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Eating out in Japan, the language issue


Restaurants & Bars Japan

Eating out in Japan, the language issue

Klary | | Jun 8, 2011 02:25 AM

So, I've just returned from a month-long trip to Japan. We spent one week in Tokyo and then travelled on to Kyoto, Nara, Koyasan, Fukuoka, Mt Aso, Matsuyama, Naoshima, Takamatsu, and Takayama. We had a fabulous time, fell in love with the country, and had some great food.... but when it came to eating out, language problems were definitely a big issue and I was just wondering how other travelling foodies are dealing with this.

For some background, I should add that this was the least researched trip I ever went on. Because of the tsunami / Fukushima disaster, we were unsure if we were going to go ahead with our travel plans until quite late. Because I felt there was a chance we would not be going, I kind of postponed looking into restaurants / places I wanted to eat etc until we were there. I did check out Chowhound threads but found the info there quite overwhelming. So, it turned out we often found ourselves in a town or city with no clue where to go, just walking around, hoping to stumble upon something inviting, which did not seem a good strategy in Japan where so much of the dining action takes place 'vertically' (on the 15th floor of a highrise for example) and where you really have to know where youre going.

And then there was language. We don't speak Japanese, and it happened a couple of times that we sat down somewhere to find out there was no English menu, no picture menu, no English speaking staff, no English speaking other customers to help us out, and no plastic food display to point at. This may seem nice and adventurous, but for a control freak like me, it felt pretty weird to order something off a menu without a clue what it would be...

I love perusing menus and deciding what I want to eat. Even in the places with picture menus I often found myself looking jealously at dishes on neighboring tables (and yes sometimes I ordered them).

I don't think I've seen this issue mentioned much here and I as just wondering: how do non-Japanese speaking travellers deal with these things?

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