is English spoken in Japan


Are you planning to visit, study, or work in Japan? Perhaps, you are already wondering, is English spoken in Japan? Let’s find out. 

English is fairly spoken in Japan as a second language. While Japanese is the primary language, this country has made significant strides in becoming more English-friendly. Many Japanese people have a basic understanding of English, and there is a growing recognition of the importance of the language.

In this article, we will explore the introduction, evolution and importance of the English language in Japan. 

What are the Languages Spoken in Japan?

Bilingualism is prevalent in Japan, with the official language being Japanese. All official and formal communication inside the nation is conducted in this language, which is spoken by the vast majority of the population. Japanese uses a distinctive combination of hiragana, katakana, and kanji (Chinese letters). Although there are regional dialects and differences in speech patterns throughout Japan, standard Japanese is understood and used across the whole nation.

Now, let’s address the question, “Is English spoken in Japan?” While the primary language is Japanese, there are instances where English is spoken. However, it’s important to note that English proficiency levels in Japan can vary. Some individuals in big cities may be able to speak English, but it is not universally spoken across the entire country.

When considering language in Japan, it’s worth mentioning that there are regional dialects and differences in speech patterns throughout the country. Despite this, standard Japanese is widely understood and used nationwide. Additionally, there are speakers of less common languages such as Amami, Kyukyu, Kikai, and Miyako, particularly in certain Japanese islands.

1. Japonic Language

The Japonic languages encompass the Ryukyuan languages and numerous dialects of Japanese. In 1901, the upper and middle classes in the Yamanote region primarily spoke standard Japanese, the language used by the government. At the time, Tokyo, known as Edo, was selected as the capital of Japan. Consequently, the language spoken in the capital in 1901 became the language taught in schools. While this approach aimed to standardize national communication, it has its drawbacks. Japan comprises 47 prefectures, each with its own distinct dialects. Some notable examples include the Osaka, Kansai, Tohoku, and Kyoto dialects.

2. Ryukyuan Languages

The second subfamily of the Japonic language family is the Ryukyuan language. The Ryukyuan language, often referred to as Luchuan, is a special case of a language in that it bears little resemblance to Japanese whatsoever. It is a recognized tongue that is primarily used in the prefectures of Kagoshima and Okinawa. It is mutually incomprehensible, which is possibly one of the reasons why few linguists are interested in this one. This language is regarded as endangered, just like the Ainu language.

3. Ainu Language

Another language group that lives in Japan is the Ainu. The Hokkaido prefecture-based ethnic group known as the Ainu speaks the Ainu language, which is a distinctive variety of Japanese. As there are just 10 known native speakers of this language, it is reportedly on the verge of extinction. Locals and the government are collaborating to produce dictionaries, textbooks, and educational resources for the language as part of efforts to preserve it. 

Why Do Some Japanese are Reluctant to Learn English?

Japanese people’s degree of English proficiency can vary and is influenced by many factors. Even though English is a required subject in schools, it may not be as fluent as in some other nations, and Japan is no exception. 

Education System

English is taught in schools in Japan, but the focus has traditionally been more on written proficiency rather than spoken skills. This emphasis on exams and a lack of conversational practice can limit students’ ability to communicate confidently in English. In Japanese schools, the main emphasis in English instruction is on reading and writing, with very little time dedicated to developing practical skills like speaking and listening. The primary goal is to pass exams, rather than teaching English for real-life use.

Longer English essays are written and read by pupils as they become older, but this does not always result in improved English proficiency. Your reading comprehension abilities, vocabulary, and understanding of idiomatic expressions are only tested by reading and responding to a question. Even if this suggests a certain level of English proficiency, it is still a long way from fluency.

Linguistic Differences

There are significant linguistic differences between English and Japanese. Japanese uses a subject-object-verb (SOV) word order, whereas English has a subject-verb-object (SVO) structure. Japanese utilizes particles for grammatical purposes, while English uses word order and prepositions. Additionally, Japanese has a simpler phonetic system with fewer consonant and vowel sounds than English, making pronunciation more challenging for Japanese speakers. 

