While it is possible to get by in Japan without knowing more than just a handful of Japanese words, it should go without saying that your life there will be much more enriched with even a basic understanding of the language. If you get the chance, any chance, to study the language before you leave for Japan, do so. When you get there, either subscribe to a Japanese language school (usually available in larger cities only), or, even better, arrange for a language exchange with a native-Japanese teacher: you teach them English and they teach you Japanese. If there are no Japanese teachers at your school, ask people around you if they know any native-Japanese teachers at any kind of school who can help you. If you can't find a teacher, then make the arrangement with a neighbor or someone you are introduced to via a contact. Do not solicit students at your school for this arrangement!
Knowing the language will not only help you get around, it will greatly enhance your social life. You will be able to talk with neighbors and make friends who you otherwise wouldn't have known. It will help you to understand Japanese culture, and make connections with the society you live in.
But Japanese looks way too hard, you say? Not so! Sure, the writing system is tough, but you don't need that, outside of a few basic characters like names of train stations or important buildings. Mostly it will be a matter of learning to speak Japanese, which is much easier than many people think. Japanese pronunciation is very similar to Spanish, with just five vowels and simple syllables. Almost all verbs in the language are regular, making for easy conjugation. I won't say it's a breeze; it's definitely harder for English speakers to learn than Spanish, particularly because of the unique syntax. It is not that hard, though, and if you study while living in Japan, you will be pleasantly surprised at how fast you pick it up!
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