Back from three weeks in Japan! Kanji is good to know!

Hi everyone!

For the last three weeks I’ve been traveling around the southern parts of Honshu, most of Kyuushu and a little bit of Shikoku. For those of you interested in photos you can see some on my Instagram account. I’m not a photographer, the photos are more to give me something to remember the trip by, so visit at your own peril. The few of you who are Swedish can also read something resembling a travel journal.

However, the reason I made this post is to share some of the many instances where kanji was a good thing to know! In Tokyo I found most information to be available in English, but when we started traveling outside of the most common destinations, occasionally the only way to get information was by reading Japanese. I made an attempt to document some of these moment, so that you can test yourself and, hopefully, get a motivational boost in how much you actually can understand compared to someone who hasn’t practiced kanji at all.

1) Which way should you go after entering this bath if you, like me, are a male?

2) Do you need to add laundry detergent to this washing machine? What about fabric softener?

3) What can you find if you stop by the place advertised by this sign at the outskirts of Kagoshima?

4) The English translation is not exactly useful. What does the Japanese text say about this stamp?

5) Another interesting translation. What does the Japanese text tell you about the purpose of this red plastic container?

Apart from the immense kick I got from being able to read and understand so much of the things around me, one of the coolest instances was being approached by an Australian couple at a kombini in Matsumoto. They heard us reading and talking about products and wanted to know if what they had found on the shelf was milk or not. 牛乳 is a good word to know!

I also bought so many books at Junkudo in Ikebukuro! I’m more excited than ever to keep on learning more words :star_struck:


You may not be a photographer but some of your photos are REALLYYY Nice ! Thanks for sharing your thoughts though.


Thank you! :heart:



I hope you had fun :smiley: But I’m sure you had :crazy_face:

How did you feel there as a level 60? And about speaking, did you do well?
(I play go too!)


Oh boy, photos. Love looking at people’s photos. If you want to see mine in exchange, they’re on my blog.

Sounds like you’ve managed to do a lot. I’ve been there six weeks spread across three separate trips, and I’ve still only visited Honshuu. For that matter, I’ve only been outside of the Kanto-to-Kansai section of Honshuu twice. :slightly_smiling_face:

But yeah, on my trips in the last six months, I managed to use my kanji a fair bit. Also managed to impress a few shopkeepers with the fact that I could read kana - didn’t really have the heart to tell them I could read kanji too. :stuck_out_tongue:


Not the same level as you (obviously) so a lot of that went over my head, but knowing Kanji is definitely useful. I personally found it most useful when using 電車/地下鉄/新幹線 and also for scoping out where to eat.

Also being able to mutter random stuff to people, like this time a bug flew in to the room and I said虫!and the staff understood and got rid of it, or when my friend was sick and needed meds so I said 俺の友達は病気です, the little things y’know?


Of course, as a certified Level 60™ everyone gave me VIP treatment and lavished me with praise while giving me a private audience with the Emperor.

Seriously though, with the comparison of when I went there last, 10 years ago, things were quite a lot more easy to navigate. I remember one of my friends stopping by a store and how I went scouting for an okonomiyaki place. If I didn’t know お好み焼き I wouldn’t have found one, so knowing kanji can quite literally have a direct impact on your experience. It was also quite rare to encounter kanji I had never seen. Of course it happens, but 99% of the kanji I come across i could recognize (well… like 10% of them was 下 from 下さい , but you get the point).

Also, talking is not something I’ve practised alot, but what I do have was enough to have a 10-15 minute long conversation with exhibition staff at a toy museum in Arima about a panorama with model trains/small town/landscape. I told the woman manning the exhibition something like「一応話せますけどゆっくり説明してください」when she asked if it was okay if she explained it in Japanese. However, in the panorama was a small hut and I said something like 「あ!山小屋みたいですね!」 I picked up 山小屋 from a manga and it’s not the most common word, I guess. The woman working at the exhibition said, almost sounding suspicious, something like “You know quite a lot of Japanese, dont you?”

