Best Alternative to Japan?

I started studying Japanese in preparation for my first trip there in March 2020. Well, that didn’t happen. I’ve post-poned the trip 8 times since then, and Japan still isn’t open to individual tourists. (Yes, there are package tours, but they require constant escort—you can’t even eat a late night snack in the restaurant of your hotel without a guide being present).

So I give up. Where else can I go where there’s a large number of Japanese-speaking people, shops, restaurants, etc., in close proximity, and I can simply pretend I’m in Japan instead. I’ve heard there are “Japan towns” in San Francisco and Los Angeles, I don’t know which are better. Perhaps they exist in Singapore, Paris, London, Buenos Aires—I’m easy-going and willing to travel, I’m just giving up that Japan itself will happen any time soon.

Any suggestions for the next-best-thing to being there? I really want to immerse myself and get that spoken Japanese practice. I can read, I can listen, but I can barely speak it.


Believe it or not, the largest Japanese population outside of Japan is in Brazil, FWIW.

Japantowns in California (SF, San Jose, LA) are all nice but you won’t even begin to think you’re in Japan at any point. At the risk of touching on politically sensitive topics, the reality is that most Japanese families in the US after WWII strongly encouraged their children to become as English-speaking and Americanized as possible after the experience of forced encampments during WWII.

Here’s hoping the world starts spinning on its axis normally and Japan and other places fully open again sometime soon.


Maybe try Hawaii. Or LA (Torrance area and Little Tokyo). You can also get some immersion if you go to specific restaurants or stores in various cities.

You can use this site to see where Japanese people are concentrated in the U.S. It has the locations of the schools that are established for Japanese kids to learn Japanese in the U.S., mainly for expats.
The one near me in Michigan has about 750 kids enrolled.
Minimally these areas should have some grocery stores and restaurants.


Hello talk is always available! Tandem is a great option too. I’ve met some great people on these apps.


Aye, but the US is a close second. :wink:

Hawaii is probably a decent alternative although you’ll probably have to hurry if you want to catch the remaining Obon festivals:

Japanese are the second largest ethnic group in Hawaii although spoken Japanese outside of the tourist places is relatively rare.


While a completely guided tour sounds suffocating, I might not mind it that much for my first ever visit to Japan where I’d pretty much be a babe in the woods. Any subsequent visits though where I feel more confident in exploring on my own? Yeah I’d probably hate it.

Maybe cross your fingers and hope that Japan opens up more in the next year or so?

I’m nowhere near ready to visit Japan myself, though I’d like to sometime in the future.


For Europe, you have Paris. There isn’t a Japanese town to be exact but you have to locations there with a lot of Japanese restaurants (with Japanese staff, you can even try speaking Japanese), shops (knifes, tea cups, supermarket,…) and libraries.
I also visited Dusseldorf which has a place called Little Tokyo and even the streets have Japanese names. It is quite small but again, a few Japanese shops (the supermarkets seemed quite good for my opinion), and the bakery I visited was very good and a lot of Japanese (and non japanese) visitors there.

I can’t say you feel like you are in Japan but you can taste a little culture (or rather, food, good food) there. However, it will be far from being in Japan, being surrounded by culture. And honestly, I didn’t really hear any Japanese except for a tea salon in Paris because the staff were speaking Japanese between them.
If you purpose is to be surrounded by Japanese conversation, I would rather try to find partners/teachers or try to search for a Japanese community nearby


Edgewater, New Jersey, has a large Japanese shopping center, and a lot of the staff there are native Japanese speakers. It’s also just across the river from NYC, where there are many Japanese stores and restaurants but they are scattered all across the city. Plus it’s NYC, so there’s a lot to do otherwise.


I’ve been to little tokyo in in LA, it’s really just some japanese food, anime type shops and that’s it. I think the only japanese people I saw were the owners of the Ramen shop I went to

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I know Germany is not exactly the most exciting tourist destination (if I may say so as a German myself) but Düsseldorf really has a big Japanese community: Japanese community of Düsseldorf - Wikipedia

And while you’re here, make sure to book a stay at Kaisu-En: Startseite - Japangarten | Feldberger Seenlandschaft ( This is an authentic Japanese Garden that has been hand-built by the owner and some Japanese friends and craftsmen; it includes a traditional tea house and Ryokan-like stay over options. You’ll be treated to authentic Japanese dinner and breakfast and we attended a Sumi-e class, which was fun.

This garden is a bit in the middle of German nowhere BUT there’s beautiful lakes and nature all around if you fancy hiking/outdoof holidays.

And in August, there will be a Summer Matsuri in Frankfurt am Main, including street food and Japanese artist: Main Matsuri (

When in Berlin, there are some fantastic Ramen restaurants, this one had Japanese stuff and amazing food: Mizu Ramen - Essen online bestellen in Berlin ( I also practiced my Japanese when buying tableware at Chaya: Home (

So obviously Germany is nowhere near as exciting as being in Japan BUT it keeps me entertained while I cannot travel to where I want to be :wink:


Going to Düsseldorf this weekend. Any tips for book stores?

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My immediate family still struggles to grasp the difference between Japan and China after several years, so maybe you can go there and wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.


There are quite a few Japanese shops that aren’t anime, and I also spoke Japanese with a few people, mostly store owners.

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I went to Mitsuwa in Edgewater for the first time recently and didn’t even realize there was this whole Japanese shopping center.

I mean, I’m not going to claim it’s like being in Japan. I don’t think I heard that much Japanese, but if you string it together with a trip to NYC you could definitely find a large chunk of Japanese things to do.

