#POTW Ana & Joanie at Sensoji Temple Tokyo

This Photo of the Week (POTW) is of Ana and Joanie at Sensoji Temple, a premier tourist attraction in Tokyo. It was great to work with Ana again, and to work with Joanie for the first time. They were great to work with and helped to make a great collection of images like this selfie. For more images like this, see the Ana, Joanie, Tokyo, and Alamy galleries.


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Nagoya & Aichi to host 2026 Games

NHK World News Podcast has last night reported that the hosting of the 2026 Asian Games has been awarded to the only applicant, Nagoya and Aichi. The two governments, city and prefectural, have submitted a joint application. Yay us!


Japan’s Olympic medalist Mizuki Noguchi in the 2012 Nagoya Women’s Marathon. Since I’m based in Nagoya & Aichi, I have a large library of Nagoya photos here, http://ablyth.photoshelter.com/.

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5 things the Japanese tourism industry must fix before 2020



A young Japanese lady at Tokyo’s iconic Sensoji Temple, with Tokyo Sky Tree in the background.

 

The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020 are seen as a potential cash cow, despite no city since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics had ever been able to turn a profit. However, financial success is what is hoped, and that depends on getting tourists into Japan before, during, and after the Olympics. It also depends on tourists’ willingness to spend, and spend often. However, no one wants to spend money on things they are uncertain about. Currently, I have seen very little action or plans made to make it easier for tourists to Japan to spend, spend big, and spend often. Admittedly, some dodgy Japanese companies have made tracks into providing “free” wifi around the place. Better connectivity is meaningless, if tourists have no good or useful information to access. Here are five things that Japan must fix.



A young American lady leaving a restaurant in central Nagoya.

 

1. “English” websites

The Nagoya City Art Museum provides the perfect example of everything wrong with Japanese webdesign thinking. The Japanese version of the site is informative, interesting, updated, and provides news on what’s coming up. The “English website” provides a generic pdf document providing general information that is uninteresting, and suggests there’s nothing special here. This type of “English website” is sadly common. One vineyard in Shizuoka provides their “English website” link, which takes you to Rakuten; however, it only provides hotel booking forms, and all information about the attached winery is noticeably absent.

Speaking of noticeably absent, and that’s English on Google Maps. Toyota Car Rental is one guilty example; see this Kyoto example, zoom in a little bit more so you don’t confuse it with another rental agency. You can book a car on their English website, but find where the shop is on Google Maps? Nope, unless you can read Japanese. This is sadly common practice for hotels, temples, and other key tourist sites.

Another point regarding absence, are English websites. For instance, Japan Today has this page on “onsens” (hot spring resort hotels). The resorts listed here are in English, but after clicking on the link, you are often taken to a Japanese-only webpage, which is of zero value to international guests, and may appear to some guests as exclusionary. Try Hazu Gassyo for instance.

 

2. “English” menus

Have you ever heard of things like sundubu, chodofu, mulnengmyun? Two of them are my favourite Korean foods, and one is Taiwanese, but distinctly smelly. Of course, you know them right? Who doesn’t love a nice bowl of mulnengmyun on a hot summer’s day, right? Fortunately, I will give you some meaningful translations of these: spicy tofu soup, stinky tofu, and icy noodle soup respectfully.

However, Japanese are oblivious to this. Japanese assume you will understand words like okonomiyaki, takoyaki, ika, and so forth. It’s obvious to them, so when it’s written in the Roman alphabet it magically becomes English, and so apparently we can understand these. There needs to be a push to actually provide meaningful translation for Japanese menus. However, I suspect that Japan will attempt at solving a simple problem with overly complex technology. I’m sure someone will say, “Hey, let’s make a translation app”, and it will provide non-nonsensical output.

Already, some Japanese restaurants don’t use waiters, but have a machine near the front door with a computerised menu. You push the buttons for the food you want, get some tickets, give the tickets to the lady, find a seat, and wait for the food come. Sounds simple, right? Wrong. Such computerised menus are provided in only Japanese, and no other language. Also, typically, no one can provide quality help.



