July 23, 2019
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Japan struggles to adapt to increasing tourist numbers ahead of Olympics

By Nora Olive.

Tokyo, Jun 17 (efe-epa).- Overcrowding, traffic jams, cultural and linguistic differences and the lack of accommodation are some of the challenges facing the main tourist destinations of Japan due to the rising number of visitors.

With a little more than an year to go before the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, a survey by the Japanese government showed that the cities most visited by tourists are already experiencing the usual inconveniences associated with a big tourism boom.

According to the study, carried out by the Japan Tourism Agency, around 30.4 percent of the cities were facing a shortage of accommodation for visitors, while 38.4 percent had been hit by growing traffic jams due to the rising number of sightseeing buses.

The places of tourist interest also cited the visitors’ manners and their lack of understanding of cultural norms as problems, especially related to the use of bathrooms (25.4 percent), littering in public places (20.3 percent) and entering restricted areas (17.9 percent).

"We tried to read up a little before coming, in order to know what we could do and should not do," said Andres Vazquez, a Spaniard in Tokyo on vacation with his wife and son.

The strict codes of conduct in Japanese society and language barriers can lead to uncomfortable situations, especially in large cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, which received 46.2 percent and 38.7 percent respectively of the total tourist traffic in 2017.

Daniel Pinzon, a Colombian visitor to the country, gave an example of the kind of confusions occurring.

"Walking on the left can be difficult sometimes, because one is used to walking on the right, and then often one is colliding and crashing into people," he said.

Mexican Diana Gracia highlighted communication problems due to the language barrier.

"I feel like many people do not speak English or speak very little — this makes things a little complicated," she told EFE.

In recent years, the country has witnessed a massive influx of tourists, reaching the record figure of 31 million in 2018, a 8.7 percent rise compared to the arrivals in 2017, which had also set a record.

Until the turn of the century, Japan was receiving less than 5 million tourists, a figure reached for the first time in 2002, but the numbers doubled in the following decade, breaching 10 million in 2013. Arrivals have tripled in the five years since.

Despite the results of the survey, the JTA has denied that "overtourism" — a situation faced by other international destinations such as Barcelona and Venice — could prove a serious problem for Japan.

The government has set a target of hosting 40 million tourists in 2020, and recently announced a plan to provide information in different languages as well as free WiFi access on 300 public transport routes by March next year.

This initiative, which would include establishing special connections to 87 tourist spots in the country such as UNESCO World Heritage sites and national parks, is part of a drive to boost international tourism.

Despite the challenges in adapting to the increasing number of travelers, Japan and its citizens continue to exhibit their particular brand of hospitality, called "omotenashi," a concept which means attending to the guests with all your heart.

"There are no misunderstandings with anyone here. Of course one commits mistakes sometimes, but it is the (local) people who apologize; this is something very interesting about the culture," Pinzon said.


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