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#Gnarbox plays GnarGhost

I suppose many Gnarbox backers are now at the point of feeling the kind of bitter one feels after a joke that was funny, is being replayed again, even after its self life is long past. Gnarbox was delivered to a select group of investors in mid to late March, and they promised to ship the rest on the 3rd of April. However, as of today, only one or two commenters have said they’ve received their Gnarbox, whilst many others are saying “Where’s my shipping notice?”. Which is to say, another delivery or rather shipment deadline came and went; again without acknowledgement from the creators. Admittedly, those who have received theirs seem to be as pleased as punch with their Gnarboxes.

The Gnarbox page on Kickstarter.

The Gnarbox page on Kickstarter.

Considering there are a lot of people who still haven’t received theirs, assuming many of them are in the US, and we’re now mid-month, I am not holding my breath for mine to be delivered at all this month, despite their February and March promises. Possibly, there may be many who received their Gnarbox, but now just don’t need it anymore as their current workflow has already made it obsolete, or the blissful post-purchase honeymoon period has long since taken the shine off the product, and so they feel no motivation to talk about their shiny new delivery. Perhaps, the bitterness of the 13 months of delays has soured their enthusiasm, and so they don’t want to publicly admit they have one now. In any case, the Gnarbox creators still haven’t communicated the latest excuse for a delay, nor have they updated the delivery schedule.

If you have received yours, I’d like to hear about it. What is it like? How does it fit into your workflow… if at all anymore. How did you feel about the 13 months of delay? Anything else you like to comment on.

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Gnarbox update: The saga continues

This article follows on from the previous article about my experience with Gnarbox, which so far has been terrible and dismal. However, this is the first proper glimmer of hope. The Gnarbox Kickstarter project started in July 2015, and was due to be delivered in March 2016 (twelve months ago). They had made five promises of deliveries, and has failed to fulfill any. They have also blocked me on Instagram, their only channel of communication outside of Kickstarter. They blocked me because I was one of many who complained about the non-delivery in Instagram comments. It should be noted that the blocking occurred days before CES in January, and before Lok Cheung saw them. The community of Kickstarter backers have complained loudly at the consistent failure of Gnarbox to deliver. Then this morning, there was a break in the weather.

The Gnarbox page on Kickstarter.

The Gnarbox page on Kickstarter.

I received an email marked 7.38am this morning (my time) with the first update, first of any kind of communication from Gnarbox that I’m aware of in four weeks. In fact, the last communication from them was on the 16th of February, when in the comments section on Kickstarter they confirmed someone’s address had been received. Otherwise they’ve been ghost, and completely ignoring their Kickstarter backers. It appeared really bad, and it truly seemed like anything could have happened and we were in the dark.

This update is significant. But first I have to remind of you of their previous update on the 6th of Feb. They said that they had started production and quality control testing, and were aiming to get failure rate down, then the next week they’d go into full production and shipping, so we should expect our Gnarboxes by the end of February. Today’s update (16th March) said that they’d completed production, quality control testing, boxing, and shipping of the first 150 units. That is, it has taken them six weeks to achieve this with just the first 150 units, and that they had not completed the remaining 2000 or so units. These first 150 were sent to their friends, family, and “investors”. They didn’t define what an investor is, but backers are investors in Kickstarter language. They also said that assembly of the next 820 units has started and deliveries will begin from the 20th March. Following that, the rest are due to ship on the 3rd of April, which mine will probably be included in that last batch.

Again, what is interesting is what they did not say. They have not explained the four weeks of complete radio silence, they did not explain why they failed to do their production in that time, but could only achieve 150. However, these issues are small and insignificant to the fact that they are still committed to ensuring that from end-to-end they are still rigorously testing all aspects of what they are doing. That is to say, they are still testing their boxing, shipping, and tracking procedures on friends and family, and so this process should happen smoothly for the rest of us. I think it would have been easy for a very demoralised group that has failed multiple times to deliver on their promise just to give up and get it out without much more effort. In contrast, they are still committed to the learning experience and getting the production flow right. This point has to be acknowledged and respected.