Moreover, the Japanese adopt three writing systems (Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji), while English employs the Latin alphabet. Lastly, unlike English’s simpler politeness conventions, the Japanese have a complex system of honorifics and polite language. These linguistic disparities contribute to the difficulties faced by Japanese speakers when learning English and vice versa.

Limited Exposure

Japanese is the primary language spoken in Japan, and the majority of daily communication is conducted in Japanese. Limited exposure to English in Japanese everyday life hinders language acquisition and fluency. There isn’t much daily contact with the English language in Japan, and the emphasis is frequently on written rather than spoken communication, creating a disconnect between classroom instruction and actual usage. 

Additionally, English-language content is rarely seen in Japanese media and daily life because the country primarily uses Japanese. Due to a robust domestic market, English is not a daily need, which furthers the problem of inadequate English ability. The total exposure to English is still limited compared to the popularity of the Japanese language in Japan, despite efforts to promote English education.

Cultural Factors

The language barrier, influenced by cultural factors, contributes to Japanese people’s limited English proficiency. Japanese people can be hesitant and uneasy while speaking in English due to the culture’s emphasis on conformity and fear of making mistakes. The educational system’s emphasis on academic achievement rather than conversational skills limits people’s opportunities to speak English. 

Furthermore, people may be discouraged from learning and using English because of Japan’s strong sense of cultural identity and homogeneity, which may prioritize the preservation of the Japanese language.

Lack of Necessity

The little emphasis on and usage of the English language in daily life in Japan is largely due to the perception that it is not necessary to be fluent in the language. Japan is a highly developed nation with a solid domestic market and a strong economy. Many Japanese individuals can go about their daily lives, including employment, education, and social contacts, easily when they only use Japanese.

That being said, the Japanese economy is virtually self-sufficient, with strong businesses and a solid infrastructure that mostly serves the home market. The urgent requirement for substantial English communication skills in a variety of professions and businesses is lessened by this self-sufficiency. Japanese people may place a higher value on learning abilities that are specifically related to their chosen professions or hobbies, such as specialized technical knowledge, craftsmanship, or expertise.

Formation of Wasei-eigo

The language policy of Wasei Eigo in Japan hinders English speaking and learning. It misleads Japanese speakers into believing it is proper English, impeding language development. English terms introduced in Japanese take on completely different meanings, hindering comprehension and violating the goal of learning a new language.

When English terms are introduced into Japanese, their meanings completely change. Without being told, English speakers would not comprehend the sentence’s meaning. This is a blatant violation of the goal of learning a new language.

For example, the English word tension, which denotes emotional strain, has a very different connotation in Japanese. It refers to feeling incredibly pumped up or enthused about something. Another example of this is the saying “I want an image change” in Japanese. It says in Japanese English that they desire a makeover, including new hairstyles, makeup, etc. However, this isn’t actually English, and the grammar is also wrong.

Growing Recognition of the English Language in Japan

There is a growing acknowledgment of the importance of the English language in Japan. English proficiency has grown increasingly valuable as company globalization, international cooperation, and tourism growth have increased. Japanese society is realizing the importance of English as a global communication tool. This awareness has led to initiatives to improve English education, notably in the areas of speaking and listening abilities, at both the basic and secondary levels. 

Furthermore, many Japanese corporations and organizations now prioritize English language abilities when employing staff, highlighting the importance of proficiency. Because of English’s status as a valuable skill in today’s interconnected world, Japanese attitudes toward language learning have shifted, encouraging a culture that encourages and supports English language acquisition.

How Many People in Japan Speak English?

While it is difficult to provide an exact number, several sources suggest that the overall English proficiency in Japan is relatively lower compared to some other countries. According to the EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI), which ranks countries by English proficiency, Japan was placed in the “Moderate Proficiency” category, ranked 53rd out of 100 countries assessed.

