Quite a few people ask me how I manage to find so many places to visit all around Japan. Many people assume that I have an amazing grasp of the Japanese language, but the unfortunate truth is that when I first came to Japan, I could barely order anything from the local McDonald’s, let alone having to order at a sit-down restaurant. So, how exactly did I go about getting over this hurdle in my adventures across the land of the rising sun? The answer: Technology.
In today’s article, I will go over a few things that I have done in order to help get past the invisible barrier that sometimes prevents even the best of us from fully enjoying their trip abroad.
In order to provide an example, I will go over how I went about going to Hokkaido for the 2014 Snow Festival. So, the first thing you have to do is decide 「Where you want to go」. Once you decide, you need to find out how you will get there. Will it be by Car? Train? Plane? Kayak? Obviously, this depends on you, but once you make your decision, look up more information about your method of travel.
For me, I decided to go via plane, because I could not drive, and I did not have the time to take a train from Chiba to Hokkaido. Luckily, the majority of Public Transportation services in Japan have English Pages so it’s quite easy to pick and choose your own route. After a bit of research and comparing prices, I decided on a flight that departed from Haneda Airport. Now that I had my flight, it was time to search for a hotel.
All in Japanese. I could not read the majority of the page, let alone even try to navigate it. But don’t give up just yet! On the majority of these websites, there are usually links on the upper or bottom right of the page with a link to the English Version of the website.
Unfortunately, most “English” versions of some of these sites will lead you to an “About” page, with no option to make reservations. But fear not, there are other methods. If you are confident enough with reading the language, you can try to use an addon called Rikaichan. This Web Browser plug-in installs a Japanese-English Dictionary that will allow you to hover over Japanese words and kanji and translate them on the spot.
- Firefox – Rikaichan http://rikaichan.mozdev.org/
- Chrome – Rikaikun https://chrome.google.com/webstore/search/rikaikun
What’s that you say? No laptop? Or you can’t install plug-ins? Don’t worry, there are other options!
Google Translate to the rescue! Just type or copy/paste the address of website you want to translate and click on translate. This will bring up the webpage through Google Translate. As a special precaution though: This will NOT be a perfect translation and may contain errors and incorrect information. It’s use is more geared to get a gist of what it is you need to do on the site.
If you have Google Chrome installed, you’re in even better luck. On both Mobile and PC, Chrome has an internal plug-in to translate webpages. Just look in the menu for it (Mobile), or right-click on your browser (PC) and click on “Translate to English”.
As a last resort, there are always websites available fully in English to help you with accommodations all throughout Japan. One such example, that I always use, is:
So with this information, apps, and technology in your hand, you are ready to conquer the language barrier of the internet!
Now that you have your flight and hotel booked, all you need to do is pack and check in to your hotel. Great job so far, but we are not done yet. The next step in our journey is wandering around the area and getting the best tourist experience we can achieve! As always, some of the best places to go to, are the ones that hardly have any information in English. Don’t give up though! I can understand how this may be intimidating to a lot of people, but there are a few things you can do to prepare yourself in advance.
Learn the Basics:
- Learn some phrases used in ordering, or have them available
- Do as the locals do
- Scope the place out either in person, or online if applicable
“Whoa, whoa, whoa? I have to SPEAK!?”, you might be saying, but don’t worry, you can cheat and be prepared as long as you have a cellphone or phrase book with you. There are many wonderful applications for cell phones that will help us.
- Kanji Recognizer – Allows you to try to draw the Kanji to find it’s meaning. Will allow you to copy and paste it into another application for complex Kanji words.
- WWWJDIC – Provides examples of the usage of words
- Aedict – The bread and butter. Allows you to search for words in Japanese and English, as well as example phrases.
- Google Translate – Allows you to translate simple phrases, but has a life saving feature of Voice Recognition.
How are these helpful? Aedict allows you to look up words and examples, one at a time, so you can have your own personal phrase book with you at a moments notice. If you have a little more knowledge about Japanese, Kanji Recognizer will help you with times when only Kanji is used in menus or directions. Having a hard time with getting the kanji down? Google Translate can take a picture and try to decipher it, or even full paragraphs. If you want more example phrases/definitions, you can look them up with WWWJDIC.
If you use an Apple device, you can download Google Translate to help you with some of the above as well. If you have any other apps for iOS, please leave a comment below and I will add it here.
Now that you have all these apps in your repertoire, you are ready to get your grub on in just about every place you see! For me, I wanted to go to the famous Sapporo Beer Garden and eat at the restaurant. Using the tools and apps I mentioned in this article, I was able to visit their website, find their address, as well as how to get there. Once there, I was able to look at my phone and point to phrases to get what I wanted and thanks to the patience of the staff, I was able to have their phrases translated. Mind you, this is the worst case scenario. You will be surprised how far a smile and just pointing at things will get you.
And that’s that. Using the technology available to me, I have been able to eat at amazing restaurants, take trips to remote locations in Japan, and find the paths least traveled. With the technology available to us in this day and age, the language barriers all around the world will soon become a distant memory. So get on out there and explore, travel, and live!