Information Centers in the Sky

Though it may sound like a Beatles’ lyric, it is not a good thing.
Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Japan is a crowded country. They do use just about every inch of their land for some functional purpose (except for the thousands of acres of imperial parkland, but people rarely mention that). Of the space they have left available to build buildings, the Japanese cram their cities with tall buildings with stores, restaurants and offices up to every level. This means that some famous soba noodle joint that the guidebook recommends could be up on the third floor of an office building. Not exactly what you would expect, but given a good guide, some help from the locals, and good luck, you might be able to find the place in time for dinner.

Now let’s say you are a non-Japanese-speaking tourist who has just arrived in town on a train and the guidebook you have is a few months out of date, so that the somewhat ambiguously described location of the tourist information center is no longer valid. No big deal, since a country that seems to welcome foreign travellers with with “Welcome Inn Reservation” and other great tourist services, would clearly make it easy for tourists to find the information they need. Wrong! The country would instead decide to place its Kyoto TIC on the ninth floor of an 11-floor department store with only a small sign hanging from the ceiling next to arrows for twelve other major places to go to in its busiest train station. The TIC in Tokyo was on the tenth floor of a random office building and the Kimi information center was on the eighth floor of another random building.

Want to welcome visitors? Give them a big sign in multiple languages pointing to a well-marked office on the ground floor of a major transportation hub, like, let’s say, the central Tokyo train station.