So, is English spoken in Japan? It is estimated that around 30-40% of Japanese people have some level of English proficiency, ranging from basic understanding to more advanced skills. However, it is important to note that proficiency levels can vary greatly depending on factors such as education, age, occupation, and exposure to English-speaking environments.

When considering whether English is spoken in Japan, it’s worth noting that English proficiency tends to be higher among younger generations, particularly those who have had the opportunity to study abroad or have received an English-focused education. Additionally, individuals working in international business, tourism, hospitality, and academic fields are more likely to have a higher level of English proficiency.

So, to answer the question “Is English spoken in Japan?” the answer is yes, to some extent. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the overall proficiency level may not be as high as in some other countries.

How Often Do Japanese Use English?

The usage of English by Japanese people varies according to many variables, including personal proficiency, education, employment, and exposure to English-speaking places. Here are a few common scenarios:

English Education

Japanese schools start teaching English as an obligatory topic in junior high. Students frequently have access to English lessons many times per week. The emphasis is frequently on reading comprehension and grammar at the expense of spoken English.

English Proficiency

Despite having an English education, the overall English proficiency level in Japan can vary. While some individuals attain a high level of fluency, many Japanese people have limited practical speaking skills.

Tourist Areas

You might encounter Japanese people who can communicate in rudimentary English to meet the demands of foreign tourists in Tokyo, Kyoto, or Osaka. The majority of workers in tourist-oriented businesses, including hotels, tour operators, and restaurants, are bilingual in English.

What are the Major Cities Of Japan Where The English Language Is Used?

In major cities throughout Japan, you are more likely to encounter English being used due to increased internationalization and exposure to foreign visitors. Here are some of the major cities where English language usage is relatively more common:


Japan’s capital, Tokyo, is home to more than 13 million people. It serves as Japan’s metropolitan center. It also contains a lot of historical attractions, cultural buildings, and entertainment. Most hotel and restaurant workers in Japan can communicate in fundamental English. The fact that some of the employees are bilingual in English is a major draw for tourists.


The business and commercial districts in Osaka make it a lively and active metropolis. Since there are many global firms and a thriving tourist industry, English is frequently used in various settings, including hotels, restaurants, and retail spaces. In addition, Osaka is known for being more receptive to outside influences and has a burgeoning English-speaking population.


Kyoto draws tourists worldwide because it is a well-known tourist destination with a rich cultural legacy. Major temples, shrines, and tourist information offices are just a few places where English is commonly spoken and understood. English-speaking employees work in several hospitality and service sectors in Kyoto to accommodate foreign tourists.


Yokohama is the second-largest city in Japan and an important port. Numerous multinational firms call the city home, and there is a vibrant international community. English is commonly used in professional and commercial settings as well as at tourist hotspots like Yokohama’s Chinatown and waterfront attractions.


Fukuoka, which is located in southern Japan, is a bustling, multicultural city with a sizable foreign population. International trade, educational settings, and tourism destinations all frequently employ English. International gatherings and conferences are frequently held in Fukuoka, significantly advancing the use of English.


The main city in Hokkaido, Sapporo, draws tourists all year, particularly in winter when skiing and snow festivals are popular. Sapporo’s tourism hotspots, lodging establishments, and well-liked attractions all cater to foreign tourists who come to enjoy the city’s winter sports and scenic surroundings.

Although English usage may be more common in these big cities, it’s crucial to remember that people and businesses may still have varying degrees of general English ability. When traveling in Japan, it is advisable to have some basic Japanese phrases or a translation tool on hand, especially in regions with scant English support.

What is the role of English in Japan?

English plays a vital role in various aspects of Japanese society. It is taught as a mandatory subject in schools, focusing on reading, writing, and basic communication skills. English proficiency is particularly valued in business and trade, where it serves as a common language for international communication. 

Furthermore, English is essential in academic and research fields, enabling collaboration with international counterparts and contributing to global knowledge sharing. English also promotes Japanese culture and entertainment worldwide through subtitles and translations. While proficiency levels may vary, Japan recognizes the importance of English in fostering international connections, economic growth, and cultural exchange with the rest of the world.

