Friday, January 23, 2009

The Japanese Tourist

The Japanese tourist with the 35 mm camera slung around his neck is a popular stereotype; yet the stereotype is built upon the reality that Japanese tourists really get around!

The Japanese love to travel because of three important facts:

  • The Japanese live on tiny rocks known as islands
  • Everyone around them has the same background as they do (it can get boring!)
  • It's cheaper to fly to L.A. than to take a domestic flight in Japan
Americans can think of it this way: just imagine that everybody looked like your Uncle Charlie, the U.S. was as big as California (yet chopped up into islands) and it was more expensive to fly from San Diego to San Francisco, than it was to fly from L.A. to Paris - you get the idea!

One also can't discount the hipness factor, that cosmopolitan stamp of having been abroad that means a lot to the Japanese. Most Americans don't care much whether their neighbor has been to London or Paris: some people like to travel, others don't.

One seems a bit more "worldly" and interesting in Japan if they've been abroad. If the Lost Generation of the '20s had Paris as their bohemian playground, the hip young Japanese have Las Vegas and Los Angeles as their post-modern shopping mecca. They happily inhabit the fine restaurants of Santa Monica and the buffet lines of the Vegas strip taking snapshots of their dinners (the portion size is always a crowd pleaser) and nodding in wonder at the excesses of America.

Japanese tourists come in all shapes and sizes, of course, but living in a country where everybody looks pretty much like you do, tends to stoke the fires of curiosity about the world.

And one must always keep in mind the contradiction that lies at the heart of Japanese culture since the end of World War II: the Japanese consider Japanese culture to be special, unique and rather wonderful, yet they are somewhat ashamed and self conscious at how "different" they and their culture are in relation to foreigners. You don't believe me? If you can successfully use chopsticks in Japan, the Japanese will treat as if you'd just rattled off 39 Haiku from memory.

It's worth emphasizing as well that Japanese tourists are brave, adventurous and curious about the word (particularly Japanese women, who speak English and other foreign languages much better than the men) in a rather refreshing way.

Attend the running of the bulls in Spain, go to the KFC museum in Kentucky, trek in South America or go surfing in Hawaii and it's a sure bet that you'll run into Japanese tourists, who may or may not cameras slung from their neck.

1 comment:

TimGiangiobbe said...

Never realized the domestic flights were so expensive.I suppose the tourist industry is involved.Have Fun