How Difficult is Travelling Japan without Japanese? | Travel Tips

How Difficult is Travelling Japan without Japanese? | Travel Tips


One of the most intimidating and anxiety-inducing aspects of travelling overseas is the sudden inability to communicate with the world around you. It’s probably no surprise then that over the years one of the most popular questions I’ve got is how difficult is it to travel Japan without Japanese? Now in the run-up to the 2020 Olympics many businesses across Japan are Investing all their pocket money in preparing for foreign tourists. But there’s no doubt the language barrier exists here in a homogeneous culture where English speakers can seem few and far between. In this video, we’ll discuss the most common problems that will pop up along the way, from public transport and dining out to some useful communication strategies that will help you break down the language barrier with the locals. But I’ll start with two pieces of reassuring news though: The first is that I put a survey out on Twitter asking people if they found Japan difficult to travel without Japanese. There were 3600 responses with two thirds saying they didn’t find it difficult. Now that’s great; then again Twitter questionnaires should always be taken with a pinch of salt, Especially as I put out a follow-up survey, asking people if they’d rather be a bagel or an Alaskan salmon. Within 47 minutes 739 people responded with 45 percent respondents choosing to be a delicious inanimate object over a living creature rich in Omega-3. And that should have been a clear open-and-shut case – obviously the answer was salmon. The second piece of reassuring news is that I’ve known numerous expats living and working in Japan over the years across various sectors who have lived comfortably in Japan without knowing any Japanese whatsoever and whilst it’s not obviously ideal, it is completely doable. I mean when I came here without knowing much of the language, I was often a little bit anxious in various situations that the the locals might get angry at me when they found out that I lived here without knowing any of the language really. After all, I’d had travel experiences in some countries in the past where the locals had lost their temper or snapped at me for my inability to communicate in their language. Obviously, I’m not gonna name any names. -hilarious fake cough- France. But not once in my time here has anybody got angry at me or lost their cool for my inability to communicate. On the contrary, Japanese people are very understanding and fully aware that Japanese is almost exclusively spoken within Japan, and it is quite difficult, and it takes a lot time to learn. Thus if you do make an effort and show you know some Japanese, you’ll instantly win favour with the locals because you’ll be in the minority of foreign travellers who can speak and use a little bit of Japanese. Better still though English is almost everywhere these days, from restaurant menus and road signs to trendy t-shirts. Mind you, the English might not always be native speaker level of English, but it gets the job done. Take this notebook that I bought the other day for example. It’s covered in trendy, cool English expressions on the front here, like: “relax time”, and “keep calm”, and “pleasing smell”. And yet the thing that gives it away that might not have been proof read or written by a native speaker is the big word at the top where it just says: Dribble. “Dribble” – it’s not typically the sort of thing you’d find on a notebook back home. I don’t know why they thought that would enhance the sales of the… of the notebook, but nonetheless, it’s English, just… just not as we… not as we know it. So having just landed in Japan, typically at Haneda Airport or Narita or Kansai International, You’ll find getting out of the airport and into the city a fairly easy, seamless process. Everything is wonderfully signposted. But soon after arriving at the city problems might arise at one of the smaller stations when you look up at the map to find it is exclusively written in kanji characters. Now perhaps you’d think “No problem, I’ll just use the ticket machine and hit the English button and type in the name of the station. Haha, I’m so brilliant.” But wait! Because, you’re not. For local trains and the underground, rather than typing in the name of the station, you need to know the ticket price of the place you’re going. And to find out the cost of that ticket you need the map that you can’t read. Obviously you can get around this easily by asking a member of staff; as long as you mutter the name of the station or the general direction of where you want to go – no problem. But my favourite option is just to get a Suika card or a passport card, which you top-up with a few thousand yen. I can’t tell you the cost of going anywhere in Japan or Tokyo just because – I use this. So rather than knowing the cost of your ticket price, just keep this filled up with a few thousand yen every day, and you’re all good. Same goes for the JR Rail Pass. That’s half the benefit of getting the JR Rail Pass: You don’t need to worry about using ticket machines all the time. And you can get this for 500 yen at pretty much any ticket machine across Japan. I think for another few hundred yen you get your name written on it as well. I haven’t done