Things in Japan that Tourists Hate

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  • Japan is a dream destination attracting people of all ages and walks of life. The attraction is mutual, as Japan’s government is setting a goal of welcoming 40 million tourists in 2020 and 60 million by 2030. However, as in all popular tourist destinations, miscommunications arise, creating discomfort in both locals and visitors. The problems that locals have with tourists have been widely and one-sidedly publicized, but how about the problems guests have with their hosts?
    Japan being one of the safest, cleanest and most entertaining places on the planet, the positives do outnumber the negatives. Nevertheless, tourists are sharing some of the negative experiences in hope that criticism fosters future improvement.

    1. Lack of garbage cans

     

    Visitors are invariably surprised at the combination of these two facts: Japan is sparkling clean, and at the same time, garbage cans are so rare, that finding one in public feels like winning the lottery! How is that possible? Where is the garbage? Where are the garbage cans? While locals know some of the hidden spots for garbage disposal, like trains stations and convenience stores, tourists don’t. More importantly, locals take their trash home, but it’s usually pocket trash, whereas tourists spend the whole day outside amassing much more trash. The more careful and respectful a person tries to be about garbage disposal, the more frustrating it is to carry around the leftovers of 3 meals, dripping cups of unfinished coffee and much more.

    Tip: check train stations and convenience stores for garbage cans, carry a bigger bag and a plastic bag for food/drink leftovers, try to dispose of empty bottles in the vending machine that sells them (the machines that have designated bottle/can return slots) etc.

    Check our guide about garbage disposal in Japan, especially useful if you live in Japan.

    2. Lack of benches, seats, public spaces

    bench

    You’ve heard Japanese cities are crowded and space is precious, hence the lack of public spaces and benches. As rare as the garbage cans mentioned above, benches are still found in some parks or more residential areas, but not many of them in the popular tourist areas where you need them the most. Locals might not even notice this, going about their busy day, but for a tourist is vital to have somewhere to sit down to check the map, eat a snack or just rest their tired feet. Not having a place to sit creates more problems like congestion of the sidewalks, people walking and looking at their phones, etc. If you are a hungry tourist and can’t even eat a snack in peace, it quite ruins your whole experience.

     

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    Tip: Give up on finding a bench in a crowded place and try and find a nearby park, Tokyo has a lot of green spaces for a metropolis of its size.

    3. Too much plastic!

     

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    By now everyone probably knows that plastic is one of the biggest polluters on the planet, threatening to destroy life and the future of humanity. Japan being the second largest per-capita consumer of single-use plastic in the world, visitors shouldn’t be surprised, but still, the illogical and unnecessary use of plastic packaging in Japan makes people gasp in horror! Sturdy vegetables like bananas and onions that are naturally protected still get put on a plastic tray and wrapped in plastic. To add insult to injury, this is for every single piece of fruit or vegetable.

    It’s worse on rainy days when almost every shopping mall you walk in demands you wrap your umbrella in plastic and throw that plastic when you exit. Many places will also give you a paper bag but wrap it in additional plastic if it rains.

     

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    梅雨に入ってお店では濡れた傘を入れるためのプラスチックカバーを提供しています。ゴムとは違って、他の人が捨てたものを再利用することや、水滴を振り落としてカバーを使わない選択ができます。 風が吹けばいくつかは私たちの公園や川へ吹き飛ばされていきます。魚に必要なのはプラスチックではなくきれいな水です。 The rainy season is here and shops are providing protective plastic coverings for wet umbrellas. Unlike other protective cylindrical coverings, you can reuse other peoples discarded ones, or refuse them and go in bare after giving it a bit of a shake. When the wind blows, some blow free, to our parks, to our rivers. The fish enjoy being wet and have no need for plastic coverings. #使い捨て日本 #使い捨て #傘袋 #ドンキホーテ #二子玉川ライズ #プラスチック #買い物 #傘 #ゴム #梅雨 #disposablejapan #singleuseplastic #shopping #umbrella #plasticbag #donquijote #rainyweather #rainyday #rubbers

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    Many visitors lament the fact that there are no public drinking fountains, having to buy plastic bottles of water. In addition, language barriers prevent them from asking for no bag, and many cafes and restaurants still don’t allow bringing your own empty cup or bottle to be refilled. They say they feel horrible not only for the needless garbage created by Japan, but also by somehow being forced to participate in it during their visit.

