From Japan: Waikiki and the Japanese Tourists

Japanese Tourists

Back in the 1980′s, the Japanese economy was booming.  With all this money and looking for ways to spend it, many turned away from the local hot spring resorts and began experiencing travels abroad.  While neighbouring countries such as Korea and China were popular choices for a holiday, Hawaii dominated – beautiful resorts, safe, and only a 7 hour plane ride away.  And Waikiki, located on the South shore of O’ahu, became a prime target for Japanese tourists, with its white sandy beaches and shopping districts conveniently placed nearby.

Over time, things continued running in a cycle.  More Japanese tourists visited Waikiki, so the local shops catered to their tastes and studied the language, which only brought in more tourists.  Now, the rumour in Japan is that “you don’t need to speak English if you visit Waikiki.”

I recently returned from a holiday in Hawaii, which included a 5-day stay in Waikiki, and found this rumour to be 100% true.  From bus drivers to restaurant waitresses, I heard “Irashaimase” and “Arigatou gozaimasu” and “Ki o tsukete kudasai.”  I, of course, was spoken to in English.  But my girlfriend, whose English ability is rather limited, felt confident to roam around the city on her own, using Japanese to order and buy things, while I stayed by the pool and played video games.

And it’s not just the language.  The stores themselves are obviously catering to Japanese women, who are more prone to travel overseas than men (I don’t know the exact statistics, but my guess would be 8-1).  Louis Vuitton, Coach, Prada, Gucci, and about a million cosmetic stores.  I even found a Book-Off, a Japanese shop which buys and sells used books, games and DVDs.  The lady at the counter who sold me some games spoke very little English.

Japanese touristsDue to part of my Italian background and having been depraved of real Italian food for so long, I was anxious to sink my teeth into some veal fried in tomato sauce, or feast on a huge plate of ravioli or lasagna.  We went to an “Italian” restaurant in Waikiki, but unfortunately the menu was just like those here in Japan – paper-thin crusted pizza with corn toppings, and bowls of spaghetti served with tuna.

Overall, I enjoyed my stay in Waikiki.  The beach, though crowded, was beautiful with waters as warm as a pool.  I even managed to find a Gamestop and make the owners happy with my vast number of Xbox game purchases.  And riding that helicopter over the volcano was pretty cool!

If you’re Japanese and looking to travel abroad, but worried about the language barrier, then Waikiki’s the place for you.  and if you’re North American who wants to experience Japan but worried about the problems with communication, then Waikiki’s the place for you.

It’s like Shibuya with a beach.


written by Damon Finos