Being in Japan could be difficult unless you know the language. Even for someone like me who is currently studying the language, I struggle with reading the boards and information-loaded guides and flyers due to unrecognizable kanji. Which is why getting by, particularly when you’re a Muslim, or a vegetarian or a vegan – to be able to know where to go when you need to answer nature call or to pray, or the ingredient details of food you’d like to try in Japan is very important. However, fret not, because thanks to the advent of the internet, this task is made easier for you. What you do need though, is a stable internet connection.
Note: There are a lot of wi-fi spots in Tokyo but whether or not they are stable is another story.
I would highly suggest Google Translate app which has been very helpful in determining whether or not there are any ingredients that cannot be consumed by us Muslims. Not only would it allow you to type in words or draw characters you are not sure of, you can also take a photo of the whole thing and the app would translate it immediately for you. Prior to having the app, we had to scan through the ingredients one by one to ensure that certain words are not within the description, which decidedly took a much longer time for us having to spend on each aisle in the grocery store.
In the case where you have lousy internet connection, you may want to memorize certain keywords. I shall list down words that are most helpful for your reference:
Toilet – トイレ(toire)・お手洗い(otearai)
Male – 男(otoko)
Female – 女(onna)
Meat – 肉(niku)
Beef – 牛肉(gyuuniku)・ビーフ(biifu)
Pork – 豚肉(butaniku)・ポーク(pooku)
Chicken – 鳥肉(toriniku)・チキン(chikin)
Mirin – 味醂(mirin)・みりん(mirin)
Sake – 酒(sake)
Alcohol – 酒(sake)・アルコール(arukooru)
For finding good halal places to eat, I tend to seek guidance from Have Halal Will Travel blog. It seems they have a downloadable app as well, which I intend to download before my summer trip within Japan.
When you want to get around Japan, all you have to do is Google the directions. The train fares will be estimated for you and which lines to take will be broken down as well. If you think you will be using the train/bus a lot, you might want to make Suica or Pasmo card at the ticketing kiosk to make things easier (they are similar to Oyster card in the UK and Touch n’ Go in Malaysia). If you are unsure where to go, you can ask the person at the window counter, although perhaps they would be speaking in Japanese. Once, we had bought the wrong tickets and upon asking the man at the counter, he refunded us after telling us that the line we meant to take was on the other side.
One thing for sure is that even if some Japanese do not fancy the idea of gaijin (slightly derogatory term for foreigners) or that they cannot speak any other language than Japanese, they would always try and help you if you ask for help. Some of the more welcoming ones would even come over to you to offer help. So getting by in Japan, is actually much easier than you might think! 😉