Is Japan English-friendly?

In comparison to English-speaking countries, Japan is often considered less English-friendly. The Japanese writing system, which consists of three scripts (hiragana, katakana, and kanji), can be difficult for English speakers to grasp. Furthermore, Japanese grammar structure and sentence building differ greatly from English, making it difficult for English speakers to generate cohesive sentences. Nonetheless, despite these linguistic disparities, the Japanese people are generally kind and helpful to English speakers. 

However, is English spoken in Japan? Despite these linguistic disparities, the Japanese people are generally kind and helpful to English speakers. In fact, Japan has made efforts to become more English-friendly, but its English ability is still regarded as weak compared to other nations.

If you’re wondering if English is spoken in Japan, you’ll find English menus, signage, and some English-speaking employees in hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions, especially in big cities and well-traveled regions. However, outside of these areas, particularly in rural or smaller towns where the overall population’s English proficiency is low, finding English speakers can be difficult.

Moreover, it’s important to note that English education in Japan primarily focuses on reading and writing, with limited emphasis on conversational skills. As a result, many Japanese people may have difficulty speaking English, even if they have studied it in school. Learning a few basic Japanese phrases and carrying a translation app or phrasebook to facilitate communication is advisable.

How can the Japanese Improve their English?

Japanese individuals can improve their English skills through various methods. The list includes taking formal English language classes or courses, participating in immersion programs, or studying abroad. You can also engage in conversation exchanges with native English speakers to enhance language proficiency. Online resources, language learning apps, and English-language media provide additional opportunities for self-study and practice. 

Furthermore, actively practicing speaking English, focusing on pronunciation and accent training, and incorporating English into everyday life routines can also contribute to improvement. Seeking professional guidance and embracing mistakes as part of the learning process are essential elements for progress. By combining these strategies and maintaining consistent effort and dedication, Japanese individuals can make significant strides in enhancing their English language abilities.

Are there any English Schools in Japan?

For people who want to study English in Japan, there are many possibilities accessible, including various disciplines at the undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral levels. These institutions include private language schools (eikaiwa), international schools, university language programs, community centers, and online resources. 

English classes are available for kids, teenagers, and adults at private language schools like ECC, Berlitz, and Nova. For the benefit of families living abroad, international schools offer instruction in English or a bilingual curriculum. English courses are offered in language programs at universities, and community centers frequently host accessible English lessons. Online learning environments offer flexible study options with access to teachers who speak native English. People in Japan can choose from a wide selection of options for their English language education. Here are three Japanese universities that offer full-time degree programs in English:

University of Tokyo

The University of Tokyo, also known as Todai, is Japan’s highest-ranked university and offers a wide range of English-language programs, especially at the graduate level. Among the subjects available are architecture and urban planning, international bioengineering, and the Master of Public Policy International Program (MPP/IP). 

Sophia University

This private Jesuit institution, also in Tokyo, was the first in Japan to offer programs taught entirely in English. Master’s and doctorate degrees in global environmental studies, green science and engineering, global studies, and linguistics are all available in English at Sophia University.

Hokkaido University

Even though Tokyo has the most options, a Tokyo residency is not required to study in Japan in English. International students can choose from various academic programs at Hokkaido University. Mechanical and space engineering, applied physics, mathematics, and environmental engineering are some of the alternatives.


Is English spoken in Japan? While English is not as widely spoken in Japan as in English-speaking countries, there has been a significant increase in its use and importance in recent years. The rise of economic globalization and a growing number of international visitors to Japan have led to a greater awareness of the need to improve English language skills. Initiatives are being implemented to introduce English instruction at an early age, and the government is launching programs to enhance teachers’ English proficiency and offer immersive language experiences. However, more work is required to bridge the language gap and promote English fluency on a larger scale.

Denwa Sensei is a good place to start if you want to learn more about the Japanese language. You can also learn how the Japanese are taking the English language as one of their second languages. Check out the variety of classes, activities, and interactive tools that we offer for students of all levels!