I was not going to cover this topic since it had already been done before in the pre-trip planning series of articles. However, one of our long time readers did bring it up on our Twitter account and since it is another frequently asked question why not go over it again?
Do you need to know how to communicate in Japanese to get around in Japan? Well ultra serious weaboos would probably tell you it is an essential in order to survive. You don’t want to be a dumb gaijin tourist saying stuff like Chris Tucker’s classic line in Rush Hour do you?
Those of us who live more grounded lives realize that we all live in the age of smart devices and translation apps. With that in mind one does not necessarily need to be fluent in Japanese and it is possible to just get away with relying on technology for communication. If you want to install some apps on your phone and/or tablet you can give these a try:
- Imiwa (iOS)
- Yomiwa iOS)
- Google Translate (iOS) (Android)
- Coori’s Japanese/English Dictionary (iOS) (Android)
- VoiceTra (iOS) (Android)
Of course these types of apps come with some catches. The first is cost. Yes, you might have to spend money to get them. The second factor to consider is that the apps may not be entirely accurate when it comes to grammar. Which might be a major factor for having at least some basic knowledge of Japanese (either through some sort of structured course or self-learning) so you don’t end up saying something incorrect or inappropriate. Thirdly, some apps may require an active data connection to enable some functionality or to work at all.
If you wish to stick with using an app for communication Google Translate is probably the one to go with. It’s not perfect but it will get you through most situations. Given that it is probably best to not completely trust technology you are better off having some simple phrases in your pocket in case you have to use them:
- 20 Japanese Phrases to Use When Traveling
- Useful Japanese Phrases for Tourists
- Japanese Language Cheat Sheet
- List of Basic Words and Phrases for Tourists going to Japan
- Japanese for Dummies
NOTE: The above list are just a few examples of very simple things you can memorize and recite when needed. You probably want to invest in some language study time if you want to get into more complex interactions.
If you choose to speak you must also be ready for a response. Conversation is usually a two way thing after all. Any replies you get to your queries will normally come at you at the faster normal conversation pace. Which for some might be like someone talking to you at a mile a minute. Should you not get very far verbally you can take solace in the fact that you at least made the effort before grabbing your phone to bail you out of a language jam.
A last resort is to use a little bit of sign language (not real sign language but you know, pointing at stuff) and some very basic English. It might seem a bit crude and time consuming, but if you remain calm and do your best to keep things simple you might be able to slowly cross the bridge of communication.