Tokyo is one of Japan’s most famous and beautiful cities. However, it can be intimidating to go to any country if you don’t know the native language. Since Tokyo is a thriving city with millions of people, it’s important to know if you need to speak Japanese or if you will pass with English.
You can go to Tokyo without speaking Japanese because many of the main transportation signs are in English. Tokyo is one of the best cities for English speakers because many of its inhabitants deal with tourists daily. If you have trouble, you can use a smartphone’s translation services.
Throughout this article, you’ll learn how difficult it is to go to Tokyo without speaking Japanese, what you can do about it, and how common English is in the country. Enjoy!
How Difficult is Visiting Tokyo Without Speaking Japanese?
It’s not difficult to visit Tokyo without speaking Japanese because there are more than enough English speakers and signs with translations. However, leaving the most populated parts of the city will make it more challenging for those who don’t speak Japanese. You can learn a handful of words to make it a bit easier on yourself.
Boutique Japan provides several must-know sayings for travellers, including:
- What Time Is It?: Ima Nanji Desu ka?
- Thank You: Arigatou Gozaimasu
- Where is the (blank)?: (Blank) wa Doko Desu ka?
- Hello: Konnichiwa
- Toilet: Toire
While you don’t need to know all of these phrases, they will make you feel much more comfortable in a foreign location. You could also show them the words on flashcards or your smartphone.
Can You Get By With English in Tokyo?
You can get by with English in Tokyo if you stay in the most populated areas. Tokyo is loaded with tourist attractions and local shops directed toward English speakers. Many of them have English translations, and some of the people speak English fluently. You can also speak with police officers since many of them have to know English.
If you’re really worried about not knowing Japanese on your first trip to Tokyo, you can consult a professional translator. That being said, you’ll likely not need expert assistance in most parts of Tokyo and other major cities in Japan. Tourists boost the economy by quite a bit, so local shops, restaurants, and other places you spend money will want to speak your language.
However, you might feel more comfortable speaking to people who understand English fluently. If you want to know how often you’ll encounter an English speaker in Tokyo, read on.
How Common is English in Tokyo?
English is quite common in Tokyo since a lot of tourists and business people visit frequently. According to Japan Starts Here, Tokyo has one of the highest concentrations of English speakers in the country. From the outdoor food stops to the various marketplaces, you’ll find plenty of English speakers and signs.
Keep in mind that many travellers stay long-term. Tokyo is a bustling city with a thriving nightlife. Americans, Europeans, and everyone in between wants to visit Tokyo. You’ll likely encounter other travellers who speak your language. There are plenty of apps to find people to explore the city with for the day.
For example, Meet Up is an excellent app and website for matching travellers with similar interests. You can attend local events, explore the city together, or plan outdoor adventures. Choose your desired city (Tokyo in this instance), then search through the members and nearby events.
What to Know Before Visiting Tokyo as a Non-Native Speaker
Before visiting Tokyo as a non-native speaker, it’s important to know which phrases are necessary for tourists, how to get around, and what places are best for your native language. It’s also best to carry a map and visit tourist destinations since there’s a higher chance of meeting someone who speaks English.
Here’s an in-depth look at each of these details:
- Learn a handful of local phrases to ask for food, bathroom locations, etc. We’ve already come up with some of the phrases that can make everything easier when you’re visiting Tokyo. These sayings are essential if you want to leave the tourist areas, especially if you stay in a local hotel or motel.
- Find out where you need to go for public transportation ahead of time. The Real Japan mentions most train stations in Tokyo have English translations on the signs, not to mention the translated announcements. You’ll have no problem using the busiest bullet trains and buses in Tokyo for the most part.
- Stay in the most popular areas for tourists if you’re worried about not understanding anything in Tokyo. Tokyo is packed with hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, and many other destinations for people who don’t speak Japanese. While most of them primarily speak the language, they often cater to English speakers, too.
- Bring a map of the city to find out where you want to go on your travels. Try the Michelin Streetwise Tokyo Map. It comes with English translations to help you get around Tokyo. It also marks hotels, restaurants, and other important locations. It even includes highlighted regions for English speakers.
- Consider visiting tourist attractions, main city streets, town halls, and so on. These places are much more likely to have English translations and people who speak different languages. As mentioned above, many Tokyo police officers speak a little bit of English because they deal with tourists.
Visiting Tokyo without speaking Japanese doesn’t have to be difficult. While it’ll undoubtedly be a bit more challenging than those who know the language, you can get along just fine with English. Once you familiarize yourself with local phrases, you can dive deeper into the city and learn more about Tokyo’s unique culture.
Speaking Japanese in Tokyo would definitely make everything easier, but you don’t need to know the native language to have a good trip. Follow the signs with English on them, use your phone’s translation services, and consider learning a few local phrases for words you might need to use daily.