Shops and Restaurants
Learn these essential kanji to make sure you buy what you want and eat what you ordered.
The first challenge of visiting a restaurant or shop in Japan is working out whether it is open or not. The days of trying to peer anxiously through a tiny, shaded window for signs of life are over once you can read the following:
営業中 (えいぎょうちゅう) ー Open For Business
This means, yes, by all means, go ahead and push (or pull) on the door, without fear of looking like an idiot or startling the unsuspecting staff inside.
If the store is closed, there are a few different signs you might see. At restaurants, it might say 準備中 (じゅんびちゅう), which literally means ‘in preparation’ and often appears between lunch and dinner service. However, you might also encounter:
休止中 (きゅうしちゅう) ー Temporarily Closed
本日休業 (ほんじつきゅうぎょう) ー Closed Today
Holidays are completely irregular in Japan and a store may choose to shut on any day of the week. I was recently dismayed to find that my pilgrimage to a curry restaurant was in vain as it only shuts on… Saturdays. Make a note of the set holiday – 定休日 (ていきゅうび).
Once you have successfully located and entered your chosen store, it’s time for some interior navigation. Although departments stores are usually clearly marked with picture signs, on occasions, you may need to read お手洗い (おてあらい) for toilet or even 化粧室 (けしょうしつ) for powder room in upmarket places.
Also helpful are エレベーター or even 階段 (かいだん) (stairs), which may be your saviour if you find yourself faced with an elevator that never comes, very common in Tokyo due to the sheer busyness of just about everywhere. If you’re doing a bit of clothes shopping, you might need the fitting room (試着室 (しちゃくしつ)).
Next, I’d like to introduce some of my favourite kanji – the kind that tell you there’s a bargain sale (バーゲンセール) to be found.
割引 (わりびき) ー Discount
半額 (はんがく) ー Half Price
全品半額 (ぜんひんはんがく) ー Everything Half Price
Of course, everyone’s favourite word is:
無料 (むりょう) ー Free of Charge
As you’ll be familiar from spending even just one day in Japan, queuing is both very important and ubiquitous, and it must be done in the right way. Keep an eye out for this kanji 並 – as it is likely instructing you to do something like…
こちらへ並 (なら)んでください ー Queue Here
Queuing can be particularly disheartening when you finally reach the counter to see that your item has been marked with one of the following…
完売 (かんばい) ー Sold Out
売 (う)り切 (き)れ ー Sold Out
Whilst both these mean ‘sold out’, 売り切れ translates to more as ‘out-of-stock’ so is more likely to be listed on items that are only temporarily unavailable.
In restaurants, keep an eye out for special boards or items on the menu marked おすすめ・オススメ (recommended) as these are often advertising signature dishes and might be a lucky gamble if you can’t decide what to order… or if you have no idea what the menu says. Be grateful for the ubiquity of picture menu and plastic food displays. A good deal can also be the set meals (定食 (ていしょく)), which are especially good deal at lunch time.
In some cafes, you have to clear your own table so look for these kanji so you know where to return your tray.
トレーはこちらへどうぞ ー Return Tray Here
ご返却口 (へんきゃくぐち) ー Return Window
It’s also common practice in many restaurants to pay at the counter on the way out, rather than at the table. Subtly spying on other customers is always an option for working out what to do, but sometimes the instructions are clearly there for you:
お会計 (かいけい)はこちらでお願 (ねが)いします ー Pay At The Counter/Here
And if you enjoyed a delicious meal, feel free to let the restaurant staff know with a ごちそうさまでした (literally ‘it was a feast’) as you leave!