Do People Speak English In Japan? Languages Spoken In Japan Percentage

Do People Speak English In Japan? Languages Spoken In Japan Percentage

Do People Speak English In Japan?

If you want to visit Japan or know about Japanese culture, you should know the answer to this question “Do people speak English in Japan”? The answer is not just superficial. Most of the people in Japan do not speak English. However, middle and high schools teach English in Japan, but very few people actively speak English. The differences between Japanese and English make it difficult for the native people of Japan to master English. 

Let us discuss why the English language is not widely spoken in Japan. More than 20-30% of the population in Japan speaks English, with only 10% of the people able to carry on the discussion. Almost 98% of the Japanese people have Japanese racial roots, and almost 121 million people speak Japanese. In addition, many languages are spoken in Japan, such as Ainu, Chinese, English, Japanese, Korean, and Filipino languages. Japanese students need to take English classes from middle and high school. But the Japanese native will not feel easy speaking in English with you. 

Do The Japanese Learn English?

Japanese students start learning the English language from middle school. However, only less than 10% of Japanese people speak fluent English. In addition, many Japanese people may know many English words but speak them differently. Commonly, many Japanese people may be afraid to speak English for fear of getting something wrong or not speaking well. 

Moreover, Japanese people may find it difficult to master English because of the verbal differences. But the main reason why most Japanese people do not speak English is that they do not need to do so. 

Reasons Why Japanese People Don’t Speak English? 

If you visit Japan, you may notice that many signs features English writing and letters. Then why don’t more Japanese people speak English? 

There are three significant causes why English is often hard for native Japanese speakers:

  • The Japanese language is different from English in many ways. 
  • Japanese culture is not allowed to make mistakes, preventing uneasy social relations. 
  • An average person in Japan doesn’t need to learn English to succeed. 

English Language Vs. Japanese Language

Let’s compare how the English and Japanese languages differ from each other. Comparing two languages is always wrong, but it is best to study the language by comparing grammar, vocabulary, writing/reading, speaking/listening. 


In Japanese, the tense of a verb is made through changes in the actual verb, like in English, but the subject does not change the verb. Moreover, in Japanese, there are no extra verbs. The word order in English is subject-verb-object. On the other hand, in Japanese, it is S-O-V. In Japanese, they use verbs, adjectives, nouns, or sentences to mark various functions and meanings. It results in unique contrasts between the two languages. 


There are many loanwords or gairaigo from different languages in Japanese. Generally, there are a large number of English loanwords. The total number of loanwords from different languages creates debate among many Japanese natives. 


The Japanese language has a limited range of sounds. The syllabus starts with a consonant and ends with a vowel sound in Japanese. In Japanese, pitch forms and word stress tell meaning functions differently. Intonation in Japanese and English do not share many similar rules. 


The Japanese language has mainly three types of the script; Hiragana, Kanji, and Katakana. Those looking to learn Japanese start with the basic Hiragana and Katakana, then go to Kanji. 

Culture is the main factor in how people speak Japanese. Your position in society, connection, age, gender, and hierarchical status affect your choice of words. It can result in very various styles of speech. It seems too abstract and unclear, while English speakers speaking Japanese seem too direct and robust. 

Major Cities Of Japan Where The English Language Is Used

1. Tokyo  

Tokyo is the capital of Japan, with more than 13 million population. It is the Metropolitan hub of Japan. Moreover, it has many historical sites, cultural architecture, and entertainment. You can find that most of the hotels and restaurant staff in Japan speak some basic English. Some of the workers also speak English is a significant tourist interest. 

2. Hiroshima 

Hiroshima is a modern city. It is the center of the Atomic Bomb Dome and for beautiful forests and temples. Most importantly, all the international conferences related to nuclear power take place in this city. As not much English is spoken in Hiroshima, many signs have English on them so that you can dig around easily. 

 3. Kyoto  

Kyoto is the former capital of Japan city, and it is one of the cities that did not bomb during WWII. It is a tourist-friendly location, with hotels, restaurants, and shops. Moreover, it is one of the safest cities in Japan, having beautiful parks and temples. There are many street signs written in English. However, Kyoto is a prominent tourist place, but few people can speak English. 

4. Nagasaki  

Most importantly, it is one of the most popular tourist places in the Huis Ten Bosch is an open-air museum full of dutch buildings replicas. The hotel and restaurant staff can speak English, but most natives do not. 

5. Osaka  

Osaka is a great city with a cultural hub and rich heritage. However, this city has an active nightlife, cheap shops, and fantastic cafes. Certainly, the tourist who visits Osaka will be able to speak English. 

