Posted by Sean Thompson

How to survive in Japan when you don’t speak the language.

Language is generally a verbal expression of a culture. The Japanese language is a stand alone. It has no connection to other languages. Japan was closed off from the world from 1639 to 1855 allowing a unique language and culture to flourish.

If you’re planning a trip to Japan and don’t speak the language, you’ll need to practice some basic phrases and it would be best to do this with a Japanese person to get your pronunciation down. You’ll need to communicate well enough to eat, find a place to sleep and stay safe. Phrase books have come a long way and can be very useful as can books with pictures depicting common travelling needs. You can load your smartphone with excellent language apps.

Day tours are also useful to get your bearings and provide an opportunity to ask those questions that you need answered. Your tour guide will likely be fluent in English and Japanese.

Japanese people tend to be conservative but they enjoy humour so don’t be afraid to use hand gestures and sounds to illustrate what you’re after. Laughter is universal and can be a great tool for the traveller.

You’ll also attract people to you because you look different. They’ll want to practice their English on you.

There are some cultural practices you should be aware of if you’re going to Japan. Here are a few of the majors that every traveller should be aware of.

There’s No Tipping
Don’t you love this country already? If you try to tip it could be considered an insult. The price is the price. This holds true for any service in Japan.

Take Your Shoes Off
Guests are expected to remove footwear before they enter homes, businesses and hotels. There’ll be a place to put your shoes and often slippers are provided. (This country is super clean).

The Bow
Travellers can simply bow their heads in greeting. It’s interesting that there are different bows given depending on social status. A traveller doesn’t need to worry about this. Addressing a person with respect is important. The suffix ‘san’ is generally attached to last names.

Eating Out
Making loud noises while eating is totally acceptable. It shows appreciation. Try to learn how to use chopsticks before you get there. It’s completely acceptable to raise food bowls to your mouth, making it easier to use the chopsticks.

Keep A Low Profile
Japanese culture focuses on group behavior while western cultures focus on the individual. This translates to some behaviour modifications for the western traveller. Don’t use cell phones in crowded public areas, don’t eat while walking around and don’t be noisy. Don’t let your behaviour make you stand out.

Japan has so many interesting traditions and customs. We’ve touched on a few but you’ll discover so much more if you go.