ABC of traveling in Japan without speaking Japanese (a review of Rob Dyer’s eBook called “How To Travel In Japan Without Speaking Japanese”)
I was reading Rob’s book on a plane… flying out of Japan. Logically speaking it should be the other way around, right? Unfortunately, I found his book in the last days of my extended trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. Fortunately, though, I can confirm that it is definitely possible to travel in Japan without speaking Japanese.
Interestingly, this reading timing mishap gave me a chance to test the book from a different perspective. Page after page, I was reliving my so recent experiences: sometimes with a nod – yes, that’s exactly what happened; sometimes with regret of not having a resource like this book on hand to sort out an issue right away. It was an unexpectedly touching journey down the memory lane that was so fresh it hasn’t even become a real past yet.
I would recommend “How To Travel In Japan Without Speaking Japanese” to any person planning to visit the country. Moreover, I would emphasize the importance of actually reading it without skipping pages or even chapters, as we all do every once in a while, just because they are not applicable to your tentative itinerary. You never know what might happen. If your plane arrived late and you missed your connection (i.e., a bus, a train or even a hired car), would you want to frantically try to figure out what to do or, armed with the knowledge from this book, make an educated decision?
Undoubtedly, you will be using public transportation in Japan. Figuring out how to use buses or trams is not exactly rocket science. I am living proof of that. However, there were a few embarrassing moments that could be avoided if I had an opportunity to read the “Using buses” chapter explaining the ticketing system. Also, I want to stress out the importance of getting an IC card. It is a lifesaver for anybody who is using public transit. With this card in your pocket, you do not need to worry about a price of a ticket – just swipe (or touch) it and off you go.
The book offers sound advice about interaction with locals. Eating out, asking for help when Google maps brought you to a post office instead of a grocery store, going off-the-beaten-path – in all these cases communication is the key. Japanese people could be extremely helpful even without speaking a word of English. It’s not uncommon when a person would drop whatever s/he was doing, and not only point you in the right direction, but walk with you making sure that you got to your destination.
One day, I went to see a shrine in a small town near Nara. I came late, so it was almost closing time. A groundskeeper graciously let me in and, without asking any questions, gave a tour of the place. Considering that he knew just a few English words, and my Japanese is limited to arigato and konnichiwa, it went exceptionally well. A smile and a friendly attitude go a long way. Back to the book, Rob explains cultural differences and possible pitfalls of communications with Japanese people.
The bottom line, “How To Travel In Japan Without Speaking Japanese” is a great resource for a first time visitor before and during a visit to the country. Reading it during a planning stage of your trip would allow you to perfect your itinerary; using it during the trip would help to make your visit even more enjoyable.
You can find more about my trip to Japan by browsing these articles.