Otherwise, the bar for receiving a 「日本語が上手ですね」 is, as always, very low. The most extreme occasion was at an onsen where the clerk greeted me with こんにちは. I answered こんにちは and immediatly got 「あ!日本語が上手ですね!」as response. I mean, seriously :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

I was also able to ask about specific titles in book stores and confirming that what they had was the full text and not an abbreviated new edition (I had to search my mind for 内容 for a solid 15 seconds before coming up with it) and have a conversation with an older woman at a Shinkansen. I wanted her to feel safe in knowing I would move my 192 centimeter tall scandinavian body out of the way when it was her time to get off the train, so I asked what her stop was and if I could help her lift her bag up to the storage shelf. It ended up with us talking about Kyuushu and Kumamoto, about Japanese nature and with her giving me her entire stash of caramels without taking no for an answer :yum:

Also, asking for directions is so much more convenient if you know a bit of Japanese. Learning a brand new tram system for every new city is way easier if you can ask someone.

Basically, as long as I don’t care about sounding eloquent I can usually convey what I want with “Me Tarzan, You Jane”-style speech and body language :sweat_smile:


A little bit gets you a long way!

I had a similar thing happen when a Japanese hornet flew into the rest area of an onsen. I’m honestly terrified of hornets and wasps so I went to the old guy selling flavored milk and was like 「えとうーすいません、あの虫は大丈夫ですか?あぶないですか?」 He just got up with a pair of barbecue tongs, moved over there lazily, grabbed it and threw it out.


It was an intense trip for sure!
Two weeks with Train pass after the intial 5 days in Tokyo. In those two week we visited

  • Kyoto
  • Himeji
  • Kumamoto
  • Kagoshima
  • Beppu
  • Hiroshima
  • Takamatsu
  • Kobe (just to eat 和牛)
  • Arima
  • Koyasan
  • Nagoya
  • Matsumoto (and Kamikochi)
  • Takaragawa

Needless to say, quite a lot of time went into planning it all :exploding_head:


This is an awesome post, thanks @vargsvans. You say you haven’t practiced a lot of talking, but being able to have even a 10-15 minute conversation with a native Japanese person is definitely something to be proud of. I’m a little envious of your experience, but it’s serving as major motivation to keep learning more as well.

Throughout this thread you’ve noted many things that you already knew, that were put into practice during trip, but was there anything in particular that you learned while you were there that you didn’t already know? I’d be curious to know. When asking people what the best method is to learning another language, one answer that always is a staple in their responses is “immersion”. Now, you were only visiting so it’s not exactly complete immersion, but I’m just wondering how much new material you learned while being there through your trip.

Thanks again! Really cool pictures and stories.


you have any instagram or twitter that i can follow?

I certainly didn’t mean for it to sound like a humble brag, it’s just for every 1000 words I learn to recognise passively, I would estimate that at most 50-100 of them become part of my active vocabulary.

As for acquiring new material, I can’t really say I’ve learnt that much new stuff during these three weeks. I didn’t actively pursue learning new material, so that’s probably a factor, but some things, like 順路 (suggested route) absolutely got ingrained into me after visiting lots and lots of museums, gardens and exhibitions.

Another thing was certain speech patterns and vocabulary, like when ordering food. Things like 三名様 (three guests, when being asked about how many people you are when entering a restaurant). I was expecting 三人 at first, but soon got used to this way of “counting” customers.

I suppose I got some good practise concerning my reading speed, trying to understand advertisements and news reports on subways and trains, which of course is much easier when you are constantly surrounded with Japanese. That’s the only “immersion” part I experienced I guess. I also got a lot of reinforcement for things I already knew. Seeing things you’ve encountered earlier being used for real is asolutely a good way to make the word or concept stick better.

