Meeting Locals the Easy Way With Ili

Getting over the language barrier and making friends in Japan

Featured | By Eliza Johnson  - 4 min read

I recently took my first ever trip to Tokyo and I can safely say that there’s no place quite like it. The amazing people, the delicious food, the spectacular sights, were everything I could have imagined and more. However, there was still one big obstacle that I had a bit of a struggle with...

The language barrier.

I know, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that English in Japan is spoken just as little as Japanese in Australia so luckily, Vince and I came prepared. We brought along ili, an offline translator that translates English to Japanese.

Before arriving in Tokyo, I kept reading about how delicious the food was in Japan. So naturally, Vince and I were on a mission to taste the best food we could find as soon as we landed. With ili on our side, we took to the streets and began asking the locals for their recommendations.

On our first day, we stopped at Takeshita street in the world famous Harajuku district. For those who’ve never been here, it’s a blend of street fashion, kawaii culture, and bizarre entertainment. Using ili, Vince and I asked the locals which food they recommend and they politely drew us a few pictures in our notepad. Low and behold, crepes were the top recommendation and they didn’t disappoint. Harajuku is the go-to place for desserts, especially crepes. Flavors vary from matcha, to chocolate, to specially-made Japanese custards. We had to prevent ourselves from spoiling our appetite for later so after a few bites, we dashed to the next location.

After a 10 minute walk from Takeshita street, we ended up at Meiji Shrine. Here is where Vince and I got to take a quick breather and soak in the nature that surrounded the popular tourist destination. It was a breath of fresh air to be able to escape the bustle of the concrete jungle.

Moving on, we went to one of Tokyo’s busiest spots, Shibuya crossing. We walked through Center Gai where we really put ili to the test and asked as many people as we could find to recommend their favorite foods to eat. One thing I noticed while traveling around Japan was that free Wi-Fi wasn’t the easiest thing to find. Thankfully, ili works offline so we were able to use it everywhere we went without having to waste time looking for a network to connect to.

The reactions locals gave us when using ili were a mix of surprise and amazement as they’ve likely never seen anything quite like it. It literally became an ice-breaker when we were trying to meet locals. After receiving a handful of recommendations, we met a girl named Natsumi, who not only gave us her favorite restaurant recommendation, but actually offered to show us the way.

We headed to a place called Mekkemon in Takadanobaba where we asked the chef to surprise us (Vince was hoping it wouldn’t be blowfish). Luckily for Vince and I, we received freshly cut sashimi and a selection of smooth sake to sip. My expectations for Japanese food were quite high and I can safely say that it was surpassed with flying colors. Everything we tried was simply amazing.

After a few drinks, we became a bit more social with those around us and used ili to meet and greet others and express our gratitude towards the chefs of the restaurant. I’m not sure what we’d have done without our little translation companion but Vince and I can safely say it was a major catalyst in making our trip even more memorable by meeting new people and getting the food we craved.

Now I can’t wait to go back.

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