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Why it’s so hard to have your family come to Japan


I was studying at an international university in Japan in spring when the weather was perfect for travel. Many students from all over the world at my school invited their friends and family to come see Japan and they came in droves. I also wanted to reunite with someone from my family and show them the Japan I had fallen in love with.

My mother and father said they were busy with work, so they said, but I think there was another reason they did not want to come since they both had vacation time from work. Nonetheless, I still had a slim opportunity to invite my twin brother. Why were all the other families coming to Japan, but I was having such a hard time to convince just one member of my family?

Well, in reality, I guess it shouldn’t be too hard to interest someone in Japan. A unique style of art, martial arts, food, business, religion, architecture, history, government, music, etc. should allow nearly everyone an opportunity to find something worth exploring. Still, we are missing one crucial fact about having a family member come to Japan: the money. In other words: it ain’t cheap.

I worked hard to find some scholarships for school while also finding some ways to make money in Japan. I had enough money to pay for hotel, food, transportation and basically everything, except covering my brother’s airfare to Japan, which he paid for himself. My parents did not want him spending that much money on a trip, but since they knew I would be paying for it in money I earned, they relaxed a bit. But it wasn’t cheap. If you can’t tell by now, my family is a little too bargain-friendly. But for how much the trip costs, it is worth looking for some ways to save.

Searching for cheap hotels, eating out less, and staying at friends’ houses are common ways to save in Japan, but often your airfare and your domestic transportation are your biggest costs. Hotels are, of course, a concern, but there are many options, and you could even book a flight and hotel package, so I don’t want to tread too much on that. I wanted to show my brother the best Japan, or at least parts of Tohoku where I live, Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. It would have been nice to do more, but even using a JR pass for the almighty bullet train still means at least half a day to travel across the country. So I had convinced my brother to come and we took a mix of trains, bullet trains, and buses and managed to have a pretty good time. It wasn’t too hard on the wallet, but it required loads of planning and cups of green tea throughout the nights. I kind of wish I had held out for him coming later now because ANA (All Nippon Airways) has an awesome airfare campaign for tourists that allows you to travel on any domestic flight for just 10,500 yen, which is less than $135 at current exchange rates. It’s good until late October.

So in my situation and I imagine many others, the way to persuade a family to come to Japan is through money. That means you may have to pay for them or keep an eye out for cheap or package deals. An annoying part of having any friends or family that come to Japan means you’ll have to show them Japan. Duh, right? This means you’ll be doing a large part of the planning and of course being the 24/7 translator. Even if you know just a few words of Japanese, that is probably much more than your invited family member will know. This can be time consuming and quite exhausting actually when a family member shows up and expects you to do everything just because you live in the country. I found bus tours or group outings great because I just had to pay, got free information and transportation from the tour guide, and got to relax between stops on the tour.

All in all, my brother didn’t absolutely love Japan. He didn’t care for some of the food, wasn’t happy with the crowded parts of the bigger cities, and really did not “get” Japan. But still, he said it was a memorable and great trip. More importantly, I felt I got to share a place I can call my second home with perhaps the closet member of my family. To me that was the lasting memory and feeling of satisfaction I received from our trip.

© Japan Today

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It's not complicated. People don't like to take a 12 + hour airplane flight to go on vacation when they've only got a week or so. Not unless they REALLY have a STRONG DESIRE to go there. Most people don't have that much interest in Japanese stuff other than heading down to their local sushi house ever so often.

Generally speaking, when people travel, they go close by. Europeans travel in Europe. Americans travel in the U.S. Asians travel in Asia.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

I've recommended friends and families to STOP OVER in Tokyo for a couple of days, and then continue their journey to Thailand, Vietnam, etc., for the bulk of their vacation if they want to experience Asia.

Cost is a big factor, but also Japan isn't well set up for extended stays for foreign travelers who can't speak the language. The infrastructure has long been designed around short-term domestic travelers who are expected to stick to strictly enforced itineraries. Most Westerns are OK with that for a couple of days, but soon get really frazzled by it.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

Well said, JeffLee. Enforced itineraries aren't what non-Japanese (especially free-wheeling Westerners) seek out when travelling. Dutifully walking behind a flag-toting guide holds little appeal. Yet without some prior knowledge of the system, getting away from the standard tourist-spots grid isn't necessarily made affordable or welcoming to non-Japanese. However, for those who are willing to accept the challenge, the rewards are incredible.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

I was in Japan a few times and at school and with his family. Japan is a good country for business meetings, but are not able to outdoor activities, such as in China. If you are a workaholic - you like in Japan. If you love children, dancing, fishing, sport - it's not the country for you. This is one of the many reasons why the Ainu Russia not going to emigrate to Japan. Better we go to New Zealand.

-10 ( +1 / -11 )

@Tronru, I regularly ski, hike and camp in Japan, almost always within 2-3 hours of Tokyo. I also attend football (soccer) games, enjoy a beer at baseball from time to time, and manage to make it along to sumo about once a year. I don't fish, but I know plenty of people who do.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

What an odd article. I would think that there are many other reasons than cost for not wanting to come. Also it isnt that much more expensive than Europe or Canada if you plan well. Just takes initiative.

