After the Tofugu Podcast episode about sitting on a train with a sign, I thought I might try this. Any advice on the wording?

[Cross-posted from Redit.]

Just, whatever I can do to invite people in general to just start a conversation with me. I’d love it if I could convey on a T-Shirt the idea that I am learning Japanese, and would welcome anyone to come and strike up a conversation with me. Any thoughts?


I haven’t heard the podcast, but that’s an interesting idea.

I wonder how many people that see it will believe you know what your shirt says, vs. thinking you’re just another gaijin wearing random Japanese without knowing what it means. Probably will make them curious, which might actually start up a conversation, though! Hmm…! : )

If you do do this, you might want to do it somewhere more public/safer? A park in the middle of daytime or a busy shopping arcade or food court?

Please report back with how this goes if you give it a try. I’d really love to know! : D


No real thoughts, just curious as to how it turns out. Let us know!

Wow… uhh… some people on reddit really do not like the idea at all:

Do y’all think they’re right? Do you think this idea is embarrassing? People seemed pretty disgusted and downright mean… I’m not sure if that’s just reddit, if this is really such an incredibly bad idea.

I think it depends entirely on your own personality; the people (on Reddit) who responded negatively are most likely responding based on how they would probably feel about wearing something like that. I’m not too sure where in Japan you live, but if it were the countryside, I wouldn’t be surprised if you got people to talk to you. Will people judge you negatively for wearing such a shirt? Probably, but I’m pretty sure you’re not interested in talking to those kinds of people.


One of my friends from undergrad in the US did this without the t-shirt. He would go up to people on the bus and just say something like “Hi, I’m from Indonesia. I’m here to improve my English. Do you mind if we talk a bit?”

Now his English is really really good.

Some of the people got really friendly with him–invite him over to their house, etc.

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Oh okay, I read that and at first I thought he approached people while being shirtless. Read it a second time and realized I’m probably sexualizing him too much LOL


Well, this one girl was rather excited to have a new friend from Indonesia, but her boyfriend got jealous and told her she couldn’t see him anymore.

And then there was this old lady that invited him over for tea and cookies.

For all I know, maybe he was shirtless and that helped facilitate things.


Firstly, I quite like your design of the t-shirt, but I do wonder if it’ll work for your purposes. What would your reaction be if you saw someone wearing a “Let’s speak English t-shirt”? Personally, I’d give them a wide berth, but I’m sure there are others who wouldn’t. I’d be surprised if randoms approached you on the street, but maybe in bars or whatever it would work?

It’s definitely not something I’d do, but you might as well try it and see what happens.

I mean… I grew up in, and currently live and work in San Francisco, so I have no idea what a foreigner looks like. I imagine my response would be different because there’s almost nothing a person could do on BART that would cause me to want to strike up a conversation with them short of a direct invitation. That said, a T-shirt that said “I’m studying English, let’s have a conversation”, if the train weren’t packed, and if I didn’t have anything else pressing to do (like WK reviews), I think I might say “hi.”, especially if they smiled and were friendly.

But all of that is outside of the cultural context of Japan, where I’ve been told a bunch that the sight of white people evokes test-anxiety and a complete loss of ability to speak anything other than broken English. I’m not an expert on Japanese social order, so maybe someone who has been living there longer could say…

A better comparison for a visually perceivable difference, rather than language might be something like… a person on BART with a missing arm. Seeing something like that would probably give me a degree of anxiety, and I think I would (for any reason) be less likely to start a conversation with them, much less about their missing arm. But if they were wearing a shirt that said “I’m doing a study, ask me about my missing arm!”, and they smiled at me when I saw the shirt… honestly of all the scenarios this sounds like the one in which I would be most likely to start a conversation. I would push myself to participate because of my liberal guilt, much as a Japanese person might push themselves in an effort to be more worldly/cosmopolitan.

If that all is missing some piece of relevant Japanese cultural context, don’t hesitate to correct me. I want to understand the objection, but it all seems to boil down to “well, it’s just weird, isn’t it?” or “wouldn’t it be off-putting to you?” to which my answer is inevitably, “OMG I am the complete wrong person to ask about ‘normal’…”

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Oooh… brave. Without any upfront explanation, that sounds scary and hard. It makes sense that it might be effective though… I’ll consider it, thank you.

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I personally couldn’t do it but it worked for my friend. :slight_smile:

Might be easier at a bar or something.

I’ve just been travelling through Asia for a few months and especially in China and Myanmar I’ve had so many locals come up to me asking if we can speak a bit of English to practice, seems super normal over here. You just end up chatting for a few minutes, usually pretty basic stuff, ask each other some questions, maybe share some stories about where you’ve been travelling and about their country, etc. I’d totally love to try this out myself next time I’m in a country where I’m learning the language.

Do people think this works in Japan, i.e. going up to people and asking if you could chat for a few minutes? Obviously asking in Japanese so they don’t get test anxiety lol

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I don’t live in Japan right now, but I’m going back for a visit to Tokyo in late September for a few weeks. I had planned on doing a couple days of aimless wondering while I’m there wearing something like this shirt just for the purpose of having random conversations.

