Speaking Japanese! A Tokyo Adventure In Language And Communication!

tokyo nightlife neon

Welcome To Tokyo!

Yes, it is one of the most “lit up” cities in the world – a neon wonderland full of amazing imagery and signs!

tokyo neon night lights

Tokyo at night is a magical adventure – full of amazing sights and sounds – and I have been lucky enough to wander these streets for hours and hours…but in the daytime, when the neon is turned off, Tokyo is a city like any other…

The picture above was the view of Tokyo from the 35th floor of my hotel in the Shinjuku district – I stayed there four times, and each time I saw a vast city stretched out before me – and I had every intention of getting to know ALL OF IT:

Tokyo signs


If you are wondering what this restaurant is promoting, you are not alone! I speak virtually NO Japanese, and I certainly cannot read any of it. But it is a city that welcomes you regardless. Still, how do you communicate when you can’t read or speak a language? How do you break the language barrier? Well, a company let me know they have the solution, which I will share in a minute…first, let’s go shopping!

tokyo store

Even though these banners are colorful and fun, I had no idea what they said! Still, on each trip to Tokyo, I managed to explore another fascinating area of Tokyo – like:

Harajuku, Here I Come!

The neighborhood of Harajuku is also a fashion capital, renowned for its unique street fashion. It is always packed with young people, with an upbeat, fun “street fair” vibe…

Harajuku street shopping

Harajuku is great for window shopping…but some stores have limited english signage as well. I came across the official outlet for the “Tokyo Rescue Squad” – their fire department/911 services – and I could proudly wear their uniform….

Electronic Heaven – Yodobashi!

Another area full of language barriers is the “Akihabara” district – which is known for electronics, like this ten story electronics store – Yodobashi!

Once inside, your senses are inundated with signs highlighting what’s for sale – although as you know, I couldn’t read any of it….

Inside, they constantly call out the specials of the day – each department is packed and loud – and since you can’t read any of the signs – or understand what they are saying – it is a very unique situation….

I would love to have some way to translate these signs, so I can communicate better with these great people! Luckily, I found an entire wall of iphone/ipad/ipod accessories – this is where I found my cherished bacon and egg iphone cover…

wacky iphone cover

But after shopping I got hungry, and I need some sushi….


I have posted about going to the “Tsukiji” Fish Market in Tokyo, one of the most unique places I have ever visited:

Located only blocks from Tokyo’s glittering Ginza shopping district, Tsukiji is a prominent landmark, a supplier for countless fishmongers and sushi chefs, and a popular destination for foreign tourists like me.

Take A Walk Through Tsukiji With Me!

I decided to walk through the public shopping area of the market, away from the fish auction space – here is what it’s like to wander among the stalls that sell fresh fish – and of course, a conveyor belt sushi bar!

Early every morning, tens of thousands of tons of seafood from every ocean of the world quickly change hands in Tsukiji’s auctions and in the marketplace’s hundreds of tiny stalls. You can wander for hours through row after row of stalls, looking for great food to try:

I’ve eaten in several of these tiny stalls – especially the mini-sushi bars that line the outside of the fish market…here is one of the plates I had for breakfast at 8am:

Time To Tackle My Language Barrier!

The best part of the fish market is sitting down at one of these tiny food stalls and trying to get some of that deliciousness for myself:

The Universal Language Of “What Did You Say?”

I quickly discovered that we all try to communicate with each other, no matter how difficult that is – for example, at this stall the two women working behind the counter spoke absolutely NO english, which made my attempt to order a bowl of fresh sea urchin and yellowtail over rice quite comic: the two elderly japanese women behind the counter didn’t think I knew what I was ordering, so they did what everyone does: THEY SPOKE VERY FAST JAPANESE to me – getting louder and louder – BECAUSE IF YOU DON’T SPEAK THE LANGUAGE, JUST SPEAK UP!

tokyo fish market sea urchin

Another customer tried to intervene, but his english was limited as well…imagine if I had something – ANYTHING – that I could use to lock down a word or a phrase they would understand! Finally they pulled out some sea urchin for me to taste, and when I smiled and nodded, they made me my breakfast, and it was delicious!

Oh, and they just LAUGHED AND LAUGHED!

And you know what, so did I! It was a unique communication exchange, one of my most memorable!

Since I love to travel the world, I think the ability to translate content into other languages would be extremely helpful – and much less frustrating for those I am trying to communicate with as well!

Tokyo shopping

Smartling Comes Through!

After posting my “communication breakdown”, I heard from the smart folks at “Smartling!”

This company provides translation services for companies’ websites and mobile apps! Had I been able to use their serve and been able to view Tokyo’s local websites and apps in English I could have known the best sales in Yodobashi!

Check out their services here!


See you soon in Tokyo – let’s meet at this “All Kit-Kat” store!

Tokyo kit kat store

Let me know what you think, and if you had a unique communication breakdown – I will share the best ones!

Categories: Books / Media, Exotic Travel, Food, Food Review, Japan, Memoirs, Restaurants, Tokyo!, Travel, Travel Adventures, Travel Memoir, Wacky Food

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