Do I Need Japanese?

When travelling to a foreign country, it’s natural to worry about potential language barriers and communication issues causing problems during your trip. What’s more, you may have read online about restaurants, hotels and other tourism services charging extra to people who can’t understand or read menus or information displayed in a country’s native language. 

While it’s always a good idea to pick up as many useful phrases in the local language as possible before travelling to another country, languages such as Japanese can be all the more difficult due to the fact that many menus, instructions etc will be written in kanji characters that bear no resemblance to the emergency phrases you may have learned before visiting. Even learning the basic writing systems (hiragana and katakana) would only get you so far. 

Multi-language signs in Yokohama (Image: Photo-Ac)

Things can become even more difficult when you realise that English is not widely spoken and understood in Japan (although the chances of finding an English speaker is higher in a tourist-friendly city like Tokyo than it is in a rural town or village). While it is taught in schools and you may see English words used in advertisements etc., very few Japanese people will feel confident enough to use it when speaking to you, and they may not even remember the phrases they were once taught. After all, how many of us can still clearly remember what we learned in the French, Spanish, German or other modern language classes we studied in high school? 

The idea that you may struggle to be understood or communicate may be off putting for many people, but it’s important to remember that many non-Japanese speaking tourists visit Japan each year and have amazing, unforgettable experiences. In cities such as Tokyo (which is gearing up to host the Olympics and welcome visitors from across the world), tourism service providers, hotels and even shop workers have been actively working to improve their foreign-language offerings. Signposts, menus and even instructions for how to use many services have been translated into a host of languages (including English), and it is now much easier to explore and communicate in the city than it was even a few years ago. 

Meanwhile, in the Countryside… (Image: Photo-Ac)

In rural areas, things may not be so simple. If an area receives few foreign tourists, then chances are that shops, services and even accommodation providers may not have invested in foreign language materials, and staff may only speak Japanese. If you want to interact with locals and have authentic experiences, then this will be even more difficult – not only due to language barriers, but also due to natural uncertainty about communicating (and sharing your life) with a foreign stranger. Luckily, that’s where Heartland Japan can help. 

At Heartland Japan, we seek to provide the best and most immersive authentic experiences for our clients, regardless of where they come from or what language they speak. For that reason, we arrange unique experiences and opportunities to interact with locals, and then provide a bilingual guide to help make everything as enjoyable and seamless as possible. 

What’s more, our custom-made tour service allows travellers to pick and choose when (or even if) they are accompanied by a guide on their tour. Guides can be booked for only certain days, or even just for a few hours – allowing our customers to enjoy the perfect balance between time with a local, knowledgeable guide and time to explore and have fun on their own. 

To learn more about how a guided tour from Heartland Japan could enhance your next visit to Japan, feel free to get in touch today!

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