Traveling to Japan

Hi Guys!

My partner and I are traveling to Japan for our honeymoon next year.
We are both doing WaniKani in an attempt to get more out of our trip. The main goal we have is to be able to get around using public transport and being able to understand directories and menu items. Is a year of study on WaniKani a realistic idea for this goal? I’d also like to be able to read manga too :'D

If you want to read menus…get your Katakana down


Thanks Shake!

I did some Japanese in High school, so my katakana and hiragana aren’t too bad.
what about things like shopping and transport?

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Transport shouldn’t be an issue: Station names are in Hiragana and Romanji. Ticket Machines offered an english option at every station I have been.


Don’t neglect your grammar studies either. It helps a lot.


A year of WK will help you immensely with signs and timetables, and with getting around in general.

But place names will still be a struggle because they sometimes use abnormal readings. As for menus, at my level they’re much easier to read, but there are still a lot of kanji that I don’t recognize (usually names of fish or vegetables). Also, lots of restaurants use heavily stylized fonts that can be hard to read. Someone made a font randomizer for WK that can help with that though. It’s called jitai.



We aren’t really venturing too far out of Tokyo, I’d like to go to Kyoto though and a friend of mine said that most places outside of Tokyo don’t use much English at all, so we found Wani and away we went.
Thanks loads guys! super helpful!

Well, you should have no problems in other bigger cities. Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Nagoya are quite on the same level when it comes to tourist-friendly signs and menues in the central areas.

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To my experience, all of the younger people do speak english, so generally it’s no problem to communicate. They do seem to be a bit shy sometimes, though, and have the tendency to avoid speaking foreign languages (that’s why they’re pushing their best or most advanced speaker to the front, when you enter some shop or business). Don’t take that personally. In general, most people are tremendously helpful. Don’t worry too much.

You might run into problems in smaller, family-owned restaurants in the suburbs or in the countryside, where they don’t expect tourists. Ordering might be tricky, but the usually excellent food is worth trying your luck.


Before I began studying Japanese, I visited Japan three times going to places in Shikoku, Kyuushu, Honshu, and Hokkaido. I never experienced a major hindrance to my trip due to a language problem.

Signs are written in English, people in the tourist offices generally speak English and are very helpful, train and metro information is provided in English. Bring an offline Japanese <-> English dictionary on your phone.

Learning Japanese will help you if you stay longer and help you to engage more with locals, but to visit Japan for vacation, it is not necessary.


Arigatou gozaimasu everyone! we are very grateful for the info!

Public transportation isn’t much of an issue even with little to no understanding of Japanese in the larger cities.

ETA: the google translate app on Android is also super useful when looking at text.

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To offer a slightly different opinion, I think WaniKani is awesome and helpful, but I would not consider it a “survival” website. I used JapanesePod101 survival phrases, and they were >super< useful on my trip. I’m level six and WaniKani still hasn’t covered almost any of the key phrases that got me around… (this, that, excuse me, thank you, where is…, check please, is this okay? etc).


If you’re mostly staying in cities, a year of WaniKani should be fine for reading signs and menus. If you can, try to get a little speaking practice in so that you can ask things like “Is my hotel in this direction?” and “Where’s the bathroom?”. Also, one of the most useful words in your travels will be “すみません”.

As mentioned by many others in the thread, signs tend to be in Japanese and English, so navigating most public transport is not too difficult even if you know no Japanese, especially in the cities. By the way, Google Maps is your friend. I highly recommend having a cellphone with some maps application because it really makes traveling around a lot easier.

For restaurants and menus, it really depends on the restaurant. I’ve been in many that were katakana heavy, and some that were heavy on the kanji. However, many of the restaurants I’ve been to have displays of some sort for the food. Menus tend to be picture heavy, and a lot of shops like having the plastic food on display. So, even if you have some troubles reading the menu, you can usually just point to what you want.

In general, people will try to help if it looks like you’re struggling. At one restaurant, one of the employees practically hurdled over the counter to help my friends and I use vending machine for the tickets to order our meals. At another, the waitresses brought out all the variations of their menu (they had it translated in Chinese and Korean) to try to help us with ordering.

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I have many friends and family who go to Japan with almost no knowledge of the Japanese language and they get around fine.

When I went to Japan I was around level 27, and while I could read quite a few signs - it didn’t feel helpful since there was usually an English sign - or a sign with pictures on it nearby. As someone previously mentioned, a lot of kanjis were hard to read due to the font…

For speaking/survival phrases - WK is not useful at all, and i would recommend Japanesepod101 or something similar…

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Chiming in with a couple people that WaniKani will help, but probably won’t be enough if you want to deal with names and sentences. Other resources will help.

Something I found useful was to take a smartphone with a few apps. On an Android phone, I had:

  • Aedict (or some other japanese dictionary), for offline word lookup
  • Google Handwriting Input, to write unknown kanji offline
  • Google Translate, for simple phrases from a photo or pasted text
  • Google Maps, to get around

For everything that didn’t require talking to people, that covered most of my needs.

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For iOS users wanting handwriting input, there’s a handwriting keyboard in the Chinese keyboards that also works fine for Japanese (though a few characters have a different stroke order).

The app Japanese is a nice dictionary and also is able to get the handwriting input keyboard with Japanese stroke order.


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