The famous Nagoya-based JR Central bullet trains at Tokyo Station use non-English terms in the Roman alphabet.
Similarly, JR trains need to address this issue too. You obviously can tell the difference between the “hikari”, “kodoma”, “shinkansen”, “nozomi”, and “Green Car”, right? Well, here’s a very important tip, “Green Car” does not mean an environmentally friendly benefit, it’s code for “1st class” or “premium”. Also, just so you know, “shinkansen” means bullet train, and the other words mean the different types of bullet trains, ranging from local (kodama), express (hikari), and limited express (nozomi, requires an additional ticket). See Wikipedia for more info.

 

3. Use internationally popular websites

Many Japanese tourist spots advertise themselves on Japanese websites like Rakuten. However, no one outside of Japan uses Rakuten. Rakuten bills themselves as an outward looking international company, but in fact, they’ve only ever made waves here in Japan. They have no effective presence outside of Japan, and have even closed some of their European offices. I’ve only ever booked a hotel once on Rakuten, only because that area does not use international websites like hotels.com. When travelling through many countries, it is far easier to use a few familiar websites like hotels.com, Tip Advisor, Google Maps, and others. These are international multi-lingual websites. Users have become accustomed to using them, and it’s easier to keep using the same website, rather than finding a new one that may or may not be good or complete, and having to learn how to use their system. But most Japanese tourist spots are not aware of this. They only advertise on local websites believing it to be the best.

In fact, if a tourist site does appear on Trip Advisor, typically there is little or no meaningful information. For instance, how much useful information can you get from this Trip Advisor entry? Similarly, there’s often missing information on Google Maps or it’s only in Japanese. Having no or little English information makes the tourist site appear to be a poor outfit, with little to offer. Consequently, foreign tourists look elsewhere for places to go. Providing lots of information on important websites is key. Better still, multi-lingual information.

 

4. Experiences, not food

For many Japanese people, when they think of travel, they think with their stomachs. They want to see things that they can post on Line or Twitter, which is evidence that they’ve done something interesting. So, architecture and pictures of food are important. However, Westerners don’t think like this. In addition to architecture, many Westerners may prefer experiences such as doing a tea ceremony, seeing a ninja show in Iga, experiencing a theme café, and such. These things are far more memorable than a plate of food. However, many Japanese hotels front-line their restaurants as being the main attraction (example on Hotels.Com). And honestly, to me, often the food does not look appealing, especially with the poor quality of photography often used. In short, what is missing is actual research on what foreign tourists want.



Food is a big part of Japanese people’s travelling experiences. People eating at a restaurant near a major tourist site in Tokyo.

 

5. Providing comforts

Kyoto is a great city. I love it. In Kyoto, you have to take over-crowded buses on over-crowded streets to get anywhere. Also, everything in Kyoto requires a lot of walking. You are guaranteed to end the day worn out and foot-sore. I cannot stress enough how important it is to raise your fitness levels and to have comfortable walking shoes for Kyoto. Additionally, there are no park benches anywhere. If you want to sit down and have some water from your own bottle, you have to sit on the ground. No one in Japan sits directly on the ground. Instead, you’re expected to go to a cafe and spend. This makes the Kyoto experience more grueling and more tiring than it has to be.

For couples, the hotels are a barrier. Last year I saw some hotels saying “women only”, which means in a small city like Kyoto in the last few weeks before your travels and all other rooms are booked out, there’s no where for a man to stay. In addition, twin beds. That means, couples cannot share a bed, but expected to live like strangers in two separate single beds (like this hotel again on Hotels.Com). This might be fine for Japanese travellers and couples, but this spoils the romantic experience for non-Japanese couples. Semi-double beds maybe too small for many foreign couples, and normal double beds are very rare or over the top expensive.



Trainee tour guides in Kyoto. Travelling through Kyoto involves an immense amount of walking, but nowhere to rest.

