Tag Archive for japan

#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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Earthquakes in Japan

I’ll add more to this post in due course, but I hope this information will be useful for you now. Most Japanese people are trained in schools how to respond during earthquakes. Despite the disaster preparedness and rehearsals even in most companies, there were still some bad decisions made on the 11th March 2011 earthquake and ensuing tsunami and nuclear disaster.

  

In light of this, information is still important. The first thing I’d like to share is this link. It’s the Real-time Earthquake Monitor. It’s a constantly updating website made especially for smartphone screens. It shows where there is movement in the earth, and importantly shows the radiating spread of quake ripples and their strength. Here’s the link: http://realtime-earthquake-monitor.appspot.com

As I said, more information will be added later. 

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5 things to do in Tokyo

Tokyo is an exciting city with many things happening all the time. If it’s your first time, I really recommend you stay at a hotel in Asakusa (Google Maps), so you’re close to the rickshaws, Sensoji temple, kabuki theaters, the vibrant restaurant districts that are typical of Japan (but these ones have English menus), and a casual walk to Tokyo Skytree Tower.


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1. See the Shibuya Crossing

It is said that in peak hours about a thousand people cross at each light change (every two to three minutes). I guess this is in the evening when people are coming from and going to work, and going to a night out with colleagues. This is the crossing that has featured as “Tokyo” in various movies including Resident Evil, and has it’s own Wikipedia entry (Wikipedia). You watch could watch this fascinating coordination of people scrambling from the Loccitane Cafe (pictured, the yellow place behind the tree), the Metro station, or Starbucks 2nd floor in the Tsutaya building (pictured, to the right), and you might be lucky enough to get a rarely opening window seat. You’d have to case out the place and figure out who is camped out for a few hours, and who are there just for the view. The ones who are there for the view will probably be bored after about half and hour and leave. Be ready to grab your tray and claim a spot quickly. Interestingly, “Tall” is the largest size this Starbucks serves.


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2. Visit Sensoji Temple

Sensoji Temple is in Asakusa near the Asakusa Metro station on the Ginza Line. It is perhaps the oldest or first religious site in Tokyo, and the most visited tourist attraction. Despite the ominous promise of crowds, it’s not that bad, and other tourists are nice and respectful.


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3. Rent a kimono

It is possible for men and women to rent a kimono for the morning, afternoon, or the day in Tokyo and Kyoto. The best place in Tokyo is probably in Asakusa, near Sensoji Temple. It’s a small area, and so you don’t have to walk far wearing it, and have all the great photo ops you can imagine. A model of mine has written about this experience before, see here for Mariko’s kimono story.


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4. Try the food

DON’T do McDonalds! Ramen is a cheap, classic, healthy, and hearty food. It’s quick and easy to order, and is a real friend to weary travelers at the end of a long day. Also see previous blog posts on food, including ramen and sushi blog posts.


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5. See the sumo

Sumo is held for middle two weeks, every second month. It also is held in different cities. The schedule is January-Tokyo, March-Osaka, May-Tokyo, July-Nagoya, September-Tokyo, November-Fukuoka. Tickets go on sale about two months before the tournament, and can sell out quick. It is possible to book tickets online in English. See previous blog posts for more info about sumo.


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Bonus: Rickshaw rides.

Rickshaw rides are best had near Sensoji Temple, Asakusa. The rickshaw pullers have some English language abilities, lots of energy, and will tell you about the neighbourhood they’ll take you through, with lots of unique photo ops you’ll never get back home. They can even give you some additional advice and perhaps discount offers for other unique Japanese things like tea ceremonies and more.


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I’ve only been to Tokyo once for two short days, and couldn’t even scratch the surface of this busy city. There’s lots more to see and experience, including maid cafés, kabuki, Japanese tea ceremonies (held at some hotels), restaurant pubs, the city view from the Mori Building, and lots more. My advice is spend at least a week there, and may be do a day trip to Mt Fuji. Finally, make plans to go back for more exploration.


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My first trip to Tokyo and model shoot

It was my first trip to Tokyo, and it seems I got the best and worst of Tokyo weather in two days. Day one, 20°C; day two, 8°C. It was great working with Miyu, who knew exactly what to do. We were lucky and blessed with beautiful warm weather, and lovely breeze which was hinting at Spring and coming summer. However, day two was cold, dreary, and wet. Below is a sample of the shoots, and more photos will be added to galleries and portfolios in the coming weeks.

A young Japanese lady in Asakusa and Sensoji Temple, Tokyo. Gallery: http://ablyth.photoshelter.com/gallery/Miyu/G0000icZgc.Msf1o/C0000quDQSfYbu8k

A young Japanese lady in Asakusa and Sensoji Temple, Tokyo. Miyu’s Gallery.

