Now boastful Japan not really in tune with what visitors want, foreign expert warns


Staff Writer

Japan’s self-professed “omotenashi” (spirit of selfless hospitality) is often misinterpreted to force predetermined services on foreign visitors, says one longtime observer.

Cultural services expert David Atkinson, 49, says the nation’s confidence in what it offers the world is misplaced: Many foreigners who visit leave unfulfilled.

Atkinson runs Konishi Decorative Arts and Crafts Co., a Tokyo-based team of heritage restoration professionals who help to conserve the nation’s cultural properties. The company itself has around 300 years of history.

Atkinson says it is troubling to see Japanese increasingly lauding their own culture and that the trend could even become an obstacle to the government’s goal of getting 30 million tourists to visit annually by 2030.

The 25-year resident of Japan achieved a measure of fame in the 1990s for his incisive reports on the nation’s bad debts, when he was a banking analyst for Goldman Sachs. Now retired from the world of finance, Atkinson made a buzz again in October when he published the book “Igirisu Jin Anarisuto Nihon No Kokuhou Mamoru” (A British Analyst Protects Japanese National Treasures).

The book, written in Japanese, focuses on what Atkinson believes are the weaknesses of Japanese society — weaknesses that the native population often fails to notice.

“Originally, omotenashi means leaving the choices to the guests, not forcing foreigners with a different set of values to behave the way Japanese people expect,” he said.

Omotenashi became a buzzword in August 2013, when television celebrity Christel Takigawa used the term during Tokyo’s final presentation to the International Olympic Committee’s general assembly in Argentina for permission to host the 2020 Olympics.

Speaking in French, Takigawa said the spirit of omotenashi makes Tokyo a perfect host for the Olympics. Some in Japan credit her words with helping Japan prevail over fellow contenders Madrid and Istanbul, but perhaps more importantly, it appeared to boost the nation’s collective self-confidence.

Now not a day goes by, it seems, without some Japanese TV program making out that foreigners in the remotest parts of the world are wild fans of Japan and its culture.

Atkinson said the reality is that Japan has a long way to go before it will fully satisfy foreign visitors.

“If love for Japan is indeed a worldwide trend, as Japanese people themselves say, why is it that only 13 million people visited the country this year, while in France they had some 83 million visitors?”

Most have little real engagement with Japan during their visit. Only 3 to 4 million of the total, he said, truly explore the nature and culture and form a real connection.

This means the government is merely trying to reach targets without regard to the quality of the experience.

In the meantime, he said, the Japanese often push a prejudiced image of their country — one they believe foreigners should have when they leave.

Instead of making fancy presentations with 3-D graphics, Japan should go back to the basics, Atkinson said.

Its priorities should include explaining what the nation’s cultural assets stand for, installing signs in English that have been proofread by a native speaker, and producing souvenirs that match foreigners’ lifestyles, he said. Many souvenir dishes, for example, are simply too small to be used in foreign cuisine.

Tourists place no great value in some of the qualities Japanese often brag about, including safety, clean streets and the punctuality of public transportation, Atkinson said.

These things “may be interesting to see once or twice. But visitors don’t come back” to see them again.

It is “embarrassing” for Japan to be proud of such small things while its government is not spending enough to maintain and restore cultural properties, he added.

Restoration work on centuries-old assets such as the famed Byodoin Temple in Kyoto, is usually put on hold until the very last minute, when structures begin to fall apart, he said.

Fortunately, Japan is blessed with four assets any nation aspiring to be a successful tourism destination must have: a culture, a history, a mild climate and glorious nature, Atkinson said.

“If they can collaborate more with foreigners and listen to a bit of what they say, I think Japan can be more attractive,” he said.

  • KenjiAd

    When most Japanese people stop complimenting “westerners” (note the double quote) for mastering the art of eating with chopsticks – that’s the day when Japan truly becomes hospitable to foreigners.

    As a Japanese guy, I often feel that many (if not most) people in Japan are trapped by the very ethnocentric self-image of Japan and Japanese culture, which revolves around the concept of Japan being exceptionally unique. That’s really not true. Japan is as unique as any other country.

    • Wilder

      That’s just because you are being a native. Believe me, Japan is totally different from the rest of the world. For example there you can legally buy products from Amazon while here you will be imprisoned for having it.

