Back in May, when I was at Fukuoka Airport 福岡空港 waiting for my flight to Taiwan, I was interviewed by a representative from the Japan National Tourism Organization 国際観光振興機構 about my almost-concluded visit to the country. When I was asked about my favorite activities in Japan, I answered "sightseeing". Well, it seems I'm in the minority, according to JNTO's survey of foreign tourists in 2009. As the Yomiuri Shimbun 読売新聞 reported (via the Daily Yomiuri ザ・デイリー読売 http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T100813003123.htm), "food" was the number one pick, beating out "shopping" as the most enjoyable aspect of their trips to Japan. No doubt the results for 2010 won't be much different.
The most popular foods were sushi 寿司, rāmen ラーメン and sashimi 刺身, in that order. I was interested in this sentence from the article:
"Rāmen was particularly popular with tourists from Taiwan, according to the survey."
There are a couple of ironies worth noting here. The first is that while the word "rāmen" is usually translated as "Chinese-style noodles" in Japan, here in Taiwan "la mien" 拉麺 is considered a quintessential Japanese dish. The other concerns flavor. Taiwanese are afraid to add salt to the noodles, yet they have no hesitation when it comes to employing oil. The result is that Taiwanese la mien is far oilier and blander in taste than Japanese rāmen. A number of Taiwanese tourists (at least judging from discussions I've had with many of my adult students) who visit Japan find the taste of Japanese cuisine to be "too strong" (!), and express a preference for the bland pseudo-Japanese grub they dine on in Taiwan (!!).
I can relate to that. After all, Chinese food in the U.S. is much better than anything you would find in China, Hong Kong or Taiwan. ;-)