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Is it Necessary to Speak Fluent Japanese Before Visiting Tokyo?

By Brentyn, published on 30/06/2019 Blog > Languages > Japanese > Speaking Japanese in Tokyo: Is It Recommended?

“Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people came from and where they are going.” -Rita Mae Brown

Tokyo is a vibrant city: rich in culture, rich in history, rich in gastronomic options, but also rich in language. Since Tokyo is the capital, it is there that a clean and pure Japanese language develops in the land of the rising sun.

From Okinawa to Nagasaki and Kyoto to Nagoya, the Japanese culture is held together like glue by its language and Tokyo is a perfect embodiment of this. 

Although Japan recently welcomed more than 30 million international visitors in 2018, discovering Tokyo and Japan as a while can be quite complicated since the Japanese people are not fluent in other foreign languages; English included!

Language is a barrier that prevents us from becoming united. 

The problem of Japanese people not being fluent in English has persisted for years without any dramatic changes; therefore, visitors must think about how to prepare for their stay in Japan before leaving adequately.

Do not give up on the idea of visiting Japan, though; language barriers can be surpassed, and the benefits are incredibly rewarding. 

Tokyo is the ideal destination to learn more about a specific culture and language. Nevertheless, some may ask what language level is necessary to visit the land of the rising sun. There is no need to fret, Superprof will answer all questions and concerns in today’s article!

Why Speak Japanese in Tokyo?

asking for directions Asking for directions in Japanese may impress the locals and help get the needed information almost immediately. (Source: Unsplash)

Tokyo is the largest megacity in the world. Massive cities have the reputation of being known as epitomes of multiculturalism, a mecca of distinct languages, and a melting pot of cultures; Tokyo is no different.

However, it is essential to state that since the Japanese country is spread across four different islands, it is quite closed off from other cultures, languages, and customs. The Japanese are unique since they are not sharing their land with anyone and have little influence from neighbouring countries; this can be observed from their overwhelming generosity, kindness, and politeness that is unheard of anywhere else.

Since European countries are stuck together and are in close proximity of each other, learning a new language is done from a young age to increase work opportunities and improve relations between nations.

However, since Japan is quite isolated, they are not leaders in learning foreign tongues.

Therefore, Japanese natives may have difficulties understanding westerners culture, customs, and language.

As a UK citizen, it is a blessing to speak English since most of the time its the language that saves us, and we can usually find someone on our travels who speak at least a bit of English. However, since foreign languages are not stressed by the Japanese Education System, communicating with Japan’s native in any other language, but the Japanese may prove to be a challenge.

Nonetheless, since it is not our country, tourists should make efforts to speak a few phrases of Japanese in the following situations:

  • Ordering food at a restaurant,
  • Asking for directions,
  • Taking public transportation,
  • Understanding a museum exhibition or point of interest,
  • Correctly expressing yourself in case of emergency,
  • Discovering Tokyo off the beaten path far away from touristic sites,
  • Renting a car in Japan,
  • Taking the train or plane to other parts of the country.

Speaking Japanese would be an ideal solution to thoroughly understanding the culture and enjoying your stay. Being bilingual in English and Japanese would be perfect, but let’s be honest, many do not have the time to learn about a foreign language before travelling.

However, one must not focus so much on becoming fluent in Japanese since being lost in translation is a beautiful feeling at times and will not prevent you from having a fantastic time aimlessly roaming the streets of Tokyo.

What are the must-see districts of Tokyo?

Learning a Few Necessary Phrases Before Arriving in Tokyo

the restroom Learning a few simple phrases in Japanese such as asking where the bathroom is of the utmost importance. (Source: Unsplash)

Whether you’re travelling to Spain, Portugal, France, the Czech Republic or even the French side of Canada, UK citizens should always prepare themselves before a trip to say a couple of phrases in the nation’s official language.

Yes, learning a few phrases will indeed help us get necessary things accomplished, but it also allows for better integration and feeling accepted by the locals.

Japan, and especially Tokyo, is the same since learning key phrases is of the utmost importance to be understood by the Japanese and create some lasting friendships. Do not focus on studying things that are beyond your reach; spend time exploring the basics: hello, goodbye, thank you, etc. The Japanese language is quite complex to master, but knowing a few sentences won’t hurt at all!

Mastering the basics is great, but after they have been acquired, try concentrating on other phrases that may be important in emergencies or everyday life.

