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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Can You Survive In Japan Without Speaking Japanese?

Above, the food court level below the Tokyo Skytree. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Many people who contemplate a visit to Japan worry that since they don't know Japanese language, they won't be able to eat, travel or even just survive. I've visited Japan eight time to date and I have always managed to get by.

Those fears are put aside (hopefully) in an article from City-Cost.com.

They begin their article with:
“Can you travel, live, spend time in Japan without understanding or speaking Japanese?”, or wording to this effect is an oft asked question on Japan travel forums and a legitimate concern for those who have never been to Japan, or maybe anyone who is contemplating a first trip overseas to a country the language of which is unfamiliar. Unfortunately, voicing this kind of concern runs the risk of being met by sneering condescension from some quarters so any concerns about the ability to survive in Japan without speaking Japanese are ones that we hope to meet ourselves with hearts in the correct place while maintaining our usual sense of irreverence.

It would be interesting to know how many of us who now live in Japan came to the country with any degree of Japanese language proficiency packed into the suitcase. This expat did, but it only really amounted to the next step up from zero. This lack of linguistic preparation might be put down to the fact that for the first few weeks I was to be in the company of Japanese friends.

My first job in Japan saw me under the guidance of an expat colleague who seemed to bask in their inability to speak the lingo (together with their lack of motivation to address this). I used to get a kick from the way they would delightfully order from menus in their broadest native accent, getting by with pointing only. They had already been ‘in country’ for some years prior to my arrival. Although we might be tempted to disparage such expats, the point is, this person still loved Japan, lead a very happy life in Japan, and was (they’ve since returned home) living proof that one can do more than just survive in Japan without having even the loosest of grips on the Japanese language.

Like with all plunges into the unknown, it’s pre plunge that is the most worrying bit. Once we’ve let go however, things become clear, and more often than not, our fears or concerns do not materialize, at least not to the extent that we had feared. This is true when it comes to being in Japan without understanding Japanese - one way or another you just figure out how to get by. As true as this is however, such generalisations rarely serve to ease concerns on the part of those who are, well, very concerned. So let’s get a little more specific, and detail some common scenarios that one will likely face during those early days in Japan, with barely two Japanese words to rub together for comfort. Before we carry on though, if you’re not up for the reading let’s just remind ourselves’ of this - in 2016 Japan recorded a record 24 million tourists for the year. Now, how many of those do think could speak Japanese? Just sayin’!

To read more, go here.

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