Do you ever think that sometimes travel can be over-planned? Sometimes the best experiences just happen without any planning.
By relying on traditional travel apps you always end up going to the same places everybody else has, and the bias is always towards what other foreigners think, so the end result is that some of the best experiences you can have are missed. Do we really want to go where everyone else does, just because it seems to be the "safe" choice?
What if you just discovered an interesting place, but due to the language barrier, you had no idea if was a place you would like, or if you could even order on the menu?
Let's face it - Japanese is a difficult language. Even if you have studied if for quite some time, navigating menus and even recognizing the names of local dishes can really be a challenge. If you know very little or no Japanese, it can be almost impossible to navigate a menu that is not in your language. Even fluent speakers and native Japanese can also have difficulties with local cuisine which can be totally unfamiliar.
Most of us know that Japanese culture is polite, complex and nuanced. There are many rules of behavior, that if not observed, can cause unwelcome feelings from hosts. Although most Japanese don't expect perfection here, it is sometimes difficult to know what the unwritten rules are.
As a result, some proprietors actively discourage foreign visitors. Others have taken measures to help educate guests, but these efforts are relatively rare and inconsistent.
At the same time, tourism in the destinations less traveled by foreign tourists has been suffering hard times. Attracting foreign guests can be seen as an opportunity for some, and a risk for others. Either way, it is difficult for them to both attract new foreign guests and to ensure that the guest's behavior is consistent and not disruptive of their core local base.
The Result Is Iwakan (違和感)
The combination of the language gap in cultural barriers result in Iwakan.
Iwakan is defined as an uncomfortable feeling, feeling out of place or a general sense of discomfort. I think we all feel this from time to time when we travel, but even more so in a place like Japan given that are are so many more unknowns.
Iwakan can be felt by either party - for example the service staff at a restaurant, or the guest. Iwakan is contagious as well - the discomfort of either one will spread to the other. Some people have the natural ability to minimize these feelings regardless of linguistic gap; sadly most of us are not so gifted and the avoidance of this feeling can cause us to bypass unique experiences, especially in places that are less visited by mainstream tourism.
Introducing Tabitori Travel Network
Tabitori Travel Network is a curated affiliation of service providers (restaurants, lodging, events, attractions, etc.) that are certified "foreigner friendly". Members of the network will have been selected as welcoming to foreign guests. Both service providers and guests will also have materials that are designed to reduce cultural friction, such as standardized menu translations, use guides and cultural tips. Guests can understand what are the unique local and regional aspects of of their experience are, and the proper etiquette of being a polite guest. Service providers will also understand the unique feelings of foreign guests and what to expect.