Three things cannot be overlooked. Firstly, this is the sixth delivery promise they’ve made. The first being March 2016, 19th September, November, January 2017, February, and 20th March & 3rd April. Secondly, their planning needs improvement, but they certainly should have learnt a lot about this from this experience. Finally, communication, and therefore respect for their backers is in desperate need of improvement. A lot of excitement, enthusiasm, and publicity they garnered in July and August 2015 has been more than spent. Their product is already partially obsolete, especially as the built in wifi in new cameras means the Gnarbox no longer fills a gap in the market (Dan Cook on PetaPixel). Will I use mine? I don’t have a wifi enabled camera yet, but it could happen this year, and my new iPhone does a pretty damn good job for social media use.

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Tokyo is made of stairs

There are some things that travellers think they are prepared for, only to find that the guidebook said nothing about it. In this case, it’s that Tokyo is made of stairs. Well, mainly the subway public transport system; and not just Tokyo, but also Nagoya and Osaka too. As you will quickly realise on your first day here, it is tiring. Your feet may be sore, and your leg muscles worn, and you have quickly faded at the end of the day.


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Before you come to Japan, I strongly, strongly urge you to do a lot more walking as a part of your preparation. If you can use a stair machine, do. Sure, there are escalators and elevators, but stairs are the mainstay. Elevators are few and far between. Even though there is at least one elevator per station, these are impossible to find, or are very inconveniently located. So, if you’re carrying heavy suitcases, have a pram, or in a wheelchair, you will have troubles; so leave earlier than most people would. However, you will have a great time here. Bring high energy snacks to help you get about the place, but you will be a lot fitter for having lived or been here.


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Copyright and stealing photos

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. In restaurants, it’s free to look at the buffet, but it’s not free to take and eat. The same with photos, images, videos (and gifs), etc. Photos are free to look at, but not free to take. There have been website owners, bloggers, and other such people being served with take-down notices, having their website hosting accounts closed, and social media accounts closed too, all because of image theft. Photos cost money, and they are expensive to make. Don’t believe me? Well, you could obtain a license for my photos via the Free Photos info page, which will give you free access to galleries of my work, but for a trade.


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People want their time paid for. You don’t go into your job to work for free. You surely don’t do overtime for free. You expect financial compensation. That is true for models, makeup artists, and me. The lowest price I can get a model for is about USD$25 per hour; many command modestly to a lot more than this. Each shoot requires a lot of preparation, and time before the first camera button is pushed. What is the difference between a model and having a friend pose for you for free? A lot.

A friend working for free doesn’t know what to do with his or her hands. They typically only look at the camera, and expect magic to… magically happen. A professional model knows what to do with his or her hands, knows where to look, angles to put their shoulders. They know how to angle their heads. And that is just the posing. A professional model will always keep their skin moisturised, hairs and nails trimmed, and knows some basics about makeup art. There is a difference between the makeup ordinary people use, and the makeup a model would wear. Suitable makeup is not free. Also, in the heat of the moment, a professional remembers how to pose, and won’t go scatterbrained like beginning models (and photographers) would.


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The photo above was possible with a professional, still-life, gravure specialist model, and a makeup artist who can work quick, imaginatively, and can understand the context and make more of it. They know their stuff, and they know it well. Actually, I think I was the least talented one in the room.

After the shoot there’s the image processing, storage, and marketing. Software is not free. Hard disc drives for photos are not free. Marketing is not free. Just these three aspects costs thousands of dollars. There are cheap ways to do these things, but none are free. Online image storage for commercial sales costs hundreds of dollars a year. Every few years I must replace my external hard drives, and they cost a few hundred dollars each.

