If you live near a major city; the next time you go out to your favorite Japanese restaurant, find out if they have any Japanese nationals on staff.
A few of my favorite places to dine, fortunately has a few Japanese nationals as their serving staff. I always use that as an opportunity to practice my Japanese.
Try ordering your next meal in Japanese or perhaps strike up a conversation with the staff while you wait for your order to arrive. These are just some example exercises you can do while you are in the restaurant.
You may even find a restaurant where other Japanese patrons go to. If you are lucky to have such a place at your disposal, you will find that in some cases they have a menu in English and one completely in Japanese.
I always like to challenge myself by using the Japanese menu and when I couldn’t read something, I would ask the server what the item was and how to read it.
Please be aware that even though the restaurant you could be dining at may be a Japanese restaurant, don’t assume that the staff is Japanese either. You may find yourself in an embarrassing situation if the staff was from another nationality.
In cases where you are not sure, you can simply ask in a polite manner or even call the restaurant before your visit to see if they have any Japanese nationals on their serving staff.
In my experience, many Japanese restaurants like to hire Japanese nationals that are in the country on a working holiday visa. They like speaking to others as they can practice their English, while you get to practice your Japanese speaking skills.
Think of it as a glimpse of what to expect when you are in Japan someday. Once you familiarize yourself with the common terms and phrases for ordering food at a restaurant, being at a restaurant in Japan won’t feel as intimidating as you have already had lots of practice before hand.
I honestly wish I had that advice before my exchange program to Japan in 1999. I found it quite nerve-wracking to say the least, when I tried ordering something at a McDonald’s! Rather than trying to order a meal, I just said “Appurupai kudasai・アップルパイ下さい” (Apple pie, please) at the counter.
If I ever found myself in that situation again, I know that I have the confidence and the language knowledge to not be so nervous the next time around.
So give it a shot the next time you are at a Japanese restaurant!
See you next Friday!