Day two was a reprise with Ana, and a first time with Joanie. Both were fantastic to work with, and they worked great together. However, the glue of the operation was Ksara our makeup artist. She did a great job in keeping everyone’s spirits up on a cold and dreary day, and helped us all pull through and do well. Her work, her attention to detail, and commitment are all great.

The photos are available at Alamy, and my portfolio in these galleries, Ana, Joanie, Miyu, and Tokyo.

Young women sightseeing at Sensoji Temple, Asakusa, Tokyo. <a href="http://ablyth.photoshelter.com/gallery/Ana/G00004.pqC18m0o8/C0000quDQSfYbu8k" target="_blank">Ana's</a> and <a href="http://ablyth.photoshelter.com/gallery/Joanie/G0000xEFX95vGJC8/C0000quDQSfYbu8k" target="_blank">Joanie's</a> galleries.

Young women sightseeing at Sensoji Temple, Asakusa, Tokyo. Ana’s and Joanie’s galleries.

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5 things about eating in ramen restaurants in Japan

One of the most well known foods in Japan is ramen (Wikipedia), however, it’s actually a Chinese food. There’s a few different kinds, and it’s a delicacy that each ramen restaurant (or franchise) wants to be distinguished from the competition. That is to say, each restaurant will have slightly different styles and tastes, but are generally quite similar. One restaurant I went to, the noodles were quite eggy in flavour, others not at all. Because it’s also a dish that Japanese people have very particular tastes for, there are options that you can request when ordering. You don’t just say “ramen”, and a bowl of it magically appears, there are questions. Of all the places I’ve seen, this place featured below is definitely the most visitor friendly with English info. So, here are 5 things about ordering and enjoying ramen in Japan.


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1. Street displays. Most places will show pictures of their products outside to lure you in. Here you can get a sense of what you want and the prices, and can compare to other nearby restaurants. As you can see, you can expect to pay between 690 to 900 yen (USD$6-10) for a hearty, healthy, and great tasting meal.


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2. Ordering. Many places now have a machine that you put money in, push buttons, and get tickets. You give the ticket to the staff member. Often they’ll ask you these questions you see in the picture below. It’s quite ok to say in English “regular”, “medium”, or “normal” or in Japanese “futsu” or “zembu futsu” for ‘everything normal’. I recommend keep all communication simple and to single words, so there’s little chance of confusion. Once you start using English sentences, communication quality drops. Single words for simple communication.


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3. What’s in it? It’s basically a soup broth, either fish, miso, or pork broths, Chinese wheat noodles, a slice of pork, sheets of seaweed, maybe half a boiled egg, and some vegetable matter. This one pictured below also includes a local type of spinach, and spring onions. The varying flavour between restaurants is usually down to the broth and the secret ingredients they use. This one below is a common pork and pork-broth ramen, with some spring onions, local spinach, and seaweed. It’s actually my favourite.


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4. What to do. Actually, this picture below has pretty good advice. Once you get it, try it, and you can adjust it with condiments and seasonings that are usually on the bench near you. I usually like to add some diced spring onions, or a small spoon of mashed garlic, depending on how I feel that day. The particular restaurant I went to gives some rice for free that you can add to your noodle soup. You’d need the Chinese soup spoon to scoop it up. I never do, as it’s already a lot of carbohydrates, but it’s additional energy that weary travelers might actually need.


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5. How to eat. I eat it in the same way Korean ladies do, just because it’s easier, I look less of a fool, and perhaps less sloppy. Step one, use the chopsticks to load about a mouthful of noodles onto the small Chinese spoon (like the one shown below). Step two, once you’ve got a manageable amount on the spoon, then it’s easier to pick up the noodles as a bunch with the chopsticks and transfer the load to your mouth. Step three, repeat for each mouthful. Once you’ve finished, you can use the spoon to drink up the soup one scoop at a time. It may be a little salty though, so you don’t need to drink much, some people do finish it. Most places provide courtesy jugs of water, so you can wash the salt of your tongue or re-hydrate after a long day in the summer heat. Jugs are replaceable by the staff, so don’t worry about emptying the shops supply or the local lake. Also, there are tissues provided so you can wipe your mouth and the the surrounding bench of splashes.

The picture below also shows below the shelf the other condiments you can add to your ramen. Don’t add them all, just open and sniff and figure out what might be to your liking. As you can see, I was thirsty from a long day travelling and photographing, so the jug is almost empty.


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Bonus advice. Never settle on a “favourite way” to enjoy ramen in your first few visits. Try a variety of different flavours and combinations of condiments, at least until you can settle on something you are in love with.

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