Some would say that an image that costs “hundreds of dollars” will sell many times, and so surely money will be made. Yes and no. Some images are more niche than others. Certainly the generic stock image will sell hundreds of times, and so the pricing is just a dollar or so. However, there have been confusing moments for consumers when two competing banks, by chance, used exactly the same $1 stock photos for their million dollar campaigns. The generic stock photos are clean and beautiful, but intentionally lack context so that they can be used for any purpose, thus increasing their sales potential.


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Rights managed photos, like mine, are usually specific to a context (typically Japan), and are as authentic as possible. The image above was one of the more expensive to make. In the photo you see three people, but you don’t see the other two out of view. There was the makeup artist keeping an eye on the models and holding the flash, and me. The rickshaw puller cost money, and it also cost me money in getting to Tokyo to begin with. This image is model released, of which there are three signed releases. Using photos you find on Flickr might be easy and… free, but they won’t have signed model releases, and so they cannot be used for advertising and other similar uses. CBS, among other news outlets, reported that a family sued an Australian mobile phone company for using a non-released creative commons photo of their daughter. The reason? It was extremely insulting, especially as it says in big bold letters “Dump your pen friend” and shows a gregarious Asian girl (see here).

Regarding the specificity and context issues, image above is in an obvious touristy place, as you can see someone taking a selfie in the background, and a crowd in front of one the most photogenic, iconic attractions in Tokyo, Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa. These are the things that separate my image above from free and generic stock images; the sales potential is low, and the cost to set up high. Furthermore, my images can be set to exclusive use, so to prevent copycats and rivals from using the same images for their campaigns.


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There is a myth that it’s ok to use an image without paying for it, as long as you provide credit and links back to the owners. This is not true. I simply cannot go into McDonalds, take a burger, and then tell everyone “I ate this burger that I got from McDonalds”. It will still be called theft. To use photos, especially when people are displayed in the photo, you need to have permission. Let’s say the photo above of the Vietnamese girl sitting on the balcony of a cafe in Saigon is used for a cafe advertising campaign; there’s little risk to her reputation and mine. However, if it was appropriated by an AIDS or mental health campaign, she risks huge ramifications in her community. There is a model whose career was destroyed by false claims of plastic surgery, as purported by an internet meme (see here).

In short, photos are free to look at, but like a Da Vinci, Caravaggio, or Dali painting, you cannot take them home without paying… or you’d risk an international manhunt. I do have cheap alternatives for for bloggers, and other personal uses; there are many licensing options, just take a look at my PhotoShelter portfolio. At the end of the day, we all enjoy our work, but we all still need to be rewarded.

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Update on @gnarbox and Kickstarter

Way back in July 2015 I heard about Gnarbox and their concept (Kickstarter page). As a travel photographer, it was exactly what I needed. Well, I wasn’t so needing the in-field photo or video editing and immediate social media posting, but the main draw card for me was the quick and simple SD card backup ability. It was only to be 128Gb (barely enough for a trip, but something was better than nothing), but it was supremely portable, and it hit the sweet spot at US$149. If it were much higher than that, I would have balked. I hummed and huhhed at the $149, but considered the project to be back-able. The recommended retail price was to be nearly USD$250, so a discount drew me in, assuming I probably wouldn’t regret getting it. As of 28th Jan 2017, it’s listed at USD$299 on B&H, and as “Coming soon” (B&H).

There are some downsides with the device. Firstly, it is only 128Gb, and so it will be barely enough. Secondly, all technology items at the moment have a useful life of three to five year before obsolescence. The Gnarbox is so far ten months late in delivery, and new cameras include wifi to smartphones, and new smarphones are now able to take amazing photos, reducing the need for a dedicated picture/video device. Thirdly, there is no password or encryption protection, or any kind of security, which makes journalism and cross-border travel risky for some. Fourthly, there is still very little to no independent assessment as to it’s in-field / real world use. How long is the battery life? How long until the batteries deteriorate and need replacing? How practical is it to carry an adapter for people using CF cards? Finally, does it still fit into my workflow?

The Gnarbox page on Kickstarter.

The Gnarbox page on Kickstarter.

