What surprises Japanese travellers?

17 March 2010

Japanese people like to travel abroad, and groups of Japanese tourists are spotted in many places across the world. There are certain things that surprise Japanese tourists whilst travelling abroad, and an online portal site called Goo compiled a list. Surprise in this case can be positive or negative, but perhaps more often negative than positive.

The following list only gives broad terms, so the explanatory notes are my personal views and interpretations, which may or may not reflect the answers of the respondents.

(1) Japanese people feel unsafe in many destinations. For example, instances of petty crime can be quite high in large cities in Europe. However, I have no idea how much of this is due to the vague perception that foreign lands are dangerous places. It may explain why Japanese travellers often seem timid, and tour in groups.

(2) Using the toilet. For example, in some countries, you do not flush the paper, but dump it in a basket. Public toilets in Japan are often squeaky clean, so cleanliness may be an issue here.

(3) You have to pay to use the toilet. In Japan, toilets are free. I think it surprises Japanese people if they are asked to pay even if they are customers at a cafe or a shop, or visitors to a museum.

(4) Shop assistants aren’t particularly helpful. The customer is the king in Japan, and shop assistants in shops are extremely attentive and helpful, but never pushy. So many Japanese tourists will have problems with both grumpy shopkeepers and those commission-based assistants who sell hard.

(5) Eating habits, etiquette, and manners. These could be what people eat, times of meals, tipping, attire, use of cutlery etc, though it’s a little unclear what is subsumed under this heading.

(6) Trains don’t come on time. Japanese trains come on time most of the time, and the conductor will be apologizing profusely if the train is a couple of minutes late. Japanese tourists are sometimes shocked that London Underground doesn’t have a fixed timetable during the day. The London tube timetable states, for example, that a train comes very 4~8 minutes.

(7) People understand / speak Japanese. Both Japanese and non-Japanese people often perceive Japanese to be a very difficult language to learn, so Japanese tourists don’t expect others to speak their language and are pleasantly surprised (or vaguely alarmed) when non-Japanese people do so abroad.

(8) Water is not free. In Japan, when you sit down at a restaurant or a cafe, the staff will bring you a glass of chilled water without prompting. So paying for water comes as a surprise to many Japanese tourists. Bottles of mineral water in restaurants can be quite expensive and Japanese tourists may be doubly shocked.

(9) Driving. Some countries have aggressive style of driving such as not giving way, or cram too many people into the car.

(10) Things are cheaper abroad. This sounds pretty much self-explanatory. Though travellers to western Europe often find that things are considerably more expensive than they had expected.

This list broadly reflects what Japanese tourists told me when they visited Europe, so it sounds about right. It looks like providing free, clean toilets is the key to satisfy Japanese visitors.