When you are a visitor in a foreign land you expect some language difficulty but in many parts of the world you can at least read the letters and try to figure it out. In Japan their letters look like lines and squiggles. Very cool lines and squiggles but lines and squiggles nonetheless.
When we landed in Japan we spoke exactly twelve words of Japanese and ten of those were the numbers 1-10. Thanks Hwang's Martial Arts Judo classes for preparing us with numbers 1-10! We could read exactly zero words! Luckily for us, Japan seems to really cater to foreigners. Almost every important sign is written in Japanese and in English! For awhile I had Jax convinced I could read Japanese before Emma informed him that the signs also had English words on them. Thanks for spoiling my fun kiddo! All of the train announcements are also in English too which made things really easy.
One of the funniest language barrier conversations that we had was with sweet Japanese girl working at Disneyland. She commented on our shirts and tried to make small talk. Our foreignness clearly stuck out like sore thumbs. It could have been my blonde haired, blue eyed daughter, or my Goliath sized bald husband, or the fact that when anyone spoke to us we all looked confused. She asked where we were from. My mother-in-law responded to the girl's question with "Ohio". The girl stopped midsentence, gave us a small bow, and said "Oh, Good Morning, How are you?" Now this was a little odd because we had been having a conversation with her in broken English so a "good morning" right in the middle didn't really fit. She then asked again where we were from and my mother-in-law again responded with "Ohio". The girl looked puzzled but again said "Good morning". Finally, my brother-in-law realized what was happening and intervened. It turns out that state of "Ohio" sounds exactly like the Japanes word "Ohayo" which means "Good Morning". After Mike explained that to all of us we seemed much less crazy to this poor girl. We also tried to explain to the young girl that we were from Kentucky. She had never heard of Kentucky so Fred asked her if she'd heard of KFC. There are KFC's all over Japan so she knew what KFC was. Fred said we were from there. No one bothered to clarify this so this poor girl probably thinks we are from a chicken restaurant in the US (and not even a good chicken restaurant).
Another interesting place to not speak or read the language is a restaurant. If we had not had Mike with us we would have starved. If the restaurant doesn't have an English menu then you are left to chance ordering by picture. Totally risky if you're not an adventurous eater, you're picky, or have a food allergy. Japanese restaurants all have displays of their typical dishes out front. It makes everything either look really good or the half a squid on the place totally scares you off. Again, eating in Japan is just odd if you don't speak the language.
In the end we learned the the major phrases. Excuse me, thank you, I'm sorry, good morning and good afternoon. Enough to get us by or at least get someone's attention to ask for help! We even used our knowledge of the numbers 1-10 while at Disney. There were roku people in our group. The Japanese people are so friendly and willing to help that it made the language barrier way less stressful! Oh and my brother-in-law speaks some Japanese so he kept us alive and kept us from embarrassing ourselves.