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So-called “debira” (which I take it is a type of flounder) drying out in the harbor of a quaint little fishing village of Tomo-no-Ura, south of Fukayama (2 hours east of Hiroshima by train). Actually “quaint” usually means “touristy” but, perhaps due to it being New Years time, the town seemed refreshing free of the usual trappings that come with picturesque seaside locations. That’s not to say the town doesn’t try to accomodate tourists, especially English-speaking ones who proportionately can’t make up a lot of those who visit here.

I ran into these two Americans from New York the other night, they were on a 2-week trip here (Japan), and they were going on about how Japan is such a hard place to travel, very little information or signs are in English, etc. I was polite and bit my tongue but having just spent a good few hours at the Hiroshima Peace Museum, which had just about the most copious English translations of any museum I’ve ever been to in the non-English speaking world, I couldn’t help but wonder what planet these guys were on (well, I knew the answer, it’s called the American planet). I was thinking about these guys today as I walked about this tiny hamlet I just introduced you to, where every monument plaque, every sign related to sightseeing, not to mention these wonderful engraved maps/sign posts highlighting the tourist trails, is written in both Japanese and English. All for a place that needs a local bus to get to, is probably not mentioned in any guidebook (confession: I don’t have a Lonely Planet Japan), and probably doesn’t see a whole hell of a lot of non-Japanese travelers, comparatively speaking.

Tourist landmark sign, Tomo-no-Ura: click for larger

 

3 Responses to Drying out

  1. I have to disagree with you. When my son and I went back to Japan to visit in 1996 (after living there between 1989-1991), over and over again we wondered how did people who knew no Japanese manage at all. I spent a lot of time, as we were waiting for trains and such, trying to see Japan through the eyes of someone who didn’t know the things we’d learned about it and concluded that it would be very hard indeed.

    I’m not saying that the Japanese could or should do more to ease the foreign traveller’s experience. I look around me here in Texas and wonder the same thing–how does someone who doesn’t know English or Spanish accomplish anything?

    In Japan, it’s not just the language difference that’s an obstacle. Everything is different and few people are prepared for it. I think people who are used to travelling in Europe are the least prepared, because they think of themselves as seasoned travellers.

  2. Kurt says:

    M-
    thanks for commenting….maybe things have changed in the last 10 years 🙂

    but seriously, it’s hard for me to be objective about it, to be sure, especially when half the time I was hoping there weren’t English translations, if only to force me to practice my Japanese. It could also have been the cities or places I went, for sure Hiroshima gets a lot of visitors from other countries, and at Himeji, perhaps because of some requirement for being a Unesco site, I was given a very nice detailed brochure in English while all the Japanese got was a poorly photocopied map. But constantly I was finding English, and thinking that if you’ve done any traveling at all, I don’t know how one could call Japan a difficult place to travel in (or live in, for that matter — from a language perspective that is).

    OTOH, like you I wonder how much should be done at all, I mean I would think one of the joys of traveling (if you’ve got half a stomach for a challenge) would be trying to navigate and negotiate a foriegn place, phrase book and good intentions in hand.

    At any rate, maybe I’ve lived here too long but on your last point, I just don’t see the “everything is different” p.o.v. being so viable anymore, be it in the metropolis or the “chihou”

  3. When my brother came to visit me in Japan, he spent most of his time being stunned. At the time, I felt I didn’t know anything about Japan, but when I was showing him around, I suddenly realized how much I had learned.

    Conversely, I find it very odd to visit my inlaws in England. Even though everything is in English, it all seems so different (and quaint) to me. I’m also struck by how different the west coast (US) is from Texas. As for the east coast, it’s a foreign country to me.

    Like you, it is these differences that I love about traveling. My thrill of discovery is undiminished by experience. My only disappointment is when I travel around the US and all the suburbs look exactly the same–the same stores in the malls and the same fast food joints. Why travel if it all looks the same?

    What I loved about Japan (and to some extent, England) is the tremendous variety of local food, drink, and culture. I guess other people are more like the hero of “The Accidental Tourist”. They prefer the bland sameness of McDonalds and Holiday Inn.

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