The Japanese people located in Tokyo are delightful and will be pleased to hear you try to speak their language.  

By speaking with the locals, the best directions and most delicious restaurants are guaranteed since they know what the tourist guides do not. The following are some essential phrases that should be learnt in Japanese:

  • What time is it?
  • Where is….?
  • Where is the nearest bathroom?
  • Can I pay with my credit card?
  • Where is the nearest cash machine?
  • How much does it cost?
  • And many more phrases!

The previously mentioned phrases may seem painfully necessary, but they will win a Japanese person’s heart any day! By slowing learning more about the Japanese language, visitors start to understand the culture and society.

Between the onsen baths, best restaurants on the planet, recuperating from jet lag, and views of Mount Fuji, Tokyo is an exciting city; the least you can do is learn a little Japanese!

Where to stay while touring Tokyo?

Travelling to Tokyo Without Learning Any Japanese, is it Possible?

In Tokyo, one thing is sure: the people are so kind. Their kindness is world renowned, and if you don’t speak their language, they will gladly help you; although, you need to understand what they are saying in return and I highly doubt they will be replying to you in English.

Even without speaking a word of Japanese, visitors can make themselves understood by using precise hand gestures and mentioning locations. 

Language barriers do cause limitations and frustration; however, they can be overcome with patience and respect for the other person. 

Even though by speaking Japanese, you constantly know what is happening around you, it is not required for an enjoyable stay in Tokyo. However, knowing how to talk to Japanese makes any experience such as learning about cherry blossoms, visiting a shrine, or partaking in a tea ceremony more enjoyable.

Despite all the difficulties encountered from the language barrier, the citizens of Tokyo are amicable people, who for the most part want to help you; this means they also try to understand you which is very uncommon for a metropolis the size of Tokyo.

Can’t imagine Londoners of New Yorkers being as helpful as Tokyoites!

Also, the awkward moments asking people for directions will make hilarious stories when returning to your homeland. It’s always better to stay positive and view everything as a learning experience. Who knows, from all the travel stories you’ll have you could start a blog!

Tokyo is Japan’s most open city to the outside world; the technological advances, futuristic character, and opportunities for foreign investment make it a perfect town for foreigners. Therefore, citizens of Tokyo are used to seeing unfamiliar faces and are not surprised if they are stopped and asked for directions.

Even if Japanese is the primary language, many English street signs can be readily seen in touristic destinations. Everything is possible in Tokyo!

What are the important points of interest in Tokyo?

Taking a Trip to Tokyo as an English and Japanese Bilingual

constant conversations Being bilingual and speaking Japanese to natives improves interpersonal relationships while travelling and creates friendships that last a lifetime. (Source: Unsplash)

It may seem self-evident, but a trip to Tokyo when speaking Japanese is always a plus. Even if you have a thick accent and don’t talk your newly acquired tongue very well, finding your way around the city, ordering ramen, asking for the nearest bathroom, and social encounters are all made more accessible than before when not a word of Japanese was mastered.

Of course, it goes without saying that the taste of adventure and the feeling of being lost in translation will be gone; however, fruitful and interactive discussions with Tokyo natives and the appropriate pronunciation of Tokyo-based locations such as Kyushu, Akihabara, Yokohama, Hokkaido, or Fukuoka will make all the lessons and language learning worth the effort.

Yes, the Japanese language has formed the culture of Tokyo and knowing how to pronounce distinct places, neighbourhoods, and points of interest genuinely impress Tokyo natives, and further conversations are welcomed to practice your Japanese. 

While Japan in itself is a country that leaves people speechless and in awe, Tokyo is very particular since it moves and transforms at lightning speed; it’s truly unlike any other place on the planet. Learning the language allows foreigners to grasp the inner workings of Japanese culture and makes them realise that Japan is not only about noodles, skyscrapers, kimonos, and Studio Ghibli.

In conclusion, as we have previously stated in today’s article, learning Japanese is not essential to succeed in being understood in the land of the rising sun; however, it’s a significant plus that improves experiences and interpersonal relationships with Tokyo natives. Also, discovering the capital has never been more engaging!

Therefore, at Superprof we encourage all those who are obsessed with Japanese culture to take the leap and learn Japanese today via private tutoring online or in person with a professional educator that can be found on Superprof’s website; you won’t regret your decision!

What modes of transport does Tokyo offer?

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