9 ways Tokyo could become more foreigner-friendly in time for 2020 Olympics

TOKYO —

Despite Japan’s relative safety, abundance of delicious food, fascinating culture, and friendly people, the country still lags behind as a tourist destination for foreign travellers. So the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games are the perfect opportunity for Japan to show off its famed “omotenashi” hospitality to the droves of foreign visitors who’ll be pouring into Tokyo to spectate.

As foreigners who’ve been living in Japan for a while, we think we might have some pretty good ideas about certain things Japan could do in order to make things a little easier on this influx of foreign guests.

Before we begin, a little disclaimer: the following list contains suggestions for ways that Japan could accommodate foreign guests during the Tokyo Olympic Games, and is not intended to be a list of complaints about the way things are done in Japan. (After all, we choose to live here, so we’re pretty cool with how things are done, for the most part!) We’re also in no way suggesting that Tokyo citizens turn their lives upside down just to pander to picky foreigners! While we’re sure that the country is already putting in all sorts of measures to prepare for the Olympics, this list contains just a few of the things that we personally think would be really helpful to foreigner visitors who might not know very much about the country or its customs before their trip.

With that out of the way, let’s begin.

1) How about… a smoking ban in public spaces?

While many other countries in the world have become increasingly health-conscious when it comes to cigarette smoking, smoking in public places is still rife in Japan. While measures have been put into place to prevent people from openly smoking on certain streets, smoking inside most restaurants is basically taken for granted, and even family-style restaurants for people with kids make do with flimsy glass partitions separating the “smoking” from the “non-smoking” sections.

Starbucks is one coffee chain in Japan that does not permit smoking in any of its locations, and it’s for that reason that I’m a frequent customer. Other coffee chains relegate smokers to smoking rooms, give them a floor of their own (which is fine so long as it’s not the middle floor and you have to pass through it in search of a table), or force smokers and non-smokers to sit together. Visitors from countries with public smoking bans might really appreciate it if Japan could stub it out countrywide in time for the Olympics, but I accept that this one is still probably a tall order in a country where so many people still smoke. The fact that many “foreigner bars” in Japan have started implementing smoking bans on their premises shows that many foreign visitors from countries with public smoking bans don’t really enjoy all the cancer-stick puffing going on here, so Japan’s pubs and bars may want to consider this one if they’re hoping to entice foreign patrons during the Olympics.

2) How about… more free Wi-Fi?

If you’re visiting Japan, it’s a good idea to pick up a pocket Wi-Fi device at the airport to use for the duration of your stay, since public Wi-Fi isn’t too easy to find here, and even though Starbucks does have pretty good Wi-Fi at the majority of their branches, you do have to pre-register. While some savvy tour companies have been putting new measures into place to provide short-term visitors with access to Wi-Fi hotspots, and some places are starting to provide wireless internet services for tourists, this is still one area which we think has a lot of potential for improvement. After all, how are you going to share all those braggy “I’m in Japan!” Instagram selfies and snaps of your yummy sushi meals without a fast and reliable internet connection?

3) How about… later-running trains?

Japan’s trains, while clean, fast and incredibly punctual, unfortunately stop running some time after midnight, leaving late-night revellers with no choice but to hole up in a nearby internet cafe or 24 hour McDonald’s until the trains start running again in the early hours of the morning. If you’re out to go clubbing or party hardcore, you’re basically in it until dawn, unless you can get a taxi back to where you’re staying. Tokyo is a big place, though, and by and large its people rely on the train network to get them home at the end of the evening. Midnight isn’t really all that late, and it’s easy for those who aren’t familiar with the system to accidentally miss their last train. We reckon laying on some later train services for the duration of the Olympics might be useful in order to reduce the number of drunken, stranded tourists who’ve miscalculated the train schedule through a haze of alcohol and high spirits. We’ve heard some rumblings about all-night transport services before, and the Olympics would be the perfect time to bring the concept into reality.

4) How about… accepting credit cards more often?

Japan is by and large very much a cash-based society. Here, it’s considered totally normal to walk around with a couple of hundreds of dollars’ worth of yen in your wallet, and shop assistants think nothing of breaking a 10,000 yen bill for a pack of chewing gum. For tourists, however, it’s both inconvenient and a little nerve-wracking to have to carry around a ton of cash, however safe Japan may be. While more establishments have started to accept credit cards in recent years, you’re still likely to be told “cash only!” at the majority of the places you visit, so you really need to have a big stash of yen on you when you come to Japan. If Japan wants visitors to spend lots of money and boost the country’s economy during the Olympics, it only makes sense for them to make it easier for them to do this by getting on board with credit cards.

5) How about… listing allergens on menus?

In Japan, it’s not really the “done” thing to be too picky at restaurants – asking for meals without certain elements added, or with something “on the side” is only going to draw raised eyebrows here. In the US, for example, restaurants are pretty accommodating about letting their customers have things “their way”, but in Japan, what’s listed on the menu or seen in the wax food displays is what you get – and there’s really not much point arguing about it.

