I just saw this on the venerable Slashdot – the Japanese government is planning to give out PDAs to tourists to help them get around. This is all part of the government’s drive to get more tourists over here, and goes to show the lengths they’ll try. I think they mean well, but I can’t help thinking they’re barking up the wrong tree. Tourists numbers dropped off again after the World Cup which was a deservedly great showcase for the country.
So what are the issues Japan faces as a tourist spot? Well, several. Some cite the sheer cost of ‘doing’ Japan, but to be honest, if you look around, there are decent places cheap, providing you can convince some of them to offer this deal to a foreigner, but it shouldn’t be that hard. Lonely Planet often has decent info. Whatever you do, don’t read crap like Radio One put out.
Language is an issue, as signs outside of the main cities aren’t in anything other than Japanese (which is fair enough), but these are seldom of much use to Japanese either – there’s a reason car navigation systems are popular. Many Japanese speak or understand a small amount of English, and a map and pointing is pretty universal; however, get at least a phrase book, and for a change *actually* read it. The Japanese language is mercifully phonetic and like most places, people will try to help you more if they think you’re trying!
I think a key point is what you want to see – many guests on a Japanese talk show were amazed when they compared interesting destinations listed by travellers, and what they thought were interesting – they listed all the usual suspects: Fuji, Kyoto, shrines and such; many travellers wanted to see Shibuya, Akihabara, the Fuji Rock Festival or wanted to do some snowsports in Nagano or Hokkaido.
I suppose that’s a difference between domestic and international traveller inclinations – groups trips versus backpackers. Anyhow, no matter what people say about Japan, it is relatively safe and secure, and yes, it might be expensive than other Asia destinations, but compare it to places like London. The problem with Japan, especially from a Euro or US perspective is that it’s so different you really have to witness it to believe it.