All investments carry risk, “will the creator deliver?”, “Will it be as promised?”, among other concerns. It was my first project to back on Kickstarter, and it was exactly the tool I needed. The device was due to be delivered in March 2016, which means it was intended to be a quick and easy development. Importantly, however, was the detailed information the creators provided on Kickstarter. I was impressed, and especially compared to other Kickstarter pages/projects, these guys seemed to have a clear idea of what needed to be done. So, I threw my hat (and money) into the ring.

Not all projects have smooth sailing, and not all best laid plans go off without a hitch; bumps are expected. In February 2016 the Gnarbox team announced that a deal with a processing chip manufacturer fell threw, and so they had to rejig their development to a new supplier, which meant that delivery was pushed back to September 2016. So far, I was not concerned, and considered it a necessary move.

September 2016 came and went without a word on delivery, which was the first red flag for me. The August update did not mention any problem with delivery deadlines, as shown below.

Gnarbox project update in August 2016.

Gnarbox project update in August 2016.

Then in September they promised to start deliveries on the 19th Sept. The screenshot below shows that even the packaging had been designed and completed.

 

Gnarbox was apparently ready for delivery in September 2016.

Gnarbox was apparently ready for delivery in September 2016.

Then in October they stated that they were to do FCC and CE certifications. This meant that they had not gone into production, and were officially not certified for sale or distribution in at least the US nor Europe. Then 27th October they claimed that they will start to deliver in November. That means that they missed their official delivery dates for March and September 2016, and promised a third date: November 2016. A Kickstarter update on November 19 said that there had been problems getting FCC and CE approvals, but things were going well. It also noted that US backers, and US-based pre-orders get the first three rounds of deliveries, and the rest of the world (including me, who invested into the project before US-based pre-order people) get mine in the fourth and final round of deliveries. At this point, of the original 2,988 backers, there were already discontent, and backers were making requests for refunds.

The 10th of December 2016 update in hindsight is very troubling. It focused on the positive in the development. It told what had been achieved – only what had been achieved. It failed to acknowledge that the third delivery promise had been missed, and it did not mention anything about their financial situation as backers were requesting their refunds. It also failed to slate a new delivery date. As the community discussion shows on Kickstarter, there were howls of anger at the lack of information; information that backers actually want. The discontent is understandable and justified.

Gnarbox on Instagram, and community comments about delivery promises.

Gnarbox on Instagram, and community comments about delivery promises.

Instagram is an important platform for promoting the Gnarbox. The Gnarbox team regularly posted photos and videos as the latest samples from in-field testing from the prototypes. Interestingly, all such Instagram posts include the Gnarbox watermark. However, it is not known if watermarking is possible on their editing software, or if the image was processed on a real computer back at home or studio. On Instagram, there were many backers leaving comments on Gnarbox official sample photos and videos like “Nice photo, would be nice to get my Gnarbox”, or simply “When do I get mine?”. All such comments were plain and civil, including mine. However, I was blocked by them, and it was a shock. To me it was a hostile move by Gnarbox; you should never disrespect the people who give you money, and yet I was treated like a common internet troll. I’m sure this will also count as a blackmark against me in the Instagram system. Also consider that they had missed three delivery deadlines, and there is community discontent, and trust was/is fading.

Gnarbox's notice of blocking me just days before the CES tradeshow, message via Instagram app.

Gnarbox’s notice of blocking me just days before the CES tradeshow, message via Instagram app.

At the time I was confused and shocked. I had never been treated like this. Then I saw that Lok and Kaiman Wong were about to attend the 2017 CES trade show, and so it made sense. Gnarbox, who were to attend CES, were doing badly, and so they had to censor their social media reputation in the hope that they can draw in more money. However, there were still the howls of rage from the backers wanting updates or refunds, what had happened to the promises of a March, September, and then a November 2016 deliveries?

Gnarbox January 2017 delivery promise.

Gnarbox January 2017 delivery promise.