That being said, I have asked my family a few times to come and none of them were really interested due to other obligations, timing, not being big travelers and maybe cost did factor into it too. My father even turned down my invite when I said I wanted to have a small wedding here. But I think the biggest reason is that they don't want to inconvenience me by making me their tour guide on my vacation for their vacation. Perhaps the author could show us some fixes to common complaints rather than just listing a few ways to make a budget trip.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

One of the best things about Japan is that you don't see too many foreigners if you step one street away from the major tourist destinations. This applies to nearly all countries, but in Japan it sensed more. Since most tourists like to see other tourists they don't find this interesting. But from my point of view (a foreigner living in Japan) this is one of the main reasons I love living in Japan.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

My mother absolutely loved her trip over here ! She had always been interested in Japan and the only (slightly) regrettable thing was, she hadn't been able to leave on the date we gave her so she just missed the "sakura" by a couple of days, but did get to see the the "double-blooming" variety in Kyoto. No "tourist tours" for her - we took her everywhere ourselves.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Hey, some people don't want to be bothered getting a passport, stand in long lines for and get fondled by airport security, spend a bunch of money to sit for 12 or more hours in economy class...

1 ( +3 / -2 )

So far, the American friends I have had here visiting have had a great time. A challenging time, true, but it was thought provoking for them. I enjoyed showing them around. I do NOT expect them to come up with the insights I have after a fair number of years hear, and I enjoy their surprising takes on things.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I balance out the cost of the flight with a longer stay in Japan... I always stay for three weeks, allowing me to have time to do what I want and go where I want without checking the clock every five minutes.

Although I'm British Japan is the only foreign country I have ever been to on holiday. Europe and America don't interest me at all, so I would never go there. I have been to Amsterdam and Paris... but only to change flights from Glasgow ^_^

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I had to thumbs down Tronru because I simply couldnt understand what was written.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

ummmmmmm - Where are you from ? Where & what city does your parents live ?

ummmmmmmmmmmmm - shotty news article !!!!

ACTUALLY Hotels in Tokyo are much cheaper than NYC

6000 yen - 50000 yen

That's a great bargain !!!!!

Actually the lowest hotel cost in Japan is 6000 - 75000 yen

Hotels in New York City - starting price $340.00 - $450.00

0 ( +1 / -1 )


Europe and America don't interest me at all, so I would never go there.

You're Scots, FFS. You don't need to "go" to Europe, you already live there.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@Lucabrasi: To your average British person Europe starts across the Channel, lol

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

I always tell my friends, don't come to Japan unless you are ready to drop some serious cash to have fun

Of course the type of fun is different for all people, but generally if you want to experience alot of what Japan has to offer, you have to be ready to drop a good chunk of change, if you want to have a comfortable trip here. Especially if you are only coming for a short period of time (1 week or less)

Thailand is a much better vacation spot. I remember going there and dropping about $2000.00 US in 2 weeks, I had the time of my life, and lived like a King

I'd rather be waited on hand and foot for 2 weeks while sleeping in a beautiful hotel or beach house, next to a crystal clear ocean, than be cramped into a hostel / capsule hotel / business hotel in the middle of busy Tokyo

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Huh? What a strange article. The way the author tries to deduce that cost is the issue doesn't make any sense.

First the author says, "Many students from all over the world at my school invited their friends and family to come see Japan and they came in droves."

Then he has a difficult time inviting someone to Japan from his own family, and decides it's because of cost despite the fact that others came to Japan in droves.

So why isn't cost an issue for other international students and their friends/family? They are all rich while the author isn't? Or exchange rates with other countries are that much better than the author's home country? The author fails to make any comparisons.

My idea, which has little to do with cost: Most international students in Japan are from nearby Asian countries. The flight is much shorter to Japan than from Western countries for their friends/family. The culture is also much closer. So a trip to Japan from Asian countries is not as big of an undertaking as it is from Western countries (for most people).

Just my 2 yen...

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I've yet to convince any of my family in the U.S. to visit here, after more than a dozen years. Cost and time are certainly factors, and I think the psychological distance is greater than the physical--my Dad will fly from Hawaii to visit my sister in Seattle at least once a year, nearly the same distance.

But my parents will finally visit next year, having found a really quality package with their usual travel agency that covers a lot of the best of Japan, and will allow them to spend a few days with me on their own here before the tour starts. They'll get a much better tour than I could ever give them, and I'll still get a chance to show them my version of the Big Mikan.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Hey, it's hard to have your family join you anywhere. After 10 minutes to 10 hours it's way too much family. Love em, but love em better when they're gone. But hanging in Japan with people who don't dig Japan is too much hassle. Have family send you return fare for your next trip home instead. Everyone will be happier.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The very first thought I had after reading the article was : hey man, it's just that your parents don't like you. It's based on the Occam Razor theory :)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I really doubt it's a cost thing. There are a few budget airlines with fairly good prices and if you're vigilant, last-minute seats are very cheap. It is also very easy to organise trips around Japan without joining tour groups using the internet. Prior knowledge helps a little but provided you are polite, people here are very helpful and they love pointing you to the better attractions that locals know about.