While the country is now getting a little better at listing allergens, it’s still something that’s not considered very often. Foreign guests with certain allergies, food intolerances and religious or ethical dietary restrictions would, no doubt, really appreciate having a clear list of exactly what’s gone in to certain dishes. And in multiple languages, if it’s not too much to ask.

6) How about… more rental bikes?

Tokyo is one big place, and while the train system is completely awesome, you miss out on a whole lot if you simply rely on the rails to shuttle you from place to place. Tokyo is a beautiful city with gorgeous parks and landmarks, and what better way to explore than by bicycle? Adding more rental bikes for foreign tourists to use, like they do in places like London, would help to alleviate the strain on the packed train system a little bit while enabling tourists to actually see more of the city. It’s a totally win-win situation.

7) How about… improving the signage in stations?

Walk around any train station in one of Japan’s major cities and you’ll spot English everywhere. They really do try to accommodate foreign tourists by writing out the names of train destinations in romaji (romanised readings of Japanese words and names), and providing signage which is designed to help English speakers find their way. The problem is that Japan’s train stations tend to be extremely complex. We’re not sure if it’s true, but we’ve definitely heard rumours of foreigners who’ve gotten lost in complicated stations like Shinjuku or Osaka station, and eventually their bones have been discovered years later.

Okay so we totally made that last bit up, but trust us, those places are crazy complex! The issue is that the stations tend to be huge, with a colossal number of exits, multiple train lines, and a huge assortment of completely non-station related stuff mixed in, like department stores, restaurant “streets”, and various shops of all kinds. Take a wrong turn in Shinjuku Station and you can find yourself gazing at women’s support pants in the lingerie department of the Keio department store, with no idea how to get to the Yamanote Line. Perhaps some large, idiot-proof signs in multiple languages might help prevent any more tourists from getting lost in the wilds of Japan’s bigger transport hubs.

8) How about… hiring some really good translators?

In general, Japan is really pretty good about providing English translations in public places. The problem is that they are often gibberish. This is just my personal opinion, of course, but sometimes it feels to me that in Japan machine translated English is often considered “good enough”. Whether or not the English is accurate seems to be a secondary concern, as if the fact that an English translation, of sorts, has been provided at all is all that matters. However, bad English tends to inspire doubt as to the authenticity of the thing being said, and incites distrust of the “speaker”. And in some cases that can have pretty awkward consequences. Hiring some extra, Anglosphere wordsmiths to do some translation or even native checking of signage and information relating to the Olympics would go a long way towards maintaining Japan’s efficient, distinguished image. And let’s not just stop at English — how about hiring a whole bunch of native speakers of various languages to provide multilingual support? After all, not everyone who visits Japan from abroad speaks English.

9) How about… adding more trash bins?

The lack of public trash receptacles in Japan is a common gripe for tourists, with many unable to understand why Japan’s streets are so (relatively) clean when trash cans are such a rare sight. The reason for Japan’s lack of bins is complicated, and probably has something to do with concerns over terrorism. The sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995 could be seen as a major factor behind the removal of bins in Japan in general, and the 2004 Madrid train bombings were followed by the silent removal of trash bins on most of Tokyo’s subway platforms. However, a big influx of foreign tourists for the Olympics is going to mean more rubbish, so we’re wondering if a solution couldn’t be worked out to avoid a big mess on the streets. The London Underground, which is, as we know, no stranger to terrorist attacks itself, still has bins, although they’re more of a clear-plastic-bag-on-a-metal-hoop sort of deal, which prevents anything unsavoury being hidden in them. Perhaps Japan could come up with something similar? (And yes, we’ll admit, we’re kind of tired of having to carry our trash around with us in our bags all day long.)

Hosting the Olympics is always an exciting time for any city, and we’re sure that lots of people are going to fall in love with Japan when they come here to watch the games and do some sightseeing on the side. These are just a few of the things we reckon Japan could do to sweeten the deal even more.

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  • 7

    Moonraker

    If the omotenashi thing is true then all these things will already be known and dealt with, no?

  • 8

    katsu78

    The entire notion of translation needs to change. All too often Japanese people treat transltion the way it's taught in schools- give the answer deemed correct by the teacher and you're done. The idea that you would actually try to undrstand and be understood by the person you're communicating with is mendoukusai. English is there to prove how clever you are to other Japanese people.

  • 10

    Antthom

    Japan isn't hard to get around and many tourist want the experience.

  • 10

    paulinusa

    We’re also in no way suggesting that Tokyo citizens turn their lives upside down just to pander to picky foreigners!

    I'm very sure Tokyo citizens have not even entertained the thought of turning their lives upside down to pander to picky foreigners.

  • 3

    yokohamarides

    Yes to # 6. The best way for a tourist to gain a good understanding of any city is by bike - but, in addition, the city needs to put in some separated bike lanes so people will feel that they can ride safely.

  • -1

    thepersoniamnow

    @katsu78

    So you assume that in general Japanese people don't care about being understood or understanding? You are kinda painting over everything with a broad and negative brush don't you think?

