September 19, 2019

Is It Difficult Traveling in Japan without Japanese?

September 27th is World Tourism Day! If you are making a bucket list of the places you want to visit at some point in your life and Japan is not on it, it should be!

Japan is fast becoming one of the popular international holiday destinations. Approximately 30 million tourists visited Japan last year* from all over the world; this number has more than doubled in the last three years. The Japanese government is targeting to increase the number to 40 million by 2020 when the country hosts the Olympics.

japan 2-1

Although, one thing people may be worrying is the language barrier. Earlier this year, a neighbor stopped me and asked my opinion whether he and his wife would be okay on their upcoming Japan vacation when they understood no Japanese.

In fact, a survey in 2017 found that communication issues were the biggest problem for tourists visiting Japan from overseas. To face these issues, Japan has been challenging themselves to up their training for tour guides and interpreters, and opening a call center to help tourists in different languages.

japan information center

Not only the government, but the travel industry and local businesses have worked hard to turn Japan into a more attractive destination for travelers. One of the efforts is to provide multilingual information at local transportation routes and sightseeing spots.


You can pick up a colorful informative tourist map in English at any information center or from a stand at street corners around tourist sites. Even in a very small town, English signs are being installed in railway stations and bus terminals. Many vending machines to purchase tickets “speak” English as an option. In the more popular tourist locations, now the train announcements are in English as well as in Japanese.

japan food sample

If you would like to dine at large chain restaurants you will be fine because generally their menus show pictures of the dishes and are offered in English or you can find plastic models on display at the entrance. Local diners are following them to make the menus more visitor-friendly by showing pictures, as well as having them translated through online translating services.

japan menu


Since the Japanese do not expect foreigners to speak or read Japanese, they are patient enough to hear your requests. Using the traditional traveller’s toolkit of pointing and hand gestures are always very effective when traveling in Japan.

The neighbor stopped me once again yesterday to show me the photos he and his wife took in Kyoto and Tokyo. I asked him if there were any communication issues. “Some,” he said. “But, people in Japan seemed so attuned to others' needs, so it was the best place in the world to get lost!”

If you have never wondered about visiting Japan, it’s about time!

japan fuji

*source : Japan National Tourism Organization 


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