don't speak Japanese

Jan 27th, 2005, 07:32 PM
  #1  
JWH
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don't speak Japanese

Will two people who can't speak/read any Japanese be able to find their way around in Japan?
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Jan 27th, 2005, 08:40 PM
  #2  
 
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Yes. Keep a smile and maintain a sense of humor. Japan is relatively easy to travel in. The tourist areas are all pretty well marked in English.
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Jan 27th, 2005, 09:11 PM
  #3  
emd
 
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Get a good travel phrase guidebook w/English to kanji translations (so you can point to the phrase if your butchered Japanese is not understandable). I haven't been yet, just planning our trip, but my son's Japanese teacher gave us a good book like this. And I like the cards in the back of JNTO's New Japan Solo book that you can use to hand to train attendants and others ("I want a ticket to ____" in Japanese and you fill in the blank, etc.) Little tricks like that, as well as learning a few greetings and etiquette phrases. I think a little effort like that will go a long way, at least that is how I have been advised. And get good maps in English before you go, ones that include trains lines and subways.
Many restaurants have plastic food replicas in the window. There are also English/Japanese food guides available on amazon.com that you can get so you avoid ordering something you might consider unappetizing (donuts filled w/mustard come to mind from one poster on here). Station names are apparently in English and Japanese, a blessing.
If so many people before you on here have done it, you can do it.
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Jan 29th, 2005, 05:18 AM
  #4  
 
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The staff at JR offices and ticket gates all seem to be able to communicate in railroad English. Getting seat reservations with your JR Pass or purchasing tickets can be done in English. When your ticket is presented to you, the seller will likely point to a number on the ticket and tell you "turack numbah two".

Above the platform in front of each track are signs indicating where to board particular cars for each of the different trains. On shinkansen platforms, it is generally easy to find the spot where your car will board. At some stations, when getting a local or limited express train, it can be a bit puzzling to find the waiting spot for your car. At Takaoka station, recently, it was good that I knew that my L'Ex train was called a Hakutaka 17.

The train signs in JR stations show the various destinations, track numbers, and departure times on an electronic display that alternates between Japanese and English. If you are in a hurry to make a connection, you can match the departure time on your ticket to the display to find your track number.

On board, there is a digital display at the end of the car showing info that alternates between Japanese and English. These displays are on the Narita Express, the shinkansen, and most if not all Limited Express trains. Additionally, there are announcements in Japanese and English. "We will soon be making a brief stop at Shinagawa station. The next stop after Shinagawa station will be Shin-Yokohama".

As emd mentioned, you will need a subway map in Tokyo. Above the ticket machines are maps showing the fares to each station. Not all of the stations have English maps (and/or they are hard to find), so just match up your paper map to the sign. On board the subways there are video displays showing the stops on the line and next stop in English and you will probably hear info in English.

So, it is easy enough for one person to find his way. It might be a bit more difficult for two people, if they don't take Kim's advice about keeping a sense of humor.
mrwunrfl is offline  
Jan 29th, 2005, 07:04 AM
  #5  
 
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Ease of travel without knowledge of Japanese differs greatly. In well-travelled areas like Tokyo, Nikko, Kyoto, Nara and Hiroshima, there are plenty of English signage and maps, and you are bound to meet someone who can guide you in English. Things get more difficult off the beaten tracks, in areas that see few foreign tourists. Travel and tourism will be very much geared to Japanese nationals and you may find it difficult, for example, to catch a local bus to a distant onsen spa or someone to help you order in a restaurant (without wax models!). If you are an adventurous sort and consider getting lost as part of the fun of travelling, then it doesn't matter (and locals will do their best to overcome language barrier). If not, it's best to stick to the tried and tested.
Alec is offline  
Jan 29th, 2005, 07:42 AM
  #6  
 
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We went to Takayama, Hirayu, and Matsumoto as well as a hotel in Kobe that seldom (very seldom) saw Western tourists without speaking Japanese. We relied on the "kindness of strangers" and found the Japanese extremely helpful. We had the Japanese words for our destinations written in advance for each stage of our trip. Big help...trains and buses run on time so if it is the right time it is probably the right bus or train.
Elainee is offline  
Jan 29th, 2005, 08:32 PM
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It's comforting to know as I'll be in Tokyo for 2 months from mid Feb for work.
KMLoke is offline  
Jan 29th, 2005, 08:40 PM
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KMLoke - While visitors will have no problem at all going around Japan and getting help from locals, it's a different matter when you're working there. If you want to be productive, you better learn some Japanese and their customs. In a work environment, you're expected to show them respect.
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Jan 29th, 2005, 09:25 PM
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Even in a work environment, foreigners aren't expected to speak Japanese, especially for a short-term assignment like only 2 months. Foreigners are actually expected to be totally clueless about all things Japanese. After 10 years, people still make shocked comments that I can use chopsticks and eat sushi. There have even been cases where I've spoken Japanese and gotten a reply "I don't speak English" because they just didn't expect Japanese to come out of the foreigner's mouth. My daughter is a Japanese native speaker...born here, first words were even Japanese in spite of her two American English speaking parents, and people are forever talking about her (like she's cute or her hair is lovely etc) and are shocked when she gets the embarrassed look because they never in a million years expect her to know what they are saying...lucky thing no one has said "what a horrible child" or something similar yet!

