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White Japanese Spitz reading a book with glasses = Shutterstock

Language! 3 things to remember when speaking to Japanese people

Many Japanese people are not good at using English. For this reason, people who come to Japan cannot communicate well with Japanese people. Foreigners sometimes wonder how to ask anyone for help when they get lost or need information. When they go to a small town or village they can’t easily communicate with people at a restaurant or even a hotel. In Japan, What can you do to communicate with people in Japan? I recommend the following three things.

Let's say "Sumimasen"

When you first speak to a Japanese person you don’t know, you should first use the following Japanese phrase.


This has a similar meaning to “Excuse me” or “Sorry (to bother you)” in English. In Japanese, this phrase is used quite often. “Sumimasen” is can also be used as “thank you” or used to call for assistance at a shop or restaurant. This phrase is very useful when you want to get someone’s attention.

Generally, people from Japan are not good at speaking English. However, if you say “Sumimasen” to a Japanese person they will stop and listen to what you have to say. Japanese people are kind and welcoming to foreign people so please feel free to use “Sumimasen” if you need help. Don’t forget to thank someone for listening as well. Don’t worry. Japanese people understand how to say “Thank you” in English so they will understand your gratitude.


Write letters on paper

The Japanese are shy, but when you are in trouble, we will help you. = Shutterstock

The Japanese are shy, but when you are in trouble, we will help you. = Shutterstock

When trying to communicate with someone in Japanese it may be beneficial to write your question on paper to show to whoever you are speaking with. For example, writing a simple sentence out such as “Where is Shibuya station?” or “Is this train going to Ginza?” can help someone better understand what you are trying to say.

Most Japanese adults can read simple sentences when they are written this way. You can also draw simple pictures or maps with each other. If you happen to be able to write Chinese characters you can try that method of communication as well. We will not be bothered with your questions so please give it a try!


Use translation services: google, Pocketalk, ili etc.

Let's use translation applications

When you come to Japan please speak to Japanese people when you can. For convenience, you can try to use a simple translation service. There are two services I can recommend.

The first one, Google Translate, is a translation application. You can put this app onto your smartphone before travelling and use it when you’re on the go and need assistance.

After using many translation applications myself I found that Microsoft Translator is another service that can make accurate translations between English and Japanese.

>> Click here for details on Google Translate application

>> Click here for the details of the Microsoft Translator application


Small translation machines are also available

The second service I can recommend is the use of a small translation machine. These devices allow you to speak into it and will give you real-time translations. I can recommend the following two:

>> Click here for details of "pocketalk"

>> Click here for details of "ili"

These translators are being handled by rental shops for Wi-Fi routers in Japan. Below is an example of one of these rental shops.

>> Click here for details on "NINJA WiFi"

>> Click here for details on "Tokyo Speed Wi-Fi"

Before coming to Japan it is a good idea to make a plan on how you might wish to communicate if you should ever need to do so.

Again, Japanese people are very friendly and would be happy to communicate any way you can.


Recommended Videos: Enjoy communication in Japan!


I appreciate you reading to the end.


About me

Bon KUROSAWA  I have long worked as a senior editor for Nihon Keizai Shimbun (NIKKEI) and currently work as an independent web writer. At NIKKEI, I was the editor-in-chief of the media on Japanese culture. Let me introduce a lot of fun and interesting things about Japan. Please refer to this article for more details.


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