Then strangely Gnarbox posted their “Jan 4th update” on January 6th 2017, claiming that they had missed only two delivery deadlines, but would deliver in January 2017. Which deadline doesn’t count? The March, September, or November one? Instantly, there were backers saying that deliveries from China are notoriously slow, and this is an important point, as their printed circuit boards are produced there. Also note that 27th January marks the start of the Chinese New Year, when everyone goes on holiday there. Furthermore, there seems to be a rush by backers to get refunds while they can. I don’t know anything about their financial position, nor of their actual production schedule at this point. Gnarbox, since September has been teasing us with “deliveries will be soon” promises, and teasing us with frequent Instagram posts of supposed samples made in the field with their prototypes. These two factors have changed the mood from excitement to insult; here is a product you have invested in, but you cannot have.

At this point, it’s 28th January 2017 and no update from Gnarbox since the 6th Jan. It is 10 months past their original delivery date, and they’ve missed three delivery dates, and it’s almost certain that I will not receive my Gnarbox in the remaining three days of this month. That means that they will have missed four delivery dates, and have a string of broken promises to their investors. Finally, I need to consider if the device will ever be delivered, why I’m last on the delivery schedule (being non-US based, and outside their legal jurisdiction), and if there is any money left should I request a refund. The Gnarbox company will have committed to producing at least 3,300 devices, and the more they can sell at full price rather than at backer discount, the better. Consequently, refunds in fact, can be helpful to them; should I help or await my delivery? Decisions, decisions.

Watch this space, I may post updates below.

UPDATE, 31st Jan 2017: Gnarbox has posted an update. In short, no delivery. It is interesting to see that this update lacks any photos and no videos. Some of their previous updates included a video of the founder, looking a little nervous and shaky, giving a statement on their progress. This time we’re reduced to a short statement, three days after it was promised.

What is telling is that despite the promise to deliver this month, they did not say it directly, but they admit to not having even the first item produced to do quality control testing. It is interesting that they are avoiding stating what happened with the PCBs and the planned production, and that this message arrives on the final day of the month. They also fail to provide a timeline and details of the stage they are at in the manufacturing process. Do they have the PCBs? Do they have the SD, micro SD, USB port components? Do they have the cases? Do they have the rubber doors for the cases? Do they have instruction manuals printed? What has happened with the software development that they explicitly and detailed in previous updates?

It is also interesting that three days ago they asked in what form the community would like their customer support, and that question was answered with silence. Finally, and disturbingly, the Gnarbox team said that future communications will be taken off of Kickstarter and done via their email address; that is, away from a publicly viewable record.

Update 8th Feb 2017: Two things happened. Firstly, on the 4th Feb Gnarbox sent out an email to confirm delivery addresses. This was on the same day as they announced this in the comments section, “@all – First article inspection is complete and a pass. Shipping confirmation sent out.”, meaning they made their first Gnarbox, tested it, and it didn’t fail. This is unusual to me, as they successfully made exactly one successful item (no announcement on how many failed), and suddenly they are asking for delivery information. To me, you’d only ask for address information if delivery is imminent. People like me are way down the list for delivery, and they are hoping that I will still be at this address when they finally get around to sending mine out. Some backers have said that they might not be reachable in March or April. Let’s face it, Gnarbox have missed their March, September, November, and January deadlines. It’s likely mine will arrive in March, making it a full 12 months late.

Secondly, one of the backers shared this video by former DigitalRev wideo guy and presenter Lok, on the comments forum on Kickstarter. For me it’s infuriating, as this happy, positive promotional video was recorded just days after Gnarbox went through their Instagram posts and deleted all the late-delivery comments and blocked concerned backers/investors like me in their social media censorship.

It seems the delivery address email did it’s job in keeping the natives content, as it has so far stopped people from making more announcements of wanting their money back. Further, this video is the first real evidence I’ve seen that the product is real, and becoming real; albeit, 12 months later. Thanks Lok.

