first two parts combine for "smee mă-sĕn)
Sorry/Excuse me = gō-mĕn-ō-sī
I Don't Understand = wă-kă-ree-mă-sĕn
I Understand = wă-kă-ree-mă-sh-tă (said, "wakarimashta")
No Thank You = kay-kō-dĕs
Great = Sŏ-gŏy! (Apologies to my non-Jewish friends)
It's Cold = Să-mŭy dĕs
It's Hot = At-soo-ee dĕs (Like "Chop Suey" des)
Where is the toilet? ō-tay-ŭh-rye dō-kō dĕs-kă? (A little shout out to Buckwheat there, Otay?) Or more simply, just say "toiletō" and act confused.
That's Delicious = Oy-shē, dĕs (while eating) Yes, there is Yiddish in there.
That Was Delicious = Oysh-kă-tă dĕs (after eating) ("Oysh" is like "Moishe" without the final "e")
Beer = bee-roo (rhymes with moo) ("A beer please" = "bee-roo- koo-dĕ-sī")
Coffee = co-hee ("A coffee please" = "co-hee koo-dĕ-sī")
And for those of you in trying to find Tokyo Disneyland, just say, "Disney-lănd-ō" and you'll be in like Flint.