      • Avery

        Your writing is confusing. What is the country that imprisons people for buying from Amazon? I’m pretty sure it’s Korea, right? They block Amazon at the national level…

      • lalu

        You can use amazon in korea…

      • R.R.

        Probably China

    • Bogs_Dollocks

      I still get that chopstick “compliment” thing and I agree that when it ends, then that is when Japan will become a normal country with regards to foreign visitors.

      • Tomoko Endo

        Some smillig naturally.
        But we are not idiots.
        According to an newspaper artkcle, a woman smile as a job.
        Some sympathsisize.

        Tres sympa

      • Mike Baker

        What you said is a complete non sequitur.
        People do have sympathy for
        the people you mentioned, but I don’t see how that is related in any
        way to to either Bogs_Dollocks’s or KenjiAd’s comment on chopstick use.

      • K T

        after being complimented on my use of chopsticks several thousands of times, I began returning the compliment as:
        you use a fork very well. Or,
        You have mastered the use of that coffee mug brilliantly.

        My favorite response was: Yes, my parents are very proud that I have reached this level of proficiency! I just graduated from the Tokyo hashi tandai (to-ha-dai). It is, I think, a positive way to tell them to f**k off.

      • Bogs_Dollocks

        Very good ;)

    • Steve Jackman

      “As a Japanese guy, I often feel that many (if not most) people in Japan are trapped by the very ethnocentric self-image of Japan and Japanese culture, which revolves around the concept of Japan being exceptionally unique.” This is true….it is also the very definition of words like conceit, vanity, egotism and narcissism. None of these are good qualities.

  • Peter Lööf

    I lived in Japan for eight years and my experience is that Japanese people have no idea what it’s like to be a foreigner in Japan – Non!

    • Japanese Bull Fighter

      Why should they?

      • rossdorn

        Hey…. We finally agree on something…

    • KenjiAd

      Before you came to Japan, did you have any idea what it’s like to be a foreigner in your country?

    • Patorioto

      True but before I came to Japan I had zero idea what it was like to be a foreigner in the US. That’s why it’s important for more Japanese (and Americans) to get out and abroad. It opens up your eyes.

      • Tomoko Endo

        We donot need to go abroad. We are
        xenophobias and we think that our culture are ours.

  • Moogiechan

    France is a lot easier and cheaper for other Europeans to visit. A lot of people in countries near Japan can’t afford foreign travel.

    • GBR48

      Agreed. It would be interesting to compare how many long distance tourists visit France and Japan. Many foreign tourists to France simply drive there over the border.

      • rossdorn

        What you mention is the one true problem Japan has, the oen that underlies all the others. This is an island at
        the end of the world, surrounded by other third world countries, when
        it comes to quality of life.
        When I drove with my wife in a camper
        all over Europe we also went from Germany to Switzerland, passing
        through Liechtenstein and Austria.
        When I stopped at a bank to change money into swiss francs, she asked when we will get to Austria…
        The idea to simply drive from one country into another, simply cannot be understood.
        lives in a jail, with all the consequences that has on the mindset. The
        tataol isolation has desasterous consequences for most kinds of
        development, one remains stuck in stone age ideas of by surrounded by
        enemies everywhere, and only the own country, the own peopel and own
        culture is worth anything.
        You will probably see the similarities to America, where people also have no idea about the rest of the world.
        Ambrose Bierce,
        author of The Devil’s Dictionary (1842-1913):
        ‘War is God’s way of teachingAmericans geography.’


    • Tomoko Endo

      Some Chiniese and South korean are richer than Japanese.
      So most of them who like Japan often come to Japan.
      I saw the moments so often.

  • Moogiechan

    I agree. Diversity for the sake of diversity is a bad idea. People move from one culture to another because the new culture/country has something better to offer than the old. Yet they insist on dragging along the old culture, including the aspects that failed them, to the new one.
    You can’t ascribe the successfulness of Japanese culture to a freak accident natural resources — it’s the culture.
    All cultures have failings, but it’s hard to argue that Japan’s culture fails more than it succeeds compared to many others.

    • rossdorn

      Slight correction?

      “People move from one culture to another because the new culture/country has something better to offer than the old.”

      No, not because it is better: because it is different….

      • Moogiechan

        If there is not at least one aspect of the new culture that is better than the old, why move?

        Moving is too disruptive and expensive to do for no benefit.

