The Olympics fever is on. With a projected heavy influx of foreigners coming to Japan to watch the Olympics in 2020, vendors in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward participated in basic English language training for future customers. The Shinagawa Ward government initiated the project, which taught street vendors and shopkeepers basic English and refreshed them on Japanese hospitality.
Pretending to be customers, three foreigners visited shops in the area to buy merchandise in English. An Australian visited a thrift shop looking for a dress, and the Japanese owner, 56-year old Emi Goya, was successful in assisting her and replying to her simple questions pertaining to her merchandise. However, complex sentences, such as giving out directions, proved to be more challenging for Goya, who turned to an interpreter to help her give instructions in English to man looking for a nearby bank. Lack of confidence proved detrimental with the locals engaging the foreigners in English. “If they have confidence, [storekeepers] can show how hospitable they are, merely by using [basic English] words,” remarked an interpreter.
As speaking English is relatively new to the Japanese shopkeepers, the Shinagawa Ward government is very encouraging with their locals in using the language. They plan to come up with signs saying “We’ll do our best to serve you in English,” which shopkeepers can put in their stores to draw more non-Japanese speaking customers. The local government hopes such efforts will be helpful in overcoming the language barrier come Olympic tourism season.