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Japan and the Vanishing American Tourist

Jun 022016
 
 By , June 2, 2016

Despite Obama visit, Japan fears decline in American tourism

A new qualitative study by the Institute for Advanced Studies titled American Boorishness and Destructive Innocence While Traveling Abroad examines why the number of Americans traveling to Japan is declining significantly.

mcdonalds japanThe Institute was hired by a concerned Japanese government. The results are not encouraging for their tourist industry.

Below are some excerpts from interviews with Americans who say they will not be returning to Japan.

Two New Yorkers returning from Japan forcefully declared they would never go back. One mentioned that “in Japan everyone was so polite, friendly, and helpful, but I soon got tired of that.” Her friend declared that she feared that after such polite, friendly, helpful treatment in Japan, she wouldn’t know how to behave properly in the Big Apple.

A man from New Jersey indicated he would not be going back to Japan: “I saw a Kabuki play. Big deal. There were some painted up men dressed as women.

“Hey, if that’s what I want to see, there are plenty of places where I can go in the good old USA. And then there was some man dressed in baggy clothes that didn’t seem to properly fit him, who went stomping around the stage, screeched, and moved his head from side to side while glaring at everybody.

“Hell, if I want to see that, I can turn on the TV and watch a Chris Christie press conference.  Or I could talk to my neighbor Joey, who I haven’t spoken to in five years.”

A young student from Oberlin College said she would never go back to Japan, and would discourage all her progressive friends from going. She insisted that all that bowing to each other reflected an ideology of subservience and therefore was a micro-aggression against committed egalitarians such as herself.

When it was suggested to her that Japanese bowing was a form of egalitarianism, since everybody bowed to everybody regardless of status, age, gender, and so on, she did not budge from her view: “The bodily performance of bowing becomes the embodied ideology of subservience.” She said she was surprised that no one in Japan could understand her point, especially since all her friends at Oberlin understood it.

Another college student who is attending the University of California, San Diego, said he was never going to Japan and would recommend to all three of his friends in the university anime and magna club not to go. He said he was shocked and disappointed to find that no one in Japan actually looked like a character in anime or in a manga comic.

A retired English professor from the University of California at Berkeley explained that one of his great pleasures in traveling abroad was lamenting about the boorish behavior of Americans that he witnessed: “But, I have to admit, I didn’t see any boorish Americans in Japan.

“Yes I did see some Australians, Irish folk, and one Swede behave in a boorish way, but that is irrelevant. My whole identity is bound up with identifying and lamenting the behavior of boorish Americans visiting other nations but I just couldn’t find them in Tokyo. I am not going back.”

Some American tourists had issues related to body image. One 5′ 4″ American said he went to Japan to feel taller, but would never be going back. In Japan he saw many men who were taller than him, and quite a few women, too. Now he feels worse about his small stall stature then he did before he went to Japan.

A 4’10″ inch woman from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, complained about the fact that it was next to impossible to find a sugar substitute like Equal or Splenda in Japan: “Before I went to Japan I weighed only 210 pounds now I weigh 225 pounds, now for the first time in my life I am fat.”

That tipping is not part of Japanese culture was popular with some American tourists. Nevertheless, it is controversial. A hedge fund manager from New York City, asked, “What’s the point of being part of the one percent, if I can’t impress and command with huge tips? This works out fine in the U. S., but not in Japan. I don’t think I will go back.”

Interestingly, an Indiana farmer declared, “If I can’t once in a while give a tip I can’t afford and pretend I am part of the one percent, why go out and traveling?”

A woman from Grosse Point, Ohio, had an interesting twist on this matter: “I told all my friends how expensive a trip to Japan was going to be before I left. But it wasn’t as expensive as I thought it was going to be. One of the reasons for that was the no tipping thing.

“How am I now going to impress my girlfriends about how much I spent in Japan? I mean there is a limit to how much you can exaggerate honestly, even for an American. Besides I don’t like it when you offer people money and they turn it down. That goes against everything I was raised to believe made America great.”

