Sayonara, Yokoso Japan

The Japanese government has announced a new international tourism slogan:

Japan. Endless Discovery.

Great, at least this time it’s in English! It’s similar to many other simple catch phrases used by other countries: “Malaysia, truly Asia,” “Seoul’s got Soul,” and so on. The Japanese-language slogan is more of more of a mouthful and literally translates as “Japan, a country where you will encounter endless discovery.” There’s also a new logo with a stylish but classy combo of cherry blossoms and the Japanese Rising Sun.

I like “Endless Discovery” because it has a message that happens to be true. As a foreigner living in Japan most days there’s something new to discover. This message could help put new visitors in the right frame of mind to enjoy themselves. Japan’s not a country like Thailand where you can head straight to the resort and not worry about foreign customs. It’s an adventure in many respects – new food, few English speakers, complicated train system, etc. (and the area outside of Tokyo is even harder to navigate), so why not put a positive face on what Japan’s got to offer?

I’d like to give Maehara and his people some credit for picking a slogan that actually makes sense. It’s comforting to think the people in power might actually understand the outside world a little bit. It’s one big, noticeable difference between the parties.

This will replace the old slogan Yokoso! Japan, announced in 2003 to much confusion by most people who had no idea yokoso means “welcome” in Japanese. Well-known Japan commentator Alex Kerr was especially critical, saying it might as well be “blah blah blah Japan.” It’s been a favorite target of mockery among many in the gaijin community and can currently be seen on taxis, buses, posters, and even transport minister Maehara’s lapel pin. You’ll be missed! The “Visit Japan Campaign 2010” site is still up, so you can soak up some of the goodness before it closes. There’s other questionable language on the site, like “Yokoso Bazar” and “Revalue Nippon.”

Perhaps the best promotion in the campaign was this ad by then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi:

“We will welcome you with a hearty Yokoso and smiiiile.”

I’ll never understand why that didn’t work.

So farewell, Yokoso Japan! You will soon be yet another relic of the past, just like those Tokyo Olympic 2016 ads and the wanted posters for Lindsey Ann Hawker’s killer.


Just as a bit of speculation, some of you might remember that the DPJ has relied on  American firms for PR (Fleishman-Hillard in 2005 and possibly today), while the LDP and bureaucracy often relied on domestic firms (Prap Japan in 2005, ad giant Dentsu in 2009). Could that have had made a difference?

39 thoughts on “Sayonara, Yokoso Japan”

  1. No, this is a huge improvement! They’ve gone from utterly clueless and tone-deaf to merely stabbing in the dark.

  2. It’s hard not to read about something like this and refrain from being a wag (so, I’ll get to that soon), particularly if you’ve been here for awhile. As a tourism thing, it’s bland, but fine. Any culture offers endless discovery, but Japan certainly is more involved in its own notions that the culture is incomprehensible to outsiders than most countries.

    A more truthful one would be, “Japan, come with money, leave when spent.” Japan wants tourists’ yen, but it doesn’t want foreigners. There. There’s that waggish response!

  3. Yokoso Japan should have been no worse than G’day Australia, Cead Mile Failte Ireland or Aloha H’a’w’a’i’i’i”’i’.

    Endless Discovery is quite aspirational, but the logo is a bit corny and the Rising Sun perhaps has some historical baggage with many nations.

  4. Those who see some historical baggage with the rising sun may never even think about coming to Japan on holidays,Ken.

  5. The word “endless” is negative because I hear “end” as in “terminal”. I know endless means non-terminal but still the inference is bold for me. I would prefer “discover Japan to infinity and beyond” – inspired by pixar.

  6. I’m with Adamu. Not only do I think that it is a fine slogan, it is also how I feel.

  7. Although Koizumi was way cooler than Hatoyama is, I have to give Hatoyama credit for being much better at speaking English.

    Now, what’s the current InTrade line on when Maehara becomes PM?

  8. It’s not bad. I didn’t particularly mind “Yokoso Japan” although I’ve also made fun of it before now. It wasn’t a great slogan but a bigger problem was the failure to agree on what exactly what they were trying to achieve. It’s been pointed out many times that a lot of the campaign was frequently designed to please its creators and sponsors more than its target audience. With a better thought-out campaign, “Yokoso Japan” wouldn’t have seemed such a hollow promise. After all, Britain’s tourism industry has survived “Cool Britannia” and “”UK OK”.

