How to communicate well with Japanese people when traveling to Japan

How to communicate well with Japanese people when traveling to Japan

Table of Contents


1: Conversations with people when traveling are easy to remember

2: Prerequisites for communicating with Japanese people

3: Places where communication is easy

4: Communication in restaurants


1: Conversations with people when traveling are easy to remember

Are your memories of travel the scenery or the conversations you have with people on the road? For me, my more vivid travel memories are conversations with people.

In Taiwan, where I have traveled and made business trips nearly 50 times, I have many memories of conversations with taxi drivers and casual conversations at street stalls and snack stalls (such as minced pork rice, beef noodles, xiaolongbao (soup dumplings), oyster omelet, etc.)

In Hong Kong, where I stayed for three years for work and visited once every three months on business, I remember lively conversations at dim sum stalls and restaurants on Lamma Island. I was also impressed by the lively conversations at dim sum restaurants and waterfront restaurants on Lamma Island and Lantau Island.

Like in Hong Kong in Singapore, where I stayed on business trips and for work, I remember the lively conversations at hawkers and other places more clearly than the scenery, such as the Merlion.


In addition to the attraction of eating and drinking, such as takoyaki (octopus dumplings), another reason for Osaka’s popularity with foreign tourists (the number one destination for foreign visitors in 2019) is that locals are friendly and approachable to foreign visitors. This friendliness is a characteristic of Osaka, a town of business.


2: Prerequisites for communicating with Japanese people

In this article, I would like to share how to communicate with the Japanese people well and efficiently, having traveled to more than 40 foreign countries and all the prefectures of Japan. This skill is beneficial when traveling in rural areas of Japan.

Even if Japanese people are interested in foreign tourists, they are shy and need more confidence in their language skills. Hence, creating a system for communicating with Japanese people is essential.

The prerequisites for communicating with the Japanese are listed below.


1: Smile
The minimum requirement is a smile. It is difficult to communicate without a smile in any country.

2: Learn simple Japanese
Learning the three Japanese words ‘Konnichiwa,’ ‘arigato’ (thank you), and ‘yummy’ (delicious) will make communication easier.

3: If possible, learn simple dialects
The Japanese words ‘Konnichiwa’ (hello), ‘Arigato’ (thank you), and ‘Oishii’ (delicious) are standard Japanese. Japan has many dialects, and it will be easier to communicate with locals if you learn the dialect of the place you visit. People from any region will be happy to learn their local language from a foreigner.

4: Say your country of origin
Always say your country of origin at the beginning of a conversation. Knowing your country of origin allows the Japanese to use what they know about your country in conversation. In particular, if there are famous tourist attractions, sports players, singers, actors or actresses, you can also talk about them. It may stimulate further conversation.

5: Go to places with fewer foreign tourists
If you go to a place with many foreign tourists, it will be difficult for Japanese people to communicate with you as you will be amongst the rest of the crowd. Osaka is an exceptional place where you can communicate even if there are many tourists due to the open-mindedness of the Osaka people.

6: Using trains and local buses
If you rent a car or take a group bus, you will not have the opportunity to come into contact with the locals. Use railways and local buses to increase your chances of coming into contact with locals. Bicycle rental and walking on foot are also good opportunities to contact locals.



3: Places where communication is easy

1: Tourist information centres
Tourist information centers can be found in many rural areas. The staff at tourist information centers are relatively familiar with foreign tourists; some speak English and other languages. First, ask questions about local tourism at tourist information centers and learn about the area. It is also a good idea to ask the locals at the tourist information center about popular places to eat, drink and eat and ask them to write this down on a piece of paper. This can lead to conversations at restaurants, which will be discussed later.

2: Hotels and inns
Hotels and inns are also good places to communicate. As with tourist information centers, it is a good idea to ask locals about popular places to eat, drink and eat and have them write it down on paper.

3: Sightseeing spots
Many Japanese people visit tourist attractions such as shrines, temples, art galleries, and museums. Find a Japanese person you feel comfortable talking to there and ask to have your photograph taken. After having your photo taken, say thank you, mention your country of origin as described above, and ask about popular local restaurants, food, and drink, which will increase the chances of communication. If kind enough, they may write their recommendations for restaurants, food, and drinks on paper.

4: Restaurants
As I mentioned at the beginning of this section, it was in restaurants that I communicated with a lot in foreign countries. Because everyone is relaxed after spending a certain amount of time in the same restaurant and eating a good meal, there are more opportunities for conversation. In any country, restaurants are excellent places to communicate with locals.

However, in Japan, many foreign tourists are hesitant to enter a crowded restaurant because they are concerned that they cannot order if they go to a restaurant that only offers a Japanese menu. If you go to a restaurant with only a Japanese menu, order food and drinks recommended by tourist information centers or tourist attractions. Furthermore, ask the restaurant if they have any recommendations. If there is something you cannot eat for allergic or religious reasons, you must inform them in advance. (This may be easier to convey to the waiter if you have prepared illustrations or photographs before your trip and shown them to him or her.)



4: Communication in restaurants

A few other innovations are necessary

1: Sit at the counter
Counter seating is recommended if one or two people are traveling together. If you are seated at the counter, you have a much better chance of communicating with the chef or other restaurant staff over the counter, even if you do not speak Japanese. Also, because of the close distance, your chances of communicating with the locals sitting next to you will be higher than at a table.

2: If you are seated at a table or on a tatami floor, choose a seat near the counter
If there are three or more people, you are more likely to be seated at a table or in a tatami room. In this case, if you are seated at the back of the restaurant, your chances of communicating with the waiter and other customers will be significantly reduced. If possible, choose a seat near the counter and the entrance to get closer to the waiters and other customers. In Japan and other countries, seating away from the entrance is superior, but a counter near the entrance is easier to communicate with. However, in some restaurants, a counter is located at the back, so sitting near the counter at the back is recommended.


3: Ask for local food and drinks that locals enjoy, such as local cuisine and local sake
Order food and drinks that have been written down on paper at tourist information centers and tourist attractions. When served local food or sake, say “delicious” loudly and cheerfully. It is even better if it is in the local dialect, meaning ‘delicious.’

4: Actively ask what the locals are eating
If you see locals enjoying a local dish or local sake that you don’t know about, ask them what it is. If they tell you, thank them and order from the waiter, saying ‘Thank you’ and ‘I would like to order that too.’ After eating the food, say, “Delicious. Thank you”. The locals and the waiter will appreciate it.

5: If you like a restaurant, go to it more than once
If you find an eatery you like, go there several times for lunch, dinner, etc., as you get to know the staff better and are more likely to strike up a conversation with the locals, although only if you are staying in the same place for more than two or three days. I have experienced this several times, and it is a very effective way of communicating.


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