My friend Toshio over at Tokyo Travel Assist recently asked me to speak to a group of tour guides about common problems for tourists visiting Japan. This group was made up of accredited tour guide-interpreters who are currently working as guides in the area in and around Tokyo. I discussed issues from the viewpoint of foreign, non-Japanese speakers coming to Japan for the first time, and we had a discussion afterwards about feedback their guests have given them.
The gist of my talk is as follows, broken down first by positive things about Japan (what visitors want to do/like about Japan), then by problems they have and strange rules they have difficulty following:
What do Visitors to Japan Want to Do?
- Interact with Japanese people! They want to study sumi-e, take pottery classes, learn bonsai. The attraction of Japan is not just the food, or the scenery, or the history, but the people. This was the number one desire for all surveyed
- Try wearing kimono
- Visit Kyoto and other cultural areas
- Eat sushi and ramen
- Drink Japanese alcoholic beverages
- Experience nature and scenery and sightseeing
- Shopping/Walking in shopping districts
- Bathe in a hot spring
- Theme parks
- Experience the seasons (cherry blossoms, autumn leaves, winter etc.)
- Stay in a Japanese-style inn
Unique Things Foreigners Like About Japan
- Vending machines everywhere!
- Plastic food displays at restaurants
- Japanese bidet toilets!
- Everywhere is very clean and safe
- People are polite and friendly
- Public transportation is very convenient
What Problems do Foreign Visitors Have?
- #1 lack of wifi!
- Some places don’t accept credit cards
- Hard to get cash. ATMs don’t accept foreign cards (sometimes 7-11 and the Post Office)
- Rental bicycles and cars
- No garbage cans except at convenience stores
- Taxis (auto door is confusing, taxi drivers don’t know the city well, don’t speak much English)
- Foreign language signage is usually wrong (no native check)
- A lot of walking is required (good shoes are important)
- Barrier free access is not good
- Beautiful nature is often ruined by too much concrete
- Too much plastic wrapping on everything!
Strange Rules in Japan
- Queueing for everything
- No jaywalking
- No talking on phones on public transport
- Smoking rules are confusing. Why no smoking outside, but inside is OK?
- No tipping
- Restaurant closing hours
- No eating or drinking while walking around in public
- Japanese Omotenashi is about taking care of everything so that the guest doesn’t have to think or worry about anything, but this results in a lot of rules and no flexibility for individual needs
- Foreign tourists think that good service means being flexible to each individual’s needs, not following a manual
You can download the PDF of this presentation here:
It was a good learning experience, and I look forward to having another such talk soon! If you’re visiting Tokyo and looking for a concierge guide to show you around and recommend places to visit, I highly recommend Toshio and his team at Tokyo Travel Assist.
This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)