Okay, I’m going to cheat a little bit on this one because it wasn’t the city, it was the people.
Before I visited Japan in 2005 I did my best to learn the language, knowing I would be going by myself. I’d heard that most people there know English; I found out many of them were afraid to use it.
The cities I visited were Kuroshiki, Hiroshima, and Kyoto, the latter of which I spent wandering around at night trying to get lost so that I’d have an excuse to ask for directions. But there was one particular instance that really had an impact, language-wise.
I stayed for three days in a little town called Onomichi. The main shopping area – basically the town – is at the foot of a mountain, but many of the homes are on the side of it. My hotel was at the top. The only feasible way of getting to town was to walk. On one of my many trips up the mountain stairs, I came across a fellow climber. We were already somewhat acquainted as he had passed me on one of my rest-stops. Now it was my turn to pass him. We regarded each other and he looked as if he wanted to say something to me but was unsure if I would understand. So I took the initiative. I rolled my eyes and let out a deep sigh. He laughed in agreement.
We didn’t speak in Japanese, or English. We spoke in Human.