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firefly2442
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I'm going to Japan with a friend of mine in about 2 months and I would like to try to learn at least some of the basics to carry on a rudimentary conversation. Besides bug my friend and have him laugh at my pronunciation, are there any free tools out there that would help me? Audio is key as I don't have time to learn the written language.

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It's not easy to learn enough of a language to carry on a conversation in that short amount of time unless you really do some intense studying. The reason is that daily conversation is peppered with idiomatic phrases, slang, and grammar that doesn't always follow the rules.

However, you should be able to learn the basics of the phonetics (especially Japanese since it has a limited number of consonants and vowels). Surf around the internet for resources. You can also borrow some travel phrase books with CD audio from the library.

How long are you planning to go? Should be an awesome trip!

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Ah, the public library. Why didn't I think of that? Good idea.

Yeah, I know I won't really be able to carry on a full conversation but at least say polite things like thank you or this was a good meal or let me help you. I'm staying with the family of my friend so I need to be polite. :)

Taking out the air travel time, I'll be there about 8.5 days. Should be a blast... now I just need to think about getting a new camera.

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Along with basic phrases, it's a good idea to lean some of the most basic do's and dont's of Japanese culture (like, say, don't talk on your cellphone in public transport).

On the upside, a Gaijin like you is not supposed to know all the in's and out's of Japanese culture and bar the worst offenses your cultural mistakes will not draw much negative attention.

You also most definately don't want to mess with the Japanese police. If, as I assume, your friend is knowledgeable on Japan, he will know this.

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I'm going to Japan with a friend of mine in about 2 months and I would like to try to learn at least some of the basics to carry on a rudimentary conversation. Besides bug my friend and have him laugh at my pronunciation, are there any free tools out there that would help me? Audio is key as I don't have time to learn the written language.

What part of Japan? Will you be driving at any point?

I lived in Japan for 5 years. There are a lot of things that could be said about culture and courtesies, but if first helps to know where you will be and mode of transportation as that will help us know what things to let you know about. For example, if you are not going to be driving it doesn't do you any good to know that vehicles turn off their headlights when stopped for a train or a stop light. (A courtesy that would be nice if adopted here in the states.)

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Learn the written numbers. This is how you make sure you're not getting ripped off in stores or from vendors. It's pretty crucial information to have. :)

Think of things you'll do on a daily basis. Ask yourself questions about the trip. Will I be taking taxis? Will I need directions on a regular basis? Will I be bargaining prices? Will I be asking about food? Just try to prioritize what you need to learn in such a short amount of time.

Also, I always carry a small pad and a pen or two on me whenever I travel. You can find someone with decent English who can write out directions or information for you that you can show cabbies, waiters etc. It's handy to have. Right now I have a sheet in my pad that has instructions on how to get to my mom's house written in Bahasa that I can show to a cabbie. This is handy because beer is cheap and there are a lot of bars... :D

Enjoy the trip. Take lots of pics!

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Tokyo, well, according to my friend just outside Tokyo in the suburbs. I won't be doing any driving. I'm guessing we'll be taking public transit to get places (subway, train, etc.). I think asking about food will be important. What kind of gift do you think would be appropriate for me to bring when I go to stay with him and his parents?

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What kind of gift do you think would be appropriate for me to bring when I go to stay with him and his parents?

In Japan gift giving is an art form, representing friendship, respect, and gratitude. The ceremony is important; the gift is always in a gift box, or beautifully wrapped in quality paper, and given with great respect. Because the symbolism is what's important, frequently the actual gift may be very modest.

There's an expectation a gift will be offered. Come prepared with a beautifully wrapped, quality gift that's not extravagant. It' a gesture that you're looking forward to a long lasting relationship.

Never surprise the Japanese recipient with your gift. Subtly alert the recipient that you would like to present a small memento. Gifts are normally exchanged at the end of the visit.

One custom is to reciprocate with a gift that's half the value of a gift received. If your gift is too expensive, it could create an awkward situation, even at half the value.

When you offer your gift, hold it in both hands and bow, saying words that let the person know, "this gift is insignificant in comparison to the importance of the relationship". Saying it's "a small thing", even if the gift is expensive, conveys this sentiment.

The Japanese will politely refuse a gift once or twice before accepting it. And it will not be opened in your presence. When a gift is offered to you, follow this same ceremony. Politely refuse once or twice, and then accept it with both hands, saving it to open later.

Gifts of food or liquor (cookies, expensive candy, and fruit) are always good choices especially for modest gifts. If you're bringing a gift from your home country, make sure it's not "made in Japan". And don't select company items with your logo that may be a promotional item and look cheap.

Because of the long held traditions, you may choose to shop for, or at least have your gifts wrapped by a store, after you arrive in Japan. This way you'll know your gift will be correct.

In Japan symbolism is important. A gift with a pair of items is considered lucky, but sets of four or nine are unlucky.

Plus, the number 4 also means death; and the color red is associated with funerals, so don't give a pen with red ink, and don't write out a card using red. Books aren't appropriate; and sharp objects like knives, scissors, and letter openers symbolize "severing a relationship".

Rather than looking at the ceremony and symbolism as obstacles, learn about them so you are comfortable.

Chocolate

Universally, this is a good choice. There are many fine quality chocolates that make exquisite gifts.

Flowers

Flowers can be frequently used as a gift, especially if you’ve been invited to someone’s home.

Japanese Etiquette and Customs

Politeness is important to the Japanese. And cleanliness is supreme. Knowing cultural do’s and don’ts can make a big difference in creating a positive experience while in Japan.

Some customs, like removing one’s shoes before entering a home, some restaurants, even many businesses and most schools are non-negotiable. Do learn to eat with chopsticks. Never use the eating end of the chopsticks to dish food from the serving bowl. And don’t leave chopsticks in the food between bites. Do bring small gifts for the host and others.

Others faux pas might be forgivable depending on the company one keeps. For example, it is impolite to pour one’s own drink. Rather, companions pour each other’s drinks. It is proper to slurp one’s noodles. But it is not proper to count change after paying the bill.

There is no tipping in Japan. Anywhere! Anytime!

Check with Japanese For Dummies for a list of do’s and don’ts the average traveler might not have thought of.

Here are a few basic Japanese words and phrases to start with:

* Ohayoo gozaimasu - Good morning

* Konnichiwa - Good afternoon

* Konbanwa - Good evening

* Sayonara - Goodbye

* Arigato - Thank you

* Do-itash-imash-itay - You’re welcome

* Sumimasen - Excuse me

* Hai - Okay/yes

* Iie - No

* O genki desuka - How are you?

* Genki desu - I’m fine.

* Dozo - Please (as in “go ahead”)

* Kampai! - Cheers! (for toasting a drink)

* Eigo o hana-shimasu-ka - Do you speak English?

* Nihongo ga wakarimasen - I don’t speak Japanese.

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Learning languages and travelling is amazing. Learning languages opens up whole new worlds ... different ways of perceiving the world, communicating with a large chunk of the world that doesn't speak English etc.

So travel as much as you can before you get tied down to a career etc. :-)

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So travel as much as you can before you get tied down to a career etc. :-)

I did a lot of traveling before I even turned 18. Being a military brat took me around the US and to Japan at an early age. Things have changed a lot since I was last in Japan proper (1970). Funny thing is, I have traveled more in the last ten years than I had the previous 20. Go figure.

Being in Japan as a kid was cool, we could even see Mt. Fuji from our housing unit and were not far from Tokyo either. One thing to remember is that the Japanese will laugh, but not because something is funny necessarily, but of embarrassment or other reason.

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