  • 1

    Maria

    I'm surprised that people still consider #4 a problem. What kind of places do you mean - little hole in the wall bars? I can't think of many other places that don't accept cards.

  • 9

    M3M3M3

    Part of the fun of visiting Japan is getting completely lost at the station and not being able to ask anyone for directions. They don't need to change anything.

  • 21

    Aly Rustom

    How about Washlets instead of squat toilets?

  • -7

    Moon1

    "We’re also in no way suggesting that Tokyo citizens turn their lives upside down just to pander to picky foreigners!"

    And yet you start with lets ban smoking because you personally clearly don't like it.

  • 2

    papigiulio

    Adding more trashbins? Hmm, I have never trouble finding one, there is a conbini on every corner.

    1) How about… a smoking ban in public spaces?

    Yes and not just for the Olympics and not just for Tokyo please

  • 8

    clueless

    most of the ideas listed are to be honest are…"meh"

    Except…later running trains. Where I live the last train "out of Dodge" is 11:30. Totally unacceptable.

    Free Wi-Fi. Even the buses in my country (Scotland) have free Wi-Fi. What gives Japan?….really?

    The smoking thing. Well that's a given. Disgusting habit.

  • 2

    GalapagosnoGairaishu

    How about taking foreign currency transactions away from the banks and allowing dedicated money changers to set up kiosks around the city? (This is assuming that by 2020 the current clunky process of changing money won't already have been automated.)

  • 11

    Pidestroika

    The suggestions are all "Mediocre" as IJ would say. Last week I was at Nippori station taking my parents back to their home country when I discovered they had installed an excellent "Train Route Information" machine-thing. It looks like the ticket machine and is in English, French, Chinese and Korean (if I remember correctly). You type where you want to go and out comes a lovely little printed piece of paper like a bank receipt with instructions. Which line and track as well as estimated time and fare. Clear and precise and absolutely wonderful! Congrats to those who thought of that. More of these at major stations properly indicated (not just hidden at some dark corner) would be a great help to all visitors.

  • -13

    zones2surf

    How about... getting rid of kanji? I mean, it is so darn complicated to learn and memorise. Besides, the Japanese "borrowed" it from the Chinese anyway.

    Romaji... the way forward!!

  • 5

    gogogo

    How about foreigners realize in Japan people speak Japanese.

  • 5

    Yubaru

    How about taking foreign currency transactions away from the banks and allowing dedicated money changers to set up kiosks around the city?

    Ever been to an AEON? Maybe they dont have them where you are but most major department stores have cash exchange (specific) ATM's set up for foreign currency exchange now.

    Those ATM's are not cheap, and need to be in secure locations, just increasing them for convenience vs actual need is probably not a smart move.

    How about... getting rid of kanji? I mean, it is so darn complicated to learn and memorise. Besides, the Japanese "borrowed" it from the Chinese anyway. Romaji... the way forward!!

    Sarcasm aside here, (Let's just get rid of the Japanese language and replace it with English....)

    Do not go to romaji please. Go to English, there are 2 common types of romaji and if people start mixing the two there are going to be more problems than solutions. MEXT and or the government has to pick one and make IT official, Hepburn style and not the Nihon style.

  • 1

    Pidestroika

    gogogo - how about Japanese realize that their foreign guests for the Olympics don't speak Japanese and are not interested to learn for the few days the games are held.

  • 6

    Yubaru

    gogogo - how about Japanese realize that their foreign guests for the Olympics don't speak Japanese and are not interested to learn for the few days the games are held.

    I wonder, and this is not directed towards this response, but am curious to know did other non-English speaking countries that have hosted the Olympics face the same type of criticism about "language" that is happening here with Japan?

  • 12

    philly1

    I'm surprised that people still consider #4 a problem. What kind of places do you mean - little hole in the wall bars? I can't think of many other places that don't accept cards.

    Ah! If you are living in Japan and using a Japanese credit card, that likely isn't a problem, Maria. However, I was in Tokyo one month ago and had all kinds of difficulty using a credit card. Some places were unfamiliar with the "pin" number system or didn't know how to enter the card numbers manually to override it. Others (in top depaato) pulled out the manual imprint machines. I didn't know that those still existed--but at least they worked!

    Over and over and over I had to deal with "your card has been declined" and being looked at as if I were some sort of criminal pulling a fast one.

    Also, non-Japanese are not going to be able to read the prompts on the card-reading machines. Plus, they are not the same from establishment to establishment. So personnel might need to be trained to interpret them--in numerous languages.

    Because I wanted to accumulate the considerable travel points I got from using the card, I persisted instead of caving and going the shoganai route. It got to the point that I was teaching the clerks how to deal with the problem.

    So yes, #4 is a real problem/hassle/inconvenience. It makes Japan look like it's not in the 21st century.