Languages Spoken In Japan – A Detailed Overview

  • Japanese usually speaks languages from two leading language families – The Japonic languages and Ainu. 
  • The Ryukyuan languages are from the Japonic family, even though they are not understood by those who speak standard Japanese. 
  • There are many languages spoken in Japan. However, UNESCO briefs some languages as threatened due to standard Japanese in schools nationwide. 

Percentage Of Languages Spoken In Japan

  • Japanese – Almost 121 million native speakers in Japan.
  • Ainu – This language is almost extinct. 
  • Amami-Oshima, Northern –  More than 10,000 speakers in Japan. 
  • Amami-Oshima, Southern – 1,800 speakers in Japan. 
  • Kikai – This language is almost extinct in Japan.
  • Kunigami – Only 5,000 speakers are present in Japan. 
  • Miyako – 67,000 people speak this language.
  • Okinawan – 985,000 speakers present in Japan. 
  • Oki-No-Erabu – This language speaks by 3,200 people. 
  • Toku-No-Shima – 5,100 is the total native speakers present in Japan. 
  • Yaeyama – This language is almost extinct in Japan. 
  • Yonaguni – Only 800 people speak this language.
  • Yoron – In Japan, only 950 people speak this language. 

History Of Japanese Languages 

It seems like the Japanese language derives from the Chinese language. Still, it is a language that has no apparent link with any other languages. That is because the Japonic languages to which Japanese belongs derived from the mixture of Chinese languages and the language spoken by the ancient people natives of the Japanese Islands. But now, it is not clear what language that was. It vanished totally since the first Asian settlers in the 1st century AD came to the Islands.

Today, three main languages are present in Japan. These languages are Standard Japanese (Nihongo), the Ryukyuan language, and the Okinawan languages. Furthermore, the Ainu language spoken by only a handful of people may also go extinct if not kept within the next 10 years. 

Overview Of Different Languages Spoken In Japan 

Japan’s official language is Japanese. About 98% of people are of ethnic Japanese origin, and almost all of these 121 million people speak Japanese. The people who were native to the areas for a long time spoke a different language that has been lost over time. According to research, people migrating from continental Asia or the Pacific Islands bought over the Japanese language. Somehow, it took as the main link between the natives as the Japanese culture developed.

A small number of people speak other languages. These languages belong to two language families: the Japonic language and the Ainu family. Within these languages lie various sub-families of languages spoken in different country areas. 

1. Japonic Languages

The Japonic languages consist of several forms of Japanese and the Ryukyuan languages. The standard Japanese states as the country’s national language were spoken by the upper and middle classes in the Yamanote area in 1901. At the start of the 17th century, when Tokyo became the country’s capital, Tokyo was known as Edo. It is the place where Tokyo is today. 

Later, in 1901, it declared that the language spoken in the capital would be the language that would teach in schools. It helps the national standard for communication, but this method has a flaw. There are many other types of Japanese still spoken in the country. Students who spoke other dialects of Japanese at the school level started to punish and ridiculed for doing so. 

Japan is split into 47 prefectures, and there are many varieties of Japanese. Some main dialects include the Osaka, Kansai, Tohoku, and Kyoto dialects. What are other dialects? 

2. Ryukyuan Languages

Ryukyuan language is the second sub-family in the Japonic language. UNESCO points out eight minority languages to become extinct in Japan, and six of them are Ryukyuan. These include all the other languages noted above in the table apart from Japanese and Ainu. 

Since the 1950s, Japanese has been the first language of Ryukyuan Island by actually vanishing their native languages. Almost there are 750 local Ryukyuan dialects, but they are nothing like the standard Japanese.  

3. Ainu Languages 

Ainu is another language group that exists in Japan. Like the Ryukyuan languages, the Ainu language is also endangered by UNESCO. In southwestern Hokkaido, only a few people speak the Ainu language, dying out fast. In 2012, all of the Ainu speakers in Japan were 80 years old or older. This language will vanish if not pass it on or properly kept to keep this language alive. 

There were 19 Ainu dialects initially, but today all remains are the Hokkaido dialect. The Ainu people were Japan’s actual native people. To keep the language alive in all its diverse forms can help to take part in a nation’s vibrancy. In Japan, various forms of Japanese and the Ryukyuan and Ainu languages all have a different histories. By studying them, we will accept how the country grows. 


Japan is a fascinating country culturally, economically, and historically. Whereas in Japan there are few numbers of English speakers. Unless you decide to live or work in Japan, there is no way out other than learning Japanese. Some of the languages in Japan are near to extinct. However, Japan is still a multilingual country. 

Many people hold on to their roots; thus, the Japanese show language deviation. It is evident via the situation of the Ainu language that it is under retrieval and preservation.