Did it ever occur to the author that maybe their family just isn't interested in visiting Japan compared to the other students around them?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

What a weird article. My wife and I have had our parents to visit - 3 times in my case. And other friends and relatives a handful of times.

Yes, it takes a bit of time and money to come here. But with free accommodation (and ability to cater at home), it's much cheaper than any other long distance holiday. Besides, part of the point is to spend some time together. It is not really much easier for us to visit them (though we do that much more often, of course).

It helps living in a nice place suitable as a tourist base. A 1LDK in the outskirts of Tokyo would be less attractive :-)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Most western people will not like Japan. The culture is very rigid. Americans like a freer atmosphere but in Japan one must conform to what is expected. The hotels are not good and the beds are very uncomfortable if you find a hotel that has beds. The food is not that great as most westerners do not like sushi and do not eat much rice. The serving sizes in restaurants is at best half the size that you get in other countries. The prices are so high that they take the fun out of everything. The restaurants do not allow substitutions so if you do not like one thing of a meal you are stuck with it and can not change, such as ask for bread instead of rice. No one speaks English, most countries speak English at least for the tourists and even in the stores you will find someone that speaks English. There is nothing to attract people from the west to Japan unless they have to go on a business trip. Perhaps in Tokyo there are some that speak English out of necessity but most of Japan does not. So basically, one would come to Japan because they want to see you but it would be cheaper for you to go to their country.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Kent: really? Hmm, I've lived here over 5 years and have travelled in more than 2/3 of the Japsnese prefectures. I rarely had a problem with restaurants; most gladly do substitutions if you ask kindly and they have it at their lication. It also tends to be good if you know where to go ( same as any country) the portions may be smaller, but not all of us wish for double the size as a lot of it will go to waste. When booking hotels online you can usually see if it is western or Japanese style so you can make a choice. And lastly for English, depends where you go...but most places I have been to I have encountered people who could help me easily. Just speak simple English and ask the right person (train times at the train station, sightseeing info at the info counter) I know Japan isn't for everyone, but a persons attitude can make or break any trip.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I travel about two days from south Brazil to central-north Mexico at the end of the year because of posdoc research, only to spend two weeks and a half...hope I can leave this country at once this time, go back to Mexico and someday go to live in Japan!

Japan is in my heart.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Anyone who spends the time doing his/her homework online can have a blast in Japan and not spend a lot of money. Business hotels, public transportation and almost infinite inexpensive food options mean a very affordable vacation. I've done it twice, the first time for two weeks in Tokyo, the second time for 3 weeks all over.

Anywhere you go in Japan, there's something to see and do. Even just interacting with the people is a joy. No matter where I went, I had no trouble getting around. I printed out maps at the hotel so I wouldn't get too lost, I learned how to ask where something is (though the answer wasn't always easy to understand), and it seemed that I always ran into someone who spoke just enough English to help me out when I needed it.

There's no reason not to go... except for the current exchange rate. When that improves, it's time to go back!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Strange. I've had parents visit several times, and nephews and nieces. Everyone loves their time here. My dad even went around everywhere on a Japan Rail pass by himself and had a great time. Trains that go everywhere, people that apologize for not speaking English, models of the food so you know what you're getting, and beer out of vending machines, what's not to like?

"All in all, my brother didn’t absolutely love Japan. He didn’t care for some of the food, wasn’t happy with the crowded parts of the bigger cities, and really did not “get” Japan. "

He sounds like someone who probably shouldn't travel overseas. Some people are better just skyping with occasionally. And if I paid for transport, accommodation and food for a brother who then said he didn't like the food or "get" Japan, I'd stop feeding him and just tell him to go to macdonalds!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My mom developed a chronic Lafcadio Hernia and wanted to see old Japan. She ended up going to Shikoku with her Japanese friend and being disappointed. I asked her how she got around, and she said "JR pass." Mystery solved.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

eh, if i ever grub the cash and take a holiday in japan it would be to get away from my family so personally i dont see the problem :-)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I love living in Japan and my family love coming here, especially my mum she visits yearly each time there is cheap airlines fares fair. We usually avoid visiting big cities, mainly because of the crowd and expenses. I often bring them to stay at traditional Japanese inn by the sea (Minshuku far more cheaper than Ryokan). Enjoy the calm scenery and tatami rooms. The staffs are nice, they serve good seafood in big portions too! All in all, Japan is exquisite with its four seasons, I love it here and guess that's why this is my tenth year here!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I feel sorry for Justin Velgus , maybe his family felt the same way and they all had a whip round for the brothers fare. (Japan is only In the eye of the beholder)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Strange article, I don't live in Japan any more , but did for a long time, even back in the day when it was less Gaijin friendly or even more Gaijin friendly depending on your experiences. I had friends and family visit on numerous occasions. they all had a wonderful time, enjoyed the experience ( few said that they would want to live there ) but didn't begrudge my love for the place, Its a lot cheaper now and far more non Japanese speaker friendly , Tourism is up to record levels. It may well be hard to get your family to go to Japan to visit you if you live in a 1DK ,or if you are not planning to take time off to spend with them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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