Two years ago the U.S. State Department was warning Americans to take care traveling to Japan, the country still struggling from the effects of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power meltdown. But with a nearly 27 percent increase in U.S. travelers in 2012, according to the Japanese National Tourism Organization, Americans are once again heading east.
All Nippon Airways, the country's largest carrier, would like to see those numbers keep climbing. To help boost interest, ANA has created a virtual glimpse into the highs and lows of Japanese culture -- and a lot of things in between -- with their 360 Japan interactive website.
The 360Japan website is tongue-in-cheek fun set within three very different restaurants stage-dressed to excess: Japanese Style; the Design Architecture Lounge; and Akiba (Akihabara) Cafe. Each colorful setting can be navigated 360 degrees and is full of people and things to click on with a short explanation attached to each. Some written by native speakers, some, um, not.
Bowing, name card etiquette, Mt. Fuji art (it's a thing!), ceremonial hand clapping, necktie headbands, and lots more bits and bytes of Japanese customs and culture. It won't get you college credit for Japan 101, but the site has the sort of need-to-know information that definitely makes a visit to Japan more fun.
Canny Tokyo visitors will recognize Gonpachi in Roppongi/Azabu (English website ) as the setting for the Japanese-style venue. Run by Global Dining Inc., Gonpachi is the marketing media's go-to eating establishment for a "yes-we-are-in-Japan" setting.
The 360Japan is actually only a subset of this year's ANA marketing centerpiece: "Let's Do Japan".
I guess nobody at the ad agency mentioned the slang interpretation of that phrase. Too late now.
Click on the Let's Do Japan website and have a look around. Go on. I'll wait...
Right? Go home ad men, you're drunk.
The only person you might see dressed like this is the 'Aficionado' -- which is a nice way of saying 'anime/game freak most likely to be found in a maid cafe.' People love to CosPlay in Akihabara, both visitors and locals. My favorite is the guy who walks around in a robot costume made entirely of cardboard boxes. Not painted or anything, just boxes.
Hopefully they'll be adding more content because right now, compared to 360 Japan, 'Do Japan' is as thin as a Shibuya 109 Building shop girl. (That's pretty thin.)
Definitely thinner than the girls at the 109 building...
Though the jogging map with the Executive is handy and the manganizer app with the Aficionado that lets you turn your picture into a manga-style drawing and story is fun.
ANA has one other info-Japan website "Is Japan Cool?" (Why is it a question?) The site was recently updated to kick off its third year. Passionate about noodles? Go to the new slurp-worthy ramen page with a menu of all the best known ramen dishes around the country.
If you seriously are planning a trip, spend time at the Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO) website with regional travel guides and a special 'Affordable Japan' section. Also Tokyo Time Out online has fun, weird and wonderful info for the Tokyo-bound.
ANA had a tough time this year with the grounding of their shiny new fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners. Recently they've been given the go ahead for test flights and should soon be cleared for passengers again. Nobody does customer service like the Japanese and the airline has set up a website to answer any fears Japanese travelers may have regarding the refitted aircraft.
Actually, my fear is that I might have to sit next to one of the guys from the 'Do Japan' campaign. Especially Mr. Executive with the plastic pine trees on his kimono. Those armrests are way too narrow for that stuff, bro.