  • 0

    Kakarot9

    3 Later-running trains is a bad idea. There are a ton of houses and apartments located next to train lines. I'd rather not be woken up by a train at 2am just so you can go out and drink more.
  • 0

    massiou81

    I would suggest having soap in public restrooms, and paper or dryer to dry your hands, both for practical and disease prevention reasons.. (first example being Narita or the Shinkansen ...) I could add that not every tourist walks around with its own handkerchief.

  • 3

    Mr. Noidall

    How about... getting rid of kanji? I mean, it is so darn complicated to learn and memorise. Besides, the Japanese "borrowed" it from the Chinese anyway. Romaji... the way forward!!

    "Um... I think I'll vacation in Japan this year, or better yet, I think I'll just relocate there. And by the way, could you overhaul your entire writing system to suit me. Actually, I don't want to put in the time and effort to learn it because it's too difficult for me and plus I think it's an inferior system anyway."

    Jeeze! Where do people develop this type of thinking?

    I can think of nothing lamer and more uneducated than tourist or expats who've done nothing in the way of learning a bit of the language and culture of their intended destination, and who expect the hosts to bend over backwards for them. And their only excuse is even lamer: "well, if they want our money." I mean, why would you travel and want, or even worse, expect things to be the same as your home? Why deprive yourself of new experiences, a.k.a., education. I would say to any tourist coming to Japan to get off their butts and learn a few basic phrases of Japanese, learn hiragana and katakana ( it only takes a day or two), or else just go stand in line at the nearest McDonald's and then go home and tell everybody there that you experienced Japan.

  • 5

    philly1

    How about scrapping the surcharge for calling a taxi in Tokyo? For the first time ever (since 1998) I had to pay 400 yen in order to request a taxi to my hotel. Staff wanted me to hail on on the street. Guess how many can go right by and (oopsie) not see a non-Japanese woman "waving to a friend"?

    It also wouldn't hurt to give taxi driver some professional development and training.

    I could not believe that a driver in Asakusabashi did not know the Kaminarimon Gate Hotel in Asakusa when asked in Japanese!!! He opened his taxi door and with a wakaranai wanted me to get out. As I'd spent 20 minutes waiting for him to get to the hotel in the first place, I refused.

    If he didn't know the words Gate and Hotel, I figured that if he got me to Asakusa Kaminarimon, I could figure out the rest. (I could and it took all of three seconds to see it from the Kaminarimon/Gate.) The point is, that I had to work like stink to get him to figure out what should have been obvious. I could do that because I was familiar with the area and knew where I wanted to go. The average Olympic visitors may not have that skill set.

  • 2

    Pidestroika

    Yubaru - Putting aside the Greeks who 50+% speak English fluent enough due to the 25mil tourists visiting the country annually, what did the Chinese do when they hosted the Beijing Olympics? Did they ask their guests to change or did they try their best to accommodate them and make them happy (and take their money)? It seems there are people in Japan who feel uneasy or are clearly afraid because they think there's going to be a "foreign invasion" and they will be "required" to change. They see the Olympics and other issues (whale and dolphin hunting for example) as efforts by "foreigners" (who exactly?) to make the Japanese lose their identity and "uniqueness". Imagine the Japanese stop going to MacD and to start going to WenD because foreigners told them to! Other Olympic host countries saw the games as an opportunity to fix some things, put up a good show, attract investment and generally looked in the future. Some in Japan look in the past. Thankfully they are a minority.

  • -6

    shonanbb

    The reason the trains are so good here is because they do all major maintenance at night. Just add one hour to the schedules. There is no reason to stay out all night and miss the next beautiful day because you like to be an owl. You are not in MS or HS any more. You are an adult visiting a place. Daylight is nice.

    No smoking in all restaurants would be nice.

    Trash bins are everywhere. If they are moved into a convenience store, it is because idiots were bringing their home garbage there so often, that the owners got fed up.

    Some train stations at stations in Tokyo do not have clear signs at all.

    Wifi is a joke here. I recently tried the new Odakyu one. What a nightmare. I gave up.

  • 2

    Maria

    I have rarely had to use the PIN system here in Japan - most of the time they take it, they swipe it, it's done. But yes, my cards are Japanese, and one of them doesn't have a chip, which causes hassle when I am in the UK.

    I wonder what cards are rejected here - Visa, MC, or ...?

  • 1

    SenseNotSoCommon

    By 2020 all our bandwidth might be coming from space.

  • 0

    Doo-Bop

    I hope they won't try to make Japan look like every other country. But more English restaurant menus could be helpful for tourists.

  • 3

    philly1

    Wifi is a joke here. I recently tried the new Odakyu one. What a nightmare. I gave up.

    I'm all for advising visitors to obtain one of the WiFi rental businesses which offer portable WiFi to travellers in Japan. For a few dollars a day I rented secure WiFi. Well worth it and becuase it supports more than one device or user, and my Japanese friends could use it while we toured remote areas. No problem.

  • 8

    thepersoniamnow

    @Shonbab

    There is NO REASON for me to stay out all night because I'm neither in Middle or High School any longer? I SHOULD enjoy the sunlight? Day good night bad?