    Tip: bring your own shopping bag and a cup/thermos, keep notes of phrases in Japanese to show to shop clerks that you don’t want a plastic bag or that you want your own cup filled instead of a plastic one (some places might go with it).

    4. Beware of the bicycles!

    bicycles in japan

    Many cyclists in Japan are anything but orderly. They tend to sneak up behind you on the sidewalk, whoosh past people in pedestrian areas, cram their wheels through pedestrians on a zebra crossing, and have been known to even hit people. Most cyclists don’t even ring the bell to get your attention, trying unsuccessfully to ninja their way through. Scared tourists have first thought themselves in the wrong – maybe they had wandered into the bicycle lane? However, it turns out the bicycle lanes are marked next to the car lanes and cycling on the sidewalk is illegal. Even though one would imagine that it’s inconvenient for the cyclists too to have to squeeze through pedestrians, everyone’s doing it without thinking and mostly without being stopped and fined.

    Tip: Just beware, even if it’s obviously not a bicycle line, there will be bicycles. The more outside of the urban areas, the higher the chance a bicycle will appear.

    5. Cash is still king

    japanese money

    From using credit and debit cards, to online payment for everything, some people rarely touch paper money nowadays. That will change in Japan, with a bunch of notes and even more coins, you might even need more than one wallet! Tourists are shocked that many places don’t even have the option to pay with card, and some who do don’t accept all cards. In a country famed for being hi-tech, payment has stayed inconveniently low tech. As visitors are unprepared for this, many have shared embarrassing situations with not having cash to pay, frantically searching for ATMs just to find out… not all ATMs will recognize your card. In addition, most ATMs close at night, just a few hours after the bank hours. Between high-tech toilets and still using fax machines, Japan has a complex relationship with technology, so nothing should surprise you.

    yen coins

    Tip: 24 hours convenience stores have ATMs that accept a lot of cards and for a small fee you can withdraw Japanese yen from foreign credit and debit cards.
    Put more cash on your train IC card (SUICA, PASMO etc) and you can pay with that one in many convenience stores, vending machines, taxis, etc. It will also prevent all the pesky change in small coins!
    Lastly, the situation is slowly improving and it seems Japan is moving towards a more cashless model. So, always try your card first – it might work this time!

    6. Tattoo discrimination

     

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    Nowadays everyone and their grandma has a tattoo, but Japan seems to not have gotten the memo. Tourists who sport tattoos, even tiny ones of flowers, butterflies, hearts and poetry lines, are shocked to be treated like undesirable criminals in Japan. Japan has a complicated relation to tattoos throughout history, from branding criminals with tattoos, to tattoos being the mark of the Japanese mafia (yakuza). However, in other parts of the world too tattoos used to be associated with gangsters, but nowadays everyone understands that tattoos have become harmless fashion.

    In Japan, despite the recommendation of the Japanese government to ease up the rules, tattooed people are still denied entrance to hot springs (onsen), gyms, swimming pools, and even some public beaches. Some allow you to cover the tattoo with a band aid if it’s a small one, but most have a blanket ban on all ink. If you lie and enter any of the establishments, you will be thrown out if found. Aside from that, some tattooed people report being stared in public, especially by older people, but they usually don’t confront them in any way.

    Tip: Luckily, things are improving and there are some tattoo-friendly hot springs popping up lately, especially in more rural areas. You also have the option in some hotels to reserve private time at the onsen, or get a room with a small hot spring tub included.

    You can also check ‘sento’ (Japanese public baths), as the majority of them don’t discriminate people with tattoos. Sentos are not as fancy as onsen, but they sure are a great cultural experience.

    7. Train crowds and lack of manners

    tokyo train crowd

    Japan’s trains are the best in the world, let’s get that away from the start. They are punctual, clean, safe, fast, convenient – this city would be surely ruined without them. Tourists love all of this, except for the dreaded rush hour – a nightmare for locals as well. Japan’s trains are so overcrowded in the morning and the evening that there are professional white-gloved pushers, to pack commuters tightly like a can of sardines.
    Watch this video below:

     

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    It seems that when it’s rush hour all bets are off and all manners are forgotten. Perfectly nice and normal people lining up carefully are suddenly pushing violently, elbowing, stepping over people. When visitors are caught in an overcrowded train full of tired and stressed commuters they usually don’t know how to react.