 

Of course, the list could be longer, but these are just some of the key points that stand out to me. A lot of the issues does seem to be language related. The Japanese education system emphasize test performance, but not actual communication. Consequently, it’s no surprise that tourist communication is a weak point of the Japanese tourist industry. Finally, an alternative way of viewing these five “problems” is that they are not problems at all. Instead, these contribute to a genuine travel experience akin to what early explorers might have had, albeit, in a modern age.

 



Like many tourist shops in Kyoto, this kimono rental store offers only limited and fragmentary information in English, and maybe none in Chinese. For information on how to rent a kimono in Kyoto, see this kimono rental blog post.

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Pokemon Go going to fast

#PokemonGoGoingToFast I suppose passengers do sit in seats. In any case, this happened shortly after taking an escalator, and it has happened a lot in the underground shopping malls in Sakae. I suppose the app doesn’t handle GPS interference very well. What is particularly annoying is that I have only one option to push, even it if means that it is not true. It does irk me. Update to the JapanesePhotos Instagram at: http://bit.ly/2bl6Hti.

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The most dull Olympics ever

The Rio Olympics has been plagued with enough controversy. In fact, a friend asked me what I’m most looking forward to in these Olympics. My friend was referring to which sport; however, I answered with, “the controversies”. Each Olympics has some sort of shadow cast over them, which surely etches away at people’s faith in them. For instance the bribery and corruption around the awarding of the games to host cities (BBC, 1999, National Review, 2016). The Sochi Olympics showed us that even the most expensive projects can still be the worst (see the “Sochi toilets“, and the Telegraph for instance). And then there’s the value afterwards (see this, BoredPanda).


South Africa’s Rene Kalmer (in red) led the field for the first half of the race. Japan’s Yoshimi Ozaki (number 13) came second in the Nagoya Women’s Marathon, qualifying her for the London 2012 Olympics. Yukiko Akaba (#14), Misaki Katsumata (#24), and Yoko Miyauchi (#25) also pictured.

This Olympics has been the worst for me. I live fully in the 21st Century, which means I don’t need a TV anymore. I have things like news websites, BoredPanda, PetaPixel, NetFlix, and more. So, the decision announced on the day of the opening ceremony by the IOC to ban all short animations like Vines and Gifs has been terrible (PetaPixel). All I have is flat, dull news stories of athletes that apparently have done awesome things. Still photos like mine above are wonderful to represent an event in certain media. However, photos cannot represent and replace activities, actions, and reactions, which makes video and short animated snippets valuable. The recent example that prompted me to writing this is the brouhaha about a Chinese swimmer’s over-the-top reactions (BBC News). The official photos show someone who has a regular smile, and so I cannot see why this has even become a news story; the point is clearly lost.

Why has the IOC banned short videos and animations? So that the American NBC can have a monopoly on the Olympic coverage in the US. It prevents people like me from enjoying the Olympics without the NBC, so that I must rely on the NBC Olympic coverage. Here’s the big issue, I DON’T LIVE IN THE US, I live in Japan, so I CANNOT watch the games on NBC.

Furthermore, there is geoblocking or geography-based censorship of videos on the internet (pictured below). Which means, I cannot watch anything in English here in Japan. Japan Times and Japan Today do have some coverage, but not much, and certainly no videos. Any Olympic coverage they have is of Japanese and American atheletes, and one or two key figures from other countries. So the games has been pointless for me, because I cannot see and enjoy the spectacle.

GeoBlocking of the Rio 2016 Olympics

GeoBlocking of the Rio 2016 Olympics

In four years time there will be more people like me, who no longer see a need for a single-function device like a TV, and will be relying exclusively on the Internet. The Tokyo 2020 Games should be a fun-filled festival; an extravaganza of human physical prowess and achievement. Without video, moving-picture highlights, it too could become flat, dull, and pointless for the expat audience, and the growing global internet-based audience. The number of people watching the Olympics will diminish, a point that advertisers will certainly be aware of, which will have other financial consequences to the IOC and the Tokyo Games. The next time you see an Olympic photo, do you see any advertising in it? Do you see any advertising in the geo-blocked videos shown in the image above? In short, the geography-based media monopolies must end.

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