An article about how to navigate away from the crowds that are even starting to invade rural Japan.
In a humorous article for the Atlantic by an “old Japan hand”, Charles C. Mann, the author lists three Laws for how not to travel in Japan:
During a trip in 2006 in Shikoku - during Golden Week - he tested the Laws, and found that Law No. 1 is “definitely not true”, Law No. 2 is “definitely true”, and Law No. 3 is “slightly true”.
As a proponent of travel to rural Japan, I have to disagree with his conclusion on Law No. 3. The Law is not even “slightly true”! :-)
As Mann notes, many foreigners who have visited rural Japan finds it to be “as free of English speakers as, say, the Ozarks are of Japanese speakers. You will get lost, is the advice. Terribly, terribly lost.”
That is the idea behind Law No. 3. No English, no fun. But Law Number 1 (Do Not Rent a Car) is, as we shall see, also related to this. I have to tell you, Mr Mann’s article has gotten a little outdated here. The real reason for Rule No. 1, he says, is the terrible maps car rental companies will give you. Not only will you get lost because people can’t speak English, but because Japanese road maps are incomprehensible. Well, this was 2006. Now we have Google/Apple Maps, and they get smarter every day!
New Law No. 3: Do Definitely Go Into Rural Japan, Rent a Car if You Like, But Make Sure to Use Google Maps
Otherwise you may get lost. Terribly, terribly lost.
On the other hand, getting lost in a controlled way is fun! Just make sure to have a back-up plan - Google Maps in your pocket. As Mann says himself:
“Law No. 2 (Avoid Golden Week) is definitely true. But we had a terrific time nonetheless.”
They got to Japan during Golden Week, got lost, suffered from communication mix-up, and yet they had a blast on the countryside. I believe the only Law they shouldn’t have broken was the Golden Week one. So, what is “Golden Week”? It is the time of the year when many Japanese workers get about a week off around the end of April and beginning of May. Everything and everywhere is crowded, crowded, crowded. Still, the Mann family had a “terrific trip”, in spite of the bad timing, the state of the average English proficiency level in rural Japan, and the bad map.
Imagine if he had used Google Maps! A thing that will recommend the best route, guide you there in real time, and even talk! It will save your bacon, but there is one vital thing to remember here: Even today, you will probably have trouble accessing the Internet in Japan with your phone. So, Law number 3 needs to be modified:
Modified New Law No. 3: Do Definitely Go Into Rural Japan, Rent a Car if You Like, But Make Sure to Use Google Maps on a Mobile Phone That Can Connect to the Internet.
This will mean you need to rent a mobile wi-fi router. Just search for “wi-fi rental Japan” and you will find page after page listing rental services. Do this before you travel here!
Now, there is an even easier way to get around Laws No. 1 and 3: Go by taxi. On this site, you will find Googe Map links for every important listing, as well as the Japanese place names/business names, along with the English ones. Just show this to the taxi driver, and access the map to guide him if you need.
In summary, you should definitely break Law No. 3, but remember, even rural Japan is getting crowded these days. So here is another hint: Let’s say you want to travel to Gifu Prefecture, to experience authentic, rural Japan. Great choice! Now, Google for “travel in Gifu”, and you’ll find lots of established travel advice sites. Some list hundreds of comments and reviews of various sight-seeing spots.
Now, you are not going to be the first foreigner to visit those places. In fact, you’ll run into other foreign tourists all over the place, lining up to buy street food, endure the crowds in the souvenir shops. Who needs souvenirs anyway? If you truly want to experience authentic Japan, go somewhere not listed prominently in those guides. With the publishing of discovertajimi.com, you now have access to plenty of guidance in English to a place that is still not exploited by the tourism industry, yet accessible in terms of information. Explore this site, take your time. You can even explore the town in VR.
So, come to Tajimi, lose the crowds, break the Third Law of Tourism, and get lost! When you feel you need a helping hand, we’ll have you covered.
Hans o. Karlsson
Chief blogger for Tajimi Tourist Association.