|Subject: Communicating in Japan|
Just to add a little information about communicating in Japan. It is true that most Japanese speak a little English, some better than others. I have traveled to Tokyo and Yokohama several times recently and communicating there is about a challenging as in Europe. I once had a taxi driver in Munich tell me, if you can't speak the language don't try(you supply the accent)
The great thing about Japan is they are prepared for us tourists - everything has pictures especially menus. You may not always know what is in the picture but it is always delicious, regardless. Of course the more expensive hotels have staff that speak excellent English but there is some loss in translation. Oftentimes we order what we see someone else eating and say we want that also. They always know when you want sake, beer or wine.
Japanese is phonetic so it is easy to pronounce and ask for directions. Many a time I have had Japanese citizens walk me to a destination. All the train stations and airports have English signs. Write down or have a written address of any location and the attendants at the stations will tell you what track to go to and this is important in the large stations - you could be lost for hours or days. Use your fingers to verify the track number. Always carry the hotel's business card.
There are always the communication mistakes in every country. In a hip New York type bar in Tokyo we didn't see the fine print in Japanese that mentioned about the $20.00 cover charge. Two cocktails ended up costing $40.00. On occasion I have gotten off at the wrong station but on seeing the area wished it was my real destination. The taxi drivers are riots - one just couldn't understand what I meant by The Intercontinental Hotel no matter how I pronounced it(broke my rule about writing it down), another insisted on giving change to the penny and another became angry when my wife got out before we paid. The taxis are immaculate and the drivers wear uniforms and white gloves.
The Japanese are worldly(I watched the superbowl with several porters on their personal TV in the luggage room at the biggest hotel in Japan), educated and extremely courteous. They want you to have the best impression of their country.
Happy traveling, Peterjohn from San Francisco