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Fukuoka: Survival: Communicating
Communicating (Qjmp: 18005)
Most Japanese people have studied English for 7 years at school and many spend long hours in company classes or night schools. Some kind of competence in written English is a pre-requisite of many jobs. Thus although few people can actually be said to speak the language with any facility, a fair proportion of the Fukuoka population can understand or speak some (often only a very little) English, 'though few people have the confidence to do so. Most residents will be more than willing to help you if you can create a safe, simple communicative environment. That is your job, not theirs.
You can significantly increase the chances of communication by modifying your own verbal or physical behaviour slightly. Most of the following are common sense.
In general, speak short, slow, simple sentences with a noun and a verb.
Avoid slang or dialect-specific English.
Keep your body language "small" and do not gesticulate.
Do not approach the person too closely, foreigners tend to be larger than Japanese and can appear over-bearing.
Be aware that the English you speak is simply one dialect amongst many - and that your interlocuter may not be familar with it. Many English people find Texans and Glaswegians largely incomprehensible (and vice versa, presumably), there is no reason why a Japanese speaker of English should find them any less so....
Smiling may be a mark of embarassment or stress rather than any great joy at anything you might be saying.
In Japanese "Hai" ("yes") may mean no more than "I am listening to what you are saying". It does not necessarly imply comprehension nor always mean "yes I agree". You may also occasionally find that your firm "no!" is misunderstood and that the issue is still considered to be open to negotiation.
If you need directions on the street, we suggest you carefully approach a younger person (as they tend to have the most confidence dealing with foreigners and are more likely to speak some English) and say "sumimasen" ("excuse me"). From there, use the guidelines outlined above. Keep it simple! Don't rush them. A long silence may merely be indicative of thought.
... at most hotels speak some English, but even then, bear in mind the above points.
In general, ordinary policemen do not speak much English, 'though they will try to be helpful. Most Fukuoka policemen are very aware of inter-cultural differences and will bend over backwards to attempt to avoid doing anything that would appear racist. (To westerners, at least.)
If you find yourself dealing with the police, we recommend calmness and politeness - particularly if the situation deteriorates for any reason.
Be very cautious about standing on "rights" that you may not, in fact, have. The concept of a "misunderstanding" is richly developed in Japanese culture and, as long as you are genuinely acting in good faith, may be reached for at any time.
Being calm and ultra-polite, but firm, is your best weapon against bureacracy anywhere.