Life in Tokyo & Travel in Japan

Curious about Japan, dreaming to come or already in Tokyo, Kyoto…? Let us introduce you in English and Japanese great people we met, activities we experienced, foods we tasted, places we visited, events we joined, etc. Inner Japan strives to help you avoid/solve problems, live a wonderful & more Earth-friendly time in Japan :)

Japan – Nihon – Nippon” introduces regions and cities from Hokkaido to Okinawa with facts, maps, links, and comments (from us & the locals) about transportation, lodging, restaurants, shops, tourist information centres…

Japanese” thematic pages and index introduce the charming Japanese culture, food & drinks, objects made in Japan… with our photos/videos and recommendations of related spots.

Calendar” highlights special dates, periods and events in Japan based on our knowledge and tips from locals.

Travel & Stay” guides you to detailed/official resources that should save you trouble, time and money.

People” lists fine Japanese and foreign acquaintances in Japan worth meeting for everyday life or business.

Learn about our new discoveries and upcoming events in Inner Japan blog and send us today your ideas or comments for quick use&:)

Ongoing update

Welcome to Inner Japan! Sébastien Duval launched this site from Tokyo in 2014 to inform about life and travel in Japan. These days, the blog mainly reveals great Japanese food and live music at restaurants in the Jimbocho area of Tokyo: Okinawan food at なごかふぇ (Nago café), Japanese songs by Japanese girls at ホライズン (Horizon)

I have started adding information about Tokyo and Tottori prefecture. I have also started adding information about Japanese schools.

Lately, I started writing a white paper related to inbound tourism in Japan. It should become available on my personal site, on Inner Japan, Yes in Japan, and Deep Japan.

Notes: inbound tourism in Japan

Context: inbound tourism is about tourism in Japan by foreign tourists. When talking about inbound tourism, the Japanese may use the word ニューツーリズム (“new tourism”). Other interesting types of tourism in Japan that may interest (some) foreign tourists is エコツーリズム (ecotourism, related to nature) and ジオツーリズム (geotourism, related to volcanoes); these may particularly interest repeaters (people who already visited Japan) or “fans” (people who already enjoyed ecotourism or geotourism in their own country or elsewhere). To give some context, there is apparently more than 40 geoparks in Europe officially recognized worldwide. Ecotours and Geotours typically require a guide. Another interesting term (that made smile more than one person the first time) is スリミングスティ (“slimming stay”) which can typically involve healthy meals, ecotours and special hot springs called 脂肪燃焼温泉 (shibo-nensho-onsen, hot springs that burn body fat!). One word coming back all the time in Japan is おもてなし (omotenashi).

Ideally, inbound tourism should rely on local/national/cultural specific resources. Inbound tourism in Japan is typically hampered by linguistic issues (few Japanese people speak a foreign language even English) but also by other issues (e.g. impossibility to pay tours, food or souvenirs with credit cards). Related to language, a critical aspect is the explanation of warning messages and security measures for sportive activities (cycling on the left or right of the road?), driving, natural disasters (earthquakes, tsunami)… It is also important to make gathering places easy to find/access for people who cannot read kanji.

As foreigners know little about the Japanese culture and history, the explanations needed during a tour or stay should cover basic knowledge then add a layer of specialized knowledge (Japanese guides may tend to dive directly into deep knowledge). For example, it is pertinent to explain what a Shinto shrine (jinja) or Shinto gate (torii) is before discussing the history of a Shinto site or event… but there is typically no need to introduce words such as 社殿 (shaden, main building of a Shinto shrine) or 本堂 (hondo, main building of a Buddhist temple). However, travel agents can bring great value to foreign tourists by giving them opportunities to enter a 社殿 or 本堂: few tourists are likely to try to enter these places by themselves and those who try may fail to even communicate with the staff of a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple.

Foreign tourists in Japan often come enjoy the “sakura” cherry blossoms in spring and “koyo” red leaves in Autumn. Some landscapes they fail to appreciate by lack of opportunities or guidance is 夕景 (evening landscapes).

A cool popular thing foreigners do during a stay in Japan is to join a Zen meditation session (禅瞑想体験); ideally, these tourists should have a chance to learn about different styles of meditation with explanations and demonstrations in their own language; in this case, interpreters are convenient but masters speaking directly in e.g. English would be great. Maybe the Buddhist associations should train their members abroad as part of their spiritual dissemination program…

Thinking about Japan and Japanese people, we may have a view of “one people” but it can be very interesting to discover the ainu culture in Hokkaido and ryukyu culture in Okinawa through 博物館 (hakubutsukan, specialized museums) conserving documents and everyday life objects in addition to topical sightseeing.

