Japan is the first country we visit whose language we don’t understand. Luckily, almost all names of the places, subway stations, streets, stores and restaurants, are written in Chinese characters – Kanji (漢字). It makes our lives a lot of easier in this foreign city. We can instantly recognize and remember them, and most of time we can figure out what they mean. Had them written only in Japanese Characters or English, they would look all similar to us and would be much more difficult to remember.
Speaking is a different story. Although the characters are same as Chinese, the pronunciations are totally different. What is interesting is that our appearances are so easy to fit in, so people naturally start speaking Japanese to us, but we don’t know any sentence except “Excuse me” and “Thank you”; on the contrary, some westerns who live in Japan for many years and speak fluent Japanese, but they look so different so people always start talking to them in broken English. If we don’t have a map with us, asking direction is a big challenge; but once we write down the name in Kanji, then we have a common ground.