    You're sounding a bit like an Oyaji yourself.

  • 0

    CGB Spender

    How about: LEARN ENGLISH (like the rest of the world already did)?!

  • 8

    Yoshitsune

    Strongly agree with the top two.

    Something else I would like to see (not just for the Games) - sort out the damn phones! Visitors should be able to get a local SIM without having to have a gaijin card. No problem in the UK, no problem in Korea (any more), no problem in China, Thailand etc etc, but in Japan... computer says no! Why - "crime prevention"? Ridiculous

  • 3

    zones2surf

    @Yubaru,

    Thanks for the comment. Hopefully you recognised my comment as being completely tongue-in-cheek. I thought I would have some fun with this question. Clearly there are those that thought I was being serious, given the number of down votes I got! :-)

  • 1

    katsu78

    thepersoniamnowNOV. 26, 2015 - 08:10AM JST So you assume that in general Japanese people don't care about being understood or understanding? You are kinda painting over everything with a broad and negative brush don't you think?

    All Japanese people? No. That's why I didn't say "all Japanese people". Many Japanese people? Absolutely.

  • 1

    sighclops

    The biggest problem in Tokyo will be the trains. There is zero cohesion between rail operators - which includes signage, access & pricing. With so many private operators, the system is extremely convoluted. This will be an absolute nightmare come 2020, above everything else.

  • -4

    Yubaru

    How about being able to use credit cards issued abroad to withdraw cash at Japanese bank ATMs?

    How about preparing before one gets here to find out if the card you have works or not?

    It's rather easy to find out and considering all the foreign tourists that come here and have no problem with it I am surprised that someone wouldn't know about this.

  • 3

    Japan Violet

    Ban smoking. Not just for the sake of tourism but for the Japanese themselves. Ban smoking. Banning smoking is the best thing the Japanese can do for themselves.

  • -5

    DickTaterTots

    1) No. no. Please no. For as many foreigners who hate smoking as there are, it's also a huge relief to those who do like smoking that there are places they can do it. Banning smoking to draw in tourists will only alienate a lot of locals and long-term foreigners here (as well as the tourists who do smoke). The ones who usually don't smoke are North Americans in particular, this is only a small fraction of the number of tourists who come here. I agree though in making the barriers between smoking and non-smoking sections better. Even though I'm a smoker myself, I really don't like walking into a sushi restaurant and seeing people smoke at the counter, right where the chefs are handling fresh fish. Smoking areas could be on a terrace, in the back (so non-smokers don't need to walk through it), or in koshitsu. Bars and clubs should not be non-smoking. ageHa in Shinkiba has the best way to handle the situation: No smoking on any of the dancefloors, but plenty of smoking sections both indoor and outdoor. 2). A resounding YES. Osaka is kicking Tokyo's butt in this department. Namba walk free wi-fi, Shinsaibashi free wi-fi, Osaka free wi-fi....easy to register and use. Tokyo needs this and lots of it. 3) Depends on the area. Subways could definitely use an extra half hour to hour of running time. But trains running super late will only spell disaster for those poor souls who work late and who need the "last train" as an excuse to be allowed to go home. Later running buses would be more useful as long as they aren't those ridiculous once-per-hour, one-day-per-week jokes they tried between Shibuya and Roppongi. 4) I've never used a credit card here so I don't have an opinion on this one. Probably a good idea I guess. 5) Definitely agree. And train the servers to actually understand what's on the menu so that if you do have a question, they can answer it for you instead of having to run back to the kitchen and ask the chef/cooks each time. 6) No. Not in Tokyo. Already too many bad cyclists, traffic, and pedestrian congestion as it is, this could get really dangerous especially if people don't understand the traffic rules well. However I think it's a great idea for smaller cities or the countryside. 7) The places which confuse foreigners are often just as confusing for Japanese people. Maybe there is actually too much signage in some places and it's hard to figure out which one to look for. Simplified/fewer signs, and exists labelled for the part of town they dump you in could help. 8) Yeeeeeeeaaaaaaah. Not just for English. 9) YES YES OMG YES. This is easily one of the most important things on the whole list. And it would also solve the trash problems that you see in Shibuya after NYE, Halloween, etc as well. We seriously need public trash bins. I understand the reasoning behind why we don't have them....but if they're not going to put out trash bins, at least put out enough public workers to collect garbage at major events instead of relying on volunteers to clean up the city the next morning.

  • -1

    Sarunghakan Feng

    More english signs. More furigana?

    Less superficiality?

  • 3

    kickboard

    There is zero cohesion between rail operators

    Recently Tokyo Metro and Toei have been cooperative. They eliminated the wall separating the Toei Shinjuku and Hanzomon lines at Kudanshita, for example, making changing trains a matter of walking 5 meters across the platform. It's the same for train fares. If you ride one Metro train and one Toei train consecutively, the total fare is cheaper than the added price of the two individual train rides.

  • 1

    Yoshitsune

    ...if using a Suica. But it confuses the hell out of short term visitors using single tickets!