      • rossdorn

        When you change countries or continents to live, then you will ALWAYS, without exception, find some things that are better and other things that are worse. Add to that, that your priorities also change as you get older, then you have the whole truth.
        f.e. I enjoy living amongst the kind, friendly and polite japanese people. If had to work here for a living, I would have left after one month…

      • Tomoko Endo

        In Japan,people think that we donot move and Japanese culture is ours.

      • rossdorn

        Of course, trust me, nobody else would want it…

  • GBR48

    The cleanliness, service standards and amazing public transport are something foreign visitors enjoy and appreciate. Returning home to my litter-strewn country where rail timetables have the status of horoscopes, people chat away on their phones interminably on public transport and are frequently rude, the culture shock is fearsome. From the moment you get home, you miss Japan.

    The ‘small things’ count way more than your interviewee thinks.

    The largest metropolis in the world and you don’t have to persistently worry about being mugged, about no go areas, gangs of teenagers or feral kids. Where you can relax. Where people actually smile. It’s a world away from the grim, nervous journey through London to get to Heathrow.

    ‘Many foreigners who visit leave unfulfilled’? Rubbish. Japan frequently tops the list of exotic holiday destinations and should be proud of how it welcomes tourists. This guy is very good at promoting himself. Not so sure about his data.

    • rossdorn

      Don’t be so critical… I thought it very funny to read that.
      Just imagine…. a Goldman Sachs banker telling us about culture.

      • R.R.

        I find that hilarious too

    • Oliver Mackie

      Thank for posting. I used to go back every 5 years or so, just to confirm that things hadn’t improved. I was due for another soon, but I’ll take your word for it and save myself the money.

      “rail timetables have the status of horoscopes”

      LOL! I’m going to have to steal this line of yours. It’s a great one, which I’m envious I hadn’t come up with myself.

      • GBR48

        Thank you. The rail companies have improved but the commuter lines are still poor and they certainly don’t come up to Japanese standards.

        The UK suffers in comparison as its failings include some of the most obvious things: litter, which is the easiest benchmark for gauging personal standards, politeness, and public behaviour. Western individualism should not mean a reduction in the quality of a society, but it often does when so many people have low personal standards. The prevalence of publicly drunk people behaving badly on the streets of the UK’s towns and cities at night, especially at the weekends, is depressing, as is the failure of anyone to consider doing anything about it.

        I can happily urge friends to visit Japan, certain that they will find the experience exceeds their expectations in every way. If my Japanese friends visited the UK, I would worry about their safety, fear that they would encounter the racism and xenophobia so prevalent here, and be ashamed at what a mess the place is. How difficult is it to not drop litter?

        Whilst British high streets are increasingly emptying of shops in the transitionary period of e-commerce expansion, the supermarkets remain impressive by international standards.

        All countries have their good and bad points and all could learn from each other, but dispiritingly, few seem to want to.

        Japan is often condemned for racism in the JT, in articles and comments. Although the UK has laws against hate crime which Japan should have, the UK has UKIP winning elections and a long history of only rarely veiled xenophobia (the ‘Little Englander’ mentality). Equal opportunities legislation reduces but does not eradicate everyday acts of casual racism, sexism and prejudice. From political parties to the popular press, and amongst the general public, these attitudes are all too common. It isn’t pleasant. The far right have increased their political presence across Europe in a period of economic pressure, when morons look for scapegoats, and America is hardly a shining example of racial harmony. At least we don’t have the insane gun ownership thing.

        The human race as a whole really could make an effort to improve their own personal standards. It isn’t just governments that makes the world a better place, it is how we all behave.

    • Vince Stagbaugh

      This “25 year resident of Japan” is another in a long line of “experts” who thinks a smattering of street “nihongo” and multiple pages of passport stamps makes him some kind of expert on their culture.
      I have yet to hear someone complain about their trip to Japan, rather they all beam when talking about how great their trip was.
      This guy is the type who raises red flags so that he can swoop in and save the day as the inter-cultural consultant.
      This article is rubbish.

      • Oliver Mackie

        Yep, you nailed it.

      • Agreed.

      • Toolonggone

        Quite. What matters most is content that characterizes his credential as an “expert.” Frankly speaking, business and financial analyst types are pretty much ubiquitous in Japan. Many of those come to Japan to sell ideas/data in the marketplace as a consumer product. They are part of western hegemonic structure perpetuating the myth of cultural homogeneity.