I was also traveling with two other people, and we naturally spoke Swedish alot. For it to be something like “immersion” I guess Japanese travel partners would have been more effective. That wasn’t the goal however :blush:


Oh this is interesting. I’ve seen the before. I would have also assumed 三人 or maybe even 三客; I wonder if that would’ve been acceptable too.

Really cool though, thanks again!


It seems to suit you to talk like Tarzan with your 192 centimeter lol

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I picked up 山小屋 from climbing Mount Fuji back in 2010. :slightly_smiling_face:

That is an impressive list. You can’t have averaged more than one night per place, though (but I guess some of those would have been day trips?). I’m trying to train myself to spend more nights in fewer places, but there’s still so many places I’d like to visit. On my first trip in 2010, we stayed one night each in Hiroshima and Miyajima, and I discovered as we did so that one night in a place means zero days. I’d considered visiting Kagoshima on that trip too, but the Kyushu Shinkansen hadn’t been opened by then, so it would have taken too long.

I too went to Kobe just to eat beef (though we also visited Nunobiki Falls on the north side of Shin-Kobe Station). The place we went to was obscenely expensive, though. Side note, in Japan, 和牛 refers to the cows. What you ate was 神戸ビーフ. :slightly_smiling_face:

Aye, contrary to my expectations, I managed to have a fairly long conversation with a few people during my trip in December - one conversation with a guy as we travelled around Tokyo for a kind of rally puzzle game, one coversation with a woman while we were waiting in line for the Tsuboyu in Yunomine Onsen, and one with an old lady as she was showing me the back entrance to Hikone Castle. The third, I confess, I did not manage to catch much of, but I was surprised at how well I was managing the other two, especially considering how poor my listening ability is. Occasionally, though, they’d say a word I couldn’t remember the translation for, and my brain would just go “you may as well just give up, you suck at this”.

For some reason, 出身 gets me every time. And a lot of people seem to use a way of asking “where are you from” that I still can’t decipher (or even remember now exactly what they were saying).

I learnt 信州, because for some reason I was seeing it everywhere. Turns out it’s an old name for the region that currently forms Nagano Prefecture.

Nope, just the blog.

Or solo. I did that last December. It’s… different, certainly.


I can read it for sure, but I still have no idea what the hell that stamp is supposed to be.

I was thinking it was a Michi-no-Eki stamp. Like this:

@Belthazar is more or less correct!

Japan loves their Stamp Rallies, where you visit different places and collect stamps. This one is from 温泉地獄 or “Onsen Hells” in Beppu.

We didn’t visit all of the hells, because some where a bit off and it was raining that day, but I got some nice stamps!


Oh, Japan loves its stamps. You can find one at many train stations - I couldn’t say exactly what percentage, but at least in the case of the JR stations, it was fairly uncommon, at least in my experience, for there to not be a stamp at all. You can buy booklets like this one below from any largish bookstore. And here’s a photo of some of the stamps, which are not really representative of the typical stamp, but quite pretty all the same.

I did the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route on my last trip in April, and they have a stamp at each of the stations along the route (and, it turned out, a completely separate set of stamps scattered around the Kurobe Dam area). But… I clean forgot to get one of them, and I didn’t get time to look for the last one before we had to race for our bus. Noooo.

Then there’s this one from the Chiba Urban Monorail, where I did manage to get all the stamps.

And then Mount Takao had its own set, but I got so few of those it’s not even worth posting a photo. :stuck_out_tongue:


Very similar experience over here! My Kanji is definitely not at your level but it was the most useful thing to be at least get the gist of most things around you.

I was also travelling with two people and one surprising thing was that for some reason, many restaurants just give 1 (english) menu per table. So as my sister was choosing I would just read the Japanese menu and usually be able to choose something.

My favourite use of Japanese was speaking with locals at bars though. The Golden Gai area in Shinjuku was the most fun because of the sheer density and lack of english speaking Japanese people there. Made some great friends I even went out with afterwards on a couple occasions! Speaking was rough but getting by and knowing enough slang and being outgoing made everything easier since they usually put in the effort too when they your effort.