So, if your workplace will require Japanese ability of you, they will definitely tell you...and either you'll study or you'll have an interpreter...whatever happens it won't be a surprise...but it's my guess you won't need Japanese a bit. There are many English-speaking workers in Japan that can't utter an intelligible phrase in Japanese after many years...especially in the large cities and big companies. Don't worry a bit about it, except to ask your boss what will be expected of you.
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Jan 30th, 2005, 04:33 PM
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KimJapan, rkkwan,

I appreciate your advice. I'm working in an American MNC and will be going to the Tokyo office to help out on a project. I expect English to be used mainly. Having said that I will try to learn as much as I can given the late confirmation of the trip.
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Jan 30th, 2005, 04:44 PM
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My brother and I travelled Japan for two weeks in August 2004 (Osaka, Nara, Koya-san, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Toyko). We got along fine even though neither of us speaks Japanese. The only places where we came across people who spoke very good english were at the JR seat reservation counters, selected large tourist information centres, and hotels/hostels. Other then that, most people have a basic grasp of the english language. However, the Japanese are wonderful people, so even if they don't speak english they will try their best to help you out. My advice to you is to learn basic japanese phrases/words before you go. We got by on just knowing "excuse me" and "thank you".
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Mar 27th, 2005, 11:52 PM
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Just an update, I've survived more than half of my 2 month stay in Tokyo with virtually no Japanese. I'm enjoying the beautiful city and great food. Now I'm eagerly awaiting to view the cherry blossoms.
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Mar 28th, 2005, 04:49 AM
  #13  
emd
 
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But doesn't it make you want to learn some Japanese? I found myself wanting to converse with people, not just use sign language and one to two word phrases to ask for directions. The conversations I had with Japanese who spoke English (and those who were willing to try to use what they knew) were really a fun and fascinating part of the trip. I definitely want to be able to converse more freely w/the Japanese next time I go.
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Mar 28th, 2005, 03:27 PM
  #14  
 
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emd
yes, definitely I would like to learn Japanese hopefully before my next trip here. The question is that of time. I didn't have time to cram up on the language before my trip due to the late confirmation. Now that I'm here weekdays are taken up by work. For weekends it's time to chill out and go around sightseeing.

Another reason is that I feel bad that when I do speak a few words the locals would go on at length in Japanese which I won't understand. Could be that I'm Chinese and look Japanese to them. I don't want to keep saying wakarimasen.
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Mar 28th, 2005, 04:00 PM
  #15  
emd
 
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It might be because you are Chinese and look Asian and hence maybe Japanese to them, but I can say that at least 5 to 6 times I had Japanese people go on and on in Japanese w/me, as if I understood. But then maybe I went on and on in English w/them also. Just trying to make ourselves understood. Everyone doing the best they can do.
I am wondering how best to go about learning some Japanese. I bought CDs before this trip and didn't listen to them- too hard to fit in the time w/work and family commitments. I need structured time to set aside for the task. Maybe a small group w/a teacher, but that is hard to find. I may end up hiring a Japanese tutor.
How fortunate you are to be living in Tokyo for two months to work. We loved Tokyo, such a vibrant city. I hope you will write us a report on your impressions after your two months are up, what it was like to live and work there. I would love to hear it, and so would my son, who really wants to study for a year of college there. At that point he will have 5 years of japanese at middle and high school level and a few years of colleg elevel so will hopefully be able to communicate decently.
I'm sure others here would also love to hear of your experiences in the work environment, living, sightseeing. Please consider posting a report at the end of your stay.
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Mar 28th, 2005, 07:17 PM
  #16  
 
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Yes, Tokyo is a wonderful place to visit. I will try to put up a report at the end of my stay.

I've been fortunate to be given the opportunity to work here. It's been a great experience, no doubt due in large part to my colleagues in Tokyo. The downside is that my wife and kids are back home.
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