Japanese are not good at “English”|Warning and Advisory


Many Japanese learn to read and write English in compulsory education, but they are not very good at speaking English. Japanese can’t understand it unless it’s a slow and simple English expression, so I recommend using a translation app to ask questions as well.

Attention and Disclaimer

・This information is current as of August 2023.
・Please contact each public transportation(Fujikyu RailwayJR East Kofu) or Yamanashi Tourism Association(Link) for details.
・The information in this article is written voluntarily by a local resident who has lived in Yamanashi for 16 years over. Please forgive us if there are any mistakes in the English expression.

When ask for directions to some place

When asking how to get to sightseeing spots, stations, and shops, you should use Google Maps.

Many Japanese people cannot understand what is said in English, but they can read and write English, Japanese people can answer questions by showing them maps and notes.

Some Japanese people are so shy and unsure of themselves that they avoid being spoken to by foreigners. Asking a young Japanese person is more likely to answer your question than asking an elderly or middle-aged person.

Use Google Translate(Camera) or Google Lens

Most of the shop menus and information are in Japanese only. Even if it is written in English, the translation may be wrong. It is often prepared by elderly people who are not good at English, and it is often not an accurate expression or word.

Google Translate

In that case, it is more accurate to use the camera translation of the Google Translate app.

Google Lens

You may also use Google Lens’s character recognition feature. It can be translated almost in real time, and it is easier than asking Japanese people who are not good at English.

You need Paper and Pen

Almost all Japanese can write letters and can draw maps. Young Japanese can also use Google Map Street View.

Google Map

If you have a smartphone, paper, and a pen, Japanese people could be able to answer your questions sincerely, even if they can’t communicate well in English.

First Japanese, Second English

The first word you speak to a Japanese person should be Japanese. Japanese people don’t feel confident if they speak to you in English from the beginning, but if they think you’re a foreigner who understands even a little Japanese, they might be able to answer your questions.

Common Japanese words to use when talking to others are as follows.

  • すみません、ちょっとよろしいですか?道を聞きたいのですが。
    (Pronunciation:sumi-ma-sen,chotto,yoro-shi desu-ka.michi-wo-kikitai-no-desuga.)
    Excuse me, do you have a minute? I’d like to ask for directions.
  • すみません、少しお聞きしたいのですが、~~までの行き方がわからなくて。
    Excuse me, I’d like to ask you something, but I don’t know how to get to ~~.
  • すみません、助けてほしいのですが、~~まではどうやって行けばよいですか。
    Excuse me, I need your help, but how do I get to ~~?

This word “すみません(sumi-ma-sen)" is very important in Japan. Having this word “すみません(sumi-ma-sen)" at the beginning increases the chances that Japanese people will help you.

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Kamibayashi Kenji

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