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Modern and Traditional Japanese Culture: The Psychology of Buddhism, Power Rangers, Masked Rider, Manga, Anime and Shinto. 在日イギリス人男性による日本文化論.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


What Mary didn't Know, but the Japanese Tourist did

What Mary didn't Know, but the Japanese Tourist did by timtak
What Mary didn't Know, but the Japanese Tourist did, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
There is something about tourism, that remains to be explained. Taking into account direct, indirect and induced expenditure, tourism is responsible for almost 10% of the world economy and the creation of 255 million jobs (wttc, 2012). More than three quarters of trips were for the purpose of leisure. It is estimated that there will be one billion international arrivals in 2012 (UN WTO, 2012). One billion that averages to one in seven people alive in 2012 will take an international trip. What are all these people doing? There is a large body of psychological research that argues that humans prefer that with which they are familiar with, that which they thus understand (e.g. Heine, Proulx, & Vohs, 2006).

There are a number of theories of why tourists tour. The most famous four are perhaps those by Boorstin (1992), MacCannell (1976), Turner (Turner & Turner, 1995) (for a summary of these see Cohen, 1988), and Urry (2002). Culler's extended semiotic analysis (1988) of tourism is also well recommended.

Boorstin, in his book "The image: A guide to pseudo-events in America" (1992 [1961]), characterised the tourist as an inferior traveller, satisfied with "pseudo events" or in his word, images.

MacCannell's (1976) analysis positions the tourism as a religious (after Durkheim, 1965) activity that through the interpretation of signs (Barthes, 1972, 1977), allows the alienated (Marx, 1972) proletarian tourist to gain a picture of society as a whole, thanks to the presentational (Goffman,2002) activities of tourism providers. Rather than being happy with "pseudo-events", the tourist seeks authenticity. The apparent "pseudo event" status of the tourist experience is, MacCannel argues, merely an inevitable consequence of the structure of presentation and the sign, as Culler explains in more detail (1988).

Drawing upon a considerable oeuvre of anthropological research Turner (Turner and Turner, 1978) also sees the tourist as in search of a sense of wholeness, but in a less intellectual, more chaotic, ecstatic, "liminal" merging or communitas, as a result of the sacred or sacrelized images (a notion shared by MacCannel).

Urry (2002), turning back towards Boorstin while drawing on Turner, argues that authenticity is by no means an essential part of tourism. Tourism for Urry is "more playful" (p.11), and quoting Fiefer (1985) even allows for 'post-tourists' who are aware of the inauthentic nature of the sight, which is sometimes even virtual, but enjoy themselves anyway.

So, perhaps the most obvious controversy in tourism research is whether "authenticity" is required by tourists and if so in what sense? At one end of the extreme, one may wonder if someone watching a travel program on TV a (post) tourist? Surely not. But, when Urry's alienated telephone switchboard operator goes to see the Statue of Liberty, and sees in that sacralized site the meaning of her life, her work, and her society, in the support of the freedom there represented, does it matter that the statue in New York is a replica of then one in Paris? Would it matter if she were watching one of the many replica statues of liberty adorn Japanese "Love Hotels"(Cox, 2007, p224)? Or indeed if the receptionist were herself Japanese, or Russian in the Stalinist era, would her experience of that "freedom" still be authentic - teaching her by contrast the meaning of her arguably un-free life? Many of MacCannell's examples are of domestic US tourism, but as he points out that international tourism can teach us about ourselves through the comparisons we make between our own and other cultures, comparisons without which we would not be aware of our own culture at all.

Contra MacCannell however, we must at least accept Urry's assertion that in tourism, *kitsch abounds*.From Butlins, to Coney Island and on to Tokyo Disney Land (referred to as "rat" by some Japanese school children), tourist experience are often wallowing in kitsch, simulations, and "pseudo-events." And yet, even so, when a child sees Mickey, where-ever she sees Mickey, should we deny that some sort of experiential authenticity takes place? I will return to this point, but, first focus on the characteristic of tourism that the above theorists appear to share.