  • 1

    clueless

    ATM's in Japan are a complete joke.

    The whole point of having them is that you can withdraw cash when the banks are closed.

    The concept of 24hr banking really hasn't caught on here at all has it?

  • 3

    Yubaru

    I'm able to take out money from my bank 24 hours anywhere in the country. It's not 2005 anymore.

    Is your bank Japanese? Convenience stores, particularly Lawson & Family Mart have ATM's that work from 7AM until 3 AM down here, is it 24/7 up there?

    The concept of 24hr banking really hasn't caught on here at all has it?

    There is actually a reason for it, and while people may not like it', it is what it is.

  • 1

    daito_hak

    They had IC chips and pin numbers here long before I started seeing it overseas, so I'm pretty surprised to read this comment.

    Well then you didn't go to Europe.... In most countries there, this system has been the only system available for credit cards transactions. And I should mention that in Japan, using the PIN number is quite uncommon among people.

    I'm able to take out money from my bank 24 hours anywhere in the country. It's not 2005 anymore.

    In Hokkaido, all banks close their ATMs the latest at 9:00 pm. You can try to withdraw money from ATMs in some convenient stores but they charge you more for that. I am not really happy to be charged to withdraw my own money and I guess I am not the only one. Even Japanese banks charge you money if you withdraw money after 6:00 pm and on wend-end. What a joke.... As a side remark, I am talking here about Sapporo. Smaller towns in Hokkaido have all their ATMs totally closed on week-end. Yeah this is not 2005, it's even worse.

    How about… listing allergens on menus?

    It's not only about allergens. What I find annoying is that they don't list all principal ingredients they used for a particular dish. It's like they have somehow the arrogance to think that they can just serve you something without you knowing what's inside. And the real problem is that when you order a dish, you find something inside the dish that you didn't want. For example, if I want to order a vegetarian dish, I do that. And guess what? Most of the time some ham inside, yet it wasn't mentioned on the menu. Ridiculous.... (excluding here the discussion about Japanese not getting what vegetarian food really means).

  • 0

    CH3CHO

    cluelessNOV. 26, 2015 - 06:10PM JST

    The concept of 24hr banking really hasn't caught on here at all has it?

    Seriously, how much commission would people like to pay for the right to withdraw money after midnight? I did some marketing research for a Japanese bank before. The finding was that there was almost no customer needs for ATM transactions after midnight. Banks shut down ATMs late at night, because the demands do not justify the cost. Maybe, things have changed since then, though.

  • 5

    daito_hak

    Banks shut down ATMs late at night, because the demands do not justify the cost. Maybe, things have changed since then, though.

    They don't shut them down late at night, they do as I said at 9:00 pm for some banks and at some locations. Earlier outside commercial areas. This is the case at least where I live, that is Sapporo which isn't by any means a small village, is it? And I hardly consider 9:00 pm to be late at night.

    And again they charge you for withdrawing money after 6:00 pm and on week-end at any time of the day, which its ridiculous.

  • 5

    DaDude

    I went to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and numbers 1-9 were nowhere to be found. It is not just a Japan thing.

  • 1

    zubrach

    More Credit/Debit cards and free Wi-Fi. The rest are #firstworldproblems.

  • 0

    BertieWooster

    How about ACTUAL ADDRESSES - Street names and house numbers.

    Street names on the corners of the streets so that people know where they are.

    Every other country has it.

    Why not Japan?

  • 3

    commanteer

    No smoking as number #1 is completely out of left field. Let's just ask everybody to change their life tomorrow to accommodate some visitors for 2 weeks during the Olympics. (And I don't smoke.)

    Some good suggestions. Maybe extend the train hours a bit. Certainly make it easier for people to use credit cards and to change money - that's basic stuff that Japan is way out of step on.

    Listing allergens on menus. Well, if a restaurant owner wants to go through all that trouble, more power to them. But most Westerners have imaginary allergies. People with real allergies will ask.

  • 3

    scap

    How about labels on food, drinks and medicines sold in stores. Pity the poor tourist who goes shopping in a supermarket. Almost all products have labels only in Japanese. Would be so difficult for manufactures to write JUST THE NAME of the item in ENGLISH? For example, "Green Tea," "Wheat tea," "Chinese Oolong tea," "Jasmine tea" etc. Seems to me that would not be so difficult.

  • 3

    Cliffy

    I though Tokyo is already no walking and smoking. At least when I was in Kanda, it is painted on the street making it very pleasant to walk on the street.

    I agree with #2, giving free Wifi is easier for people to use Google map to navigate as there is no offline map offering for Japan.

  • -6

    drronmccoy

    Smoking is banned in public. Perhaps more research is in order? Also, bikes are available for hire easily - I've never had problems. Wifi is a right, not a privilege, especially with security concerns. I think one improvement would be to educate ignorant foreigners about learning tolerance of other cultures, that not eevryone in the world speaks 'American' and that 'when in Rome....'. Don't change Tokyo - we love you!

