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7 tips you should know about communication with Japanese people in English

7 tips you should know about communication with Japanese people in English Culture, Etiquette

Do you know the common troubles that foreign tourists have while they travel around in Japan?

Tourists mostly felt the communication trouble with Japanese people according to the Japan Tourism Agency’s survey.

It is true that most Japanese people hardly speak English ( or other languages ).

Although you find a Japanese who can speak English or is not shy to speak English, you might still have trouble understanding the poor pronunciation.

My husband brought me to his online meeting with Japanese businessmen the other day, even I had trouble understanding his English pronunciation. ( I have a Japanese accent too, but much better than him. Hoping…)

Luckily, we have wonderful technology in this era, you just use translation apps on your phone to have conversations with local people without carrying a heavy thick Japanese guide book or a dictionary.

Now let’s think about it negatively.

If you can’t have an internet connection or the battery is died without a guide book, and a dictionary, what are you going to do?

Japan Tourism Agency asked foreign tourists when and what kind of situations they had trouble communicating with Japanese people In the same survey.

  • When communicating with employees in the facilities.
  • Not many restaurants and food courts didn’t have English (and other languages) menus
  • When they need an explanation of how to eat Japanese dishes.
  • Public transportations in the countryside, or especially on the bus, have been delayed to support international tourists in English

Based on opinions from tourists, many shops, restaurants, and facilities have installed hand-size translators for employees, especially for moving the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and 2025 Osaka Expo.

Even you might want to have communication with local people to emphasize your trip.

So, what you should do to reduce misunderstandings when you communicate with Japanese people.

Do not speak fast


Most Japanese people don’t get used to native speed English. Do not speak fast, speak verrrrrrry slowly.

Do not use a long sentence

Even you speak English very slowly to the Japanese people, it might freak them out. For Japanese people, it is very hard to listen to English liaison (link words) syllables.

The Japanese may get confused because they don’t know what to do for you. Don’t forget, the Japanese are shy.

Only you can do so far, repeat just “words” or “short sentences” only.

For example,

“Can I use a credit card here?” = “Credit card?” or “credit card, OK?”

“Could I have some water?” = “Water?” or “Water, please”

Where is the restroom / the nearest station / the convenience store? = ” (the) restroom (toilets)?” “Where?” “(the) station? ” “Where?” “(the) convenience store? ” “Where?”

*The Japanese language does not have an article, so you can skip it if you can ignore the strange sounds for you.

Learn some Japanese words before your trip

To salute for your trip, to have fun, to have more experiences, use a little bit of your effort to learn some Japanese words.

In my opinion, I feel getting close to foreigners if they speak even only one word in Japanese.

Only one word makes a sparkle between each other, it doesn’t have to be related in the conversation.

Don’t get scared, you already know some Japanse words,

  • Kawaii
  • Sayonara
  • Ninja
  • dashi
  • Umami
  • Miso soup
  • Ramen
  • Sushi
  • pokemon
  • Pikachu
  • Kon Mari

Do not make eye contacts for a long time

I know it sounds strange, but Japanese people tend to not make eye contact with each other. Keeping looking their eyes for a long time, it might get them nervous. I do not say, you have to try not to make eye contact with them, but do not stare at their eyes for a long time.

Use body language

Non-verbal communication is a global language.

Just use your body language. It will also bring smiles to both when you and the Japanese can understand each other.

The American friend of mine took my husband’s daughter to a tattoo shop in Japan a few years ago. Both hardly spoke Japanese, and the tattoo shop owner couldn’t speak English. His daughter wanted a tattoo in which three birds are frying, so a friend of mine moved her both arms, you know, pretended she was a bird and kept saying “Three birds” “frying”. The owner started laughing, so did them.

Give them hints

Even though Japanese people want to help you or answer your questions, they might not know the English vocabulary for it.

It is like a word guessing game, suggest some vocabularies from you.

Do not misunderstand their reaction

Japanese people are shy, don’t express much and don’t say anything directly sometimes.

You might feel they are unfriendly.

However, they are not, ( well, some people are, but that kind of people are everywhere even around you, right? ) just they get freaked out when you talk to them in English.

They might keep smiling instead of saying words, this means they are in a panic.

Japanese people are polite and nice, just they can not say what to do for you honestly.

Also, do not misunderstand when you hear “Hah?” “Ay?” from them. It might sound rude for you in English, but these mean the same as “Pardon?” “Sorry?”.

In conclusion

If you have trouble communicating with Japanese people during traveling around Japan, I believe that the troubles will become good memories in the end.

Why do you want to travel?

Because you want to have experiences of different cultures in different countries, right?

The Japan Tourism Agency’s survey also shows,

many international tourists DIDN’T HAVE TROUBLES during their trip.

If you remember most Japanse people hardly speak English and very shy, you don’t have to be disappointed and find other ways to communicate with them.

The survey says more than half of the tourists used translation apps when they had trouble with Japanese people. Japanese is one of the difficult languages to learn in the world so that I highly recommend to get translation apps on your device.

There are translate apps that you can still use offline, such as Google translate app, but only text translation is available.

If you want to use apps that I ( native Japanese speaker ) recommend, get a sim card or pocket wifi to connect networks during your trip to Japan.

Culture, Etiquette
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