While there is some disagreement as to the "authenticity" of the tourist experience, all of these theorists stress the importance of the image and gaze. Tourism is sight-seeing, tourists go to gaze at images. The important praxis for tourists is above all to gaze.

But of course tourists do not only gaze. Far from it. As MacCannell and Culler point out, tourists are semiotics (Culler, 1988, p2.), theorists ((Van den Abbeele, 1980, reviewing MacCannell) or ethnologist (Culler, 1988, p11). Typically, they go to gaze at sights, the more unusual and out of their normal frame of reference the better, so long as they they are able to judge them authentic "That is Frenchiness,"(Culler, 1988, p2) "That is a Gondola," "It's Mickey!" Ethnography is a profession, but giving things, new things, names, is the one work that was required of Adam in the Garden of Eden before the fall. Tourists love to see new things, and yet, already know and say what they are. They go in search of these "translations" from sight as sign, to linguistic symbol or meaning.

Readers (not that I have any) that recognise the reference in my title will know where I am taking this but first, in order to gain a clearer picture of tourism, it will help to look at it from comparative perspective, from the gaze of the Japanese tourist. In order to introduce the Japanese tourist gaze, consider a type of tourism that most Western theorists consider to be exceptional.

MacCannell argues that for a sight to be sacralized markers (such as signs, maps, and viewing platforms) are set up, and at times these markers can become the central focus of the tourism destination. Likewise, Urry (2002, p13) citing Culler (1981, p139)
"Finally, there is the seeing of particular signs that indicate that a certain other object is indeed extraordinary, even though it does not seem to be so. A good example of such an object is moon rock which appears unremarkable. The attraction is not the object itself but the sign referring to it that marks it out as distinctive. Thus the marker becomes the distinctive sight (Culler,1981: 139). "

It is precisely these exceptions, that I think form the norm of Japanese tourism behaviour: Japanese tourists typically go to see "markers". Japanese tourism consists in is purest most characteristic form in the visiting and collection of markers.

Most Western tourism theorists agree that tourism is about seeing. People go to places to gaze (Urry, 2002) at images (Boorstin). Even the most semiotic of analyses (MacCannell, Culler) has (Western) tourists go to sites where they apply "markers" (guidebooks, signs, labels) to sights. Very occasionally MacCannell notes, such in the case of a piece of moonrock, the labels maybe of more interest than the sights themselves.

The Japanese have been going to see markers since time immemorial. The author of Japan most famous travelogue - The Narrow Road to the Deep North - went to see "Ruins of Identity" (Hudson) Matsuo Basho, places were once great things happened but where now there is no trace even of ruins, only the markers (such as a commemorative stone) remains. Basho wrote a poem and wept. This trope is continued in other Japanese travelogues, and tourism behaviour, which is often described as being "nostalgic".

This "nostalgia" is sometimes thought to be a reaction to Westernization, but it has clearly been going on for a lot longer. The Japanese have been waxing lyrical about ruins, since the beginning of recorded time. This practice originates in Shinto. Shinto shrines and visiting them - the central praxis of the Shinto religion - are themselves ruins, markers to events that, supposedly, took place in the time of the gods.

The first Tourist attraction that Matsuo Basho visitied Muro no Yashima, is a shrine to the a god that gave birth to one of the (divine) imperial ancestors in a doorless room (Muro) which was on fire. It has since been traditional to use the word "smoke" (kemuri) in poems about that location.

The Japanese worship markers. In Japan the sign has fully present and evident corporeality.

I thought at first that the Japanese were going to names to provide the sights, the images. In these days of television, sight is as portable as information. While (as described below) Westerners are inclined to believe in the spooky immateriality of the sign (used as they are to talking to themselves in the "silence" of their minds) so the thought of traveling to a sign is probably not very attractive. Signs are everywhere and no-where. Signs are within. We travel to see "it" that thing out there "with our own eyes".

