Welcome to Japan! We know how you feel. You want to get out and see the area but you can’t retain any Japanese place names. Tachikawa, Ishikawa, Kamakura — they all run together in your mind. You see other Americans speak a few words of Japanese — asking for the bill, getting directions, speaking to shop clerks — and you think you’ll never be able to do the same. You’re nervous about driving off base. Rest assured: We’ve all been there. It goes away. Here are a few tips to get you started.
•Go to the Yujo Center (across from the Chapel) and talk to the resourceful guys who work at the information desk. They are unbelievably helpful and patient, not matter how specific or vague your quest.
• Sign up for the free “Survival Japanese” course at the Airman and Family Readiness Center, the building behind Chili’s, by the Commissary. Take it as many times as you like, or just use it to get comfortable with a few phrases.
•Buy a set of flashcards to learn Katakana. This Japanese alphabet is used almost exclusively for English words, so if you see these letters on a sign or a menu, chances are you will know the word once you’re able to sound it out. You can learn Katakana in a few hours. Smartphone and iPad owners: Buy a Katakana flashcard app and you’ll never be bored on a train again.
•Buy a Suica card for the train. It’s so much easier than using individual tickets. Read how here.
•Find a copy of the train map in English. They’re available at some English bookstores. Here’s an online version.
•Get a road atlas in English before you set out on a driving trip. The base library has several.
•Learn how to use GPS technology — either on your wireless device, a navigator or on your desktop computer — to find your way. Read about it here.
•Make sure you have the base switchboard number — 042-552-2511 — in your cell phone or in your wallet. That way, if you’re lost off base, you can call a friend on base for help without making an international call.