“Road-test my Country” say Japanese

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Reuters News Tokyo published an interesting idea from the Japanese National Tourism Organisation (JNTO) this month: provide tourists with a ‘free’ trip to Japan, find out what difficulties they experience and then try to fix them.

The plan would roughly enable one hundred English, Chinese and Korean tourists, all non-speakers of Japanese, to visit the major cities of Japan. They would enjoy to all extents a normal holiday: staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, shopping in the cities and ‘seeing the sites’. All internal expenses would be paid for and one third of the flight costs subsidised.  After the trip the ‘road-testers’ would advise the JNTO about the problems they faced as non-speakers in Japan.

The element of the article most interesting is the JNTO’s discussion of it being “hard for us to judge” the experiences of foreign visitors. Every culture is guilty of taking for granted the various colloquialisms of its language and everyday practices, this statement cuts straight to the heart of where many countries can go wrong. It is fairly easy for most people to imagine the difficulties of travelling a country, like Japan, and being unable to find an item decipherable on a menu or a specific destination when you cannot converse in the local dialect. But beyond these obvious things are those everyday parts of life that can make or break your enjoyment of a holiday.

Would you know how to use a bath in a traditional Japanese inn? And would you realise that it is etiquette to bathe in the evening rather than in the morning? Would you be comfortable crossing the road amidst the large crowds of Shibuya Tokyo? Could you put up a Japanese ‘clothes dryer’, bearing in mind that most people do not use dryers? These small practical things can really make a difference in terms of comfort, atmosphere and of course making the most of the limited time you have.

The idea of finding ways to minimise these problems would clearly help to make Japan a positive experience for travellers, yet it also would undoubtedly be an asset to the Japanese economy. The global notion of Japan as a centre for science and technology has led the JNTO to anticipate that the number of ‘high-spending’ tourists from China alone this year will total 1.5 million. Therefore improving the experience for all visitors would be advantageous for both the long- and short-term financial future of Japan; if the country builds up a reputation as accommodating foreigners then it could easily gain an increase in tourism, as people are drawn to its ‘accessible’ culture. The popularity of Spain as a destination for UK ex-pats over the last 20 years is evidence for this idea. Furthermore by including the Chinese and Korean in the initial sample, Japan is helping to combat its increasing emphasis on Western visitors at the expense of other nations. Despite the fact that both China and Korea are geographically close nations, there is still a tendency for English language schemes to dominate over other language schemes in tourist areas.

In trying to improve the experience of tourists in Japan this study, which will compiled as part of a survey on ‘tourism preparedness’ next Spring, will surely be beneficial for both the image and economy of the country; whilst no doubt will provide an enjoyable (and cost-effective) trip for the lucky one-hundred ‘road-testers’ who get the opportunity to go.

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