      • R.R.

        every westerner who lives/lived in Japan thinks they represent the entire western world.

      • Steve Collins

        Agreed. My experience is consistent with Vince’s. I fail to see why a financial analysts’ experience is any more authoritative and credible than that of other foreigners living, working, and traveling in Japan. Let’s stop trying to force Japan into a non-Japanese mold and accept its cultures (emphasis on the “s”) for what they are. If omotenashi offends my sensibilities, I’ll stay away. And if it doesn’t fit the ever-changing contexts within Japanese society, it will change of its own accord. There is no problem in Japan for which the solution can’t be found from within Japan. If anyone is to do any preaching, I’d like to hear from Japanese about how we Americans could behave with more humility, compassion, and empathy.

      • Vince Stagbaugh

        The more time I spend away from Japan the more I appreciate their many so-called “flaws.” Sure, it’s annoying to hear over and over how well you use chopsticks, eat natto and pronounce “ohayou gozaimasu”, but at least they are making an effort to compliment others.
        And I have to say that while sometimes “the Japanese way” seemed archaic or overly rigid when I was there, there is something very nice about preserving customs and practices. The more time I spend back in the U.S. the more I miss those odd little habits I used to find strange.

  • Japanese Bull Fighter

    While I agree that the mindless celebration of this or that Japanese in television programs is silly, it is not obvious that this author has a grasp on contemporary reality either. Most tourists to Japan come from China and Korea, not Europe or North America. Signs in Chinese and Korean are more important than signs in English. Young tourists from North America and Europe are more interested in pop culture than historical culture. Manga, anime, and cosplay appeal to far more than do ancient cultural artifacts.

    • TamaBrett

      Chinese and Koreans can read Japanese signs.

      • MagicalP

        They might be able to get the jist of the signs, but anything more complicated than “OO駅 ==>” and they might appreciate a translation.

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        Kanji have very limited use in Korea. Unless they have explicitly studied Japanese, Koreans cannot read Japanese signs. Chinese will recognize simple symbols such as left, right, gents, ladies, but not anything more complicated. The kanji used in the contemporary PRC and in Taiwan are VERY different from those used in contemporary Japan. Neither Chinese nor Koreans will have any understanding of the katakana and hiragana elements of Japanese signs and notices even if they can guess the meaning of the kanji.

      • Guest

        Some people can read number signs, but that doesn’t mean they understand mathematics.

  • North1K1

    Japan is Island. You can smell Japan underwear.

  • Steve Jackman

    “boastful Japan” in the article heading is certainly an accurate description. Conceit and arrogance are never good things. I hope the Japanese will realize this some day.

    • Japanese Bull Fighter

      A good way to start is by studying speeches my American politicians. Americans are just about the most modest people on the face of the planet. An American, especially an American politician, would never think of asserting that anything American is superior to what is found in other countries.

      • robertwgordonesq

        That was a good one!

      • rossdorn

        Japan ought to be grateful to the US, the ond democratic country, whose politicians are even more incompetent, criminal and corrupt.
        Al least Japan is not the worst…

    • rossdorn

      This is the country that had a nuclear bomb dropped on it…

      What else do you have ein mind, that moght work?

  • Bogs_Dollocks

    Start with a few simple things:

    24 hours bank ATMs that accept foreign credit and debit cards;

    Free WiFi on the shinkansen and other trains and stations (some progress here already);

    As mentioned in the article, proof reading of English and other languages wherein the intent is to provide information to visiting foreigners. Willing to give J-Engrish wherein the target is local consumption a pass.

  • Perogyo

    If Japan wants to attract foreign families using safety as a buzzword, it needs to ban porn at child eye level from convenience stores and enforce seatbelt and car seat laws.

    • GBR48

      Japan is a very child-friendly place.

      I don’t recall seeing any porn mags in konbinis. Plenty of bikini-clad idols, but no porn. There were a few bagged magazines, which may presumably have had more adult content, but porn is pixellated in Japan, and bagging is restriction enough. I believe young people today get their hardcore porn on this thing called ‘The Internet’. Although there are plenty of 6ft+ Japanese people, a proportion of the population are quite small of stature, so the concept of a Western ‘top shelf’ is somewhat problematic.

      All countries should enforce rigorous drink-driving and seat-belt laws. Few do. Ultimately, drivers should behave better-globally.

