We recently sent out a survey to people who have traveled to Japan and asked about the challenges they actually experienced there. While many respondents said they did not encounter any issues (surprising but true), here is the second most popular answer we received — plus our recommendation as to how to solve it. Read our previous post for #3 and our next post for #1.
Thirty six percent of respondents who had issues in Japan brought up language barrier. This concern is well founded since Japanese is the main language spoken in Japan and the country is notorious for not being great with English. Despite the country’s push to enhance English education, English is still seen as a school subject, strongly tied with college entrance exams, not as a communication tool that will enable you to connect with the world.
In the metropolitan areas, you’re highly likely to find someone who can help you locate that hole-in-the-wall ramen place you’ve been dreaming to try. But if you’re in the rural areas, chances are you’ll have a harder time getting around. At the same time, if you take a step back and think about why you’re traveling in the first place, encountering language barriers and trying to overcome them should be part of the experience. It makes the whole travel experience rich and memorable. The good thing about Japan is that it is a very safe country. You generally don’t have to worry about crime and getting in trouble.
Japan will be hosting two huge world sporting events in the next year — Rugby World Cup from September to November of 2019 and Tokyo Olympics from July to August of 2020. In preparation for these functions, Japan has updated their signage in subway stations and tourist destinations. You’ll likely see signs in English, Chinese, Korean, and other languages.
There’s an app for that
Be sure to download Google Translate on your phone before you go to Japan. Yes, these translation apps are notorious for mistranslations and funny “Engrish” expressions, but you can get a lot translated on your smart phone. If you use its Camera, you can hover your phone over a menu or sign and it’ll translate for you on the spot. Note the image translation will be more directional than true translation. If there Japanese character font is not standard, the translation will be unintelligible.
In the end, the best way is to reach out to people and ask. Communicating with locals is the best way to travel and have a heart-to-heart conversation with the Japanese people. Enjoy not getting straight to point B. That might turn out to be the best part about your time in Japan.
We know the frustrations and the fun of communication challenges. Since we are native speakers of both Japanese and English, we will provide you with a number of key phrases to get you by on your essentials whether dieatary or for specific directions. Enjoy the challenge. Japan is known for its hospitality. Speak more, worry less.
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