The increasing number of travelers from overseas is good news, but at the same time, various problems and difficulties in dealing with foreign visitors are happening.
This is perhaps not in the category of difficulties, but the first is the language barrier that faces Japan.
A growing number of Japanese people can speak English, but it is not an easy thing for Japanese people to actually communicate in English. The number of English speakers drops sharply in outlying areas of Japan. Recently, an increasing number of regional authorities and private-sector groups have been providing volunteer guides free of charge. It is common for shops and inns in regional parts of Japan to communicate using “Point-to-Talk Foreign Language Handbook”. Of course, making oneself understood with gestures and mime is one of the pleasures of travel.
The primary source of problems comes from differences in foods and dietary cultures. “Eat Japanese food” is the greatest interest among travelers to Japan, partly due to the global boom in Japanese food. “Where can I eat good Japanese food” is important information for travelers. The restaurant and bar industries are developing their own responses to handle various needs and requests that are predictable or known to occur. Local bars and restaurants group together to do things like making “Good Food Maps” in English, preparing multilingual menus, and developing apps that allow travelers to do everything from picking from the menu to placing the order in their own language. But these moves are still developing.
Many individual bars and restaurants that are not chain branches start out with a negative attitude to crossing the language barrier. There are also problems in Japan’s commercial customs. For example, there is the uniquely Japanese custom of “o-toshi”. An “o-toshi” is a small dish that the bar or izakaya serves as soon as the customer enters, even though they haven’t ordered yet. There’s a charge for it. It’s something the bar has ready from the beginning as a snack to go with drinks, for customers to nibble on while waiting for their food O-toshi orders to arrive. In Japan, a delicious drink goes with a delicious snack, and taking care to avoid keeping customers waiting is one reason for serving a drink with a snack. There are cases of problems when foreigners don’t understand this Japanese business custom. Also, some restaurants that have experienced problems such as foreign visitors canceling reservations without notice have decided to ban foreigners. Japan’s catering industry is also at a very early stage in dealing with halal foods, as well as gluten free and other allergy issues.
Hotel facilities are another problem area. There are problems with accommodation capacity, so in high season, hotel rooms sell out early. In that context, the “minpaku” (vacation rental) system has started spreading rapidly in Japan as well. This is a very popular service for its reasonable pricing and for the experience of staying in an ordinary Japanese home, but the service is spreading before its legal framework is in place, and problems seem to be happening around the country. There has been a stream of complaints and concerns from neighbors worried about rooms being rented out while the homeowner is absent, and about noise at night. Enactment of relevant laws is urgently required.
In fact, many of the difficulties that come with foreign visitors can be solved by mutual understanding and compromise between the travelers and those receiving them. If those receiving travelers make the effort to present accurate information in advance, online and through other channels, and the travelers take the time to obtain accurate information, that is the first step towards ensuring safe and enjoyable travel with peace of mind.