I still can’t imagine what kind of person would just you for wearing something like this… I plan on smiling, and wearing nice makeup and everything and trying to be as friendly as possible. With the shirt my intent should be immediately obvious… is it just xenophobia that makes someone dislike that kind of behavior? I can’t wrap my mind around the thought-process… how does one get to distaste from “I want to learn Japanese by having a conversation with you”?

Seems like the people against it on reddit are also foreigners, rather than locals who are xenophobic. I mean I can see people think, “Gee, that’s a bit cringy” but judging people for it is just crazy for me. Tbh I’m not sure I’d go up to someone like that back at home, but that’s cause it’s London and talking to strangers is frowned upon haha! If it was somewhere smaller I might be more willing to do it. And like I said, the walk up to people and ask approach totally works!

So sorry for writing this so ambiguously, but this part was referring to the naysayers on the Reddit page. (There was a typo which seemed to give the impression that I was referring to Japanese people, sorry).[quote=“StellaTerra, post:14, topic:18436”]
I still can’t imagine what kind of person would just you for wearing something like this… I plan on smiling, and wearing nice makeup and everything and trying to be as friendly as possible. With the shirt my intent should be immediately obvious… is it just xenophobia that makes someone dislike that kind of behavior? I can’t wrap my mind around the thought-process… how does one get to distaste from “I want to learn Japanese by having a conversation with you”?

Since I’m not Japanese, I can’t really answer this question for you, but I can surely tell you that people are adept at avoiding what they suspect to be problematic for them. I live in Japan and can tell you that in my area, that there are times when people seem to want to talk to me, but choose to stay quiet. I’m sure there are many reasons, but I’m sure it’s probably because they don’t know if I speak Japanese and they’re unsure about their English skills if I respond in English. People I know have told me this reason (and some others) are why they wouldn’t engage with foreigners. Since everybody’s different, I’m sure there are other reasons too.

For what it’s worth, I’ve also had random conversations with people as well, mostly in English. Since you are only visiting Japan for vacation, I don’t think it’s really worth fretting over what people on Reddit have to say, or what some Japanese people might think of such a shirt; it’s not offensive or anything. Plus, I’ve seen countless people (mainly young people) wearing graphic shirts with glib sentences or phrases written on them in English. In other words, just do you.

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I really appreciate all of your thoughts and ideas.

Honestly, I hadn’t thought about the social impact of the shirt and I was asking around to try to get feedback on the language, but after getting such strong feedback I was feeling self conscious. I started doing some research, and I’m becoming more convinced that wearing almost any clothing with non-roman characters on it might be considered socially disruptive.

I just spent so long in Japan feeling like a horrible, boorish American, incapable of being quiet enough, small enough, incapable of restraining myself from giving opinions or complaining… I booked a short trip thinking I could do it right this time, I could be different. I’m an adult now, and I won’t make the mistakes I made half my life ago, as a 15 year old. Then I’m like, I’ve got an idea for a T-shirt… I’m not even in Japan yet and I’m having socially disruptive impulses. ;_; It’s such an incredibly fragile culture… stuff like this makes me think… it may be possible for some American to make Japanese friends, but that I lack the necessary cultural sensitivity.

I’ve been spending a few hours a week at a conversation group, talking with Japanese people here in the states, and that all seemed to be going much better than when I lived in Japan, but now I’m thinking… those are Japanese people trying to fit in here, not Japanese people receiving me on their terms.

Whoah, whoah, whoah, slow down. You’re definitely overthinking this. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you going to Japan with a t-shirt like that. It is not “socially disruptive” and it is not going to upset a single person. I have several t-shirts with Japanese characters on them and - with the exception of the one that says 斑鳩 - no one ever looks at them twice.

All most people are saying is it might not work quite how you’re hoping (although it may very well work fine) in terms of having people approach you to start conversations.

If you’re looking to meet people while you visit, why don’t you check out That ought to provide you with loads of opportunities to meet Japanese people and if you wear a t-shirt like the one you’re suggesting, it will almost certainly work in that context.

Anyway, just enjoy your trip and please do not worry about being “socially disruptive” in an “incredibly fragile culture”. Japan is more like the rest of the world than you think.


I wouldn’t do it on the train though. It’s like an unwritten rule that you don’t talk on the train, everybody is just too polite to say anything to foreigners that don’t understand that, so yeah. I don’t see any reason not to do it elsewhere.


I just think that when talking about Japanese culture, everyone likes to be over excited or over critical.

Have you ever watched one of those videos where Japanese wear t-shirts with stupid sentences in English? Some sentences are even sexual and the wearer doesn’t even know that!

How would you react if you saw someone like this? :slight_smile: You’d probably smile. You’d probably think that some stupid people will call the wearer ignorant. That’s ok. It’s the stupid people’s fault. Yet, you’re still smiling to the person that is wearing the “ridiculous” t-shirt.

Don’t worry. Everything is going to be okay. Will some people judge you? Maybe… well, definitely… but can you even compare that to someone coming to you and become friends? No.

You’ll be friendly as I’m sure you are. You’re fine. Now, the question should be: IS THAT THE FINAL DESIGN?! :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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