When you head to Japan, are you going to be heading off on the adventure tour of a lifetime? Or is your plan to escape into the temples and mountains? Or maybe you fully intend to spend your entire time in Tokyo poking around that amazing city and seeing everything you can find.
If you don’t speak Japanese, your best option will be to find a tour group or Japanese speaking travel partner to explore with. Although generally known as being very friendly and well educated, you will regularly find yourself struggling to be understood in a country where only around 30% of the population can speak or understand basic English (although this is still a significantly higher percentage than the number of American’s who speak Japanese).
While you will find the majority of tourist destinations and major hotels will have someone available who can communicate in English, if you are wanting to explore the “hidden” parts of Japan, then the language could become a barrier. This is where it might be a good idea to talk to a specialist tour company such as All Japan Tours who can assist you in planning the perfect vacation, without running into any issues with language, breach of cultural etiquette, or general communication difficulties.
Understanding And Appreciating The Culture
One of the main reasons to go to Japan is to have your life enriched by being exposed to the Japanese culture. Most countries around the world have a mixed and varied history, often with a very multicultural modern society. Whereas Japan has managed to hold onto many of the old traditions, and with quite strict immigration laws, the majority of people living in Japan are of Japanese heritage.
Some of the more common areas where you may find that culture starts to interfere with communication and understanding is with the formality of the Japanese culture and their contentless with silence. You may also find that many Japanese people do not express their emotions as clearly on their faces, which can be a hurdle to try and get over when you are attempting to judge a facial expression to get an understanding of the conversation.
If you take the traditional tea ceremony as an example of the differences between American and Japanese culture, the conscious and deliberate actions, the awareness of the participants comfort, the contentment in silence; these may be a little at odds to someone from a culture where to put someone at their ease is done more by talking and getting them to talk about themselves in a general manner.
Taking The Tourist Route Or Finding The Hidden Japan?
Everyone loves to find something ‘secret’ or hidden, to discover something completely off the beaten track when they’re visiting a new place. However, there is a reason why tourists go to the same spots on mass – and in Japan you will often find that these tourist spots are equally enjoyed by the locals, holidaying Japanese tourists, as well as foreign tourists.
Places like The Imperial Palace, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Osaka Castle are tourist destinations for obvious reasons, and they rarely fail to be truly awe-inspiring. While other popular destinations such as visiting the snow monkeys, the Koraku-en garden in Okayama or the Kawachi Wisteria Garden can have more varied reactions depending on the weather, time of day and time of year. When you are planning your trip talk to your tour guide before you book in for any tourist destinations to ensure that you are going to be heading in during the right time to get the best experience.
Getting Lost In Tokyo
If you have managed to learn quite a bit of Japanese before your big trip, then a solo tour of Tokyo might be fun, but until you are truly comfortable with your language skills it is a good idea to start with just the main spots and navigate the public transportation before you start trying to navigate the ‘hidden’ back alleys of a major city.
You will be probably quite surprised at how many truly unique Japanese experiences you can have without needing to wander too far off the beaten path. Tokyo is known for its niche cafes, unique museums and love of technology, so finding a café where all the servers are robots, a hotel where you sleep in a room not much bigger than a coffin or a museum that focuses solely on the development of anime are all possible.