But for the Japanese signs have to be transported. The first of these, the Mirror of the Sun godess was transported from heaven, to be the marker of the most important deity. The imperial ancestors then distributed mirrors to the regional rulers and some of these were enshrined. Subsequently Japanese gods have been be stamping their names on pieces of paper and being transported all around the country to be enshrined far and wide.

The Japanese do not travel for sights but for markers and since markers are portable, then one might think that it would be the Japanese that might stay at home. Why don't they set up a marker saying Paris and visit it instead? This is indeed what they do. As Hendry points out, throughout Japan there are markers to places abroad, Spanish towns, Shakespeare's birthplace "more authentic than the original!" (Hendry's exclamation mark). If the marker has been transported, and the sights have been provided, then the Japanese are happy to visit that transported marker instead, or in preference to the original. "Foriegn villages" (gaikoku mura) have a tremendous history stretching back as far as their have been shrines but more recently, again, the first tourist attraction that Matsuo Basho visited, as well as being associated with the actions of the gods, was also "the shrine of seven islands." In the grounds of the Muro no Yashiam (Room of Seven Islands) shrine there are miniature version of eight other shrines all around the country (in those days abroad). In other words, Basho's first destination of call was a "foriegn village." Likewise as Vaporis elucidates the most popular site in the Tourism City which was Edo (the place which all feudal lords had to travel to, the place with the most famous sites and still today the most visited place in Japan: Tokto) was Rakan-ji a temple in which all of the 88 Buddha statues of a famous pilgrimage were collected together. As if going to an international village, by going to that one temple, the Japanese were able to feel that they had completed a pilgrimage in the afternoon. The 88 stop pilgrimage has itself been copied into many smaller, pilgrimages all around Japan, sometimes at a single temple, including at my village of Aio Futajima. In sort of nested copying, the copied 88 sites of the larger pilgrimage are themselves copied to one of the temples where again, one can complete the pilgrimage at one visit.

The Japanese are also fond of post-tourism via the use of guidebooks and maps, which are like super-minature "foreign villages."

Taking a deconstructive turn, I associate the Western practice of going to see sights, such as Frenchyness and proclaiming them Frenchy, with the ongoing efforts of Western philosophers to promote dualism (Derrida). Derrida argues that the dualisms of mind and body, or thinking matter and extendend matter, locutionary and illoluctionary acts, speech and writing, etc, are all designed to purify the habit of listening to oneself speak, to frame this habit as thinking. As other deconstructive criticism has argued, the creation of dualities does not only take place at the Philosophers' desk but also in pictorial art, literature, mythology (Brenkman) and society. If the philosophers are interesting it is because they give us clues of to the tactics by which dualities can be preserved. One of the most recent such tactics is that provided by Jackson in his papers regarding Mary in a black and white room.

Mary grows up in a black and white room. She sees the world through black and white monitors. She knows everything there is to know, physically, about the world except she has never seen colour. When she leaves here room and sees some red flowers, she is (we are persuaded) surprised. "Wow, so that is what red is." This demonstrates to somewhat there is something non-physical about the world. Even if one has all the data, all the information, all the language about the world, there is something about the sights, the seeing, the images, that makes us go wow, and proves that the world is not only physical. This thought experiment persuades some of duality.

Tourists are all Mary. They go in search of Frenchiness and in a mass transcendental meditation, they see Frenchiness, the Niagara falls, and are assured that there there is a world out there, and a private world in here.

But what of the Japanese? The seem to be going to see the marker, the sign saying "This is red." I had thought perhaps they they then provide the sight from their imagination to go with it. I.e. we go to sights to mark them, Japanese go to markers to site them. But this is not entirely the case. Yes, there is some "image provision" going on on the part of the tourists. Someone intending to visit the site of the famous duel between Miyamto Musashi and XYZ in the straits of Kanmon -another completely empty ruin of a tourist attraction - said that the the place brought up many images (omoi wo haseru). Someone taking a super miniature foreign village style-tour aroud a map of Edo said that just looking at the map brought back "the mental image of the Edo capital" (omokage wo shinobaseta).