that. Because I’m… I’m cheap. I would strongly urge first time travellers coming to Japan to get a SIM card or a portable Wi-Fi so you have the internet with you, mainly just so you can use Google Maps. It is the main way that I and most foreign travellers get around Japan. All the train times and all the bus times are input into it seamlessly. Honestly without Google Maps I don’t think I’d even be here now. I’d probably be lost in a forest somewhere scrounging for… Berries. Ber- yeah. As somebody who travels around Japan quite a lot I found that this isn’t an issue at all. I think you’ll have no problems with accommodation whether you’re using hotels, Airbnb or even staying at traditional, Japanese Inn. That’s a lie there might be one one issue. If you’re lucky enough to have a public bath or a hot springs built into your accommodation, you’ll find that they’re segregated by male and female, and sometimes they’re poorly labelled as to which one is which. This could end in spectacular disaster and lots of awkward conversations with hotel staff. So what I would encourage you to do, just because not only do public baths use it, but also toilets across Japan. They sometimes only have kanji characters in male and female, especially at smaller bars and restaurants. So I would actually encourage you to learn those two characters: ‘Male’ and ‘Female’. They’re probably the only two characters you’ll ever need to know. Better still you can impress all your friends and family at your next birthday party when you whip out a pen and Pretend to know how to write lots of Japanese, giving the momentary illusion that you are a genius with extensive cultural knowledge. I mean, for that reason alone definitely… It’s definitely worth it. As somebody who eats out… Well, more than they probably should, I tend to find in the bigger restaurants this isn’t an issue – you will find English menus, or even then just menus with pictures on that you can point at. Typically the smaller the bar or restaurant and the further out into the countryside it is, the less likely you will find English. And in the terrifying event there’s neither English nor photos you can desperately point at, you are gonna have to wing it. Now, I did make a video a few months ago talking about nightlife etiquette and dining out etiquette. However, the most important phrase and thing in that video is the phrase: “Osusume wa?” “Osusume wa?” means “What do you recommend?” If you point at the menu and say “Ososume wa?” typically the staff will probably laugh in surprise, chuckle in surprise first. That is the only Japanese phrase that you know. And then they will try and do their best to explain what it is before you enthusiastically order it. Unless of course you are vegetarian and the speciality is pork. In which case you can just point it yourself and say: “Vegetarian”. Because fortunately the word for vegetarian in Japanese is: ‘Bejitarian’. It’s kind of like the same. And that’s another really useful point for dining out in Japan – many foods the words themselves are ‘Gairaigo’ or foreign borrowed words. Take for example beef, chicken and pork. For beef you can say “Bi-fu”. For pork you can say “Po-ku”. For chicken you can say “Chikin”. And for horse you can say “BASASHI”. All right, there’s a handful of exceptions but you get the general idea. Take fruit for example: Orange is “Orenji”. Banana is “Banana”. Apple is a “Appuru”. And cherry is “SAKURANBO”. Again some – some exceptions. The only other two words you really need to know are: Beer, which is “Bi-ru” and Whiskey which is “Uiski”. And there you have it So don’t be afraid to use ‘gairaigo’ – don’t be afraid to try and say the word. I’m not necessarily saying try and pronounce those words in their ‘gairaigo’ Japanese form, I’m saying try and just say the word in English and hopefully the staff will catch it and understand what you’re saying. You’ll find in the absence of English conversational practice at school, most Japanese people do tend to lack confidence in speaking and listening to English. To talk a bit more about this along with the essential four Japanese phrases you need to know before you come to Japan, I’ll now hand you over to a real-life Japanese man who stole a British accent. Even though we learn English [for] six years from junior high school to high school, somehow or we can’t speak or listen. So what you have to do when you come to Japan is: Don’t make sentences long. For instance, some people like me when you ask if the food is good or bad, you can say “Is it good?” But when you say “Is it good?”, it sounds like one word for Japanese people. So you could just take one word, one most important word – in this case which is ‘good’. So say “good” or “bad” – just take one word and they’ll understand you. Instead of saying “Where is the toilet?”, you can say: “Toilet? Where?” “Can you speak English?” Just say: “English? OK?” And if you make it like really simple, they’ll – they’ll get you. So there are only four phrases that you have to know when you come to Japan and that will get you by. First one is “Konnichiwa”, and that’s like “Hello” – as everyone knows. The second one is “I’m sorry” or “Excuse me” – That is “Sumimasen”. And then thirdly is “Thank you”, which is “Arigatou”. Not like “Arigato” – “Arigatou”.
(That’s very difficult to write in captions>.

