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Is travel easy for English-only speakers in Japan?

Is travel easy for English-only speakers in Japan?

Old May 19th, 2004, 03:24 PM
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Is travel easy for English-only speakers in Japan?

We have travelled a lot in Europe speaking and reading a smattering of Italian and French, but know no Japanese - especially characters! I've heard street signs and so on are in characters and not many people speak English, so is it hard to find your way around and to train destinations etc?
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Old May 19th, 2004, 04:22 PM
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It's not so hard to get around if you don't drive. In all but the smallest train stations the basic info like station names are written in Engish lettering. The schedules are only Japanese, but the ticket counter personnel will be happy to help you. Streets, for the most part, don't have names. Addresses are identified by a unique system of block names numbers and plot numbers that really don't relate much to each other. Japanese people too can't get to a written address without a map. Map drawing is a skill virtually everyone has here...and navigation from place to place is more often than not by landmarks, not street names. So...knowing Japanese or not makes little difference.

Many people speak a smattering of English...but finding someone willing to speak English may be difficult. Sometimes people approach me and just start chatting, but that's the exception. English is obligatory in schools for at least 6 years, increasing nowadays, but the emphasis is grammar and reading and test taking, not communication. Sometimes it helps a lot to have your question written down. Hotel staff speak reasonable, often excellent English, so you should feel free to ask them anything you want.

When we moved here, we knew virtually no Japanese at all and didn't have trouble. Tourists have an easier time I think. Relax and enjoy!

Kim
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Old May 19th, 2004, 04:31 PM
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Hi Amanda...We travelled independently in Japan and surprisingly found it easy to make ourselves understood without speaking Japanese.As mentioned the train system is easy to negotiate ..clear announcements are made re the station just left and the one approaching.All restaurants display the meals in the window and you just point to the one you want when the wait person approaches you. The system works well. Enjoy!
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Old May 19th, 2004, 06:04 PM
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KimJapan and Peteralan: thanks for your replies, as I have been wondering myself how you would know you are at the correct train station if you look out the window and it is just characters.
I have heard that the addresses are based on what houses or businesses were on the block first, ie. if my business was the first on the block I get #1, and the next business to arrive on the block gets #2, instead of the numbers going sequentially down a block as they do here. This prompted my daughter to tell me I needed to post on Fodor's asking how to get a list of which busineeses and houses came onto each block on chronolgoical order! Your map info is good to know, Kim.
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Old May 19th, 2004, 06:08 PM
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One question- when they make the announcements at the train stations, I assume the eannouncements are in Japanese, right? So how does that help, unless you can pick up the name of the station as they talk Japanese?
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Old May 19th, 2004, 07:14 PM
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On the main train lines, the announcements are in English as well as Japanese, and the electronic signs in the train are in English as well as Japanese. We found on our recent trip that Japan is remarkably easy to travel in, even though we knew only the most rudimentary Japanese (hello, goodbye, thank you).
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Old May 19th, 2004, 07:38 PM
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You won't get a list of which businesses and houses came first...Japanese don't even know really. Really, everyone just uses a good map, either from the business, or handwritten. There are good maps of cities online that I've been using recently, but they are unfortunately only in Japanese. You'll be able to find tourist spots without trouble.

Even if the train announcements are in Japanese, you can peek out the window as you get into the station and read the signs. The main lines, like it was said, have announcements in English and Japanese. The announcement is short, so you'll probably make out the stop name regardless of language.

Kim
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Old May 19th, 2004, 07:56 PM
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It would be difficult, if the Japanese weren't so kind to strangers, and if they weren't so predictable. After the first announcement on a train, you'll recognize which part of their words are "next station" (or whatever) and which is the station name. It will always be he same!

In addition, many subway and train stations have have signs with 3 names hanging or posted prominently at eye level (from the train). These are the last station, this station, and the next station. Always memorize the one before yours to have two chances to catch on! Most always these signs will be in english letters.

I always write down the character in Japanese if I can (maps with both Japanese and English are great)... Helps when buying tickets from a machine. On a subway car, a graphic will often be over each door showing all the stops. you can just count the number to yours.

An easy way to recognize the japanese characters if you don't actually read the kanji is to look at parts of them; as in, we're looking for the teepee on top of the four square court with the Z on the side. I read very few characters, but find this way lets my brain hold onto and recognize them!

Writing things down is really helpful, as mentioned above, Japanese spend years learning to read and write, but don't speak English. Another trick is to ask questions in English, but using no grammar - Kyoto?" "time?" "platform?" will get you a ticket to kyoto. Many more Japanese recognize English words than will admit to it!
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