  • 7

    No Ginger

    How about pouring a beer up to the rim instead of 40% head. Cheers!

  • 4

    A.N. Other

    The entire notion of translation needs to change. All too often Japanese people treat transltion the way it's taught in schools- give the answer deemed correct by the teacher and you're done. The idea that you would actually try to undrstand and be understood by the person you're communicating with is mendoukusai. English is there to prove how clever you are to other Japanese people.

    Post of the day. Have a recommend.

  • 2

    crustpunker

    Japan is by and large very much a cash-based society.

    ummm...maybe it was in the 80's and 90's but, I can't remember the last time I went to a place that didn't accept credit cards...Even the crappy "DAILY" conbini near me accepts mastercard and Visa.

  • -1

    Yoshitsune

    @cliffy

    I though Tokyo is already no walking and smoking

    The article is talking about smoking in restaurants, not about walking and smoking... and in any case, people walk and smoke an awful lot in Tokyo despite the rules against it. (I believe those rules are polite requests from city ward councils rather than legally punishable laws)

    @drronmccoy

    Smoking is banned in public. Perhaps more research is in order?

    It isn't (see above)

  • 6

    cevin7

    Even Japanese get lost in complicated stations like Shinjuku.lol

  • 3

    Moonraker

    No Ginger. Your comment makes me feel stupid for not remembering that essential point. Half a glass of foam is definitely not omotenashi. In fact, it feels miserly. Cos that is what it is.

  • 2

    Christopher Glen

    So the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games are the perfect opportunity for Japan to show off its famed “omotenashi” hospitality to the droves of foreign visitors who’ll be pouring into Tokyo to spectate.

    Assuming they get their Olympic stadium done on time..........safely

  • 2

    philly1

    How about issuing a special Olympic Suica/Pasmo style passes that is good for unlimited rides on all rail & subway lines in Tokyo for the duration of the Olympics? There could be short & long stay options. Like a JR Rail Pass it would be bought abroad by visitors and issued to residents of the Olympic Village and other personnel associated with the Olympics. There could be a similar version for Japanese nationals as well. That would make everything easier for everyone. For those visitors who would like to travel around Japan before or after the Olympics, the JR Pass is still an affordable option.

    Lack of trash cans will be a problem. So will sorting things in the style that Japan recycles. I'd suggest that retirees be encouraged to volunteer to staff "Eco Stations" to assist visitors in disposing of their trash, and whisking it away. During the Vancouver Olympics I observed that few visitors strayed very far from the main corridors surrounding venues and their hotels. It should be easy enough to create eco stations along those routes and provide visitors with bags to carry their trash to the eco stations. Adding personnel to pick up litter as it is inadvertently dropped would also help.

  • -1

    Commodore Shmidlap (Retired)

    Yeah, we wouldn't want to upset those smokers as they stink up everything and kill people with secondhand smoke. My stars, gotta protect them smokers' feelings! How dare everyone who's not a smoker object to being forced to smoke by someone lighting up and blowing burnt particles from their lungs into everyone's mouths and making half of every restaurant smell like burnt hair. Poor oppressed smokers. Who's looking out for them? Anyone who doesn't like being killed by secondhand smoke ought to rightly take up smoking and do the job properly with the firsthand kind.

  • 3

    kyushubill

    Not to rain on parades but if and only if the government and construction companies get their combined acts together will Tokyo even have the Olympics. Just a few days ago it was reported that the Olympic Stadium may have to have serious tweaking so it gets done on time.

    Many folks I talk to here in Miyazaki think this is a huge joke and a bigger waste of needed tax dollars just so the LDP can show off how they have scr---ed "Beautiful Japan". They know this is nothing but a boon for the corrupt bureaucrats and their corporate cronies.

  • 1

    kitzrow

    How about the foreigners making an attempt to learn some Japanese before making the trip? Always good to have that when traveling. Those visiting will have a wonderful time even with a language barrier.

  • -1

    Noble713

    @kitzrow

    How about the foreigners making an attempt to learn some Japanese before making the trip? Always good to have that when traveling.

    You want people to learn more than a handful of A: one of the most difficult languages on the planet B: one of the least internationally-widespread languages to boot.....for just a few short weeks of watching sporting events? That's just not going to happen. And from a utility-maximization perspective, it would be a terrible use of one's precious available man-hours.

    And I'm just going to say I agree with all the "anti-smoking" comments....I LOVE to go out and party, but I'm growing weary of doing so, largely because I DESPISE coming home and needing a shower and being forced to wash my clothes because I smell like I smoked a pack of cigarettes. This problem isn't unique to Japan though (lots of smokers in Vietnamese bars/nightclubs too).

  • 1

    Yubaru

    How about ACTUAL ADDRESSES - Street names and house numbers. Street names on the corners of the streets so that people know where they are.Every other country has it.Why not Japan?

    Wow, you must really think that the world is centralized on you. NO not all countries have street names and house numbers, not even close.

