Japan: No room at inn for foreigners

Most Japanese inns and hotels that didn’t have foreign guests last year don’t want any in the future, according to a government survey released Thursday.

While the majority of such establishments do accept foreigners, the survey showed the country’s more traditional inns are not as hospitable, even as the government mounts a major campaign to draw more tourists from abroad.

Japan’s countryside is dotted with thousands of small, old-fashioned lodgings called “ryokans.” Many are family run and offer only traditional Japanese food and board, such as raw seafood delicacies, simple straw-mat floors and communal hot spring baths.

Some such establishments have barred foreign guests in the past, leading to lawsuits and government fines for discrimination.

The survey carried out by the Ministry of Internal Affairs shows that 72 percent of establishments that didn’t have foreign customers in the past year don’t want any, and the majority are ryokans and hotels with fewer than 30 rooms. Such businesses said they are unable to support foreign languages and that their facilities are not suited to foreigners.

While more than 60 percent of the country’s inns and hotels hosted foreign guests last year, the results indicate it may be hard to expand this number.

Tokyo spends about $35 million per year on its “Visit Japan Campaign,” which aims to draw 10 million foreigners to the country for trips and business in the year 2010, up from 8.35 million last year.

Campaign spokesman Ryo Ito said in general Japanese inns have been accepting of foreigners, noting that some now take foreign currencies and have staff that can speak multiple languages. He said the dire state of the global economy was more of a concern.

“The business environment has become very harsh,” he said.

The government survey was done by mail earlier this year, and 7,068 establishments responded.