Many activities already promoted as domestic tourism (targeting Japanese people) can also attract foreigners. However, there are obvious cultural trends that will make an activity popular or impopular among a given population. Of course, the popularity of an activity can be increased by dedicated variations in explanations and guiding style. In any case, 1-2 well-chosen activities really increase the motivation and satisfaction of foreign tourits.

A strength of Japan (for shopping and for activities/demonstrations) is that Japanese products are seen in many places as safe and high-quality products. Many people want to enjoy the “real thing” in Japan as part of their passion, to buy as a souvenir or to offer as a gift. Of course, one thing that makes fans of samurai dream is to see a 日本刀の製作実演 (the forging of a Japanese sword). Some may still be very happy with 農業体験 (nogyo-taiken: agricultural experiences), e.g. the Chinese: making Japanese noodles or tofu by oneself, picking fruits in Japanese trees, harvesting vegetables in the Japanese countryside, preparing tea (e.g. ほうじ茶 “hoji-cha”)… An interesting combo is 茶摘み (cha-tsumi, tea harvesting) plus 茶づくり (cha-dukuri, tea making/preparing). Another interesting aspect of activities is the possibility to bring/send home something made by oneself e.g. 陶芸 (ceramics), sake acohol, vinegar, 干物 (dried food e.g. squid/cuttlefish).

Things to see in Japan include the UNESCO world heritages (世界遺産) and the hot springs. Another cool thing to do is a night hike but few are organized, for practical or security reasons. Things to base a travel on include legends (especially ghosts in Japan) and historical battles (Heike…) and their link to the local nature, etc.

Interesting resources for foreigners include the “Michelin Guide Japan” notably for advice about restaurants. Another is the “Japan Rail Pass” that makes travel by shinkansen very cheap and convenient, which can be used to organize one’s whole trip or to make a day-trip or remote activity very cheap. There are also many volunteer guides in Japan but unfortunately few speak foreign languages.

One weak point of Japanese businesses is that few allow online purchases/reservations/guidance in English. This is why it is so important for Japanese travel agencies to hire or train their staff to increase the ability to handle foreigners, check/inform before a tour, etc. There is a big difficulty for translator-guides that have to master specialized knowkedge and vocabulary e.g. at geoparks or for ecotours; Japan needs to nurture much much more of these guides. It is also important for guides to possess resources of pictures/photos/… to make their explanations easier to understand

The Japanese must also improve their “food and drinks” services; think about vegetarians, tourists with allergies, religious constraints on alimentation, feelings when facing food that is alive and moving well in the plate… The Japanese are well aware of these issues, as shown by the document 多様な食文化・食習慣を有する外国人客への対応マニュアル by the Japan Tourism Agency (see also 訪日外国人受入接遇教本). Regarding restaurants, visitors may appreciate to see a slideshow or photos of the place and foods before going to a place recommended by the Japanese or a travel agency. Finally, it is important to provide forks, knives and spoons to visitors who cannot properly use chopsticks.

Tourists may decide to stay in Japan at a hotel or ryokan but other interesting options exist e.g. the minshuku and B&B (I know a good one in Asuka near Nara). However, it is important to provide sufficient explanations concerning the facilities and rules: how to use a futon or the common bath (functional), how to properly place the slippers after usage (good conduct)… It is also important to provide Internet access to foreign visitors where housing is provided. Convenience stores provide many useful things if available nearby but information should also be provided about nearby places to go for a walk or to have fun in the evening.

Finally, it is important to train the Japanese people who interact with foreigners as they may initially be scared of interacting with a foreigner who does not speak Japanese… and even in Tokyo I have met restaurants owners who never had a foreign customer before me! In Tokyo! This is certainly not uniquely a problem in the Japanese countryside…

The great thing with the increase of services for foreign travellers is that it also serves well foreign residents in Japan! Interestingly, the residents can also help promote these services by providing trusted recommendations when friends or relatives visit Japan… Of course, people from different countries/cultures will tend to appreciate some things more and some others less…

Much information is available on Internet but less known places have little chances to be discovered by chance even with dedicated multi-language websites and pamphlets (people will not use the best keywords and will find other places/websites instead). It is thus important to establish a partnership with sites used by foreigners or to place pamphlets where people will go to find information/eat/… Residents in Japan can also be targeted by sharing information via associations promoting cultural exchanges, via city halls (any place that foreigners use). It is also possible to use “free papers” (printed and online versions). It is also important to exploit festivals and other events.