• BirdForum is the net's largest birding community dedicated to wild birds and birding, and is absolutely FREE!

    Register for an account to take part in lively discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.

Basic Information needed (1 Viewer)


Well-known member

how I must imagine travelling in Japan ?

Is language knowledge urgently needed in speaking and writing ?
If writing is needed, which is the most helpful ( I learned only 20 Hiragana characters yet ).
Is there any homgepage or youtube with the most important words, questions and answers ?

How is about getting money, I have VISA, American Express and Master card ?
EC card of my bank is not permitted outside Europe.

How is about cottage, is it easy to get food in supermarket, to prepare by my own steam ?

Which is the easiest location for Japan beginners ?

Most interesting for me is bird watching, mountain hiking, I like nice forests and parks.
I heard 60 % of Japan is covered by forest.

But I can also imagine to visit nice towns with old buildings.
Kyoto seems very nice, is it also good for bird watching ?



Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
how I must imagine travelling in Japan ? It is easy

Is language knowledge urgently needed in speaking and writing ? No, all road signs, railway station signs, etc, are in English.

If writing is needed, which is the most helpful ( I learned only 20 Hiragana characters yet ). not necessary
Is there any homgepage or youtube with the most important words, questions and answers ? not necesary

How is about getting money, I have VISA, American Express and Master card? In rural Japan, cash is still dominant, many places not acceting credit cards, even big places often

How is about cottage, is it easy to get food in supermarket, to prepare by my own steam ?
Yes in bigger cities, seven-elevens everywhere else, even in middle of nowhere

Which is the easiest location for Japan beginners ?
All of it.

Jeff Hopkins

Just another...observer
United States
Jos may be oversimplifying a bit.

Road signs and railway signs are mostly bilingual as he notes, but once outside of the major tourist areas (and often within them) people don't always speak English. This includes ticket sellers. While many ticket machines are bilingual, they aren't always. And remember, when someone says they speak "a little" English, it really means they don't speak English but don't want to lose face by saying no to you.

Buying food on your own is easy. I lived on 7-11 food for a couple days the last time I was there. It's not gourmet, but it is tasty and filling.

If you're up for restaurant food, many restaurants have picture menus or even realistic models of everything on the menu. Just point and eat.

Hiragana aren't especially useful. They are usually used in conjunction with Kanji, so you need to know the character to know the whole word. Katakana are more useful, but they are only used for foreign words.


Well-known member
It depends on where you are going as to how much language matters - in the big cities or touristy towns (including from my personal experience, Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo and Kamakura) you can broadly get away with speaking English, though I would advise learning the very most basic phrases - hello / please / thankyou / goodbye etc and taking a small phrasebook for anything slightly more complex.

I didn't learn any Japanese characters - in most places people visit English will be written, and Western numbers are used basically universally anyway, so at the very least you will be able to see times/prices/platform numbers etc.

Japan is a very cash based society, certainly big department stores and the like will take card, but generally work on the assumption that any place you visit won't - I would even say that cashpoints are rarer than in the UK.

Supermarkets are easy to use and ubiquitous - and generally better quality than an equivalent European establishment. You can also probably eat fairly cheaply in restaurants depending on what you want to eat.

From your description, I would recommend Kyoto for you - it's not necessarily a great birding destination (on a non-specifically birding trip, I got about 25 species in 6 days) but if you were focused on that more you could probably get that a decent bit higher (and depends on time of year - we went in a heatwave, so not much about), but for the culture/forests/parks it's got a lot to offer. Kamakura is probably similarly suitable, but I understand it to be very busy in Summer (I visited in late November when quieter).

I would say that realistically, if you are intending to do serious birding, the typical trinity is Ryukyu Islands, Eastern Hokkaido and Arasaki, and while you certainly can do birding elsewhere, you aren't likely to find "headline" species in Japan unless you specifically target them.

I did trip reports for both my previous visits, which might hopefully help a bit:

Kyoto/Osaka in July 2013
Tokyo, Kamakura and Kushiro in November/December 2014

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
Jos may be oversimplifying a bit.

