National Go Center in Washington, D.C. My daughter took part in the Winter Warmer Tournament held there on Saturday (yesterday).
Regular readers of this blog (all two or three of you) will know that I occasionally post
To me, the word "touristy" conjures up an image of a place or attraction created solely for the purposes of attracting tourist cash. Takayama, for example, has a long history as a castle town, with one section of the city containing a number of well-preserved old buildings. In addition, the city is also host to a couple of famous annual festivals. So it's understandable why many people want to visit there. On the other hand, there is Mojikō Retro 門司港レトロ in Kitakyūshū 北九州. While there are some historic buildings from the Meiji 明治時代 and Taishō 大正時代 periods, it only became a tourist destination from the mid-1990's, when the waterfront was redeveloped to include a hotel (where we stayed last December), a cute drawbridge and lots of shops. That isn't to say you shouldn't visit Mojiko Retro (we liked it), but it isn't as authentically historic as, say, poor old Takayama. Hearing "touristy" used so derisively also suggests a place where people go mainly to eat, shop or buy souvenirs, with some artificial "sights" created to give them something to see while spending their hard-earned yen, dollars, euros, NT etc. Again, Takayama doesn't really fit that definition.
But after reading a lot of these comments on the Thorn Tree pages (with Nikkō 日光, Nara 奈良 and other well-known spots being similarly labeled), it became clear that "touristy" really means "too many tourists from Western countries". Many people don't seem to mind if a spot is crowded with locals - "Ise's 伊勢 very touristy, but mostly with Japanese tourists, giving it a different feel from somewhere like (you guessed it) Takayama" was one comment that stood out for its honesty. The corollary is "off the beaten path", as in "very few visitors from Western countries", even though places such as Hagi 萩 or Matsue 松江, to give but two examples, are hardly unknown to Japanese vacationers (or your humble scribe - see my blog entries from January of this year and June 2008, respectively, for example).
So would-be travelers to Japan from Western countries seek advice on avoiding places in Japan where they might see too many people like themselves, and hope to visit areas where there aren't many people who look like them. But what should they expect? Tourism to Japan has boomed in recent years (almost 27 million visitors in 2017), meaning these folks are just wanting to jump on a bandwagon that shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. They want to go to Japan, too, but at the same time avoid places where too many Western-looking faces will interfere with their Instagram photo ops of the fantasy Japanese world that they've conjured up from too many anime アニメ episodes, coffee table books, tourist brochures and YouTube videos. Never mind the fact that, depending on where they go, many of the Asian tourists they will see there are likely not to be Japanese - after all, Japan is also very popular with visitors from China, South Korea, Taiwan and southeast Asia. But, hey, as long as they're not white, so what, right? We live in the era of the hipster, where every experience has to be an "authentic" one.
Orion Beer オリオンビール at Maneki Neko
So my advice to the posters on Thorn Tree is simple - do some research, decide on places that look interesting to you, and then go. Don't worry about things being "touristy" or whether or not you are on or off "the beaten path". After all, Japan was "discovered" a long time ago, long before there were maid cafes in Akihabara 秋葉原. Even way back in January 1989, when I first arrived in Japan (three weeks after the death of Emperor Hirohito 昭和天皇), I was considered a later arrival to the party. So remember this before you go: should you succeed in getting "off the beaten path", the locals aren't likely to get too excited about your presence there because there's a good chance that a lot of foreigners (including myself!) were there well before you (perhaps before you were even born). Have a good trip!