According to the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO), over 28.5 million people visited Japan in 2017, which was a 19.3% increase on the previous year. In fact, tourism in Japan has increased every year since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Any language that doesn't use the Latin alphabet (Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Japanese etc) posses an immediate problem for any English speaker. Without prior experience of reading and writing Japanese, a complete beginner will have an overwhelming sense of feeling lost and slightly confused as most things in Japan are written using the local hiragana, katakana, and kanji writing systems.
Being able to communicate is made even harder when you consider that Japanese people famously struggle with learning English.
Therefore speaking Japanese is essential before you visit the land of the rising sun.
However, you needn’t master everything before you go, you just need to learn some of the most important Japanese expressions so that you are able to have a conversation.
Just as in other Asian countries like China, Taiwan, and South Korea, it’s rare that the locals outside of the big cities speak English. Trying to speak English to merchants in Okinawa, Fukuoka, or Sapporo isn’t really worth your time. The first thing you should do is attempt to learn your first words in Japanese phonetically, rather than trying to learn how to write them.
Once you're there, you can improve your basic Japanese so that you become a master of the local tongue.
There is a lot of useful advice for learning Japanese on the internet. In this article, Superprof will focus on how you can perfect your Japanese whilst in Japan.
Learning Japanese in Japan with Language Classes
Perhaps you’ve seen Sofia Coppola’s movie Lost in Translation (2003) in which two Americans played by Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson find themselves completely lost in Tokyo, Japan, due to the linguistic and cultural barriers.
The movie clearly illustrates the difficulties of being in a country such as Japan where you don’t speak the language and know very little about life there. This is where Japanese lessons could be really useful in helping you get to grips with Japanese pronunciation, writing systems, and vocabulary. If you live in the capital, look for japanese lessons london.
Immersion is the number one way to learn a language. The more exposure you have to Japanese, your more likely it is that you will learn it quickly. If you learn to speak Japanese in Japan, you will be surrounded by kanji characters and more than just the odd native speaker.
This will give you ample opportunity to practice and fully control your Japanese learning experience.
After all, what could be a better way to learn Japanese characters than by having constant daily exposure to them? The same can be said of learning Japanese vocabulary. You are far more likely to remember words if you see, hear, and use them on a daily basis.
For some, learning Japanese independently is the ideal language learning method. For others, a bit more structure is required. Both are possible in Japan, but if you are looking to take a language course, here are a few language schools in Japan that are worth checking out:
Shibuya Gaigo Gakuin
This school teaches both Japanese students foreign languages and foreign students the Japanese language. Since the classes are at a slower pace, they’re ideal for anyone who’s planning on staying in Japan for a while. As the name suggests, you can find this school in the Shibuya district of Tokyo.
The student body is made up of a variety of different nationalities and backgrounds:
South & Central America (6%)
There are longer courses (lasting 1 or 2 years), as well as courses over the summer, and courses that last one month or 10 weeks.
There are also 10 different levels available so you can start as a new learner before moving on to being an intermediate, and ultimately reaching the more advanced levels.
The school focuses on ensuring that students are put into smaller classes (with 6 to 12 students per class) and enjoy a cozier atmosphere than they would in a college.
There are also extracurricular activities for students interested in learning more about Japan and Japanese culture. This is important because the language and culture are almost intertwined in Japan and therefore learning about one can help you simultaneously learn about the other.
Students can learn things like:
Chinese characters (kanji) that are used for writing in Japanese
Kana: the Hiragana and Katakana writing systems used in Japan.
How to read and write in Japanese
Japanese etiquette (which is far more important than you’d think)
ISI Japanese Language School
This Japanese language school can be found in the Toshima district of Tokyo, as well as in the cities of Kyoto and Nagano.
There are plenty of different courses available depending on why you’re learning Japanese: for work, study, or just to travel. There are also extracurricular activities for those who’d like to familiarize themselves with Japanese culture and history. This makes the learning process more interactive and interesting.
Kai Japanese Language School
This school is located in the Shinjuku district of Japan's capital. There are 4 main curriculums available and you can choose whichever of their language courses that works best for you.
The general course is your traditional language course that covers levels from beginners to advanced.
There’s also a shorter conversational course for those who just want to learn how to speak Japanese.
