The underground train operator has commissioned several real-time translation megaphones to facilitate communication with foreign customers.

If globally lauded Japanese customer service has one major weakness, it might just be the lack of communication skills in languages other than Japanese. While you might get by using English in various countries throughout Europe and other parts of Asia, Japan has an almost pathological aversion to other languages, and the realization that the world’s lingua franca won’t get you very far out here is possibly one of the most acute moments of culture shock foreign visitors are liable to experience.

New technology, however, is stepping up to fill in the gap, and Tokyo Metro – operator of many of Tokyo’s underground train lines – is pioneering the use of the much talked-about “Megaphone Translator” at their Meiji Jingu-mae station. The stop is just seconds away from popular tourist haunts like Harajuku and Omotesando and makes for a terrific proving ground for the fledgling device.

We’ve written about the Megaphone Translator before, but here’s a quick refresher: it’s a device that translates, in “real-time”, specific messages targeted at large masses of people – usually instructions during emergencies and other crises – with functionality for English, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.

As cool as it would be to have a sci-fi Babelfish-esque translation tool, the Megaphone Translator isn’t quite that high tech. First, being a megaphone and all, it’s poorly equipped for, say, giving directions to individual metro passengers without rupturing eardrums, and the device requires pre-set phrases to be entered into its database ahead of time. So, as much as we’d love to hear Megaphone Cop’s motivational speeches translated into English on the fly, what we’re looking at here is more of a glorified tape recorder that can, apparently, recall preset phrases by recognizing the Japanese being spoken into its microphone.

Still, it’s possibly a huge step in the right direction and here’s hoping the Megaphone Translator will help make the already chaotic Harajuku hub a little more user-friendly for the anticipated deluge of foreign visitors during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Source, image: PR Times