Communicating in an Emergency Using Japanese

About Japanese Emergency Expressions

There are few situations that could be considered worse than not knowing how to speak Japanese during an emergency (not knowing how to excuse oneself to go to the restroom in the midst of a business meeting comes pretty close). Even though Japanese is a complex language (with many rules regarding social rank, gender, and mannerism), it is often the case that phrases are used in a conversation with certain omissions (In particular, the “subject” of a conversation is frequently omitted if the listener is aware of the subject spoken of). However, an emergency situation requires the speaker omit the polite form of speech. Like English, in Japanese there is no time to waste on cushioning your words during an emergency type situation (And if you see Godzilla, just run the other way). Common polite words, like “kudasai” or “shite kudasai”, are not used during an emergency. That having been said, the Japanese speaker isn’t entirely free from certain other rules during an emergency situation; such as gender.

Masculine and Feminine Japanese Phrasing

If you are a man you do not want to run down the street calling out in a female manner (otherwise you just might end up on the evening news). You’ll need to practice the phrases or at least carry a list of emergency words when you do travel through Japan (as a backup in case of an emergency).

During an emergency, a Japanese speaker will either be asking or commanding someone to do something. In this situation, the Japanese speaker will indicate his or her gender by selecting the proper words or phrases which are particular to the speaker’s gender.

More specifically, a male speaker will (in many cases) replace the end of a verb with “ro” or “re” when issuing a command (during an emergency).

Female speakers will change the end of a verb to “te” (during an emergency). However, even during an emergency situation, women tend to be more graceful speakers than men. For example (see list at the end of this article), that the word “hashitte”, meaning “run”, combines the sounds shi and te. This combination places an emphasis for accent on the shi in hashitte and a brief pause on the te (Of course, as a non-native speaker of Japanese, you are not expected to know all complexities of the language).

Please see the following emergency words and phrases reference (In the following quick reference gender is indicated as follows: (M) for a male expression; and (F) for a Female expression. Those expressions without a reference to gender are common across genders).

Action Verbs to Get Help or Issue a Command:

  • Help! – Tasukete
  • Somebody help! Dareka tasukete
  • Run! – Hashire (M) / Hashitte(F)
  • Run (away)! Nigero (M) / Nigete (F)
  • Hurry! – Isoge (M) / Isoide (F)
  • Stop! (Stop running.) – Tomare (M) / Tomatte (F)
  • Stop! (Stop doing.) – Yamero (M) / Yamete (F)
  • Wait! – Mate (M) / Matte (F)
  • Get down! Husero (M) / Husete (F)
  • Hide!- Kakurero (M) / Kakurete (F)
  • Look out! Kiotsukero (M) / Kiotsukete(F)
  • Be careful!Kiotsukero (M) / Kiotsukete (F)

Emergency – Injury Related

  • Call an ambulance! Kyuhkyuhsha o yonde
  • What’s wrong? Douka shimashita ka

Witnessing a Crime Scene:

When witnessing a crime in action, you can add the word da after the subject noun (da is the English equivalent of “is”). Please observe the following examples:

  • Thief! Dorobou da
  • Robber! Goutou da
  • Pickpocket! Suri da
  • Groper!Chikan da
  • Somebody catch him/ her! Dareka tsukamaero (M) / Dareka tsukamaete (F)
  • Call the police! Keisatsu o yonde
  • This way! Kocchi
  • That way!Acchi

Natural Disasters

  • Earthquake! Jishin da
  • Fire! (on a building) Kaji da
  • Fire! (on a mountain) Yama Kaji da
  • Tsunami! Tsunami da
  • Flood!Kouzui da
  • Storm! Arashi da

Keep these emergency expressions with you when you visit Japan.

Polite Speech Becomes Necessary to Make a Request

An emergency typically doesn’t require polite speech. However, there are some situations in which the speaker must ask for help in a polite manner. Such a situation might include asking for a doctor, or describing one’s symptoms to a doctor. Likewise, asking someone to take you to the police station cannot be demanded of another person. Requests tend to be phrased more politely than commands.

(The polite form is applied for the following situations when asking. The male and female forms are the same in the most phrases.)

  • I need a doctor, – Isha ga hitsuyou desu.
  • Call a doctor. – Isha o yonde kudasai.
  • I have trouble with my heart/stomach/head – Watashi niwa shinzou/ onaka/ atama ni mondai ga arimasu.

heart – shinzou

stomach – onaka

head – atama

  • Take me to the hospital/drug store, – Byouin/ yakkyoku ni tsurete itte kudasai.

hospital – byouin

drug store – yakkyoku

  • Take me to the Police Station. – Keisatsu ni tsurete itte kudasai.
  • I need to leave the room for a moment. – Chotto seki o hazushi masu.
  • Please show me to the rest room. – Otearai ga doko ka oshiete kudasai.

Keep these emergency expressions with you when you visit Japan.