    Japan doesnt need it, and besides, the costs involved to even do it are astronomical and would serve little purpose other than to assist a tourist and there is no real demand for it, especially now with GPS and google maps or some other application. Insert an address and it will give you the map to the location you need.

    Also, national, and prefectural roadways ARE numbered and very easy to follow.

    It's relatively easy to get around here NOW compared to 30 years ago, and no need for any street signs either. Just about every plot of land also has an address as well, and is similarly easy to find too using a common easy to use application.

    Here's a link for you, insert the address you need to find and it will give you the location!

    https://maps.google.co.jp/

  • 0

    Jim McBride

    I believe the lack of a smoking ban in public places is a great tourist draw. Too many countries have gone way over board with controlling what should be personal decisions and if and where to smoke is one of them.

    while personally I no longer smoke it is up to my friends and family ...and anyone else to decide if they want to smoke and I will provide ashtrays.

    Japan is great the way it is ...there is nothing wrong with expecting a small amount of adjustment from visitors and that is necessary to enjoy visiting. I have spent time in nations from Iran and Kuwait to Uruguay and Argentina and wherever you go you can always find people in the large cities who speak English or Spanish.

  • 0

    hampton

    Most visitor will already be able to read enough Japanese to survive because they will be from China, Taiwan and South Korea. Most others will read English/Romaji, so will be able to get around. Hotels need to make sure they all have meishi with clear Japanese directions (to be shown to taxi drivers) so that people can get back to their hotels. That's easily done.

    The airports need to offer visitors a special suica for the trains. It should cost 10,000 yen, should come with instructions for recharging the card and there should be simple refund machines in the airports for when tourists leave again. The transport does not have to be a problem.

    In tourist areas, more picture menus would be helpful. No one really needs to learn much Japanese to visit Japan. Most people can't learn anything beyond the basics unless they study for months and tourists who come here once only for a week or so cannot be expected to make the effort. And yeah, for the love of God ban smoking in restaurants. It's disgusting and many people like me no longer go out and spend money because it is so unpleasant to be smoked at all evening. I don't mind this so much in real drinking establishments, but in places designed for eating, smoking needs to be banned.

  • -1

    Moon1

    Yeah, we wouldn't want to upset those smokers as they stink up everything and kill people with secondhand smoke. My stars, gotta protect them smokers' feelings! How dare everyone who's not a smoker object to being forced to smoke by someone lighting up and blowing burnt particles from their lungs into everyone's mouths and making half of every restaurant smell like burnt hair.

    Boo hoo. Go to one of the many many restaurants where smoking is not allowed, its not as though there are not 100's of choices now days. There are so many of them now that cater to the moaners like you that in Tokyo apart from a good old izakaya, places that allow smoking are much harder to find these days.

  • -2

    Yubaru

    Yeah, we wouldn't want to upset those smokers as they stink up everything and kill people with secondhand smoke. My stars, gotta protect them smokers' feelings! How dare everyone who's not a smoker object to being forced to smoke by someone lighting up and blowing burnt particles from their lungs into everyone's mouths and making half of every restaurant smell like burnt hair.

    Better to be smoked to death than to go bat crazy having to listen to whiners.

  • 3

    camnai

    How about just taking Japan the way it is and not trying to turn it into a pale imitation of back home?

  • 1

    BigCeltic1977

    Niseko has managed this. All signs are bilingual and most people in customer-facing roles can speak some English. When people travel abroad they expect English.

  • 1

    DieRealityCheck

    Niseko has managed this. All signs are bilingual and most people in customer-facing roles can speak some English.

    Niseko? Come on , it's not Japan any more. How come you have to be served in english by Japanese, yes I am Japanese. Anybody who claims about the level of foreign-tourist-friendliness of Niseko, they should stay home all the time

  • 0

    ThePBot

    10) T actually be friendlier to foreigners.

  • 0

    Khelil Kridi

    not 100% true and for the trash bin I think it is better practice to keep it on yourself. in most countries where trash bins are installed, the bin gets full very quickly and the trash get on the floor. please don't forget that Japan is a country where there is many crows "trash bin Party"

    as for the allergens you can ask for content of food in pretty much all restaurants. But let me remind you that most of Japanese food is really basic. let's take sushi it has rice and fish - and rice is cooked in a very basic way. if you are allergic to rice then don't eat it. for other western restaurant they all have a detailed list of ingredients, you can ask it anytime.

    signs in stations are so obvious that you just keep following simple arrows. the problem is the the way the information is formated in the signs is a little different from other countries. You have to learn how to use them it takes 30 minutes at most (if you have a good mental structure)

    In Japan smoking in the streets is not common, there is special areas for that no smoking signs are everywhere in most restaurants and cafes. If you go to Izakaya then it is absolutely normal to see many people smoking because those places are made for smoking and drinking. Don't go to Izakaya if you don't like smoke and noise.

    Usually Japanese waiter is not responsible of what is in the dish. It is better to have him ask the chef then let him improvise an answer. don't be in a hurry your safety first.

    I am tired to write

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