Can You Survive In Japan Without Knowing Japanese

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Last Updated on June 12, 2023 by Umar

Japan, a country known for its rich culture, advanced technology, and beautiful landscapes, has become a popular destination for tourists and expats alike.

However, one of the biggest concerns for those considering a move to Japan is the language barrier.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the experiences of foreigners living in Japan, personal stories, research, and statistics to answer the question: Can you survive in Japan without knowing Japanese?

Experiences and Personal Stories

Many foreigners who have moved to Japan initially knew little or nothing about the Japanese language

. Despite this, they have managed to thrive and enjoy their life in the country.

However, it is important to note that many of these individuals have learned the language over time to become more integrated into society.One expat shares their experience of living in Japan for four years with limited Japanese language skills. They admit that their Japanese ability is an insult to the country, but they have never felt judged or belittled by the Japanese people for their lack of language skills. Instead, they have found ways to navigate the language barriers while remaining respectful to the locals.

Research and Statistics

While it is possible to live in Japan without knowing Japanese, it is undeniably easier to work in the country if you have some knowledge of the language

. Tasks such as opening bank accounts, paying utilities, and navigating the healthcare system can be challenging without Japanese language skills. However, these challenges are becoming easier to overcome as more companies and local governments work to accommodate foreigners in Japan.According to a 2020 study, English is not widely spoken in Japan, with only about 10% of the population claiming to have some level of English proficiency. This can make communication difficult for foreigners who do not speak Japanese.

However, Japan has been making efforts to increase English-speaking initiatives in preparation for the 2020 Olympics and the growing number of tourists visiting the country.

Tips for Surviving Japan Without Japanese

  1. Know the basics: Learn essential phrases and greetings to show respect and make basic communication easier.
  2. Use technology: Utilize translation apps and tools to help with communication and understanding written text.
  3. Ride the trains: Familiarize yourself with the train system, which often has English signage and announcements.
  4. Be mindful of social etiquette: Understand and follow Japanese customs and manners to show respect and avoid misunderstandings.
  5. Ask for help: Don’t be afraid to ask locals for assistance, as many Japanese people are willing to help foreigners.
  6. Take advantage of guided tours and activities: Participate in English-speaking tours and activities to explore Japan without language barriers.
  7. Learn over time: While it is possible to survive without knowing Japanese, learning the language will undoubtedly enrich your experience and open up more opportunities.


In conclusion, it is possible to survive in Japan without knowing Japanese, but it comes with challenges and limitations.

Learning the language, even at a basic level, will greatly enhance your experience and make daily life more manageable.

By following the tips provided in this guide and embracing the Japanese culture, you can thrive and enjoy your time in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Helpful Resources


How has Japan’s effort to increase English-speaking initiatives affected the daily lives of foreigners living in Japan?

Japan’s effort to increase English-speaking initiatives has had an impact on the daily lives of foreigners living in Japan in several ways:

  • Improved communication: With more Japanese people learning English, foreigners living in Japan may find it easier to communicate with locals in daily life, such as when shopping, dining out, or seeking assistance.
  • Increased job opportunities: As Japan seeks to attract more foreign workers, there may be more job opportunities available for foreigners who are proficient in English.
  • Improved attitudes towards foreigners: Research has shown that Japanese individuals with better English conversation ability have more positive attitudes towards immigration. Therefore, as more Japanese people learn English, it may lead to improved attitudes towards foreigners in general.
  • Easier navigation: With more signs and information available in English, foreigners living in Japan may find it easier to navigate the country, such as when using public transportation or visiting tourist attractions.
  • Increased cultural exchange: As more Japanese people learn English, it may lead to increased cultural exchange between Japanese and foreigners, as they are better able to communicate and share their cultures with each other.

Are there any specific industries or job sectors in Japan where it is more feasible to work without knowing Japanese?

Yes, it is possible to work in Japan without knowing much Japanese.

Here are some industries and job sectors where it is more feasible to work without knowing Japanese, according to the search results:

  1. English teaching: Teaching English is the most common and easy-to-get job for foreigners with little to no knowledge of the Japanese language.
  2. Recruiting and consulting: Recruiter and consultant jobs in Japan are available with high salaries and low Japanese requirements.
  3. IT and tech engineering: Some IT and tech engineering jobs in Japan do not require high-level Japanese skills.
  4. Real estate: Real estate jobs in Japan are another option for those who do not speak much Japanese.
  5. Foreign-owned institutions: Working for foreign-owned institutions like Google or Apple is a common case where expats work in Japan without knowing much Japanese.
  6. Digital marketing and content creation: Digital marketing and content creation jobs in Japan are available without high-level Japanese skills.
  7. Manual labor/factory jobs: Some manual labor and factory jobs in Japan do not require high-level Japanese skills.
  8. Cooking/kitchen staff: Some cooking and kitchen staff jobs in Japan do not require high-level Japanese skills.
  9. Gaishikei (foreign-affiliated) companies: Some gaishikei companies in Japan do not require high-level Japanese skills.
  10. Software engineering: Some software engineering positions in Japan are available with little-to-no Japanese language ability required.

What are some common challenges that foreigners without Japanese language skills face when trying to integrate into Japanese society?

Foreigners without Japanese language skills may face several challenges when trying to integrate into Japanese society.

Here are some common ones:

  1. Language barrier: Learning Japanese can be extremely challenging, and communication can be a huge hurdle for foreigners in their life inside and outside of the office.
  2. Long working hours: Japanese work culture is known for its long working hours, which can be a challenge for foreigners who are not used to it.
  3. Seniority and hierarchy: Japanese companies have a strict hierarchy, and seniority is highly valued. This can make it difficult for foreigners to navigate the workplace and understand their place in the hierarchy.
  4. Indirect communication: Japanese communication style is often indirect, and foreigners may find it challenging to understand what is being communicated.
  5. Lack of privacy: Japanese apartments and houses are often small, and it can be difficult to find a private space.
  6. Professional opportunities: Foreigners may find it challenging to find professional opportunities in Japan, as some companies may prefer to hire Japanese nationals.
  7. Culture shock: Japanese society has developed a very fixed code of acceptable conduct, especially in the realm of business. Foreigners may find it challenging to fit into this code without making a considerable effort.
  8. Finding a place to live: In the past, foreigners living in Japan faced problems finding a place to live due to differences in language and customs.
  9. Children’s education rights: Approximately 16% of foreign children living in Japan are not attending school, which contravenes Article 26 of the Japanese constitution and Japan’s commitment under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  10. Women’s rights: Women in Japan face structural barriers that prevent them from taking an active role in society, such as sexual harassment in the workplace and assumptions that female workers will take time off from work.