We asked people about their interests, confidence and problems traveling in Japan.
"Culture and tradition" came up as the biggest interest, with "Food" a close second, but also a potential pain point as many respondents mentioned lack of English signage, trouble making reservations, etc. (see "Food & Restaurants" below). Japanese subcultures (anime, manga, fashion, etc.) are also a strong draw, but not a majority interest.
While almost 90% of respondents indicated Japanese food was one of their interests, about 25% of respondents either specifically mentioned restaurant issues or scored low in confidence on the restaurant/food confidence questions. Common problems cited were, a) making reservations, b) lack of English menu, c) trouble ordering, d) inability to cater to special diets (vegetarian, halal, etc.).
"Lots of restaurants we tried did not have English menus, we ended up picking where to eat more based on if they had an English menu or ticket machine than on what the food type was."
"I'm vegetarian so finding food was a nightmare! Vegetarian restaurants were few and far between."
Most people indicated they were okay or confident traveling around Japan, with less than 10% indicating they were not confident. Moreover the frequency of transport-related complaints and issues is trending down slightly since 2014.
Booking.com and Airbnb were the most used booking services in our 2017 survey. It is also interesting to note that Airbnb has consistently been a popular Tokyo accommodation choice with our readers. Previous surveys indicate that about 40% of our users stay in Airbnb accommodations, with traffic data on our websites supporting that pattern. Tour booking brands have a much smaller reach than accommodation and travel booking sites—Viator being the biggest with about 5% reach among respondents. Japanese booking brands/websites (Rakuten,Japanican and others) had very little reach—only about 2% reach. Many respondents reported problems associated with booking procedures or Japanese websites. Moreover the trend appears to be getting worse, with twice as many mentions of such problems in our Spring 2017 versus our previous survey 18 months prior. Perhaps due to the fact that while globally the internet becomes a much more user-friendly experience, many Japanese travel websites remain Japanese only, or stuck with outdated technology and design. "Japanese web sites to book places/experiences - they are usually only in Japanese and the layout is old and not user-friendly"
We asked people about places other than Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka that they have (or have not) heard of and if they we’re interested in going. People most wanted to go to Hiroshima, Hakone, Nara and Nikko. In general, and perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a strong correlation with how well known the place is and how much interest there is in going. However, Nagasaki was #2 "heard of", but received lower interest relative to others—for example Nikko was less well known but there was stronger interest. This is likely explained by Nagasaki being well known from the Second World War, whereas Nikko is known as a World Heritage Site. As people tend to gravitate towards the familiar, Nagasaki has perhaps an opportunity to leverage this fact and with competent PR efforts could vastly increase interest from tourists. As already mentioned in various other media (such as McKinsey & Co.) many of Japan’s potential tourist attractions are comparatively unknown. But with the continuing rise in inbound tourism to Japan, perhaps preferences and patterns of niche interest will have time to develop. For context, note the niche popularity of the Cotswalds in the UK among Japanese (and recently South Korean) tourists.
In addition to specific multiple choice answers, we also asked from respondents for general feedback on what they found difficult about being a tourist in Japan. Here’s a chart showing the general categories of issues for our latest survey and two previous ones: As mentioned above, quite a few people commented on issues trying to book things, either because there is no online system, or some other confusion factor (eg. the process for getting tickets to the Ghibli Museum). There were also quite a few comments along the lines of "[It’s] hard to find info for off-the-beaten-track places." And on a positive note, quite a few people explicitly said "no problems".