Visiting Japan without speaking Japanese can be a daunting prospect for many. But it needed be so. Let me explain why...
Around the start of last year, I discovered the blog West Coast To Far East.
It's run by an interesting guy called Sean who, rather impressively, relocated in 2016 with his family - all the way from Hollywood U.S.A. to the mountains of Hida Takayama, in Japan's rural Gifu Prefecture.
West Coast To Far East
I really liked how Sean's posts and YouTube videos focused on sharing his personal experiences and thoughts about his new life - good and bad - as he was experiencing them.
It isn't your average "I've been there and done that and here's how you can too" shtick. Far from it.
What especially makes Sean's content so engaging is his honesty and willingness to admit he doesn't have all the answers. That, several years on, he's still finding his feet in Japan.
Visiting Japan Without Speaking Japanese
Visiting Japan for the first time can be a daunting experience. Add in potential language challenges and cultural differences – it might give you some cause for concern before your first big adventure here.
It's the No.1 topic first-timers to Japan ask me about. So last year I wrote a book How to Travel in Japan Without Speaking Japanese. After reading my book on the subject, Sean and I got to talking about the challenges of travelling in Japan.
Sean invited me onto his YouTube channel to chat more about the themes in my book and to exchange experiences, discuss our personal insights and share some tips with you on visiting Japan without speaking Japanese.
A Series of 3 Videos
Over a series of three videos we explore some of the challenges when visiting Japan without speaking Japanese. We share our combined experience, offering solutions that you can use to ensure your first or next trip to Japan is the best it can be.
And we share some personal anecdotes along the way, which we hope with encourage, inform or amuse as we go.
If you enjoy these videos and have any Japan travel related topics you like me to cover in future, please let me know by leaving a comment at the bottom of the page.
How to Travel in Japan Without Speaking Japanese
NEW! Audiobook Edition
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PLUS: 10-page printable PDF travel planner
No Japanese? No problem!
Video 1 - Introductions and Travel FAQs
In this first video we get to learn a little about each other and discuss some of the most common concerns and questions people have about visiting Japan. Especially when you don't speak the language.
Insights You’ll Get From Watching Part 1
- Why I started The Real Japan
- How living in Japan changed Sean's perceptions of the challenges of traveling
- The perceived language barrier and some ideas on how to overcome that
- Japanese hospitality (omotenashi)
- Why travelling in foreign countries rewards even just a little effort
- Using phrasebooks and translation apps
- How my subscribers' feedback has improved my book
- Why preparation before you come to Japan can really pay off
Video 2 - Going With The Flow
In this second part, we touch on some of the amusing things that can occur while travelling, as well as these topics:
Insights You’ll Get From Watching Part 2
- Preparing for a trip - mindset and practical tips
- Navigating Japan's huge train stations
- Using taxis with Japan's difficult address system
- Not being afraid of 'getting lost'
- Building in time to wander - without a plan
- Not researching everything in advance
- Tips on avoiding crowds of tourists
- Getting off-the-beaten-path
Video 3 - Interacting With Locals
In this final video, we discuss how to get the most out of interacting with locals, as well as these topics:
Insights You’ll Get From Watching Part 3
- Exploring the big city
- Interacting with the locals
- What to do when you leave your toothbrush at home
- Finding a pharmacy in Hagi
- Being a 'wild foreigner'
- Using body language
- Interacting etiquette
I hope you find our chat interesting and that you get some useful tips you can use in planning your own adventures.
How to Travel in Japan Without Speaking Japanese
There's loads more on this topic in my book How to Travel in Japan Without Speaking Japanese.
If you want to travel in Japan but don't speak Japanese you can learn more about my book HERE.
About the Author
A writer and publisher from England, Rob has been exploring Japan’s 6,800 islands since 2000. He specialises in travelling off the beaten track, whether on remote atolls or in the hidden streets of major cities. He’s the founder of TheRealJapan.com.
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Are you planning a trip to Japan? Have any questions? If so - leave a comment below.
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Watashi wa sukoshi Nihongi o shitte imasu
I can only speak a little Japanese .
This phrase can help greatly , just by learning a few basic phrases to help along the way on your journey can make a world of difference.
In the big cities English is widely understood , but up in the countryside and off the beaten track then it isn’t used and a few phrases can certainly help
Japanese people are patient and tolerant and if they hear you are trying to speak their language , even a little bit then it paves the way.
Sumimasen, Nihongo ga wakarimasen.
I’m sorry but I don’t speak Japanese .
Give it a try ! You’ll be surprised ! 👍
Thanks for sharing those two great suggestions Jill!
A little Japanese can go a long way, but it can also help those who don’t speak English understand the extent of your language limitations.
Even the littlest effort seemingly without worth at all seems appreciated by locals Rob. I love the message here. I see it in rural Panama daily. I speak Spanish semi-fluently but even carrying on a casual chat with not dazzling grammar – LOL – makes people light up, because few Panamanians here speak any English….as to be expected. It makes people happy when you try to speak their language because they realize and appreciate the discomforts and fears arising in your attempt.
Thanks Ryan, yeah that’s very much my experience.
My wife and I also love travelling in Greece, and I still take my old phrasebook with me everytime (I’m a bit old school like that – prefer a book over an app).
My Japanese is minimal but I can get by, and in the mor off the beaten path places you sometimes see the delight in people’s faces (especially older folk) that you’re even attempting to communicate in their native language.