UPDATE 5th March 2017: Still not received my Gnarbox. My suspicion that they sent out the address confirmation three weeks ago may have been a stalling tactic seems true. In fact, nobody has seen or heard anything from the Gnarbox folks since the 16th February, and this is a moment when they claimed that people would have already started to receive their Gnarboxes. The backers’ comments on Kickstarter are basically calling for updates and confirmations that the company hasn’t done a runner. I think this is a moment where Gnarbox has seriously hurt their own reputation, as it will be hard to trust their claims in the future, especially because of this three week period of radio silence.

Also note that this month commemorates one year since they missed their first promise of delivery.

Update 16th March 2017: This is so significant that it needs its own blog post. See here.

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Tourists to Japan now over 24 million annually

In 2015 the number of tourists to Japan was just under 20 million. However, 2016 saw a rise up to 24 million tourists (Japan Today). JT also reports that most visitors came from South Korea and China. Most travellers stuck to the so called “golden route”, and not visit the lesser known destinations in Japan. Japan Today did not define it, but it can only be supposed that the “golden route” must be the main guidebook attractions in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe.


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A young Japanese lady standing in front of Zojo-ji Temple, which Tokyo Tower in the background.

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5 top photos of 2016

Here are the top five JapanesePhotos.Asia photos of 2016. It’s been a busy year, and so for adding to my portfolio, it hasn’t been so easy. However, this year I’ve been fortunate once again to work with some great and talented models and makeup artist. This year, strangely enough, was also the first time I went to Tokyo. It was exciting, and I look forward to going again in 2017. So, without further ado, here are the top five, which are all available on my PhotoShelter portfolio and Alamy.

Runner up. Getting smoke blessings at Senso-ji Temple, Asakusa, Tokyo.


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5. Boudoir portrait.


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4. Sensoji-Temple special effects at night, Asakusa, Tokyo.


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3. Tourist girl in Tokyo.


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2. Umbrella girl.


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1. Girl in the City of Ghosts.


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As you can see one model stood out the most this year. Special thanks to Miyu who is a fantastic model to work with. Ksara a great makeup artist, organiser, help, and conversationalist. Also thanks to Joanie and Ana. And thanks to you for inspiring me to do more. May 2017 be another great year for all of us.

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Photos for Personal Use – for cheap

Did you know that bloggers and personal website owners can get high quality photos for cheap?

The problem: Some people don’t understand that photos are free to look at, but not free to take and use; like food at a buffet, free to look at, but not free to take. Photos for commercial or editorial uses can cost anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to tens of thousands. Pricing depends on the distribution and the size of the audience, and many other factors. However, this means that many bloggers mistakenly believe that high quality images are too expensive, and so they steal the images instead. This means that many bloggers have had infamous take-down notices issued, had their web accounts closed by their website hosts, and social media accounts closed. Also, many bloggers have faced expensive legal action with real lawyers in real courts, with real judges, and real prosecutors.

Girl in the City of Ghosts

Girl in the City of Ghosts

The How: JapanesePhotos.Asia instead provides a personal solution, for personal bloggers and personal website owners. Purchase cheap licenses for your personal use, not for redistribution or resale; for in perpetuity. JapanesePhotos.Asia has multiple options for many different types of buyers and uses. For personal uses, go to the JapanesePhotos.Asia PhotoShelter portfolio, and browse for what you like, click on the green buy button, and choose your license, go to the Downloads tab, and choose Personal Use; and you’re all set.

How to buy a license and download an image for personal use from JapanesePhotos.Asia

How to buy a license and download an image for personal use from JapanesePhotos.Asia

Why the cost? The model in the image above costs money. She’s a great and professional model, and we worked with a great make-up artist; all of this costs money. How much do you earn per hour, and consider they need to be paid too? It took about a day of work to make that image above, and I’m competing against tens of thousands of great images, so each sale is important for cost recuperation. If you really do value an image enough to want it, please value the time and effort too, so that I can make more great images in the future.

One more thing: Occasionally I do have discount offers, please look out for coupons.

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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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