      A joke about escaping the airbags would be in poor taste, but it was the first thing to spring to mind, suggesting that the Takata scandal has been mismanaged to the point where the brand has become toxic and is endangering the nation’s reputation.

  • Steve Novosel

    “If love for Japan is indeed a worldwide trend, as Japanese people themselves say, why is it that only 13 million people visited the country this year, while in France they had some 83 million visitors?”

    This is not a very fair comparison. France has dozens of neighbors within a short drive or train trip, it’s very easy for Europeans to make a weekend trip to France.

    There are many reasons why Japan has fewer visitors than France to be sure, but ease of access is a prime reason France has such a staggeringly high number of visitors.

  • Rebane

    Ha ha ha. As a Japanese, I am thankful to the Japan Times for this article and to Mr Atkinson for saying what I am not “allowed” to say in Japanese in public myself because I feel the presence of Big Brother. The Omotenashi & Cool Japan propaganda is nasty as well as ugly. Pride is not the same as self-deceptive arrogance. It’s important for us Japanese to listen to what the visitors say about Japan. Instead we are told to tell visitors what we don’t fully understand nor really believe about Japan.One horrible thing is that the government urges us to become fluent in English for that wrong purpose. Please don’t spend much money putting unnecessary English-language signs all over Japan.

    • GBR48

      English is the default second language of global trade and tourism. Hence the first alternative for signage. It’s a fairly logical way to reach the largest number of visitors with the smallest amount of translation.

    • rossdorn

      Rebane-san, except for the end your commentary makes good sense.

      Has it never occurred to you that your realistic view of Japan might have its foundation in your excellent understanding of the neglish language?
      Which makes almost all the information that the world has at its disposal available to you?

      My apology for using a word that simplifies my sentence: “the outrageous stupidity” of japanese people when it comes to the rest of the world has its reason precisely in the fact, that hardly anyone at all understands the one language needed to get information…

    • Tomoko Endo

      There is a long dispute for us, we need to study English more or not.
      But for the time being, we study English for 6 years and many cannot speak at all.
      That is a big problem.
      I cannnot be entitled as an English teacher, but I can teach English to them better.

  • Vince Stagbaugh

    “If love for Japan is indeed a worldwide trend, as Japanese people themselves say, why is it that only 13 million people visited the country this year, while in France they had some 83 million visitors?”
    Um, I will give you a hint.
    It’s a long word that starts with an “R” and ends with “ATION.”

    • K T

      They don’t want to talk about radiation.
      The rich Japanese with money have already moved their kids overseas.
      But no one wants to talk about it. So it does not exist.

    • Tomoko Endo

      France is the center of Eurpean cultures.

      So, comparing with them
      That’s nonsense

  • Tomoko Endo

    In Japan, many still think that Japanese culture is stereo type one. That should be old one, and they donot think that modern Japan is a Japanese culture, too.
    And many Asian pretend to be Japanese. And it is said, Japanese inns are takenover by foreign capitals.
    Bullying is polular in Japan. Many suffers from cults’s bullying, gang stalking.
    `omotenashi’ is hospitality by Japanese and not to be pushy.
    My advice to foreigners, not to go to Japanese styled inns and resturants, there are modern Japanese hotels or cafes or restrants in Japan.
    If you have to go to Japanese inns or resturants, I recommend you to order salada, fried chiken or gratin, soup, or steak.

    • rossdorn

      I think there is a mistake in your thinking… You see, “they do think that modern Japan is a Japanese culture”.

      And I am afraid looking at japanese reality quickly shows them the opposite…
      Culture needs individualism, not robots, who believe life is there to work, instead working to live…
      A country where “normal” is the life of a sararyman, does not qualify for culture, unless you consider AKB48 et al real culture

    • Patorioto

      “If you have to go to Japanese inns or resturants, I recommend you to order salada, fried chiken or gratin, soup, or steak.”

      What are you talking about? This statement doesn’t make any sense.

      • Tomoko Endo

        If you cannot have Japanese foods,
        you should not order them.
        And you should not go to Japanese inns, you must go city hotels.

  • Guillaume Vares

    Tourism industry in Japan is overall still inward looking and lacks PR skills to compete on a global stage. More precisely, PR efforts are either directed towards a purely Japanese audience or not produced by PR professionals. For example, pamphlets and explanations at major Kyoto sights are too often poorly written and are definitely not what you would expect for global attractions.

