Tag Archive for tourists

Coming of Age Day in Japan


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Hong Kong model Sabrina visiting Meiji Shrine in Tokyo during the Coming of Age Day in Japan. The Coming of Age Day (成人の日 Seijin no Hi) is celebrated annually on the second Monday in January by only young adults who have recently turned twenty years of age. They return to their high school to attend ceremonies, and then go to shrines and temples to pray for their futures. Typically the guys wear a nice suit; the same one they would wear for job interviews, but the ladies dress up in kimonos.

Unfortunate for the young ladies who chose too come to Meiji Shrine, there were hordes of tourists, photographers, and Sabrina and I waiting to harangue them into photos and selfies. It was almost masochistic the attention these ladies received from almost everyone there. Anyway, with the ladies pictured above we were nice and respectful. In fact, they were happy to talk to a Hong Kong model, were pleased with the photos I took, and then asked me to take exactly the same ones with their own camera. Because they did us a favour, I was happy to oblige.

It was great working with Sabrina, I hope she had a great time in Tokyo. Update to the JapanesePhotos Instagram at: http://bit.ly/2kpZFbj. Also see other photos from this collection at the Sabrina gallery on my PhotoShelter portfolio.

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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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Top 5 Photos of 2013

Every new year needs a review of the old. Ok, yes, this is coming a little late, but timed for when most people are back at work and can benefit from this. The top 5 photos are available at both my PhotoShelter portfolio and my agent’s website.

 

5. 20-Somethings on a day out in Osaka.

Actually, in my list of 100 top photos of all time, nothing from 2013 appears, yet. However, on a photographer’s social networking site, 500px, this was one of the top photos, and was listed at “Popular” for a couple of days: an achievement. Both models were a delight to work with, and it was a fun morning. Thanks Ana and Brooke 🙂 This photo is available on my PhotoShelter portfolio and can be seen at 500px.

Young twenty-something friends on a day out in Osaka.

Young twenty-something friends on a day out in Osaka.

 

4. City Angel.

This photo also doesn’t (yet) appear in my list of top 100 photos of all time, but again on 500px it was a top performer, with a remarkable peak rating of 92.5 (squee!).

 

3. Naked Man Festival.

What could be more popular than the above ‘City Angel’? Naked men giving each other wedgies, of course! The Naked Man Festival is a winter event, and will be on again soon, and yes, this really is one of the top 100 photos of all time. From a quick check of my previous blog posts, I’ve written quite a bit on the annual Naked Man Festival, held in Komaki, just outside of Nagoya.

 

2. Korean Royalty.

I don’t know why, but Korean royalty is one of the most popular photos on JapanesePhotos.Asia. Obviously they are actors performing for tourists at Gyeongbok Palace. Incidentally, it was Japanese assassins who killed of most of the Korean royal family, paving way for a Japanese annexing of the peninsula starting from 1910 to 1945. This was a time when the Korean people were brutally treated (Wikipedia), and is still an open wound that current Japanese politicians do not or won’t understand (Japan Today).

 

1. One of Japan’s top jazz ballet dancers leaping.

I did this collection of photos with Ai in 2012, and this one was the top favourite in 2013. You can see my previous blog post of this photo in a tearsheet, and other previous Jazz Dance posts, too. It’s always a pleasure to work with jazz dancers, they know how to pose, they enjoy performing, and they have infinitely more energy than I. A new jazz dance project is in the planning stages for winter 2014, so keep an eye out for that, and please show support with microdonations on Flattr, every little bit helps.

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TGIF 22 Nov 2013 Travel in Osaka

Here, my two favourite models are working together on this travel themed shoot. I met them in Osaka a couple of weeks ago and made these travel photos at Tenjin Shrine in central Osaka. The shrine is a nice little shrine with a history of only a thousand years or nearly two. The shrine is also host to the annual Tenjin Festival that I shot back in July. For this photo, and others like it, see my PhotoShelter galleries.

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The Nara trip

I just got back from Nara. It was hot, 37°C all afternoon and most of the evening, 2° hotter than the forecast maximum. It was really humid, and so sweat just rolls off like it’s raining from your head. And then there’s the smell of deer dung cooking in the sun. Not to mention the your own sweat. Then there’s the long walks between everything. Phew, what a trip! Definitely, if you plan to travel and tour in Japan, August is not the month to do it in, unless you plan to avoid the afternoon heat and avoid heatstroke. You really need to take refuge in your air conditioned hotel room. I’ll be processing the photos from the trip over the next few days, and they’ll be available soon, probably at my agent’s website: http://www.westheimphoto.com/lightbox/index/gallery/AsiaStockPhotosAndrewBlyth.

I’ve noticed that since I first posted camera-back photos for tweeting ‘over 468 days ago’ (http://twitpic.com/9h20am), more and more photographers have started doing the same. I wonder if I was the first, or how many others thought of it independently, too. Anyway, to whet your appetite here’s one of my favourite deer-feeding photos from Nara. Photo taken with More Lomo, and processed with Adobe PhotoShop for iPhone.

Feeding the deer in Nara.

Feeding the deer in Nara.

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