You are walking down a Tokyo street when you decide to duck into a coffee shop and have a snack. But you speak only English. No problem - simply ask for, say, an ''orenji jiusu,'' and soon you will find orange juice on your table. Without uttering a word of Japanese.
English has infiltrated just about every aspect of Japanese life and phraseology. Not English as a native speaker knows it, but ''Japanese English.''
Fully 10 percent of Japanese words are now ''loan words,'' or adapted foreign words, linguists say. Many are foods: If you don't feel like juice, for example, coffee shops also offer such familiar fare as ''kafuay orait,'' ''kekii,'' or even ''remon tee.''
Or if you own a car, don't worry about getting to the ''gasorin stando'' to get some ''oiru'' or to fix the spare ''tiyah.'' Likewise, buying ''firumu,'' for a ''kamera,'' poses no problem for the native English speaker. The trick, rather, is to master a strong Japanese accent and to overcome confusion at pronouncing your own tongue in such a fashion.
Most Japanese have an impressive array of such words at their disposal. But when it comes to putting them into a coherent statement that a native speaker can understand, their ability often declines.
The Japanese devote almost superhuman effort to the study of English. Given the obstacles they face - English is a language that bears no resemblance whatsoever to their own, and they have little exposure to native speakers - it is impressive that there is so much spoken and written evidence of English in major cities, even if it is often not correct.
Children start studying the required language in seventh grade, and often continue right through college. English is on all college entrance examinations. High school seniors devote as much as 50 percent of their exam preparation time to translation practice.
For those out of school, there are unlimited numbers of private tutors - at $ 20 per hour and up - and English language schools. English - found on clothing, stationery, shop signs - is something of a status symbol and is used extensively.
The language gained increasing popularity after the American occupation, when Japan enthusiastically began to take on a language comparable in difficulty to its own.
But the Japanese were more or less starting from scratch - and so you will still come across some pretty remarkable constructions when reading English translations.
Take, for example, part of the translated report, from the Nomura Research Institute, concerning Ronald Reagan's presidential victory:
''If the person who knows Japan well among Republicans like Kissinger is picked up as the secretary of the States or one of major brains, the pipe with Japan can be said enough big.''
The English isn't always wildly wrong. Sometimes it's just the combination of words that is a little strange. One pencil design says, ''When satisfied, love your enemy.'' And on some sweatshirts and notepaper, you can read: ''Many things ununderstandable, a chicken-hearted seems slim usually.''
The heart of the problem lies in the system in which English is taught. Little emphasis is put on actually speaking the language. Instead, students are swamped with exercises in the more picayune mechanics of the language, as well as massive vocabulary memorization.
The problem is, however, that while they may know many individual words or particular constructions, they have little idea how to put them into a sentence.
In addition, Japanese teachers themselves have often learned the language incorrectly, and so pass along common mistakes and odd translation tendencies to their students.
Yet as there is increasing inclination to hire native English speakers to teach at least conversation in the schools, some progress is being made.
And in a country that has the maxim, ''A look is more eloquent than a word,'' it is not surprising that those attempting to express themselves in a structurally and culturally foreign tongue still have a bit of homework to do.