80 - Japanese Conversation Starters

Hold a baby?

No problem:

Hold a deadly weapon?

Yeah, of course:

Hold a can of beer?

Sure, why not:

Hold a... conversation?!?!


Uh... Uh... Uh... Uh...
Uh... Uh... Uh... Uh...
Uh... Uh... Uh... Uh...
Uh... Uh... Uh... Uh...
Uh... Uh... Uh... Uh...
Uh... Uh... Uh... Uh...

And that's how lots of Japanese people feel, too.

Especially when they're talking to you and assuming that you won't understand anything they're saying.

But fear not, fellow student.

Because we have:

Japanese Conversation Starters

Here are a handful of questions (and sample answers) that you can use to break up some of those awkward silences.

Specifically, we're looking at a variety of A VS B formulas.


Dogs VS Cats

いぬは? ねこは?
Are you a dog person or a cat person?
Literally: "dog-faction? +cat-faction?"
Note: This 派()is ha, NOT wa.

I love this question!

The word 派()means "clique; faction; school (of belief)," and just by attaching it to words like "dog" and "cat," we can say something along the lines of "Are you on Team Dog or Team Cat?"

My name is Niko, of Clan Sea Otter.

Let's look at some answers...

いぬは。 かってる し。
I'm a dog person. For one thing, I have a dog.
Literally: "dog-faction. + am keeping / raising + (is) one reason among several."
Note: This し is useful when you want to say "Because SOMETHING (among other reasons)." The nuance is that the speaker has several reasons for preferring dogs, and this is just one of them.

ねこ の ほう が すき。
I prefer cats.
Literally: "cat + の + direction / side + が + liking."
Note: You can also write the kanji for ほう, which is 方.

By the way, we have a few homophones showing up here.

は is not only 派 (clique; faction), but also 歯 (tooth; teeth) and 葉 (leaf).

かう is not only 飼う (to keep; to raise), but also 買う (to buy).

Isn't it amazing how our brains can distinguish homophones so quickly in conversations based on context?

When I read about that stuff, it stresses me out.

Then my brain just deals with it naturally when I actually come across it in real life.


Morning Showers VS Nighttime Showers

This is an ongoing argument between my future self, past self, and current self.

I hate taking showers at night, because I'm so tired!

As I write this lesson, it's already 8 p.m., and I know that later tonight I still have to take a shower.

I am haunted by this chore.



And yet, Rei--with her princess-like, nightly shower routine--has somehow brainwashed me into feeling dirty if I go to bed without showering. All without ever actually saying that it's dirty.

シャワー いつ あびてる? よる? あさ?
When do you shower, at night or in the morning?
Literally: "shower + when + are bathing / showering? + night? + morning?"

ぜったい よる。 きたない じゃん。
Definitely at night. You're dirty at night!
Literally: "absolutely + night. + dirty + isn't it?!"
Note: I was tempted to translate this as "Going to bed without showering is dirty!"

あさ おきたら すぐ。
Right when I wake up in the morning.
Literally: "morning + when wake up + immediately / right away."

Rice for Breakfast VS Bread for Breakfast

あさごはん は パン は? ごはん は?
What do you (usually) eat for breakfast, bread or rice?
Literally: "breakfast + は + bread-faction? + rice-faction?"

らく だ から いつも ぱん。
Always bread, because it's easy.
Literally: "ease / convenience + is + because + always + bread."

あさ は ごはん でしょ!
Rice, of course!
Literally: "morning + は + rice + don't you agree?! / right?!"

Udon VS Soba

This one always seems to generate some serious answers from Japanese people.

Udon are the big fat noodles:

Soba are the thin, grayish "buckwheat" noodles:

Aside from being healthier, soba noodles are also a lot easier to grab with chopsticks, meaning that I am less prone to dropping them into my soup... with a giant splash all over my work clothes.

Soba for life!

Join the Soba Faction, or suffer our wrath.

うどん と そば どっち が すき?
Which do you like better, udon or soba?
Literally: "udon + と + soba + which + が + liking?"


うどん の ほう が すき。
I like udon better.
Literally: "udon + の + direction / side + が + liking."

Triple Threat: Udon VS Soba VS Ramen

Usually it's not included, but every now and then ramen will sneak its way into this debate:

そば と うどん と ラーメン の なか で どれ が いちばん すき?
Which do you like best, soba, udon, or ramen?
Literally: "soba + と + udon + と + ramen + の + in / among + で + which + が + number-one + liking?"

ぜんぶ すき だ けど いちばん は ラーメン かな。
I like all of them, but I guess I'd say ramen.
Literally: "all + liking + is + but + number-one + は + ramen + かな."

Holding Those Convos

Hopefully this list of questions can help you become the Japanese conversationalist of the century.

Since today we went pretty light on grammatical explanations and whatnot, I'll probably look at them more in-depth tomorrow.


Here is the uber-short version...

Step #1
Google all of the following:
- ~し
- ~たら
- ~じゃん
- ~かな
- ~でしょ!
- どっち
- どれ
- (A より) B のほうが好きです

Step #2
Stumble upon a Japanese YouTube video.

Step #3
Fall into the free video abyss.

Step #4
Realize you've been watching funny cat videos for 96 minutes.

Step #5
Call it a day. Congratulate yourself on studying.

Step #6
Wait for daily lessons about all that whack grammar business.

Bonus Phrases

は に なんか ついてる よ。
You've got something on your tooth.

さくら の は って たべれる の?
Can you eat cherry tree leaves? // Are cherry tree leaves edible?

おかし かって きた よー。
I went and bought snacks [candy].

Complete and Continue