100 thoughts on “How Difficult is Travelling Japan without Japanese? | Travel Tips

  1. 日本人ですが、こう言った海外の方の動画で知ることもあったりします。面白かったです。

  2. So basically I know everything I need to know and now I can finally travel to Japan ♥ few months ago I was offered a job in Japan but I refused that offer because I told them "I am not that good in Japanese"… I made a terrible mistake Q_Q

  3. What Japanese people think.
    I think it has become relatively easy with the spread of smartphones. Use a translation application. Japanese people have very low ability to listen to English, so it is difficult to communicate in conversation.

  4. this youtuber is really good… he makes gestures and face expression when he talks/creates a fake situation lol idk why but that was entertaining

  5. 簡単な英語をゆっくり話してくれれば大体の日本人はわかるから、みんなが日本に来た時は頼むわ。

  6. The horse and the Cherries got me. You little bastard, every time I watch your videos I have to laugh my ass off being a dead serious person -.-

  7. I'm good at listening English,but I'm poor at speaking English.
    In Japan, we study English,but we don't have any opportunities to speak.
    It is not possible to educate because there are few people who can speak.

  8. 「おすすめは?」って聞くと昔気質なおっちゃんから「全部だ!」って怒られるかもしれないから気を付けてね笑

  9. I 'm Japanese.
    Every Japanese have learned English in compulsory education.But most Japanese cannot speak English quickly bcause Japanese English education is bad and telling wrong English.
    It's a big problem.
    So I wanna be learning English with native English speaker.
    If you try talk to Japanese, you should speak English slowly.Because our understanding cannot keep up.

  10. I’m not familiar with English, but, at least, I want to be able to communicate with foreigners without any obstacles.

  11. 確かに、SUICAとかPASMOは便利です。多少割引にもなるし、喉が渇いたら自販機でもすぐ買えるし。
    失くすと痛いですが。

  12. Try to beat my understanding (google translate) of Japanese!

    Watashi wa sakuban anata no mado kara anata no nagashi de oshikko o mita

  13. Japan is a super easy country to get around. Train station signs include English everywhere and the way the underground lines do fares makes it easy to get around. We have also used buses, ferrys, taxis and even a few cable cars. Cash money is needed in many places.
    The people are incredibly helpful. I had to get medicine for my wife with next to no Japanese and numerous people helped me.

  14. Just got back from my first ever trip to Japan and you speak the TRUTH. Love your videos, absolutely hilarious. Can't wait to watch the rest.

  15. Not so understanding when you work in genba, where they bark on you when you could not understand what they’re talking about! ?‍♀️

  16. Isn’t there no way to make some changes to subtitle?
    The Japanese subtitle says エキスパート(expert) but he (or english sub.) says ‘expats’. I’m Japanese so I can’t be sure. Which is correct?

  17. Im Japanese.
    why we cannot speak English because they are not studying to speak English.
    Japanese are studying English only for the written test at school.
    If you fall into a situation where you can't use Google Translate(Japanese loves Google translation), you can write down what you want to tell your iPhone.
    We are not good at listening but good at reading.

  18. People in France are fucking egotistical they expect you to speak French when you're in France but they don't bother speaking English or any other language when abroad.

  19. why travel to a country and not try to learn the language. I feel its kinda rude. yea France people hate when u can't speak it well . I know only a little and they don't like it but I feel America is the same tho… Chinese people don't care either. although the men may get loud cuz for some reason they think u will understand them better if they yell but are not mad they just don't understand how to get a non Chinese speaker to understand lol. but there is a lot of English in China and people are so quickly to use translation that to me is very weird to me cuz they don't mind having a full conversation on traslater lol.

  20. 日本人でも日本語難しいって感じるから
    日本人に「貴方は完璧に日本語を使えますか?」って質問してはいって答える人の方が少ないと思う

  21. テーマパークで働いててよく道を聞かれるんだけど、道を教える英語がめちゃくちゃ難しいのが本当に辛い;;
    人を助けたい気持ちはたくさんあるのにそれが出来ないのは悔しい!!

    I'm Japanese.
    It's my opinion.

    I have a part time job at famous amusement park.
    Then I’m always asked for directions.
    I want to help a lot of international people.
    However, It’s sooooo difficult for Japanese people to use English to teach directions.
    I always feel "I'm sorry…"

    If you need help in Japan, you should ask to a lot of Japanese people!!!
    Then we use passionate English.

  22. You come to Japan and you expect the whole country to shift their way of thinking and languages to your languages? Wow next time I go to western country I am expecting you to speak Indonesian, otherwise I will be very upset and record it on YouTube.

  23. The thing that always scared me about going to a country in eastern Asia is the fact that there are no Roman letters for their language, just symbols. If I go to France, I can sort of sound out the words. But, if I go somewhere in Japan and I see あなたが死んでしまう, that could say anything. And, just like that, boom. I'm dead

  24. Japan is another country on earth with human beings. Not another planet with aliens. WTF are these western peoples on about.

