reading Japanese for travellers
For your trip I recommend learning 1 of the 3 forms of written Japanese
Why? It is very handy, rather cool and actually.. really EASY to learn!
- how easy reading Japanese for travellers can be, with a simple trick
- and more importantly, why you want to learn it too
Who needs 3 written forms of 1 language?
Spoken Japanese sounds very hard to learn. As a traveller you always feel more at home if you master at least the usual vocabulary of ‘Hellos and Thank you’s.’ You should do that too. But reading Japanese is another story, it is terribly hard, even locals admit that. So reading Japanese for travellers seems like a waste of time. Impossible even. But is not! Go on and discover that you are way smarter than you think!
Learn the easiest form only
Japanese people speak one language. But they use 3 sets of characters to write it all down. And these three are often mixed, so one sentence contains parts of all three forms. Feeling challenged? Let me explain it really easy, if you want more in dept, check the Wiki-site ‘Japanese language.’
First there was ‘Kanji’, the elaborate, beautiful and infamous characters originating in China. These are the hard-part to master. And to remember. Then came ‘Kana’ which I see as a modern-day escape from the Kanji. There are two Kana, Hiragana and Katakana. Katakana is used to spell all things, names and concepts that are NOT-originally Japanese. Like your name, a banana and the internet. Hiragana is used to spell everything else. So, all these impossible Kanji can be spelled in Kana too!
Do you need to learn any of these forms to travel in Japan? No, not at all. But it is fun and very rewarding to be able to actually ready some of the indecipherable mess around you. And if you only go for Hiragana it suddenly becomes very possible. Let me share a trick, it is how my 5-year-old son basically taught himself Hiragana. In a week!
How a 5-year-old learned Hiragana in 1 week
Get a poster with the 42-ish characters of Hiragana on it. You can use a book too, or download one from this website. Hang it somewhere easy to see. Like inside the door of the toilet. Explain him the sounds of the characters. This website does that for you. Now the sweet part! Play a game of repetition, on the way to and from school. How? From the bicycle he will see the license plate of each and every car. These all start with 1 Hiragana. You cannot image how fast you remember them with this game. Yes, you too. Because you will rent a camper car, right? So you will see ‘live license plates’ all around you! Just prepare to know the sound of each one, and the fun-repetition-game during the first few days of your travels does the rest.
Why is your new skill so useful?
This is why you want to learn Hiragana:
- Give your Travellers confidence a boost
- Enjoy Japanese cuisine better
- Find your way easier (and save your time)
- Fun, it really is fun!
Boost of confidence. Biggest asset for many will be a trick of the mind. Travelling can sometimes be scary. You can feel terribly lost in a street where you really cannot read anything. Only now you can! And you will feel very good about it, especially when your friends back home find out you can read Japanese!
Menus come in many forms. With text, photos and mixed. Text can be English, often it is not. Especially in the local ‘fast-food’-chains that you should definitely try (read about them and enjoying Japanese food in this How to.. about food and cooking in your camping car). Japanese menus will have many Kanji but Hiragana too so you will recognise dishes which are on your list of ‘Local Food to Try.’ And easily order them again later.
Navigation. Your camper car will have a GPS system. It is better not to start playing about on that, for example inputting your destinations in Japanese. But next to it, and as a back-up you will have a map too. I believe you should anyway. The best maps you buy locally (I recommend Mapple, more about it in a future article) and these have little English, lots of Kanji but also Hiragana. Which you now know. Making the maps so much easier to read! And the same goes for street signs. Big roads have signs in English. Streets do not. Some ‘kana-knowledge’ will make you find your way more quickly.
Fun! Mastering a new skill fun and realising you can actually read (some) Japanese is great fun!
Extra tip: more reading Japanese for travellers? From Hiragana to Katakana, the other easy language-form, is only a small step! There are about 42 also, many resemble their Hiragana friends and the logic behind it is similar. Only, no ‘car licence plate game’ for that one.. If you find out another trick, please share with us in a comment!
Learn something you never thought you would, and enjoy Japan so much more
Create your unique trip! Go Camper Japan!
- Anki is an flashcard-App for any device. Create your own cards or just download existing cards. Like Hiragana
- Japanese Phrasebook on WikiTravel
- Don’t forget the winter! Skiing in Japan is amazing! Prepare and read this long Ride in the snow