As you prepare to travel to Japan, you are probably wondering how much Japanese you will need to know to make it comfortably around all of the sites. The answer may surprise you as you pack that Japanese dictionary and download some lessons while packing your bag.
So what happens if you only speak English, how much English signage is there? Well, there is quite a bit. From train stations, airports, some restaurants, and a lot of day to day signs, there is a lot of English throughout the big cities (can’t say the same for the smaller towns) like Tokyo and Kyoto. So making your way from an airport, through the subways, and through a lot of restaurants, you will be able to make it without knowing a lot of Japanese. But just make sure your hotel speaks English if you don’t speak any Japanese, it will make the check-in process a lot easier.
Long story short and a very brief way to sum it up for the casual traveler, even if you don’t speak a word of Japanese, you will be able to navigate at least Tokyo and the larger cities without being completely lost but there is more to the story.
While you do not have to be fluent in Japanese, knowing some will help you big time on your trip. A lot of restaurants do not have English menus, so being able to converse with the staff will help you order food, drinks, and of course, ask for directions on the street or at your hotel. Even being able to speak with other people like the front desk at your hotel is a major plus (plus it shows a little respect that you want to be able to converse in their language not force the staff to know your language).
There are a lot of signs and things you won’t be able to read even if you do know some Japanese, but don’t worry. Instead, don’t panic about learning so many characters, instead, learn how to speak at least at a basic level of Hello, Thank You (SO IMPORTANT), and such. A little can go a long way in Japan.
So my advice is simple, try to learn some Japanese but don’t sweat it out if you can’t master the language. Even if it’s just the basics, you will be able to get away with just Hello and Thank You. Bring a dictionary with you and do not rely on Google translate everything, it is not always accurate (it struggles with tense and such).
And above all, don’t fear if you haven’t mastered the Japanese language, you will be able to make it Japan but will have to know how far you can go without knowing the language.