  25. I once went to japan a long time ago in 1945 and for me it wasn't that hard to find any japanese in hiroshima. Although that place is very ugly and has rubbish and fallen building everywhere, no wonder there is no one there.

  26. Supposedly some Serbo-Croatian workers in Slovenia, get angry when you cannot understand them but they don’t make an effort to learn Slovenian

  27. After living in England for 10 years (not any more) English people seem to be the least tolerant of poeple who doesn't speak English, yet they go around the globe expecting others to speak English

  28. 日本は特に都会では英語onlyでも大丈夫だと思います。逆に英語が喋れないと海外ではどうなのか気になりますが。。。

  29. 初めてみたのですが、宮城めっちゃ出てくるじゃん!
    めっちゃ面白いです!応援してます?

  30. 7:22
    We Japanese people say BEJITARIAN instead of vegetarian…..yeah, I know..
    BI-FU…Yeah, You're correct…
    PO-KU…exactly!
    CHIKIN…maybe…

    BASASHI!!!!!!
    You killed me _(:3 」∠)_瀕死

    I hope everyone will enjoy their trips in Japan 🙂
    Have a great holiday!

  31. I'm Japanese and work at supermarket. Sometimes I'm spoken to by Non-Japanese speaker, so give some advice from my experience(with my poor English, sorry…).

    Ryotaro's advice is right. With short sentence(about 2-3 words) , many Japanese understand what you mean. (if you say "〇〇, where? " , we understand "he/she wanna go ○○/ buy ○○" )So you should talk with easy words and short sentence(and slowly…).
    Also, Google translate and Image search("Google Images"?) is very useful. Even if we can't catch what you said, we often understand what you wanna do from translated words or Image. (I always request this way when I don't understand (even if JAPANESE customers))

    I hope you come to Japan!

  32. you may wonder "What's the differences SUICA card and PASMO card (or other transpotation IC cards)". It's quite simple, only the difference of railway company the card is issued by. The function is basically the same.
    When you arrive NRT, you can buy SUICA(JR-East) or PASMO(Keisei), but arrive KIX, you can buy other IC cards(ICOCA, PiTaPa)
    Luckily almost all these cards can use other railway company's area. For example, your SUICA card (SUICA is for JR-East area = around TOKYO) also can use in JR-West area(= KYOTO, OSAKA). Even if you use "JAPAN RAIL PASS", you cannot use this at "Tokyo Metro"(Subway) and other NON-JR Lines, so I recommend to use these cards if you'll use these Lines. The symbol "IC" means you can use these cards(↓check the link below).

    Also you can use these IC cards for payment in many stores. But some stores only cash, so you should check at store entrance(has "SUICA" or "IC" symbol) or ask clerks (only "Suica OK?").
    (remenber that at least most of stores or vending machines "at station" can use these cards.)

    ※NOTE: These IC cards cannot use when you use "SHINKANSEN"(bullet train). So you need to buy ticket at ticket office or ticket vending machine.(There are some exceptions for using SUICA in SHINKANSEN, but difficult even for JAPANESE people…)

    https://www.pasmo.co.jp/visitors/en/area/

  33. 確かに、外国人がちょっと日本語を話しただけですごく嬉しくなる。
    こっちが英語喋れなくてほんとに申し訳なくなるけど…

  34. I'm japanese.
    I'm Sorry my English is strange.

    Most of people in japan are glad that foreigners come to japan,so even if you're in trouble,we help ,so don't worry about it.

    When I go foreign,I'm worry about discrimination.
    Many asians care that,so you won't be discriminated.
    Also you must not do that.

    Know about japan more and be into it.
    We're wating in japan!!

  35. If I go to Japan without learning Japanese, and some guy comes at me waveing a sword like that, I'll simply grasp him in my arms in an unavoidable hug, and cry.

  36. First thing before going to Japan….use this website before each conversation to ensure perfect translations!

    https://www.translationparty.com/hello-i-am-from-america-can-you-add-13911290

  37. 最近じゃまともに日本語話せない同級生多すぎて無理やで。頼むから日本くるなら日本語話せ。日本はもう終わりやで。

  38. Really struggled without the language for the world cup. However they are the nicest people on the planet so did everything they possibly could. And worst case scenario you get a friendly smile and a bow from a stranger

  39. 道を聞かれて説明に困った結果、そこまで一緒に連れて行った事ならあります(何度か)。
    なんとかなるさ。

  40. I think so, when we Japanese hear English prounciation , sometime We can't hear exactly. especially 'r' and 'l' or 'b' and 'v'///

  41. A part of me is thinking that the "Dribble" on the notebook was supposed to be "Scribble" which would make a lot more sense.

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