  • Tomoko Endo

    In Japan, many Japanese think that Japanese culture should be old one, stereo type.

    In fact, many employees of the food service industry are asians

  • Tomoko Endo

    In Japan, Japanese tends to think our culture should be old one and we enjoy old Japanese culture,too.
    However Japanese ‘omotenashi’ should not to be pushy.
    Many stuffs of the food serveice industry are Asian, maybe.
    I recommend you to order steak, gratin, freid chiken, soup or salada.

    • K T

      In Japan… there is little uniformity.
      In west Japan, tatami mats are a different size than in Kanto.
      Each holiday food is slightly different depending where you visit. It is not standardized, as many Japanese people like to think.

      • Tomoko Endo

        Tatami mats for apartment are smaller, that’s common.

        That’s the measure to sell the land and houses, so the gauge is steady.

  • Ness`

    You talk about “reported rapes” in Sweden, but the truth is that in
    Japan, a great deal of claims on what have come to perceive as rape and
    sexual harassment are either not filed, not submitted by victims, or not
    adequately followed up on by authorities – Japan’s “chikan” culture is
    hardly a secret. And I think you’ll find that people are expected to
    adjust to the government, if Abe, his abenomics, nuclear development,
    and his ongoing efforts at re-establishing Japan’s military power
    despite the general public’s objections!

    • rossdorn

      Why do you answer utter nonsense like that?

      • Tomoko Endo

        Most of them are the right.

  • confusedfellah

    A word to the people of Japan. Please don’t listen to the Goldman Sucks bankster. He does not represent westerners. He is just trying to sell his book by posing as an expert on a topic of which he only has superficial knowledge. Also, please don’t line his pockets by buying his book.

    You have a great country and you don’t need this a$$hole’s approval.

  • texastea

    France has 83 million visitors compared to Japan’s 13 million? Have you never been to Europe? France has a dozen countries that are next door and make going to France a day trip. Japan is an island that is a long plane flight from anywhere. It is easy for lots of European nationals to get to France, but not easy for anyone to get to Japan (except maybe China and Korea). Don’t compare apples and oranges.

  • Hiromi

    I was born and raised in Japan, but then have spent half of my life in the US. So when I go to Japan to visit my family, I feel like a tourist. I go there to eat…
    Anyway, I was there last year and had a hard time finding ‘free wifi’. My mom does not have wifi at home, but hey, I thought I would just go to Starbucks to go online. But I was wrong. It also was not easy to find a train/subway map I can keep with me, so I can figure out which lines to take to get to my destination. And I still have to make sure I have descent amount of cash there. I am so used to walking around with $5 since I use credit card for the most part. So when I go to Japan, I always wonder how much I should bring in yen. These small things make my trip not-so-enjoyable. Oh, and the fact I can’t take leftover at restaurants. I don’t eat a lot at once, so I usually take some home. And I am a pescaterian. It is easy for me to ask for a substitute here, but restaurants are not so flexible in Japan. I am sure there are other things I notice while I am there, but these are things I can think of. I don’t feel that they have an amazing omotenashi on a daily basis there. I sure see amazing wrapping job at department stores, which they may consider omotenashi, but that does not really make my visit more enjoyable. I def. feel services are better here in the US.

  • あやか

    wonder how creditable the figures are between the 13 & 83mil and in what kind of conditions the data were gathered. also the mentioning on “producing souvenirs to suit the foreigners’ lifestyle eg. bigger souvenir dishes for foreign cuisine”.. geez.. i really read with my eyes rolled.. is there really a need to change, just to suit the tastes of the foreigners? again this should not represents all foreigners, at least i don’t find it necessary.. it’s part of their culture! visitors should fit into the hosts’ culture and practices, and not the other way round.

    i think feedbacks are helpful in its constructive ways but if changing for the sake of changing or change that does not help enhancing one’s characteristic, might as well don’t change at all.. comparing my trips 5yrs ago to my recent trips to Japan, she has already made tremendous effort looking at her best, so let’s not keep nit-picking on it. even France is not an all-time foreigners/tourist-friendly country.

    • K T

      .. is there really a need to change, just to suit the tastes of the foreigners?