There’s a Kinokuniya in the Edgewater shopping center but the one in Manhattan is three floors (and there’s an awesome tiny Japanese cheesecake shop near by!). There’s tons of different Japanese shops and restaurants in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn. And while I haven’t been yet I’ve been eying up a trip to Japan Society which is over by the UN. I don’t think it’s a huge space but they’ve always got interesting things going on.

But kind of depends on where you’re from and your expectations. If you live somewhere fairly diverse then I’m not sure any of this stuff will feel like enough of an immersion to impress you. But if you live somewhere where bubble tea is still an exotic specialty, then I think coming to the NYC metro area would be a fun time.


For Paris, in my experience, I think the only other place you can reliably speak to people in Japanese that I’ve visited is a bookshop (Junkudo). That and a very expensive Japanese restaurant (Takara). It’s not that there aren’t any Japanese speakers elsewhere: you can hear Japanese being spoken in quite a few of the kitchens of the authentic Japanese restaurants in the 1st and 2nd districts of Paris. The issue is that most of the client-facing staff can’t speak Japanese. Also, my experience at Junkudo is that if for whatever reason, you seem sufficiently lost when they speak Japanese, they’ll switch back to French (or at least, that’s happened for me with one member of staff).

I can tell you that there are quite a few Japanese people in Singapore, and I think that the area they tend to gather (or at least, where you can find facilities that clearly cater to them) is around Liang Court: I can’t remember if the Kinokuniya outlet there has closed, but when it was there, it had a really high proportion of Japanese books, more so than the flagship store in Orchard (the central business district). Talking to them though… I don’t know. I’ve never really tried. You’d probably have better luck at Japanese restaurants with Japanese staff in Orchard. That or there’s the Japanese Association, but membership is pretty pricey.

The one city where I actually felt I had a decent chance of using my Japanese without having to force things was, in fact, Melbourne? Nearly every Japanese restaurant I went to felt authentic, and I could hear Japanese being spoken between the staff – including waiters and waitresses – quite a lot. For that matter, I got thrown into a Japanese conversation by my mother, but I wasn’t ready yet, so it just turned into some lame 「こんにちは。本当においしかったです」two-sentence conversation. (The waitress in question had just arrived in Melbourne from Japan about a month ago? I think she was going to work in that restaurant for a few months before heading back.) Point is though, if I had felt up to conversation practice, I feel I would have had lots of opportunities. And I was only there for a week or two!

But honestly, you might also just want to see if anyone still does language exchange meetups these days. Maybe you’ll find some Japanese people to talk to that way.


Really great point! And even before WWII, Japanese American families were encouraged to not teach Japanese to their children because of racism towards people with accents and because Japanese American families were extremely patriotic to the US and prided themselves on being “all American.” I know it’s a slim distinction, but it’s an important one: Despite the fact that many Japanese Americans at the time of WWII didn’t even know how to speak Japanese, they were still labeled spies and incarcerated.

That’s why if OP goes to California and meets a JA and starts speaking Japanese at them, they’re at risk of activating a load of generational rage LOL! (I say as a yonsei with generational rage lol)


The vibe of being in Mitsuwa is very similar to the vibe I get being in supermarkets in Japan, the main difference being of course not as much Japanese being spoken. I feel it’s a more authentic experience than going to a random Japanese restaurant.

I’ve been to the Kinokuniya in Midtown too, but I didn’t hear Japanese spoken there at all. I still would recommend it. Plenty of Japanese studying materials to be bought there without the international shipping fees.


OP here—thanks for so many suggestions! I’m from Vancouver, where we have a Vancouver Japanese Language School, at least two purveyors of 器 and assorted goods, 15 Japanese restaurants within a 5 minute walk from my door (half of them actually Japanese with Japanese staff), several Japanese grocery stores, at least 50 ramen restaurants (no joke), plus places that specialize in tonkatsu, tendon, yakuniku, etc. etc.

So I do have access to a lot of Japanese goods and services locally. But Vancouver’s a big place, and it’s not like immersion. I have a tutor on Mondays, so I can practice with her (in fact, I should make more of a point of it).

NYC was my last trip, and I stayed 3 blocks away from Kinokuniya Books and went every day; all my meals were at Japanese restaurants (one had shyojin ryouri!), and I pretended as best I could.

I just wondered where there might be concentrations of these elements, in places I may not have thought of. I would never have thought of Dusseldorf or Melbourne on my own!


I’ve been there yesterday. It’s an interesting place for Germans in that area to check out, but definitely not worth a trip all the way from the US.

For me, BOOKstore NIPPON was a great place. As a curious novice to Japanese literature, I was extremely fortunate to meet an incredibly passionate woman working there telling me all about Japanese novelists for an hour, if not even longer. She seemed to really love what she does and apparently picked all the novels to sell there herself. If you’re interested in Japanese literature, I think she’s going to be really happy to tell you all about it.

Though there were no LNs or manga in that shop. But if that’s what you’re looking for, you can find that pretty much everywhere in that area, even in Japanese language.


Meh I would not move anywhere simply because there’s a large amount of Japanese people in that area. It still doesn’t guarantee you that you will be surrounded by Japanese all the time and second, those people may have already adopted the culture of wherever they’re living and they may also speak a second language.

For me it’s either Japan or nothing (as far as moving of course if I were to make that choice). Since I don’t plan on moving to Japan, I would just go to restaurants and bug the waitresses and waiters Lol