Jan 31, 2018
I absolutely love the idea of traveling to a foreign country where the locals and I don't speak the same lingo. It is exhilarating, albeit sometimes frustrating and can, at times, be frightful if you don't know how to get help in a sticky situation. But the most wonderful thing about living on planet Earth is all of our fellow humans. There are so many kind people all across the globe, and if you just ask for a bit of help, you can be given just that when you are in need.
Japan is no different. As a matter of fact, from my time spent here, I think Japanese people have plenty of times gone out of their way to help me out above and beyond what I would have expected normally. The key elements in my success for getting help -- knowing where to look, not giving up, and, unfortunate to say, but being a white female who speaks fluent English.
Knowing where to look
If you are traveling around Japan, and find yourself in any situation that you aren't able to handle with your own Japanese ability, then seek help. Near every average to large train station in Japan, you will find the Japanese "police box" (koban). It is often the size of one or two rooms and has a big sign above the entry in romanized characters, KOBAN.
The police officers are there to help. Perhaps you are only needing to find your way to a hotel and you can't read the directions. Maybe you don't have a cellphone and you can't contact your friend. Whatever it is, the officers at the koban are usually polite and helpful. The koban is not just a place to report a crime, but also a place to get help with anything you may need.
Another source of help is train station staff. Especially if you are only in need of directions, the station masters in Japan can usually answer your questions, and around Tokyo, are likely to have some grasp on English.
Another likely place to get help, and in English, is a hotel lobby. Major hotels often have staff members that speak English and will likely offer to find you whatever you need.
Don't give up
But what if the koban was packed with people or the station master just gave you a blank stare and continued to repeat, "I no English, no." If you weren't able to find the help you needed from one koban or member of station staff, then don't become discouraged. Try a different koban, or another staff memeber. Metropolitan areas have multiple police boxes in fairly close proximity.
Much of the time, if I stare around looking lost or confused with puppy dog eyes, some random stranger will courteously take the time out of their day to help me. I have that meek white girl look. People carry my luggage up staircases. But if you aren't privileged like I happen to be, luckily in Japan, as long as you look lost and in need of help, it will come. Typically those who get the least amount of help are those who can pass as Japanese. The more foreign you look, the more obliged Japanese people will feel to help you out. But don't stress if you can't find help right away. Go find it yourself and don't get frustrated if you can't convey what you need right away. Just keep trying.
American step mom with beautiful Brazilian babies. Raising them in Japan. I'm a crafter too