Asking for directions in Tokyo

Views of Tokyo, Japan, photographed by me from the Tokyo Tower in 2008:



In every travel guide book there is a list of words and questions in the foreign language of the country you are visiting.  I think it is useless to memorize these words and questions, because you will not understand the native’s quick response in his mother tongue, unless you are fluent in the language.

In other words, it is easier to ask the native if he speaks English.  If not, then move on to the next native.  When the guy says, “Yes, I speak English,” well, halleluia, you can then ask for directions in English.

We found this to be the case in Tokyo, Japan, where we spent 3 nights in 2008.  After we checked into the hotel, we took the taxi to Roppongi to have dinner at a restaurant, which had been recommended by a Fodor’s guide book.

We had difficulty locating this restaurant, but no difficulty finding young men who could speak and understand English.  Each man would point to the street and area where the restaurant would be, judging from the directions given in the Fodor book.

Alas, we realized that Fodor was mistaken.  The book screwed up royally, because there were absolutely no restaurants on that street.  Grrrr.  Never buy Fodor’s guide books, as they are highly inaccurate.

Anyway, we would not have come to this conclusion if the Japanese men we approached had not spoken English and taken us to that street.

Have you ever been in a foreign country and asked for directions in English?  Were you able to get a response in English?  And what do you think of Fodor’s guide books?

12 Responses to “Asking for directions in Tokyo”

  1. Olga Says:

    There have been areas in this country where I had trouble understanding the language, even tho’ I was assuming it was English.

  2. Christine Says:

    great advice not to use language translator books, I like your way better! I always thought Fodor’s guide books were reliable. But my favourite for Europe is Rick Steve.

  3. DJan Says:

    In China there were no people speaking English to ask. It’s almost impossible to understand someone who thinks they know English anyway, in China at least. We were careful to have someone write down our destination in Chinese so we could hand it to the taxi driver. 🙂

  4. L...w Says:

    Aren’t there any translation apps for phones today? I think in the very near future we’ll all be able to speak and read in all languages with relative ease. Don’t need to rely on learning the language lol

  5. Denise Says:

    I have never bought Fodor Guide Books. I went to Austria a couple of times with friends and remember this great conversation I had with a German doctor and his wife at one of the evening get-togethers. They sat at our table. I had a pretty good language book – can’t remember what it was now – but between a few words we knew in each other’s language and a bit of sign language, we got along just fine. It was one of the most memorable evenings I had as a 22 year old. Other countries I have visited have usually been visiting my family and they took us around knowing the language.

  6. SchmidleysScribbling Says:

    Once when I was in Geneva, I asked a crowd assembled at a bus stop if anyone spoke English. Everyone there threw up a hand. I asked the Chinese guy next to me for the directions. He spoke perfect English English.

    Ditto experiences in other places, including France where they are supposed to be stuffy about their language. English is the lingua franca of most of the educated world. Dianne

    PS by all means see the Everglades. Wonderful!!

  7. mlum808 Says:

    Hello Gigi, we are leaving for Japan on Monday for 2 weeks and we never had any problem communicating. We will be starting in the southern end of Japan, Fukuoka, and make our way to the north to Sapporo.

  8. granny annie Says:

    I have never been to another country other than Canada and I have never been able to help a visitor from another country in the US directions in their language, Soon we will all have voice translators on our phones to speak any language in any land, Sounds like you found a good solution to your problems.

  9. DrumMajor Says:

    I’ve found AAA books to be wonderful, but I don’t think they will help outside the U.S. DrumMajor

  10. Suzanne Says:

    I have never used Fodors. In France, I tried to use French and got French lessons in transit as the taxi driver, who also spoke English, tried to improve my pronunciation. It was an effort in futility.

  11. Linda Starr Says:

    yes and no in Mexico, sign language helps too. and an translation dictionary for common words like for the bathroom, Ha.

  12. Musings Says:

    I think I’m over my jet lag now, thank goodness! Hope everything has been going well on your end while we’ve been gone. We use Lonely Planet because it lists the more reasonable places.

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