Everyone can go to Japan without knowing a word of Japanese and the reason is simple: all the tourists are always in some standard situations in which Japanese people are faced every day, they have to deal with tourists who do not know Japanese or even English, and however they understand what you want or need.
Here below some standard examples.
Immigration / Customs
In this area they generally speak English and even if you do not know it, there is no problem. Before you fill out the form with your details, if you do not know what to write in the “Name” space for istance, you can ask: there are some men ready to check whether you did everything right or if you need any corrections. As soon as the customs officer will give you back the passport and mumbles something, you can go to the exit.
Bus ticket office / trains at the airport
After customs, this is the last place where you can be sure that someones know a few words of English. If your hotel is in Shinjuku and if you go at the bus or train ticket office, for istance you can just say: “Shinjuku”, then the Japanese worker will understands that you want a ticket to Shinjuku and probably also that you want to know the departure time and where you can take the train. So all you have to do is just tell the district name where you want to go and they will understand: every day thousands of tourists arrive in Narita and the Japanese workers are programmed like a robot because the questions are always the same in any language is being asked.
If you are a normal tourist in 99% of cases you will arrive at an hotel where in the reception there is always someone who speaks English. If not or if you do not speak English, it is very easy for the Japanese who work at the front desk of an hotel: they expect that a customer arrives and you want to sleep there. Now, there are two possibilities: you have booked or you have not booked. If you have booked (you can do it easily online) then you just give the passport and after a while they will understand. If you have not booked and you do not know English, just say “room ok?” and if you want to know the cost of the room, just say “how much?” and usually they will write on a calculator the cost for one night.
Outside of a lot of Japanese restaurants there are a lot of wax replicas of dishes that you can order, with corresponding prices: you just point to the dish you want at the waiter. Some restaurants have menus with photos that make it even easier to order. Do not get in restaurants that you can not see inside and outside there is only written in Japanese, because it is very likely that both you and the waiter will be embarrassed. Look for restaurants that put you at ease from the outside and they are the majority, do not worry. When you finish to eat and you are ready to go, just put the index fingers forming a cross so that the waiter can see you and he will realize that you want to pay. Alternatively you can go to check out with the account that the waiter brought you when you ordered.
There are public toilets everywhere, indicated by the classic blue sign / red icons for man / woman. If you are at the the restaurant and you need to go to the toilet, just ask “toire ua doko des ka?” (this is the pronunciation, but it is written “toire wa doko desu ka?” and it means “Excuse me, where is the bathroom?” ). This is the only sentence that you need to learn. If you do not remember it will be enough to just say “toire” (toilette) and I assure you that the waiters or the waitresses throughout Japan will realize that you need the bathroom. If in front of the doors there are only kanji (Japanese words), just remember that blue is for men and red is for women.
I hope that I have helped you a little to understand that you will not have to study Japanese in order to travel to the beautiful Japan. Just have some confidence in yourself and you will be understood always everywhere.
Have a nice trip!
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