Well and truly fucked.
I'll eschew my usual rant about poor service in the world's only international language, for money-dropping tourists, much less residents. If you've been here for any time, you don't need me to recap. From hotels to tourist-agency websites, English is not available as it is in any other country with a fraction of the money or the tourists.
But this posting is about an exception, of a sort.
Hakuba, and Niseko, are where you want to go. (If you want to go hiking, or much of anything else, you are still on your own). There are even restaurants which do not make hamburgers of pork, cafés where you can get properly pulled coffee, and real-estate agents where you will not need a word of Japanese. You can find accommodation that is heated, charges by the room (not the person), desk staff who can communicate with you, and do this through English websites. If you can afford a second home, you can get one in Hakuba just as easily, using only English. However, though English language realtors will list only homes which have insulation, central-heating, and are built better than a kennel, for these reasons the prices are multiples of 'The Bubble' era besso.
Why Hakuba and Niseko? Aussies. Instead of flying to Whistler with money to spend, or using a work-holiday visa in Canada, the Nagano Olympics got the word out to Aussies there was somewhere half as far away as Whistler, with women half the avoir du pois and twice as GGG, and a culture who drank like Australians, but aren't as false as Canadians. Great for Hakuba's tax-base, and the Australians who've put money into inns, restaurants and bars, the Japanese married to them, and the rare Japanese entrepreneur who meets the foreign market. About that...
There are damned few Japanese meeting the foreign market. Sigh. It's separate sets of tourists and establishments, apart from the ski-hills (where I might add, the English signage is bad enough I got burned buying the wrong ticket - next time I'll read the Japanese). I am sure there are exceptions, because I came across one, but they are few.
I was very happy with the Japanese owned and run Mimizuku Onsen, because they do everything right:
- most signs are in Japanese, English, Korean and Chinese
- even the sign telling how to bathe is also in Japanese - classy
- the lady on duty came out to help me with the ticket machine, even though it had English*
- 'internationalization' was managed without changing any of the charm of a good local onsen
The twats in Kasumigaseki and Marunouchi should, but never will, learn much from this business.
*I do not remember what language she started to help me in, as we talked later in Japanese, but she was certainly willing to help me in English.