Thursday, December 8th, 2022

“Foreigner Friendly” web design is desperately needed in Global Japan

“Ha, ha, ha, look at the funny Japanese website.”

I swear if I see another post having a pop at the 1990s aesthetic I’ll scream. I get it, you’d design a website differently. And yes, the layout is a bit antiquated. Sure, the mobile experience seems to involve a lot of pinching to see tiny text and swiping to find bits and bobs. But have you ever watched a loved one hunting down the latest deals on a flyer on Line?

There is a serious point, of course. Sometimes Japan’s web design does lag a little. I say “a little”, I mean a lot. It does seem as though quite a few businesses launched their websites before the iPhone was invented, and did nothing with them since.

Behind the scenes there also seems to be something amiss. The screenshot below are from my local airport’s website. Visit in Japanese and you’ll see a not-too-shabby, mobile friendly website. Visit in English on a mobile phone and I wish you the best of luck.

Screen shot of Kobe Airport website designed for mobile in Japanese
Screenshot of the Kobe Airport website in Japanese, showing a clean and mobile friendly design.
Screenshot of Kobe Airport website in English, showing non-responsive web design
Screenshot of the English language version of the Kobe Airport website, which is stuck in the 1990s.

 (What’s worse is the copyright notice on some of the English pages is dated 2018, suggesting this problem has been sitting around for 4 years).

Now I know you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of foreigners passing through Kobe Airport. It’s a domestic airport that feeds out to Tokyo, Nagasaki, Sapporo and a few other places within Japan. Maybe the demand for English, Korean and Mandarin information isn’t high enough to demand reworking of the site.

Two things stand out:

First, as Kobe tries to attract international businesses and tourism, having one of the key transport gateways fail so badly is a bit rubbish.

Second, it means someone cocked up the original design of the site by failing to anticipate the non-Japanese micro sites might need updating.

So, should we call out dodgy Japanese web design? Yes, I think we should. 

Should we do it in such a belittling way? いいえ。

My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction. Find out more.