Ah, tourist traps, one of the most constant aspects of traveling. Tourist traps tend to be everywhere, being promoted in travel books and Instagram, but usually offering something very different from what tourists expected. What’s more, locals also tend to avoid tourist traps, knowing that the places have evolved to become something that caters to large tourist crowds. One of biggest problems with tourist traps is that, since people know they are where tourists are congregating, prices for local goods are higher while the quality of the products is lower than in other areas, bad restaurants with higher prices abound, panhandlers and peddlers can crowd the streets, and pickpockets make them their playground.
The good thing is that, while Japan has many places tourists frequent, it does not have any real tourist traps. So, tourists can be reassured that they can travel across the country without having to worry about pesky tourist traps.
Nevertheless, that does not mean that there are some touristic destinations that can leave some people feeling underwhelmed for various reasons.
As such, we have decided to compile some of the places domestic and foreign visitors tend to find disappointing for various reasons. Keep in mind that many of these places ARE also popular and beloved (I actually like many of them), and they might also be among the places you enjoyed when visiting Japan.
Odaiba has been a very important and popular district among local and foreign visitors alike thanks to its numerous shopping malls and museums, teamLab exhibits, its big ferris wheel, parks with vistas of Tokyo and the famous Rainbow Bridge, its Oedo onsen theme park, massive hotel complexes, and Fuji Television’s iconic building.
Tourists tend to find a lot of entertainment in Odaiba, and Tokyo residents tend to like the district because its Tokyo Bay luxury hotels can provide what seems like an escape from the city while still being in the city, and foreigners. However, most of Odaiba’s charms are lost to some who find them as artificial as the island the district sits on. Odaiba can feel like an integrated resort minus the casinos and luxury shopping, being a place that does not actually offer a historical of cultural sense and that can fail at providing a distinctive character that defines places like Harajuku, Ginza, and Jimbocho. What’s more, the many shopping malls found in Odaiba can’t hold a candle to the many shopping districts in Tokyo. For those reasons, it’s not a big surprise that Odaiba is a coin toss. It can be a huge hit for some, while being an utter disappointment to others.
The future of Odaiba is also changing. The huge Palette Town, which includes the Venus Fort shopping mall, the Toyota museum, and teamLab, will be demolished as Toyota and Mitsubhishi (the land’s owners) redevelop the site; and Odaiba Oedo-Onsen Monogatarai, the highly popular onsen theme park, is also closing its doors.
When going to beautiful Okinawa, once can do a wide variety of things like enjoying the numerous cities and towns, going to the pristine beaches, swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, visiting Churaumi Aquarium, the Cornerstone of Peace memorial, and of course, Nago Pineapple Park.
If you are already scratching your head, then you might never become an unfortunate victim of Nago Pineapple Park. As it’s the case with many of the locations included here, Nago Pineapple Park does appeal to some, but it’s just not as elaborate or beautiful as it could be, and the end result can be quite cheap, resulting in a place that mostly appeals to very young kids.
Nago Pineapple Park is meant to show the history of pineapples and immerse guests in jungles that even have dinosaurs. Credit where it’s due, the everything-has-pineapple gift shop and the pineapple winery can be the real magnet, while the bizarre theme park portion being designed to keep kids happy and without issuing a complaint because their parents took them shopping.
In all fairness, Nikko Edomura is a very fun theme park that transports you to life during the Edo period. As such, it can be a very enjoyable place for local and foreign visitors alike. So how can this place be underwhelming for some? Easy. It’s an Edo theme park in Nikko, one of the most beautiful places in Japan thanks to its scenery, hot springs, and UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Having a theme park that transports you to old Japan while being next to one of the most stunning places that showcase the true “old” Japan can seem like a sacrilege, and that will not be lost on some visitors. Similar to Odaiba, some people who step into this theme park exit feeling that they got a prefabricated and completely artificial experience of Japanese culture without actually experiencing the real Japan.
Oh, Legoland… Legoland was an ambitious project that was supposed to turn Nagoya into a touristic powerhouse. Nagoya, while being Japan’s fourth largest city and third largest metropolitan area, tends to be overlooked by tourists who inadvertently pass by it when taking the shinkansen between Osaka-Kyoto and Tokyo. What’s more, Nagoya also suffers from a problem that also plagues the city of Yokohama: many visitors do not spend a night there. One of the biggest economic benefits of tourism is having overnight guests staying at city hotels, but many people visiting Nagoya do so as a one day trip because of how easy and fast it is to get there from both Osaka and Tokyo.
With that in mind, Legoland was meant to do for Nagoya what Universal Studios Japan did for Osaka and the Tokyo Disney Resort for Tokyo. Those resorts attract thousands of local visitors while also bringing in people from other Japanese cities and even overseas tourists. However, Legoland ended up being too small, with attractions that only kids would enjoy, and with prices during peak days closer to those of the Tokyo Disney Resort and Universal Studios Japan. All those reasons combined have made many visitors shake their heads and simply state that it was not worth it.
Kabukicho is one of those places in Japan that has achieved legendary status. People often associate Kabukicho with the yakuza and prostitution due to it being Tokyo’s red light district. However, Kabukicho is far less sketchy in real life than what people imagine, and while there are some dangers, visitors who are not there to visit establishments of questionable nature will be absolutely fine on the streets of this bustling Shinjuku neighborhood that locals frequent thanks to venues like Toho Cinemas.
Kabukicho is in fact so self-aware of its allure that it has become a tourist magnet with places like Robot Restaurant once providing tourists with the kind of spectacle that matched foreign visitors’ stereotypical ideas of Tokyo. The pandemic has changed Kabukicho, though, with the famous Robot Restaurants being closed since summer 2020.
Being tamer than what people write about, visitors can sometimes find Kabukicho just bright and noisy, and not as special as they had thought.