Table of Contents Hide
So you’ve got your eyes set on Japan but don’t know a lick of Japanese – will that be a problem?
Japan is known for having one of the most homogeneous cultures in the world. A whopping 98.5% of the country’s residents are Japanese, and with that comes a large population of Japanese speakers.
Just how important is it to know Japanese before moving to the country?
Read on to find out if it’s doable to live in Japan without knowing the language.
Can you survive in Japan only speaking English?
Can you survive? Yes.
But can you thrive?
Japan is an increasingly open country that is looking to attract more foreign workers and visitors, and with that comes the fact that more and more areas in Japan are taking strides to make life easier for those foreign workers and tourists.
English speakers benefit from the fact that English has become the language of travel. No matter where you are in the world, if there is an important sign in the local language, chances are it is in English as well.
Companies and local governments are really making a push to be more attractive to outsiders, so they are taking steps to become more accommodating, especially in the language aspect.
While English is by no means widely spoken in the country, it is estimated that 30% of Japanese residents know at least some English.
As technology becomes more advanced it is that much easier to get around without knowing the local language.
Translation apps can create translations instantaneously, and there are now fancy devices that can translate speech in real-time as well.
Can you work in Japan without knowing Japanese?
It is definitely possible to work in Japan without knowing Japanese, but options will be limited as for working in Japan without a degree.
One of the most common jobs for those looking to work in Japan is being an English teacher. Most schools and companies do not require their foreign teachers to know Japanese – in fact, they prefer it if you don’t. When the teacher can’t switch to the student’s native language to explain harder topics, the students benefit from truly having to grasp the material in their target language.
It can be easy to secure a position teaching English, but it is not one that pays handsomely, and there is often little room for growth.
If you’re looking to have a well-paying job and room for advancement, it would do well to learn Japanese.
Can you travel in Japan without knowing Japanese?
If you’re only looking to stay in the country for a brief amount of time, it is not necessary to learn the language.
That being said, it is always good to put in some effort to learn at least the basics.
The Japanese are known for their highly effective public transportation. That coupled with the fact that modern technology exists actually makes Japan an easy place to travel to without knowing the native language.
Translation apps and maps can be easily reached from your phone, making it easy to get from one place to the next.
Japanese people are also incredibly friendly to tourists and are known for helping out lost travelers. If your phone happens to die or lose service, consider asking a local for directions. They may even take you where you need to be!
Tips for living in Japan without knowing the language
Learning any language is difficult, and it gets even harder when learning a language so different from your native one.
If you decide not to learn the language of your new country there are a few steps you can take to make your life easier.
Establish a community of expats
Foreigners living in Japan for a long period of time can be considered expats. There are communities of people that can be found for any reason, and the home country is one of them. Join one of these communities to hang out with people from your home country. Not only will you have shared experiences, but most importantly you will have shared language.
If you don’t know the language, using translation apps will be essential. Make sure you always have enough data and charge before stepping out, because you could be using your phone more than you think. It is easier than ever to accomplish any task from your phone, so it is possible to achieve all that you need to in Japan through modern technology.
Befriend those who are bilingual
This is the best of both worlds. There aren’t a large number of Japanese citizens who are fluent in English as well, but they do exist. Befriend someone you can talk to regularly, and through your connections you can watch your life in Japan flourish.