The level of English ability in Japan is generally low – or random at best (fluent English speakers can appear in the most unlikely situations); it's easier to get around the bigger cities, which are well signposted in English. English is studied in school, so slow, simple queries can usually be addressed, and with the recent uptick of tourism, more establishments are specifically hiring clerks and servers with English ability. Most Japanese are more comfortable with written than spoken English, so whenever possible, email is often the best means of communicating.