Language Barrier in Japan

Old May 19th, 2008, 06:59 AM
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Language Barrier in Japan

Hello,

We are thinking of traveling to Japan in the summer of 2009 - but speak absolutely no Japanese. We'll be traveling with my 12 year old daughter, and we're pretty independent travelers - have been to a number of European countries, but never Asia. We want to go to Tokyo and Kyoto, and are thinking of taking the bullet train between the two cities. We'd rather not use a guide. Will it be difficult to travel by ourselves? Are all signs (in train station, etc.) in any other language than Japanese? How easy is it to find your way around these cities walking, with no Japanese skills?

Also - any suggestions for sites to visit with my daughter would be appreciated. She's really into anime and Japanese teenage culture.

Thanks!!
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Old May 19th, 2008, 08:47 AM
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Please feel free to go ahead with your plans, Amie.

Traveling around by train and by subway in Tokyo and Kyoto will be simple, as station signs and maps are in Roman (English) as well as Japanese characters. While many of the signs in shops are in Japanese only, I have found that the Japanese people tend to be incredibly helpful in giving assistance to Westerners who look like they're lost or confused.
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Old May 19th, 2008, 08:53 AM
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I think most independent travellers to Japan speak little language, so I won't worry too much about it.
Trains have good signage in both Japanese and English, bullet train has announcement in English as well. Similarly, metro in Tokyo is very convenient (aside from morning rush hour), fast, air-conditioned and has excellent signs in both English and Japanese.

The hard bit is finding your way around, esp in Tokyo, but this has more to do with lack of street names. I strongly recommend you get a good map. Kyoto is a bit easier as central part of town is more grid-style, and you'll see English signs pointing to most tourist destinations.

The only part I found frustrating is when you're at a museum or a temple or whatever, there is a whole paragraph of explanation in Japanese, which somehow gets condensed into a few lines of English summary. (Very "Lost in Translation") You should probably get a good guidebook or do a research beforehand on internet to make the most of experience.

If your daughter is into anime/pop culture, I would suggest Harajuku on Sundays, also Studio Ghibli museum in Mitaka (western suburb of Tokyo), Shibuya and Akihabara.
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Old May 19th, 2008, 09:02 AM
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I spent time in Japan several years ago for work and never had any trouble. I don't speak Japanese either - other than the standard hello, good-bye, thank-you. There are plenty of signs in English, or at least in Japanese, using romanji characters so you can read them. Trains and train stations were incredibly easy.

I found that most Japanese people I interacted with read and wrote English very well, but many weren't as good at speaking English. So, I took a small pad of paper and a pen with me wherever I went - whenever I had trouble communicating, I wrote it down. That worked well. I also found people to be very helpful and patient.

The only navigation issue is that the streets are not named like we are used to - I think the blocks are numbered in some way. That can be confusing, but not too bad if you have a map.

I would not hesitate to travel to Japan on my own.
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Old May 19th, 2008, 09:26 AM
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You shouldn't have any major problems travelling between Tokyo and Kyoto speaking no Japanese. That's a well-travelled route and English signage and announcements are excellent. Of course a knowledge of the language will increase your enjoyment and allows you to hit off-the-beaten-track places, sites, shops and restaurants, also enables you to interact freely with locals. But that's the same in Europe too, where a knowledge of French, Spanish or Italian etc will get you more out of your stay.
Be polite, as almost all Japanese people you meet are likely to be, and let their hospitality and general helpfulness overcome any language barrier.
Tokyo will definitely offer more for your daughter, with its cutting-age technology, fashions, music and entertainment.
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Old May 19th, 2008, 10:31 AM
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Everyone - Thanks so much for responding! You made me feel comfortable with this, and we're going to go ahead and plan our trip.
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Old May 23rd, 2008, 10:32 AM
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I agree with all the prior postings (write things down, people try to be helpful, streets aren't well marked). In Tokyo, the police stations which are all over the place try to be very helpful even if they don't speak English...helps to have in writing where you're trying to go...they will bend over backwards to help you- to at least get you to the next police station on the way to your destination! I loved the posting about the English translations in museums! When we visited the Sword Museum, the English descriptions had things like "Special Sword" and "Very Special Sword". It was a riot!
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Old May 23rd, 2008, 11:47 AM
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I agree with the above posts that traveling in Tokyo and Kyoto should not pose a problem if you don't speak Japanese. I have been to both and on my second trip I had studied Japanese a bit so it was helpful but not essential.

OTOH, you have over a year to start studying some Japanese - there are numerous websites that can help you as well as the possibility of classes in your community.

I have been taking private lessons for quite a while but I recently found a website that has some free options as well as some for which you pay for online lessons. However I don't want to post it and be accused of advertising. ;-)
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Old May 23rd, 2008, 01:02 PM
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onegai shimasu marasan!

This is a simple site for a few simple expressions....you just have to be ready for what you get back when you use them, lol

http://japanese.about.com/blsjp.htm

Aloha!
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Old May 23rd, 2008, 03:23 PM
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HT,
Great link ! When I first got here, I had my old reliable Japanese phrase book but got into such a quandry when I got the answer that I had no clue of.

Arnie11,

11 years later & I'm still here learning........
SUMIMASEN + A BOW + A SMILE can take you places

Have fun & bring a long a flexible spirit , a sense of humor & you'll do wonderfully.

Have a great time preparing for your visit & soon we'll be welcoming you to Tokyo. I'm on my way to Kyoto myself this coming Monday.

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Old May 23rd, 2008, 03:51 PM
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you know i meant along...........
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