But that is not what is going on in Japanese tourism as I found out this weekend. Before writing about Japanese tourism I thought it would be a good idea to do some, so I visited some of the J-Tourism style ruins in my local village and was powerfully impressed.

In the local town there is a ruin of an ancient governmental site from about 1200 years ago. All that remains is a field and some commemorative stones. There are benches lined up beneath the trees at one side of the site, in front of the empty field with some "markers" explaining what used to be in the field. Imaging the tourists rather than the ancient town hall, I could not but laugh out loud.

In my village of Aio, there are ten tourist attractions, two of which are empty. One is to the early twentieth century European style Japanese painter Kobayashi Wasaku. There is a bust. Two commemorative stones and an empty area of tarmac. And finally and most movingly, close to our beach house, on the road on the way there is the site of the birthplace of one of the Choushu Five, Yamao Youzou a young revolutionary, who was sent to study in my hometown, London, towards the end of the nineteenth century. He studied engineering in London and Scotland and came back to Japan to lead the Westernization of its technology education, founding what is now the engineering department of the University of Tokyo. At the site of his birth place there is a large black stone upon which there is a poem.

There is a poem which goes something like
At the end of a long journey
Which is the heart
Is Japan

Nothing beside remains. Laughing at myself all the while, I had a Matsuo Basho moment and cried. It was not that I imagined the figure of Mr. Yamao but, as was suggested to the readers of a modern guide to Basho's work, he traveled all over Japan to the sites visited by the ancient so as too "commute with their hearts" (kokoro wo kayowaseru) and that we by visiting the same sites, or just reading the guide book can do the same through the filter of Basho. By the same logic, can you feel my heart in the above photo?

The attraction of the small hillock next to a stone surrounded by bamboo it was not the sights, or the marker, nor the tourists gaze (my gaze), but the gaze of Mr. Yamao who had also stood there well before setting off to London, and back to change the world. I felt I saw the world through Mr. Yamao's eyes.

Had I imagined things, then I might have attempted to keep up the dualism between name and vision. On the contrary however this destination seemed to have been designed to make me feel the gaze of another, together. I will have to use Kitayama Osamu's gazing together theory too.

Bibliography by Zotero
Boorstin, D. J., & Will, G. F. (1992). The image: A guide to pseudo-events in America. Vintage Books New York.
Barthes, R. (1972). Mythologies. (A. Lavers, Trans.). Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Barthes, R. (1977). Elements of Semiology. Hill and Wang.
Cohen, E. (1988). Traditions in the qualitative sociology of tourism. Annals of tourism research, 15(1), 29–46.
Cox, R. (2007). The Culture of Copying in Japan: Critical and Historical Perspectives. Routledge.
Culler, J. D. (1988). The Semiotics of Tourism. Framing the sign. Univ. of Oklahoma Pr.
Durkheim, E. (2001). The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. New York: Free Press.
Feifer, M. (1987). Tourism in History: From Imperial Rome to the Present. Natl Book Network.
Goffman, E. (2002[1959]). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City, NY.
Heine, S. J., Proulx, T., & Vohs, K. D. (2006). The meaning maintenance model: On the coherence of social motivations. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10(2), 88–110.
MacCannell, D. (1976). The tourist: A new theory of the leisure class. Univ of California Pr.
Marx, K. (1972[1844]). The marx-engels reader. WW Norton New York.
Turner, V., & Turner, E. (1995[1978]). Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture (0 ed.). Columbia University Press.
UN WTO. (2012). World Tourism Barometer: Volume 10. Advance Realease. Madrid: United Nations World Tourism Association. Retrieved from dtxtq4w60xqpw.cloudfront.net/sites/all/files/pdf/unwto_ba...
Urry, J. (2002). The Tourist Gaze. SAGE.
Van den Abbeele, G. (1980). Sightseers: The tourist as theorist. Diacritics, 10.

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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.