Something we often hear is: ‘I’m going on holiday (or a business trip) to Japan. How beneficial is just a smattering of Japanese? Is it even worth trying?’.
In a word: YES! In order to get the most out of your trip, you absolutely need to learn the most commonly used greetings and phrases, which keep things running smoothly as a kind of social lubricant. Beginner level students find learning the basics of Japanese extremely satisfying – and surprisingly simple! It is absolutely worth learning, even if you have no intention whatsoever of attempting to become fluent in Japanese!
The good news is, just a few phrases are absolutely music to the ears of literally ALL Japanese people. They have had the importance of greetings instilled in them from being tiny children: you must say certain greetings, and you must say them properly; cheerfully. This might seem forced, but we all know the feeling you get when you’ve said hello (or something) to someone who doesn’t respond as expected, in turn (want to curl up and die?). Insisting on a kind of standard of predictable pleasantries adds to a feeling of satisfaction and belonging.
Sure, if you say ‘good morning’ in English, people (especially working within the tourist industry) will likely understand. But how much nicer to really connect with a heartfelt ‘ohayo gozaimasu’?! It shows a respect for the Japanese language, and you will gain respect in turn. Along with good morning, it is extremely worthwhile to learn about 10 key Japanese phrases, how to pronounce them and when to use them, even if you are going on a short trip. Read here this great BBC article on the fascinating phrase ‘yoroshiku onegaishimasu’ – perhaps the most important Japanese phrase you will ever learn!
Sometimes travellers fear learning the basics, in case things escalate. That is, they are afraid they won’t understand something and look silly. However, in learning Japanese basics you can put that fear to rest. Firstly, you can learn general, polite greetings which don’t require you to understand an answer. Secondly, Japanese people do tend to assume that you won’t speak much Japanese. They are often (terribly) afraid of having to speak English and will thus appreciate your attempts to show willing and communicate in their language.
People will excuse you if you don’t speak Japanese. Yes, you will just about get by, now that more and more signs are being translated into English ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. But why not deepen your appreciation for the beautiful and unique culture of Japan by gaining an insight, via the language? Although Japan is still becoming a more accessible tourist destination, it is still a long-haul flight and a major trip. Make the most of it!
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