Japan’s National Tourist Organization recently released its statistics on the number of overseas travelers who visited in the country in 2014, and we’re proud to say that 13,413,467 of you came to visit. That number represents almost a 30% increase from the number of foreign tourists Japan received in 2013, and a whopping 60% jump compared to 2012.
Still, Japan only ranks 27th globally in its ability to draw travelers from abroad, making it eighth in Asia, behind world No. 22 Korea and No. 4 China.
So what’s holding Japan back from becoming an even more popular international travel destination? RocketNews24’s non-Japanese staff put our heads together, and after getting over the initial pain from our foreheads violently colliding, came up with the following list of areas Japan could do better in that foreign travelers would definitely appreciate.
1. That pesky language barrier
Japanese is fascinatingly unique, but that doesn’t mean everyone who might be interested in coming to Japan has the time or desire to become proficient in the language before they get on the plane for Narita International Airport. Of course, you could say that the same about a lot of countries, but your chances of being able to fall back on your native tongue are particularly low in Japan.
More Japanese people can speak English now than could in the past, but it’s still not enough to make it easy for overseas visitors. And there are even fewer people n Japan who can speak a foreign language other than English.
If you go to China or Korea, in tourist attractions or shopping areas where there are a lot of foreign travelers, the staff can communicate in a number of languages like English, Chinese, and Japanese. Their grammar and vocabulary might not be correct, but they take the initiative in communicating. I don’t know if people in Japan are embarrassed that they can’t speak fluently, or if they’re just prideful, but I don’t feel like they try to speak other languages. Even if someone is using a broken version of your native language, it’s a big help for travelers.
2. What is this “Japan” you speak of?
For certain travelers, Japan simply isn’t on their radar to begin with.
I think your average person from Europe or North America only has sort of a vague image of Japan. When my family comes to visit me in Japan, I ask them "What do you want to do while you’re here?" The only answer they give is, "No idea. What is there to do?”
Many of my friends say "I never really thought about taking a trip to Japan, because I don’t know anything about the country." I think the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo are going to be good publicity, but Japan could also do with more television ads and promotions tailored to foreign markets right now.
3. I’ve got clothing in my suitcase, but what about food and shelter?
For the most part, Japanese hospitality is impeccable, and you’re unlikely to ever be on the receiving end of poor customer service. Some aspects of hotels and restaurants, though, can be a little different from what travelers might be used to in their own home countries.
Full-service hotels can be expensive. Also, a lot of them charge by the person instead of the room, and most ryokan (Japanese inns) work that way.
A lot of fast food and casual restaurants have pictures on their menus, and travelers who can’t read Japanese can use them to order, but some more upscale restaurants don’t have any photos or illustrations. Also, I think if Japan had more halal and vegetarian restaurants, it would make it easier for people with dietary restrictions or preferences to travel in the country.
4. Getting from Point A to Point B
Famous as it is for its well-engineered cars and high-speed trains, Japan isn’t always the easiest country to get around in.
It’s kind of difficult for people who don’t speak Japanese to navigate public transportation systems in Japan. You can avoid that problem by going on a guided group tour, but those kind of package deals aren’t very appealing to younger travelers.
Taxis are expensive to start with, and they add a surcharge for night-time fares. But on the other hand, a lot of the signage in train and subway stations is in Japanese, and for the maps showing all of the lines at the ticket machines, usually only the major stations have their names written in English/Roman alphabet letters. It’s even harder to find English signs or timetables for bus networks.
It’s hard for the elderly or disabled to get around in Japan. Even in big cities like Tokyo, a lot of facilities don’t have escalators or elevators.
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