New Survey Reveals Top Tourist Troubles in Japan

New Survey Reveals Top Tourist Troubles in Japan

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Frustrations for tourists in Japan
Pictures: きののこ / PIXTA(ピクスタ); Canva
What do tourists struggle with the most in Japan? A new survey by the Japanese government contains some intriguing answers.

Japan is known as the land of convenience. However, good can always be better. A new survey reveals what Japan could do better when it comes to making life easier for tourists – and what it’s already doing right.

The survey

Man and woman lost and confused while traveling
Picture: ayakono / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Japan is set to make a ton of money off of tourism in 2024. In March, the country saw over three million tourists in a month – a new record since it re-opened tourism after the global health crisis. The boom isn’t without friction, however, as some locals complain of badly behaved tourists. Some cities have even cordoned off famous tourist spots to avoid problems.

But what do the tourists think of their experience here? The Japan Tourism Agency (JTA), a part of the Japanese government’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, found out by surveying 4,012 tourists across five airports – Narita, Haneda, Kansai, New Chiba, and Fukuoka.

Most respondents (60%) were between their 20s and 30s, with the majority reflecting Japan’s usual mix of tourists – i.e., the majority were from China, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the US. For 33.1%, it was their first time visiting Japan. The rest had been to Japan twice (17.4%), three times (11.5%), or more.

A trashy issue

JNTO report on issues tourists have when traveling in Japan
Source: Japan Tourism Agency

JTA runs this survey annually. In the survey conducted in 2019, a full 38.6% of respondents said that they had no issues visiting Japan. After that, however, the top issue was the lack of garbage cans for throwing out trash.

In this new survey conducted in 2023, garbage cans remain the top concern. A full 30.1% of respondents said that the lack of places to discard trash was a bother.

Unfortunately for tourists, the lack of garbage cans in major Japanese cities is a feature, not a bug. Many cities removed them after the deadly sarin gas attacks perpetrated by the Aum Shinrikyo cult in 1995. The Japanese government pushed to remove even more after the September 11th, 2001 attacks on American targets.


The number of people who said they had no complaints about their visit to Japan dropped compared to 2019. Only 29.7% of folks said they didn’t have any issues.

What we have here is a failure to communicate

Japanese woman serving some white dude
Picture: SAMURAI / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

The next largest issue for foreigners? Communication. Japan is known for its relatively low level of English education and foreign language knowledge in general. That’s reflected in tourist’s complaints, as 22.5% said they found it hard to communicate with staff at hotels, restaurants, and other facilities.

Communication is a growing issue, not just for tourists, but for the businesses that serve them. More restaurants than ever at least offer menus in English and major Asian languages, such as Korean and Mandarin (South Korean and Chinese visitors represent the largest contingent of tourists to Japan). However, with so many tourists visiting now, some are visiting locations that aren’t prepared to serve them. As a result, some restaurants are opting not to serve anyone who doesn’t speak Japanese.

Unfortunately, some tourists don’t seem to understand what it means to be a guest in someone else’s country. Restaurant staff has reported being abused or rudely dismissed by tourists when they couldn’t answer questions in English or the traveler’s native language.

Additionally, 13.4% of people surveyed said that important signs, like maps, either lacked multiple languages or were hard to understand (i.e., they were poorly translated).

Other concerns

Another top concern of travelers (12.8%) was that transportation was hard to use (pickup locations, routes, ticket purchasing methods). That’s slightly up from the 2019 survey, in which 12.2% of respondents said the same thing.

Japan did make progress in wifi coverage, however: only 9.6% of people said that staying connected was a problem, compared to 11.0% previously. (Of course, the best way to avoid any connectivity problems while in Japan is to get a pocket wifi device or an eSim.)

Only 7% said using a credit or debit card was a hassle. With more stores implementing tap to pay, the once formerly cash-dependent nation has made a lot of progress with accepting cashless payments.

So what made tourists the most happy? According to the survey, few had any issues with the tours they booked while in Japan. The country also earned high marks for the experiences visitors had with cultural attractions and with receiving education on how to conduct themselves at religious spots like shrines and temples. Japan also earned relatively high marks for its toilets, which, for some tourists, are an attraction in and of themselves.

What this means for your Japan trip

What does this mean for your next trip to Japan? The major takeaway is to be prepared to carry your trash with you until you get back to your hotel. Usually, you can accomplish this by asking for a bag (袋; fukuro) at a combini. Additionally, do your best ahead of time to plan your transportation routes.

Also be understanding of the language barrier – and be aware that using translation apps isn’t always a foolproof way to communicate. It never hurts to get a little Japanese under your belt before you travel. If you already know some Japanese, it helps to buff up on learning some of the specific terms related to food before you go out to eat.

What to read next


「訪日外国人が旅行中に困ったこと」ごみ箱の少なさ、スタッフとのコミュニケーションが増加:コロナ後初の訪日外国人旅行者受入環境に関する調査(観光庁). Honichi Labs

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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