      In Hawaii, many restaurants cater to Japanese tourists. They sell what Japanese people want – or they go out of business. This is how tourism works EVERYWHERE around the world – except for Japan.
      Many restaurants in Hawaii, tired of Japanese people who
      1) don’t understand enough English,
      2) can’t make a decision from the many choices available on the English menu,
      Have a simplified Japanese menu – with fewer choices.

      The comparison with France was fair, I think, in context. Japan is trying to increase tourism to Japan, but so far, no one has thought to ask these foreign visitors what they like, and don’t like, about their visits to Japan.
      This does not mean Japan has to change – but the fact that it is not asking the right questions, to the right people, is clear evidence that they don’t understand what brings visitors to Japan.

  • Tomoko Endo

    If you donot like, you must not go and eat. That’s your choice.
    People in other countries leave Japanese free.
    Otherwise they try me to change my order, that’s bullling.
    Omotenashi is too kind for everyone. That’s a Japanese old customs to Japanese travellers. That’s not needed.
    Omotenashi is too kind and employees’ burden. Too kind and no mind.

  • K T

    As an American, I want people who live in the U.S.A. to learn my language, culture, enjoy the things I enjoy, eat the foods I eat, etc. (assimilate).
    Japanese people essentially cannot be “unique” Japanese if people from other countries come to Japan, learn the language, assimilate, but still look different. So there is an ever present wall separating Japanese from “others” (foreigners).
    This wall is kept in place by Japanese people.
    The level of prejudice is huge.

    As the author points out, “omotenashi” may have started out humbly, but it has evolved into a pompous, snobbish, “everything we have is the best, so naturally everyone in the world wants what we have” method of pushing what they think non-Japanese want. It is not working.
    Most Japanese people, if pressed, will reveal that they cannot imagine how sad it is that people in other parts of the world don’t have 4 seasons (only japan does), and don’t have the diversity of ingredients to choose from when planning meals. How boring it must be to have so few food choices…
    Japan has what it had before foreigners came, and then it copied and adapted products from all over the world – while changing each item to make it “better” (palatable to Japanese tastes).
    Japan is a self-centered, self-righteous, egotistical nation.

    This mentality goes far beyond foreigners visiting Japan.
    When Japanese businesses travel, and set up shop overseas, they take their “this is how it is done in Japan” mentality with them.
    They resist learning local laws and customs, and insist that people in Hawaii, California, etc. should learn how construction is done in Japan, so that they can build the house in the Japanese way…
    They bring their values, and culture with them, and largely refuse to acknowledge the local culture, sensitivities, and more.

    I have had countless high-level meetings in which the hosts (Japanese) prepare a lavish meal of uni, and other disgusting raw seafood only to learn that I, and the other Americans can’t or won’t eat them. IF ONLY THEY HAD ASKED.

    How many of you, reading this article, and my comment, have visited Honolulu lately?
    How many of you have noticed the English menu in almost every Japanese restaurant in and around Waikiki reads like Japanese-English? Full of errors, spelling mistakes, mistaken meanings, sentences that perhaps, a native English speaker wrote, but then a Japanese speaker “improved”?
    Foreigners in Japan would not think of editing a Japanese language menu without having it checked by a native Japanese speaker.
    But Japanese people edit foreign language menus everywhere they go.

    This mentality runs deep.
    Together with the conviction that Japan is superior in every way, and the belief that everyone wants what Japanese people have, it will be difficult to change.

    I have lead tours in Japan for people from Hawaii.
    The people who have experienced Japanese-led tours, and my tour tell me that Japanese tours are stiff and boring, and my tour was way more fun.

    Any NJ want to start leading NJ on tours in Japan? I guarantee they will be more popular than what the big Japanese companies are selling.

  • Tomoko Endo

    I see. If I’m kind enough, I tell you how to choose Japanese cuisine.
    First, the best ‘omotenashi’ cuisine is ‘kyo-kaiseki’ in Kyoto. The Japanese cuisine has good appearance and taste.
    In many inns, there is no ‘kaiseki’.
    If so, I recommend you to choose traditional Japanese foods or westernaized Japanese foods after war.
    Japanese traditional foods, noodle are ‘soba’ ane ‘udon’ with soysause and a bowl of ‘soba’ make you feel full.
    ‘sasimi’,row fish, ‘yaki-zakana’ grilled fish, ‘nimono’ boiled vegetables, or eggs like ‘cyawan-mushi’ etc.

