Forget Mt. Fuji, Kyoto and other common sightseeing destinations. Many foreign tourists are heading for off-the-beaten-path spots where they can enjoy a real taste of daily life in Japan.
Showcasing food menu items made with wax for display in front of restaurants may be unique to Japan, which probably is why tourists want to try their hand at it.
Amy and her 12-year-old son Jordan attended a workshop at Ganso Shoku-hin Sanpuru-ya, a kitchenware store on Kappabashi Dogu-dori street , Tokyo. Amy, a 48-year-old visitor from Seattle, made samples of shrimp tempura. "It looks real, and every piece is beautiful," she said as she admired her work.
According to the shop, elaborate and realistic-looking samples as well as sushi magnets, are popular among foreign tourists. "They seem to be fascinated with all the various colors used in Japanese food," an employee said.
Japanese farms are another popular destination. In December, 50 people from Thailand boarded a tour bus to visit Migita Persimmon Picking Garden in Kurume. It was something they never tried before.
A Thai visitor, 36, picked 20 fuyugaki persimmons at the farm. "I'm going to give them to my friends and family when I return home," he said. A single persimmon costs about 100 baht in Thailand, about 330 yen or $3, about four times more than Chinese persimmons.
Though Thailand is a major exporter of fruits, such fruits as peaches, melons and strawberries grown in Japan are regarded as luxury items in Thailand due to their taste, shape and color, according to the Thai tourists, who added that the fruits are popular among the middle class.
Factories are also on the tourists' itinerary. At the end of last year, 33 students from other Asian countries and Africa visited Nippon Steel & Sumi-tomo Metal Corp.'s Yawata Steel Works in Kitakyushu. They were stunned by the organizational structure and atmosphere.
"I was impressed by the disciplined, devoted workers. This is Japan's strength," said a 38-year-old Sri Lankan.
"I was interested in the corporate history of combating environmental pollution," a 29-year-old Filipino said.
Overseas visitors looking for souvenirs often make a beeline for Don Quijote stores in Tokyo, as the general discount giant's outlets are open until midnight and crammed with piles of miscellaneous goods.
"The stores are filled with interesting stuff, and the prices are cheap. I've never seen shops like this before," said a 39-year-old hotel manager from Thailand. He bought some bags of green tea at the flagship store in Ginza, Tokyo.
Don Quijote offers a wide range of products from watches and bags to detergent and snacks. The stores are like a theme park for foreigners to observe Japanese consumption habits.
According to the Japan Tourism Agency's survey of foreign tourists, more than 70 percent said experiencing the Japanese lifestyle was satisfying, while more than 50 percent said they enjoyed wandering along the streets and shopping.
Offering a taste of daily life in Japan seems to be an integral part of the nation's soft power.
- The Yomiuri Shimbun