Can You Live In Japan Without Knowing Japanese? 

So you’ve got your eyes set on Japan but don’t know a lick of Japanese – will that be a problem? 

Japan is known for having one of the most homogeneous cultures in the world. A whopping 98.5% of the country’s residents are Japanese, and with that comes a large population of Japanese speakers.

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Just how important is it to know Japanese before moving to the country? Can you stay in Japan without speaking Japanese? Can you survive with just English in Japan?

Read on to discover if living in Japan without knowing the language is doable.  

Can You Live In Japan Without Knowing Japanese?  1

Can you survive in Japan only speaking English?

Can you survive? Yes. 

But can you thrive?

Japan is an increasingly open country that is looking to attract more foreign workers and visitors, and with that comes the fact that more and more areas in Japan are taking strides to make life easier for those foreign workers and tourists. 

English speakers benefit from the fact that English has become the language of travel. No matter where you are, if there is an essential sign in the local language, chances are it is also in English. 

Companies and local governments are pushing to be more attractive to outsiders, so they are becoming more accommodating to any foreigner trying to get a job in Japan, especially in the language aspect. 

While English is not widely spoken in the country, it is estimated that 30% of Japanese residents know at least some English. 

As technology advances, getting around without knowing the Japanese language becomes much more manageable. 

Google Translate and other translation apps can create translations instantaneously, and now fancy devices can also translate speech in real-time.

You can even attend a language school or learn by taking a crash course on how Japanese keyboards work. It has English and Kana characters to help users switch when typing or chatting.

Can you work in Japan without knowing Japanese?

Landing a job in Japan without knowing Japanese is possible, even if you will be working in Japan without a degree.

However, remember that you must still obtain a work visa when you come to Japan to work.

One of the most common jobs for those looking to work in Japan is being an English teacher. Most schools and companies do not require foreign teachers to know Japanese to teach English in Japan; they prefer it if you don’t.

When the teacher can’t switch to the student’s native language to explain more complex topics, the students benefit from genuinely having to grasp the material in their target language. 

It can be easy to secure a position teaching English, but it does not pay handsomely, and there is often little room for growth.

If you’re looking to have a well-paying job and room for advancement, it would do well to learn Japanese. 

Can You Live In Japan Without Knowing Japanese?  2

Can you travel to Japan without knowing Japanese?

Who says you need Japanese to communicate well when you go to Japan?

Some of your friends might have said so.

However, a higher level of Japanese communication skills is unnecessary if you only want to stay in the country briefly.  If you are only planning to stay in the country for a short time, there is no need for advanced Japanese language skills. 

That being said, trying to learn at least the basics is always good. It reflects your respect for the Japanese culture.

The Japanese are known for their highly effective public transportation. That, coupled with modern technology, makes Japan an easy place to travel to without knowing the native language. 

Translation apps and maps can be easily reached from your phone, making getting from one place to the next easy. 

Japanese people are also incredibly friendly to tourists and are known for helping lost travelers. Consider asking a local for directions if your phone dies or loses service. They may even take you where you need to be!

Tips for living in Japan without knowing the language 

Learning any language is complex, and it gets even more challenging when learning a language different from your native one. 

If you decide not to learn the language of your new country, there are a few steps you can take to make your life easier. 

Establish a community of ex-pats 

Foreigners living in Japan for an extended time can be considered ex-pats. There are communities of people from different countries, including your own, you can find to help you navigate living in Japan,

Join one of these communities to hang out with people from your home country. Not only will you have shared experiences, but most importantly, you will have shared language. 

Utilize technology 

If you don’t know the language, using translation apps will be essential. Ensure you always have enough data and charge before stepping out because you could use your phone more than you think.

It is easier than ever to accomplish any task from your phone, so it is possible to achieve all you need in Japan through modern technology. 

Befriend those who are bilingual 

This is the best of both worlds. There aren’t many Japanese citizens who are fluent in English, but they exist.

Befriend someone you can talk to regularly, and you can watch your life in Japan flourish through your connections.

My Take on Living in Japan – Thriving with Limited Japanese 

Based on my frequent visits to Japan, living there without knowing how to speak Japanese is entirely doable.

I recommend a relaxed, carefree attitude for short stays abroad, especially with available support.

Choosing an English-speaking, gaijin-friendly neighborhood is practical. Despite limited Japanese, I’ve connected, enjoyed, and navigated Japan effortlessly.

Meanwhile, I recommend learning Japanese if you plan to stay in the country for an extended period.

Learning Japanese helps with everyday tasks. It makes it easier to go grocery shopping, dine out, and use machines with Japanese instructions. This way, you don’t inconvenience others.

It also prevents a sense of disconnection, allowing more meaningful interactions and a richer experience of the culture.