    For me, if you cannot use chopsticks or not is your probem.

    If I’m a waitress, I bring you to knife and folk.

  • K T

    That was just a guideline – never a rule.
    When Japanese people travel to North America, do they eat bread with breakfast, lunch & dinner? Or do they prefer to eat what they are accustomed to?
    I believe most people are the same. When they travel, they want food they are used to, and food they like. They can eat “local” a few times, but not all the time.

    • Tomoko Endo

      So, we want to ask you, you want to have local foods or your usulal foods.
      In modern Japan, we have capasity to offer you to choose.


      On TV drama, an European seemed to sick with too much Japanese traditional foods.

      According to the TV drama, the old european prefer usual europearn soup then Japanese one.

      That’s real or not???

  • K T

    that’s all? So it is ok for women to put chopsticks in their hair, to hold it up?
    How about chewing toothpicks openly?
    Which “Japanese:” customs should be followed, and which ones is it ok not to follow?
    I arranged a babysitter for a Japanese family visiting Hawaii.
    the 6 year old boy poked the 18 year old babysitter on her breasts/nipples. When I heard, I apologized immediately. She said most Japanese boys his age (that she has babysat for) do this, and other vulgar things.
    American kids are taught to NEVER do this.
    So which Japanese manners are to be followed? And who decides?

    • Tomoko Endo

      They are not fools.
      They use chopsticke s properly?

    • Tomoko Endo

      They are not fools. So standerd foreignes use it correctly, I hope.

      At Oxford, a shop sells chopsticks for hair accesrories. That’s an idea.

  • It is two hours from Brussels to London, about the same from Paris to London, by train, for about 60 GBP one-way. That is cheaper, and faster by a factor of almost two, than the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto/Osaka. The closest major foreign city with a hub airport, Seoul, is two hours by plane – that is longer the Berlin – London flight, and a whole lot more expensive thanks to the cut-throat, no-maintenance, pay-to-use-the-loo-“airlines” in Europe.

    Not to mention the complete lack of a requirement for a visa thanks to the EU.

    You are still comparing apples to oranges.

    • K T

      You either know a lot, or have done extensive research to prove that Japan is not only not similar to France, it is not similar to Britain. Bravo.

      The underlying point is still that the people who are paid to increase tourism into Japan are failing in their goal (not my goal) to reach the goals that they have set for themselves.
      Someone, somewhere, decided that 30 million tourists per year in Japan was an obtainable goal. Yet, they are at 13 mil…
      They still aren’t asking the right questions, so they have little chance of getting to the right answers.

      Is that apples to nothing enough for you?

  • Xman2014

    I can get Target from South Korea no problem. As your link says, any block by Target is coming from Target which has this explanation.

    “Target’s just sent me this statement via its Twitter account: “For various business reasons, Target may restrict access to our site particular domain name servers or countries.””

  • texastea

    Britian is easy to get to. There are boats and the is a tunnel. It is an easy overnight trip for Europeans. Been there. Done it.

  • Steve

    Why do post-article threads like this, or any discussion on the good/bad pts of “Japan” that involve foreigners always degenerate into “well its better/worse in Country X” comparisons. I don’t particularly agree with the interviewee here, but he seems to be giving advice on what Japan could do better to attract more tourists and thus earn more cash – so who cares if the trains don’t run on time in the UK or if there are more “feral children” running around there. This has nothing to do with the debate here.
    The topic in the article may not be that important, but you also get the same keyboard warriors defending Japan’s record on much more serious topics in the same way (i.e. “people in country X did it too”, “people in country X are less free than here”, etc.) Setting aside the fact that such comparisons are often less than factually based, who cares if it’s crapper somewhere else?! Two wrongs don’t make a right, and as residents HERE should we not be debating how to improve HERE instead of such naval gazing? I have a kid, he lives here, he is Japanese, end of.

  • Urban Complex

    As an American who has been to Japan 9 times, my opinion is that tourists have to find their own things they like about Japan, instead of relying on others. For me it’s Japan’s underground music scene, and conveyor belt sushi. I could contrast that with these losers who sat behind me on the last plane flight back to the US, who were talking loudly about how relieving it will be to eat American food again, and have everything in English. Japan would be fine without those types, but I’m sure some ultra-mainstream event like the 2020 Olympics will only attract more people like that.