Regarding the June 18 Kyodo article “Duty-free reform to boost tourism“: I feel that this initiative will have little effect on tourist numbers. To Western visitors, Japan is very “foreign”; prospective tourists are nervous at the prospect of a visit. This duty-free initiative is wide of the mark.

The most important issue is that visitors must be made to feel comfortable with independent travel in Japan. At present, many tourists feel that they must rely on the services of expensive tour operators. This should not be necessary; it is a significant barrier to tourism expansion.

As a frequent visitor to Japan, I have visited many cities, art galleries and museums, and I am constantly frustrated by the almost total lack of written information in a language other than Japanese. This makes Japan impenetrable to the non-Japanese speaker.

Yet, on the positive side, I am frequently surprised by the attitude of fellow tourists who are Japanese. When they see my plight in trying to make sense of information boards and exhibits, they often offer to help and apologize that nonnative tourists are not well catered to.

If the government is serious about attracting tourists and turning them into ambassadors who will promote your lovely country as a holiday destination, I suggest the following:

Undertake a detailed assessment of likely tourist venues and create English information notices for display. These notices should contain the same amount of detailed information as their Japanese counterparts.

Have native English speakers edit the notices. The few English notices now on display are grammatically incorrect with spelling mistakes. Such a careless approach leaves tourists with the impression that they are not encouraged to visit.

Japan is a wonderful country and it deserves to be one of the world’s top tourist destinations, but much work needs to be done to make visitors feel welcome and comfortable.


john rodger
newcastle upon tyne, united kingdom

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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