Now that you have settled a lot of the more stressful tasks of preparing for a trip to Japan you can start doing a bit of self-study to help yourself when you’re there. This means learning a few things that may not be enjoyable but could be absolute life savers if you’re in a jam.

Let’s start with the obvious, learning the Japanese language.  Never assume that anyone around you speaks English and/or that you can get by with by speaking it very slowly.  To a Japanese person you’re still talking too fast and you’ll just get a polite blank stare as you stumble with your words.

Perhaps invest some money in a couple of Japanese language books that will at least teach you the basics.  I started out with Japanese for Dummies and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Conversational Japanese and those were enough to get me started until I signed up for YesJapan.

If you’re already enrolled in some sort of Japanese class then you can just ignore the suggestions above.  You’re already ahead of the game.  Although the practical use of your Japanese lessons in real life is way different from any exercise in a classroom.

For those of you taking some sort of formal training try to find some way to practice your conversational skills because those will come in handy when you need to actually talk with a native speaker who is going at full speed speech.

Whatever your level, be confident enough to at least to want to try to speak the language before you get to Japan.

To help you out here are a few phrases that were useful during my travels:

すみません
– sumimasen
– Excuse me. / Pardon me / I’m sorry.

分かりません
– wakari masen
– I don’t understand.

英語が話せますか。
– eigo ga hanase masu ka
– Do you speak English?

日本語が話せません。
– nihongo ga hanase masen
– (I) cannot speak Japanese.

お手洗いはどこにありますか。
お手洗いはどこですか。
– otearai wa doko ni ari masu ka
– otearai wa doko desu ka.
– Where is the washroom?

切符はどこで買いますか。
– kippu wa doko de kai masu ka.
– Where do I buy a ticket?

いくらですか。
– ikura desu ka
– How much (is it) ?

クレジットカードで払ってもいいですか。
– kurejitto kaado de haratte mo ii desu ka.
– Can I pay by credit card?

What about being able to read Japanese?  It’s not absolutely necessary but the more you know the better off you are.  For the most part you can see stuff in English all over the place and at the minimum Engrish; so it’s not like you’re going to be completely lost.

Learning how to read hiragana and katakana won’t take too long. Kanji will be a bitch, but if you persist you should be able to remember what a few mean on sight.  You may not be able to read them properly but just getting the general idea of what is being said is the goal.

If all forms of verbal or written communication fail, it’s okay to point at stuff like the stupid gaijin that you are. =)