He asked if language knowledge was 'urgently needed' :)

In my experience, for a birding trip, the answer is simple - no it is not. Always nice to have a bit, but nowhere did I ever have anything more than very minor inconvenience due to lack of language. I even hitchhiked a few times in Japan, still no real issue. In the face of not knowing the language, important to show politeness and friendliness ...usual response back is very generous on their side.

If you do want to learn basic useful language phrases, probably Lonely Planet guidebook is good enough - lots of information about travelling in general and where to say/how to get which bus, etc, plus has a list of basic Japanese phrases that could be helpful and gives place names in Japanese script (which could show in bus station, etc if totally lost).

Only thing I personally would reinforce is the need to have cash, not credit card, in many areas, especially rural.


Well-known member
I go to Japan every June time (not the best time for birds but it is a company meeting and normally get a chance to bird).

As mentioned Language is not essential, although knowing the sounds help so you can convert something into katakana (a, ee, ooh, eh, oh). I have gotten away so far using Google Translate (then showing the Japanese characters), Japan Trains app (for working out what trains to use), and as someone suggested, pointing at the food model. You can even bring the server outside to the shop window to indicate on the display what food you would like.

If you are looking to do a lot of travelling, there is a JR rail pass for overseas people that you buy before you arrive which is quite cost effective. If you are wanting to island hop, JAL does cheap flights for overseas (up to five flights) travellers too. I have not driven over there and mainly been in Tokyo area.

JapanNatureguides.com does some good directions for some sites, and I managed to follow the directions for White-Bellied Green Pigeon (Aobato) and Japanese Paradise Flycatcher (Sankocho). Karuizawa was a bit further away but manageable as a day trip (although it would be better to stay up there. Then you have various mountains, although you may want to avoid weekends if you want to avoid crowds.

As mentioned, 7-11 are everywhere and 24 hours so very handy for early morning starts. Always well stocked too. Having Cash, as mentioned, is the best way. Beer is expensive if you do drink. For cards, I think Visa or Mastercard is better idea rather than American Express but as mentioned, you pay cash everywhere. Cash machines are all indoors (using your bank card to access).

Some parks you need to pay at a machine to enter before passing the ticket to the staff member 1 meter away, or get change for a machine before paying the ticket man the exact price. Even when no common language is used, gestures can allow communication.

Hope there is something there to help.


Well-known member
Based on my experience from quite a few years ago, i agree with all the comments made by Jos. We spoke no Japanese when we arrived, and still spoke none when we left. We got around very easily. The thing with Japan is that it is very well organised and people are both honest and helpful. People went out of their way to help us.

In direct contradiction to Jeff's experience, we found that there was a tendency for people to say that they DIDN'T speak English, when it turned out they were actually quite proficient. We assumed that they didn't want to lose face by saying they did, and being less than perfect.

Would also echo the comments about Japan being a cash based society. Don't rely on many places taking credit cards.

Jeff Hopkins

Just another...observer
United States
Sorry Jos. No offense intended. I agree it's not urgently needed.

As others noted, a few arigatos and sumimasens go a very long way. And bowing. A lot of bowing. (Don't worry. It'll become instinctual after a while).

And in addition to what I said about people speaking English, DMW is also right. Many people who speak decent English say they don't speak it out of fear of not being perfect. So when someone says they speak a little, you really don't know what you're going to get.

If you rent a car, you can often get an English language "Navi" system, especially in big cities and touristy areas. It's a simple for the rental company as switching out a sim card in the GPS. But learning the kanji for your destination and the major stops along the way can also be helpful.

You'll find the Japanese can be very friendly to foreigners if you do the same for them.
Last edited:


Well-known member
Hi all together,

thank You very much for the helpful information.

I learned some japanese words in Judo and Karate.
I am ill since 5 weeks ( car accident ), so i decided to learn more.

To learn Hiranga alphabet, this link is helpful

To understand Kanji, this is helpful, but it seems an big adventure !

Kyoto seems very good because there are many old building and really nice parks which looks like a painting.

I am not sure if I can go to Japan in autumn.
Kyoto should very protected against typhoons.

Fukuoka shoud be excellent for waders in autumn, but in September typhoons in the south are not unusual.

Quite good looks

Where do You look for accomodation ?
Is booking or agoda helpful ?

Best regards

Users who are viewing this thread