Most people who start studying Japanese dream of two things; going to Japan and being able to speak Japanese fluently.
What if I told you, you can travel to and around Japan cheaply, having amazing experiences, and become fluent in spoken Japanese by the end of your trip?
Masaka! You may cry, but hear me out.
Visit Japan on a Budget
You will want to plan a trip for around 3 months. This lets you into the country on a tourist waiver visa (90 days), which means you don’t need to apply to the government for any special visa and you’re free to explore the country as you wish. (No working though, so save up your money beforehand).
Now, flights will be the most expensive part of the trip costing at around $1000 depending on where you’re flying from/to and the time of year. So make sure know when you want to go and that you have that put aside first.
The next thing you want to plan is where about in Japan you want to go. First of all cross off staying in Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto for very long, those places are expensive. (Although you can visit them with some cheap Airbnb apartments, but you can do that any time when you have more money to do a 2 week tour of the main touristy site.) If you want to travel cheap and learn the language then I suggest not going there.
So where should you go? The countryside! Specifically anywhere that does WWOOF. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is an organisation that connects organic farms with people who want to volunteer on farms in exchange for food and housing. The idea of the organisation is that you live and work with the families that run the farms. And not paying for food or housing for 3 months is a great way to save money.
You don’t even have to spend all 3 months in the same place, you can travel! I suggest the best length of time on a farm is 3 weeks, less than that is too short but more can get tiresome. Although it depends on the farm and family you’re with, the great thing is you can be flexible.
Becoming Fluent Speaking Japanese
You can become fluent speaking in any language if you do these three things:
- Live in the country for at least 3 months.
- Never speak English, only talk in your target language (even with English speakers).
- Speak your target language with as many people, as much as possible.
This is a boiled down two point plan suggested by pretty much every polyglot (multi-lingual) person. Being in Japan, among people who can’t speak English, forces you into situations where you have to use Japanese in order to get by.
Speak your target language even if you don’t know how to say something. Describe it, use a dictionary, ask how to say things, and use hand gestures to learn new words and phrases. Constantly speaking in Japanese, living and working in Japanese, interacting in Japanese, having fun in Japanese (getting drunk in Japanese), is a fantastic way to learn the language. It’s not just passive studying (although doing that at the same time helps even more), you’re learning the language like a native person would learn a language.
This is why WWOOF for 3 months is so important. You’re putting yourself in those situations where you have to interact with native Japanese people, you have to communicate and live in Japanese in order to get by. WWOOF is an amazing experience, it lets you meet new people, make lifelong friends, and give you an experience most foreigners don’t get to have.
The more you push yourself and speak Japanese the more fluent you’ll become, and by the end of 3 months you’ll be able to have a conversation with a native Japanese person.
If You’re Interested
If you’re interested in WWOOF: A Cheap Way to Visit Japan – WWOOF
If you’re interested in what polyglots have to say about speaking Japanese: Videos About Learning Languages
About Jennifer “Niffer”
My first trip to Japan was when I did WWOOF for 3 months in 2008. I’d studied Japanese for 2 years beforehand but never learnt as much as I did in those 3 months. I kept studying Japanese on and off, but again improved a lot when I did a year abroad at Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka for 9 months. After graduating I went back to Japan to study and took the JLPT N2. I then did an MA in translation at SOAS, London.