If you’re looking to become fluent so that you can work in Japan, you’ll probably want to consider doing the business Japanese course which includes the expressions you’ll need for interviews and meetings.
Finally, there are the summer courses. As the name suggests, this is the course you’ll do if you’re only in Japan for the high season.
In addition to these courses, there are also private tutorials available from the school which can be taken on their campus or elsewhere. In this case, your tutor will provide your personal Japanese language course for you.
Shinjuku Nihongo Gakko
The Shinjuku Japanese Language Institute (Shinjuku Nihongo Gakko) is an educational foundation that’s recognized by the Japanese government. It was created in 1975 and has students from all over the world.
They use the “Ezoe Method” which makes use of cards and gestures to help students learn Japanese more effectively than they would using traditional methods. This allows students to continue to study outside of the classroom when they’re at home without their professor.
Learning Japanese Through a Language Exchange Program
What’s better than learning Japanese in order to travel to Japan, immerse yourself in the language, and participate in an inter-cultural exchange program?
Of course, this means you’ll have to leave your past life behind and start living exclusively like the Japanese. Here’s our advice for making the most of your language immersion on a daily basis.
Some people genuinely worry if it is possible for an English speaker to learn Japanese. Don't worry-apart from Japanese writing system, learning the language is just like learning Portuguese, Spanish, or French.
And just like if you want to learn German, Italian, or any other language, moving to the country is the best way to go about it.
So what about finding work in Japan? That’s a great idea! Getting a job in Japan is a great way to learn technical vocabulary and learn things that you won’t in the classroom. If this is your plan, it might be worthwhile investing in specialized dictionaries and flashcards to help you learn more quickly.
Working in Japan isn’t as easy as finding work in other English-speaking countries like Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. For one, there’s no working holiday visa program for foreign nationals, and it’s unlikely that the jobs that don’t require any qualifications (like working in bars or restaurants) would sponsor your visa.
However, if you have qualifications, or are an English-language teacher, a number of doors will open to you. If teaching’s what you want to do, you should consider looking at TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) qualifications.
The Best Way to Learn Japanese on your Own is by Hanging Out with Japanese Speakers
There are a number of great books to learn Japanese if you want to study on your own. These can help you with Japanese writing, but you'll still need more exposure to the language in order to practice and pick up more Japanese phrases.
Sharing an apartment with Japanese speakers is arguably one of the best ways to learn Japanese.
Sharing an Apartment in Japan
Finding an apartment in Japan can be particularly difficult, especially in large cities like Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Nagoya, or Sapporo. However, by sharing an apartment with native Japanese speakers, you’ll benefit from free Japanese tuition by practicing on a daily basis without having to spend a single penny.
There’s nothing better than sharing an apartment for improving your mastery of the spoken language. You can put down the textbooks and just have a Japanese conversation.
You should also consider writing down the new words you learn (phonetically where possible) and making a small list of essential phrases like:
Hello: Ohayô gozaimasu, Konichiwa, Konbanwa,
Thank you: Arigatô
Please: Onegaishimasu or Kudasai
Good night: Oyasumi.
The Japanese are very interested in foreign cultures and will be happy to talk to you about their culture, and help you learn about their language. Additionally, if you teach children English, you’ll inevitably end up learning some Japanese while you do.
Your roommate will also help you learn more about colloquial Japanese, something you won’t learn as much about during your Japanese classes.
Use Japanese as Often as Possible
Whatever you find yourself doing in Japan, you should try to use the language as often as you can.
One of the best (and most fun) ways to do this is to go to Japanese bars, restaurants, and clubs. However, as with any new language, in the beginning you might feel a bit like Bill Murray in the movie “Lost in Translation”.
Japanese is language which uses syllabaries. This means the language is built around consonant-vowel units or consonant-vowel-consonant units. Once you’ve learned the syllables used in Japanese, there are no other pronunciations that you’ll need to worry about. With only 5 vowel sounds in Japanese, there are far fewer than in the English language. That said, you should still be practicing your pronunciation as often as you can with your Japanese friends.
Karaoke’s very popular, too! Why not invite your Japanese friends to a karaoke evening? Spending an evening in a karaoke bar is a great way to meet locals while having a good time and learn the language without even realizing that you’re actually “studying”.
Rather than spending your time with other foreigners, you should seek out actually Japanese people and make new friends. Stepping out of your comfort zone has never been so fun!