Running Communication Workshops for Ryokan Staff

This week I thought I’d write about something I’ve been involved with for around 1 year now. As part of my job, I’ve been running training sessions for staff who work at ryokan, hotels and other accommodation facilities in Fukushima Prefecture to help them get used to welcoming and communicating with guests from abroad.

The number of tourists visiting Japan is increasing year by year. This phenomenon is not just limited to areas very popular with tourists such as Kyoto and Tokyo, but is occurring all throughout the country! Last year, the number of international tourists visiting and staying in Fukushima Prefecture finally reached the levels it was at before the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, and it continues to rise!

There are such amazing places to visit in Fukushima that I’m not surprised more and more people are coming to the prefecture, but the sudden rise in tourist numbers can sometimes be a source of worry for locals who work in hotels.



Although increasing the number of tourists coming to the prefecture is important, I believe it’s essential to provide staff at accommodation facilities with training that will give them confidence in their ability to impress their international guests.

To make sure that staff members at hotels and ryokan feel confident in talking to guests from abroad, I started my Ryokan Training Sessions.P1190046

I split these sessions into 2 parts. During the 1st part, I introduce some tools that staff members can use to communicate with guests from abroad even if they don’t speak English.


One of these tools is a communication board I designed after running a trial training session last year and gathering extensive feedback from those who used it. Other tools include online tools for translating basic signs and interpreting smartphone apps.いわき会場Part1-(32)

After introducing the tools, attendees practice using the tools with a partner.いわき会場Part1-(37)いわき会場Part1-(53)

I then go through a number of simple English phrases staff can use when interacting with guests. I hope that staff will help pass on the knowledge they gain during part 1 with their colleagues too!

One of the things I stress during these training sessions is that international guests don’t expect staff members to speak in 100% perfect English, and that taking a deep breath, staying calm, smiling, and speaking to guests with the English words that they remember is a much better way of dealing with the situation than trying to speak in fluent English or trying to remember if anyone there that day can speak English.南相馬会場Part1-(31)

Another important thing I try and convey during these sessions is the importance of having multilingual – or at least English – signs and posters in your hotel / ryokan.

During part 2 of these sessions, I invite non-Japanese volunteers who live in Fukushima Prefecture to attend the session and practice a number of role plays with staff members. P1190443

During these role plays, the volunteers use the communication tools I introduced in part 1. This helps to solidify the knowledge the staff members gained during part 1 about how to use the communication tools, and actually gives them experience in using them!


The volunteers also practice simple English conversations with staff members, as well as introducing staff members to the concept of ‘Yasashii Nihongo‘, which is a type of Japanese which is easy for those who have basic Japanese language knowledge to understand.


Finally, I ask the volunteers to do a feedback presentation in front of the attendees, to give them an idea of what they did well, and what things they could work on to help foreign guests feel even more welcome.

It can be difficult for Japanese people to imagine what people from abroad find confusing about Japan, so it’s important to provide an opportunity for these opinions to be shared.



In the last year or so, I’ve run training workshops all around the prefecture, and they’ll continue up to December this year (not sure about next year yet!). Staff members from many areas around Fukushima have attended to try and brush up on their communication skills.

Staff members have atteneded from areas including Iizaka Onsen, Dake Onsen, Ashinomaki Onsen, Minamiaizu Town, Iwaki Yumoto Onsen, Matsukawaura Onsen, Nakanosawa Onsen, Urabandai area just to name a few.


I’ve been quite busy with running these workshops for the last few months and wanted to share some information about my recent activities with the followers of my blog!


If you stay the night in Fukushima and see staff members using a communication board to ask you questions or help guide you around the facility, I might have made it!

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9 thoughts on “Running Communication Workshops for Ryokan Staff

  1. Zoe, this is so interesting! It’s great to hear more about what you are doing to help the ryokan owners and hotel staff interact with visitors.


  2. Well done! Yes, as far as I remember each time I was in Japan the most problem was “connecting” with the local people. I never like to go around with tourists, I always preferred to go my way finding other path and trying to have open contacts with Japanese and their culture. Japanese are a kind of shy people, they always smile even if they do not understand what you are saying… but they are much too shy to even try to answer you with few words they know.
    You are doing an amazingly fantastic job there. Bravo!
    I only hope that in the coming years, Japan will remain the way it is… as both we know that tourismus bring along not only money but unfortunately all kind of pollution (and the culture-pollution is the worst one).
    Hugs :-)claudine

    PS. the panoramic pictures you shared, are of stunning beauty. Thank you, it gives me even more desire to visit there…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Claudine – thank you for your comment!
      I know what you mean – communicating with people (especially customers!) when you’re not confident in your ability to speak a second language can be very daunting. But it’s a shame because people want to chat with Japanese staff and speak to local people! I’m hoping I can give staff confidence interacting with people from abroad – even if it takes a while! Japanese culture – and getting to know it and interact with it – is one of the many things that makes Japan such a special place to visit after all!!

      best wishes, Zoe

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I use your post on the prefecture shop to encourage people to visit and buy wonderful items from the prefecture. I came back to find the link but wow, this is fantastic. You can even advise that I will reiterate that there is never any need for perfect english. With translation apps and google and some basic english, both will get by very well but this is a fantastic idea!!!


    1. Hi Mark, thank you so much for your comment. I’m really glad that you think my blog articles have been coming in handy.
      I’ll be glad to pass on your words about perfect English not being necessary to talk to customers!! Thanks for the encouragement 🙂


  4. Hello! I had the chance to speak to you at the Excel Centre in London. It was great to meet someone who also loved the Goshikinuma. The list of things to do on this website (such as visiting a cotton loom) appeals to me more than the short limited list at the exhibition, but I was wondering if any hotels, ryokan or locals offer foraging excursions. For instance, butterbur (fuki no tou) were sprouting through the snow as we hiked around the lakes. Having the opportunity to learn about local sansai, pick and (ideally) cook or have it cooked and enjoy it would be very enticing. I’m sure others would feel the same way (especially as Noma in Copenhagen has popularised foraged food).
    Will be combing through your charming and informative blog over the coming months and really look forward to returning to Japan in April.


    1. Hello! Thank you for your comment. It was lovely to meet you too!
      I’m very glad you’ve managed to find some inspiration from my blog!

      Regarding foraging excursions, to my knowledge there aren’t any ryokan or hotel offering this kind of experience (due to the risk of bumping into a bear or inoshishi wild boar etc., and also because there are mountainous areas of Fukushima where picking wild mountain vegetables for eating is not recommended.)

      Farmers offering farm-stay experiences or people running minshuku in Okuaizu / Minamiaizu may possibly do this kind of activity with you, but it would probably be a case of you asking them when you came to stay if they’d go foraging with you, and not something you could plan in advance. Please bare in mind that many farmers and minshuku staff don’t speak English.

      Sorry I couldn’t be of much help with regards to your question about places to do foraging.
      Please let me know if you have any other questions regarding visiting Fukushima!

      Best wishes,


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