Destination Guide | Tokyo Japan

Learning the Language

Almost all new arrivals to Japan attempt Japanese lessons, and there are many places to study the language, depending on the level and time you want to commit to the study. How long you will be in Japan is a big factor. Decide what you want from the lessons, whether it be survival Japanese, business Japanese, and/or reading and writing.
There are many language schools, and private lessons at home or at the office can also be arranged. Some language schools offer intensive study programs for more ambitious students. It is very possible to live in Tokyo and comfortably get around without Japanese, but you definitely should know how to give directions to taxi drivers to common destinations. Advertisements for schools generally appear in the major newspapers and local weekly English language magazines. There are also many excellent Japanese language books which can get you started in self-study.

Japanese Characters

There are three different alphabets, two of which are phonetic and represent the same sound. One alphabet is for words of Japanese origin, and called Hiragana. The other is called Katakana, and is for words of foreign origin. These two alphabets will be the easiest and most useful to learn if you are staying in Japan for a relatively short time. Katakana in particular will be useful when trying to read menus, posters, much advertising and general notices. The following links give you complete charts of both basic alphabets, as well as the pronunciation for each letter.


The third alphabet is known as Kanji, and is more of a script than an alphabet. Originally introduced to Japan via Korea in the 5th century, Kanji are ideograms, in so far as each character has it`s own meaning and corresponds to a word. By combining characters, more words can be created. For example, the combination of the words "electricity" and "car" means "train". There are several ten thousands of characters, of which some 2000 to 3000 are required to be able to comfortably read a Japanese newspaper. A set of 1,945 characters has been officially declared as "toyo kanji", or kanji for everyday use.

Communication and Language

Although there is a standard Japanese dialect, regional dialects exist as well. For example, a person speaking in a strong Osaka dialect would not be understood well outside of the region.

Japan makes use of four writing systems viz. kanji, hiragana, katakana and the alphabet. Japanese people are more accustomed to seeing printed English rather than having listened to it. Therefore write a word or two down. If you come from a country using Chinese characters, write that down.

Please remember that speaking louder will not make the person to whom you are speaking understand you any better! On the contrary. It may cause further misunderstanding and bad feelings. Repeat yourself using a simpler sentence structure or by using key words clearly and slowly.

To learn Japanese quickly go to a Japanese Language School.

Alpha Japanese Institute
ARC Academy
Azabudai Japanese Language School
Hiroo Language Center
Japanese Lunch
Meguro Language Center