    I do get the impression that some lessons have been learned. This isn’t exclusively down to the new administration but it probably has had some effect. I recall a conversation last year with a METI official. He said it hadn’t gone unnoticed that, while the efforts of the Agriculture Ministry to promote Japanese food and culture through the so-called “sushi police” plan had drawn heavy criticism, Michelin, a private, foreign and commercial operation, had achieved substantially more with their guide books.

    Not only had Michelin caught the imagination of a worldwide foreign audience, it attracted the particular attention of wealthy foreigners. In July 2007, METI published a white paper on how to develop the market for high net worth tourists which never once considered promoting the country as a gourmet destination. Ironically, the research for the paper was concluded just a few days before the launch of the first Michelin Tokyo guide in March of the same year.

    There also appears to be a lot more realism about which countries are likely to provide the tourists to meet Japan’s wildly ambitious tourism targets (currently, 20 million visitors a year by 2016 & 25 million by 2020). That was a major failing of the Yokoso campaign.

  9. I totally approve, because yes, the idea of neverending discovery may be the best thing about Japan (and more specifically, Tokyo).

  10. “Alex Kerr was especially critical”

    Really? You don’t say!

    I rather like the new slogan, but there was nothing wrong with the old one.

  11. As far as any tourist slogan goes, it’s not bad – I mean, if we were asking for “honesty” (however the more cynical amongst us believe it to be) then no one would write anything for any tourist industry – but I think this one is pretty accurate so agree with Adam – I am sure any culture/country has the same kind of merits, but it certainly represents my feelings about Japan, as an outsider.

  12. To snarkily update Aceface’s comment, I could suggest “Japan: Love It Then Leave It.”
    But the new one is a huge improvement, one I agree with even after nearly 20 years (though I might find the same if I lived in the UK, or France, for example), and I didn’t really hate the “Yokoso” slogan in concept (though “Irasshai Japan” might have been better).

  13. Jade Oc: ” I didn’t really hate the “Yokoso” slogan in concept (though “Irasshai Japan” might have been better).”

    How better? It doesn’t make sense.

  14. Isn’t Yokoso ever so slightly better-known in the West? I remember seeing it in a commercial somewhere before I started studying Japanese, and it seems like one of those words people use when they want to convey the word “welcome” in a multitude of languages.

    A better phrase might have been “sumo sushi tsunami JAPAN”

  15. “Japan: For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.”

    Everyone knows that one, right?

  16. I don’t think “yokoso” is well known in the UK.

    Whereas every high street sushi and bento chain in London has trained its staff to call out “irrasshaimase” to give an impression of authentic Japanesey-ness.

    Endless discovery is better, though. The logo is nice. The Japanese flag is one of the strongest graphic designs in the world. Its starkness is nicely softened by the overlaid petals.

    Will they use the same phrase in French, Spanish, Mandarin and so on?

  17. For the first timers. JAPAN:Endless Discovery

    For the old timers. JAPAN:Endless Discontent

  18. There were a few other announcements on the tourism front which haven’t yet made it into English. The Foreign Ministry’s Japan Foundation runs a series of cultural programmes in offices overseas but these are never formally combined with tourism promotion activities. The plan now is to merge Japan Foundation offices with Tourist Agency offices, starting with Paris. If all goes well, these “one stop shops” will be set up in around 25 cities over the next 2-3 years.

    There’s also been a lot of movement on the medical tourism front with several hospitals taking part in trial programmes. METI has just proposed the creation of a new medical tourist visa (医療滞在ビザ), on the grounds that current short-stay visas are often not long enough for a patient needing several procedures or extensive aftercare.

  19. Oh, and JTB markets Saitama to overseas tourists under the slogan “True Japan Saitama”

  20. I guess this means the “Yokoso Japan” Suica cards are soon to become collectible. I wonder what the Endless Discovery ones will look like. Not that I’m denshaota, not at all….

  21. Being once a resident of Tokorozawa,the slogan “True Japan Saitama” sounds much more close to the reality than “Japan:Endless Discovery”.

  22. I was rather fond of Yokoso Japan, actually. I vaguely remember that I watched a video on “The making of Yokoso Japan”, and the people responsible for it came up with the slogan when they were pretty drunk during nijikai. I know, surprise, surprise. My favorite moment from the video was the suggestion of “I Heart Japan” after the NYC logo.

  23. Aceface, having lived in Ageo, I too can vouch for the statement “True Japan Saitama”.

    I mean, aside from the fact that Saitama is landlocked and all.

  24. Maybe “Endless discovery” is a reference to how long court cases can drag on over here?

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