There’s very little for a European/North American tourist here. You can do
Kamakura-Kyoto-Nara, but as far as the average person is concerned, once
you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all. Japan strikes lots of
people, as one Australian tourist complained to me as “nothing more than
company dormatories wedged in between factory lots”. I’ve heard any number
of comments that it’s just another modern nation with the additional
problem of an incomprehensible sylabary, very few speakers of English, and
the last place on earth you would possibly chose for kicking back and
relaxing. Why bother when you can go to Bali instead?
If Japan wants to increase their tourism, they should turn to their
neighbors. I’m sure residents of South East Asia would find Japan
fascinating. Norway is a popular destination for German and Dutch
honeymooners. I don’t see why Japan couldn’t (if only they tried) become
the same thing. When I take the train from Sendai to Yamata, I often see
Chinese tourists on their way to Yamadera ( a exceptionally lovely tourist
trap in Yamagata) and I don’t see any reason why this can’t be multiplied
hundredfold, if Japan would only try to make some sacrifices to the graces
to its neighbors in Asia.
A few gestures to lower tensions with its neighbors and show a more human
face would go a long way. But then, I think I’m wasting my breath even
[And a reply on the Japan forum where I originally read this]:
The reasons Japan doesn’t attract more overseas visitors are myriad. The
single biggest complaint I hear from visiting friends and relatives is the
staggering cost of domestic transportation. Only feeble steps have been
taken to rectify this. Far fewer ATMs around the country accept foreign
credit cards than even the boondocks of Tuscany where I have a besso. The
“service” mentality at virtually all ryokan is abysmal. If you can’t or
don’t want dinner by 6:30, forget it. Breakfast after 9? Inconceivable.
Sleep in until 10? Sorry, that’s mandatory checkout time, so no time for a
leisurely bath or shower. Check in before three? Heaven forbid! That and all
the above are inconvenient for staff. These factors help explain the
relative lack of repeat visitors to Japan.
Japan also falls way down in dispelling the myth that the prices of
restaurant food and lodging must be prohibitive and in promoting such
attractions to younger travelers of Akihabara, Harajuku/Omotesando, Shibuya,
etc. I’ve never seen anything in English explaining Japan’s excellent and
affordable network of Youth Hostels (except in a few foreign-published
guidebooks). Many foreign visitors still labor under the wrong impression
that tickets to sumo are unaffordable or unavailable. The Japan National
Tourist Organization doesn’t sufficiently promote its fairly decent
Japan is indeed witnessing more visitors from South Korea, Taiwan, and
China but that’s not enough to make up for the reverse flow.
Other reasons abound: Narita is a royal pain, Kyoto is destroying itself
as a World Heritage Site, other World Heritage Sites aren’t properly
promoted or tourist-friendly for foreigners, et. al.
[A nd yet another response…]:
That is exactly what is happening in Hokkaido. The Tawainese, Koreans
(at the hot springs) and Australians (Niseko Ski Area) are the main
foreign tourists. From the people I have talked to who work in the
travel industry these tourists have been the difference between
staying in business or closing their doors.