    Another thing that shocks visitors is that a seat is rarely given to those in need of one – the elderly, sick, pregnant etc. There is a designated area for them, but that one is also often full. People in need of a seat have a special badge, and there are constant in-train announcements to give your seat to them. With the trains running over capacity and commuters tired from work, one can see how it comes to this.

    If you need a seat don’t expect someone will give it to you for sure, and if you want to give your seat to someone make sure they sit down. Then move away to another car, because otherwise many people will keep thanking you but also feel uncomfortable that you are now standing because of them.

    Tip: Don’t get on any train in the city before 10am. Evenings are also packed, so avoid the last few trains, especially on weekends. If the train arrives full, wait for the next one. That way you will be first in line for the next one and maybe grab a seat. When you enter a train, if possible go to the middle between the seats, because the doors are the most crowded areas.

    8. No foreign language guidance in tourist spots

    tokyo restauarant

    Japan is one of the countries with very low English language ability, combined with the shyness and reluctance of people to speak even the words they know. This results in a very uncomfortable situation for both sides. Of course, communication is not completely impossible, as many tourist locations are providing free pamphlets and tourist maps, and most urban area restaurants have English menus. However, if you have a special request, diets or allergies, if something goes wrong or is not by the book, or if you simply have any questions – it’s suddenly going to be very hard for you.

     

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    Of course, tourists cannot demand that everywhere they go people should speak their native language. Instead they are only asking for the most widely spoken international language – English. It is a second language for more than a billion speakers around the world and a native language for half a billion. Learning a couple of words of the language of the country one is visiting is very recommended and polite thing to do, but for solving problems and communicating one needs a language they can actually speak.

    Tip: Use translation apps for single words, they are more correct that way. Learn a couple of phrases in Japanese to politely ask for an English interpreter (bigger shops might have one designated English speaker). Hire a guide or go on a food tour on your first day – they will teach you about food products and will give you tips on how things works in the country.

    9. Treatment of women

    Not noticed by all, especially not noticed when you are a tourist overwhelmed by the amazing things you see every day, this problem still made this list because of some very observant tourists. It’s also low on the list of things tourists hate, because it is not experienced by all tourists. The women who were treated poorly have noticed it when travelling with a man (a partner, friend, family member), and hotel and restaurant staff very often addressed only the man. This mindset is a conservative remnant in some people, many not even aware of what they’re doing. Tourists say the unpleasant surprise comes from the fact that Japan has the image of a very developed and advanced country, so when this happened they were caught off guard.

    Tip: Know that this won’t happen everywhere, and even when it does it is not very aggressive or very intentional. Try to subvert their expectations and stereotypes by being the leader of your group, paying for the group and making the decisions (of course, make this plan with your traveling partners before that).

    10. The new fish market is a disappointment

     

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    Lastly, this is the greatest disappointment voiced by tourists this year – the new fish market pictured above. Technically, this “new Tsukiji” is called Toyosu Fish Market, while the old fish market was called Tsukiji and was a major tourist attraction. The fish market was moved despite strong opposition from Tokyo residents. The new building is said to be more hygienic and organized, but it surely lost all its raw charm. Visitors are not allowed to wander among the sellers and fish auctions can only be observed from a high deck through glass. The Tsukiji fish market used to be much more authentic and lively, with a culinary area developing around it through the years. As a consolation prize, this area is still called Tsukiji and it still remains as a part of Tokyo. One can visit it, wander the narrow streets and taste Japanese dishes in the small traditional restaurants.

    All in all, Japan is still one of the most unique and striking places to visit, a trip of a lifetime. Tourists are enchanted by their experiences in Japan and the things they disliked are a small part of the whole.
    However, as tourism blossoms worldwide, people should be open to discuss the problems and try to solve them or prevent them altogether. Over-tourism is a new emerging problem, while at the same time it is bringing money and jobs to popular tourist destinations. We should all be striving for balance and sustainability. If tourists and hosts help each other the experience will be more enjoyable for everyone.