Some other Americans had food issues in Japan. One man from St. Louis said the fish in Japan was so fresh and that wasn’t what he was used to.

A cattle rancher had a problem with Kobe beef. “All my, life, I and my fellow ranchers proudly boasted we raised the best beef in the world, and by George, I believed it. Then I ate Kobe beef. And then I cried. It is so much better than any beef I have ever tasted.

“When my fellow ranchers ask me about Japan, I try to change the subject. I haven’t the heart to tell them about Kobe. In fact, I am trying to forget about Kobe. I will never go back to Japan where I found out that my pride in my life’s work was all built on a false illusion.”

A Nebraska wheat farmer asked, “What’s the big deal about Mt. Fuji? I mean it doesn’t have any major Japanese leaders carved into it, does it? Now Mount Rushmore, that’s something. And it is a lot closer than that Fuji Wuji deal, or is it Buji Huji? Whatever.

“And what’s with those gardens with small repressed floral and tree arrangements and those meals with lots of little plates? I don’t get it, perhaps because I know the wonderful unofficial motto of the good old USA is bigger is better, and biggest is best. Thinking itsy bitsy, thinking tiny, is un-American, boring, and not awesome, so I won’t be going back to Japan.”

For some Americans, there were also religious issues that link to current Republican presidential politics. A woman from Waco, Texas, said she was devastated to learn from a tour guide in Japan that the Japanese had crucified Christians in the 17th century.

She remembered that, “The whole time I was in Japan I was as a devout Christian extremely nervous and on guard. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the Japanese might have started World War II with the U. S. in order to have a chance to kill a lot, I mean a real lot of Christians.

“So, I will not recommend to any of my evangelical friends that they visit Japan unless Mike Huckabee becomes president. Huckabee, unlike that Buddhist Moslem now in the White House, wants to protect Christians from persecution. In the meantime, I have to take my PTSD pills every time I see an Asian.”

Another American who won’t recommend traveling to Japan was turned off by the fourteen hour travel time, especially after he heard that people from Korea can get to Japan in two hours, and people from Hong Kong in four hours: “I just don’t think that is fair,” he insisted. “I am very upset to learn that the Asians are stealing our time. That might change if Trump is elected. He will go after a good deal on the job and time stealing situation.”

A few of the above problems, the Institute says, could be overcome with an advertising campaign that has a good informative narrative.

But so far, the Institute sees no way into change the minds of most Americans.

What can you say, they ask, to the American tourist who says: “I have been to Japan once and there is no reason to go twice since the Japanese population is declining, so there will be fewer of them to see.”

Or to the one, who says: “Japan makes no sense. In some ways, Japan is ultramodern and not only values highly the latest technological advances, but helps create them. Yet, at the very same time, it greatly values the past and maintains thousands and thousands of old Shinto monasteries, for example.

“Why can’t they make up their mind about whether they want the past or the future?

“Every true American knows you can’t have, and shouldn’t want to have both, and that you have to choose the future and abandon the past as quickly as possible. But the Japanese don’t get it. It is, too, confusing a country to be worth visiting.

“Everyone knows we create the future to erase the past. Heaven forbid we slow down progress by adopting their half-baked ideas about valuing the past as well as the present.”

A footnote to the study mentions that one of the researchers considered himself witty for pointing out that if Shakespeare were alive today he wouldn’t be able to see the stars in night time Tokyo or in night time New York City.

The American authors of the study state they can offer the Japanese little help in dealing with the potential decline in American tourism, because the fault, dear Americans, lies not within the Japanese, but within ourselves, that we are Americans.

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Jerry Hirsch

Jerry Hirsch is professor emeritus of history at Truman State University in Kirksville, where he pursues research on American cultural history. He wrote "Portrait of America: The Federal Writers’ Project and American Culture" (2003). Jerry left Chicago after high school and hasn’t been back except to visit. Nevertheless he has remained a lifelong suffering Cubs fan. Ever optimistic, he thinks the time of suffering has ended and that he and his Cubs will soon enter the promised land.

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