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.
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.
After introducing the tools, attendees practice using the tools with a partner.
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.
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.
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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