31 Jul 2012
It’s no secret that Japan is trying hard to attract tourists. How can it not be, of course, after the industry fell to its knees in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami?
Sure, the country has much to offer, but mixed in with the interesting stuff there’s also plenty of dross that means first-time visitors can easily end up having a very disappointing time.
Especially if they blindly follow the guidebooks ...
These often recommend extremely boring activities simply because all previous guidebooks have done so.
They also routinely misinterpret key Japanese concepts, like “wabi-sabi,” which Western travel-guide writers think denotes an aesthetic of rarified beauty.
By contrast, most Japanese know that it tends to signify the most soporific elements of their culture.
For these reasons, rather than recommending what to enjoy, it may be more useful to point out what to avoid when visiting Japan.
Once you steer clear of the dull shibboleths celebrated in many guidebooks, the chances are you’ll land on your feet and find interesting stuff at random.
So, here is my list of Fujiland’s top 10 most forgettable and best-avoided tourist “attractions” and experiences.
The Imperial Palace
Tourists arriving fresh from Narita might be excited by the fact that Japan has an emperor and that his palace is smack bang in the center of Tokyo. I know I was.
An emperor! That’s one step up from a king!
But if you’re expecting a spectacle on a par with the Roman Empire, or grander than London’s Buckingham Palace, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
Behind its tea-green moat and giant stone dykes, the Emperor’s Palace in Tokyo is practically invisible.
And there’s nothing to see like London’s Changing the Guard, except for a solitary duck and an occasional jogger.
Wabi-sabi boredom rating: 9.5.
That bar in ‘Lost in Translation’
Japan"Lost, who me?"Next on the amnesia list is the bar at Shinjuku's Park Hyatt made famous by the film “Lost in Translation.”
This location isn’t quite the Odessa Steps featured in Eisenstein’s “The Battleship Potemkin” or La Bocca della Verità that crops up in “Roman Holiday.”
In Sofia Coppola’s movie, the could-be-anywhere bar is kept as a blur in the background, which, when you see it, you realize was one of her better directorial decisions.
This is not only mentioned in all the guidebooks, but it also makes it onto a lot of the covers as well, so you just know it must be overrated.
Tourists are always being warned to be on their guard against pirated brand-name goods.
What then are they to do with an entire 333-meter tower that is an obvious rip-off of a more-famous “brand-name” tower in Paris?
Boring because it’s unoriginal and it’s not even the tallest building in Tokyo anymore.
Wabi-sabi boredom rating: 8.
Yoshiwara red-light district
Inspired by the woodblock prints of Hokusai and Hiroshige, many tourists are fascinated by Japan’s ancient image of geisha loveliness.
Then they go looking for the sights of old Edo’s pleasure quarters.
But tracking down the former site of the Yoshiwara red-light district is sure to disappoint because all that awaits you is a banal-looking street corner.
Getting lost and wandering round for several hours is a much more exciting option and you can do that anywhere.
For many foreign visitors, the closest they can hope to get to the kimono-clad beauties of yesteryear is to visit a tea ceremony.
But, be warned, in Japan this activity, like hula and flamenco dancing, is generally the preserve of the elderly. In other words, truly “the kimono-clad beauties of yesteryear.”
But even if you get a hottie handling the teapot there really is nothing quite as boring as watching someone take 30 minutes to make lukewarm tea.