Will Foreign Influence Ruin What Is Great About Japan? Or…

Long story short (actually it was quite a short story to begin with);

A Japanese friend and I were talking about our fears and hopes for Japanese culture in the face of an increase in overseas tourism to Japan and the inevitable rise in foreign workers.

Will all the little things (politeness, cleanliness, safety, trains, even the food!) which conspire to make Japan such a unique and fantastic place, be put at risk of being diluted or even lost?

Obviously, I’m a foreigner myself and I’d quite like to stay for a while. So, who’s responsibility is it to see that what is loved is also protected? Are these concerns even valid?

Clearly, those are questions we couldn’t tackle on our own. So, I asked a few people for their thoughts…

Me: How will Japanese culture be affected by an increase in tourism and/or foreign workers in Japan?

Guy人48(Guyjin48) creator/manager, James Collins

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In my opinion, one of the biggest problems Japan is going to see is an influx of people who have no experience with the Japanese culture and language and little-to-no concern with learning about them.

If the only two options are to slowly dwindle in population to the point where the economy cannot sustain itself, or to allow a large group of foreign labor into the country that has the potential to make Japan less Japanese in terms of both culture and language, the only feasible solution is to create ways to preserve Japanese culture as much as possible while creating an atmosphere that is more conducive to cultural acceptance and education.

I’ve heard a lot of Japanese express the opinion that they wish their government would not choose the latter and create sustainability within a country that has an incredibly small population or somehow revitalise the birth rate. I can understand why people think that way. Foreigners in Japan don’t exactly have the best reputation, often cannot speak the language, and have a rather difficult time naturalising. It’s really an “us vs. them” mentality in Japan, and foreigners can have a pretty difficult time trying to adapt to and navigate Japanese society.

That being said, both of those options are incredibly naïve and unrealistic. I think the most responsible thing Japan can do is brace itself for even greater change than they may have experienced over recent decades and do its best to try and keep Japan as Japanese as possible, without excluding or neglecting its foreign population.

I really think it’s time for Japan to start working more closely with their non-Japanese population rather than continuing to keep them at an arm’s length for not being native. This, of course, is easier said than done and is likely to be a rather painful process.

Eric from Black Tokyo

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I really do not see too much of a difference in attitudes regarding tourists. As the stamp in your passport reads, whether one is on a working visa or tourist visa, you’re not in Japan for the long term. Recently, there have been complaints of too much trash or too many tourist in certain areas, Kyoto for example, but money speaks volumes. Many companies have been very accommodating to Chinese tourists. With recent changes in laws for short-term rentals, AirBnB, and such, I expect more tourists as the cost of accommodations should drop. Besides with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics approaching, Japan will do all it can to entice travelers from overseas.

As for foreign workers, Japan needs to do much better in attracting talent. Until it fixes the problem among its own, I don’t see a boon in hiring foreign workers across industries that would place the foreign worker in direct competition with Japanese workers.

Author of Japan budget travel book Super Cheap Japan, Matt

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I believe that Japanese culture will become more open. As more tourists and foreign workers come, they will bring new ideas and fresh ways of thinking. I think this will make Japan an easier place to visit, as it will make the country easier to navigate and understand.

Japan Oblong‘s Jenni;

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(On foreigners changing the hospitality culture in Japan)

Having worked in hospitality in Japan (a hostel in Hiroshima for 4 months) my humble opinion is that Japanese business owners have two sets of rules when it comes to showing hospitality: one for foreigners and other for Japanese people. In the hostel, I was told specifically how to behave with Japanese people: what they expect, etc. as they are in ways quite different from the average Western traveller.

Westerners are considered easygoing but also we have a bad rep of not really being aware of do’s and dont’s in Japan. We are forgiven though and the owner of the hostel where I worked told me that she preferred Westerners because we don’t fuss over nonsensical things (like things being overly clean or the staff bending over backwards at every step) and how there is less pretence with Western foreigners.

I think whatever change is happening it is slow: Japan is a place where change takes a long time.

Of course with big cities vs the rest of Japan, the story might be completely different. I have had good experiences in Tokyo and Osaka but when I think back they were definitely “less Japanese” in their hospitality than what I am accustomed to. Since most of the tourists flock to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Fukuoka and such cities I would imagine the change in hospitality would already be happening there, but the remainder of the country would slowly catch up.

In my opinion, Japanese hospitality is still amazing and living in a city which is neither big nor small, I think one can see hardly any change in hospitality.

Anybody else got thoughts of their own?


8 thoughts on “Will Foreign Influence Ruin What Is Great About Japan? Or…

  1. For us the bigger question is : does culture have to stay static?
    It seems we choose to focus on culture in Japan quite narrowly – politeness, etiquette… but did we excluded the other less inspiring sides to culture (or sub-cultures) in Japan. Heard of folks working to death? Heard of the Japanese term for fake politeness? Would foreigners be expected to be part of that too if they are brought into the country?

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    1. Definitely important questions you raise, however, if the question I asked is perhaps a little narrow, it’s probably because the conversation which spawned it was between myself and a Japanese friend who also works in tourism. That just happened to be the topic of discussion. Perhaps it is a basis for raising other valid topics like yours.

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      1. Yes that is true. And in respect to tourism, then indeed Japan does appear to begin seeing strains around more visitors than the infrastructure was built for. Seems to be the case in many other countries and cities. How can we educate people before they visit?

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  2. The experience you have of Japan as a foreigner can change with the arrival of new kinds of tourists. This year I was surprised by the number of Chinese tourists and how bad they behaved in shops in’Kyoto. The contrast with the Japanese was obvious and it made some days less enjoyable for me. Kyoto is packed with tourists how can it welcome some more?

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    1. I remember feeling the same way in Ginza last year. If what I’ve read is true, Japan tourism is set to climb well after the Olympics. So your question is an extremely relevant one…

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  3. While a rise in tourism could force certain changes in Japanese hospitality around major cities, I think increased immigration would be a far bigger factor in changing Japanese culture/society. And personally I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

    It’s clear that an influx is needed to prevent Japan’s infrastructure from crumbling once the dreaded ‘demographic time bomb’ hits. New arrivals will bring aspects of their own culture with them, but if they are made to feel like they are actually included in Japanese culture then foreigners will be far more likely to adopt those values as their own.

    Celebrating the valued aspects of Japanese culture is vital, but it should be highlighted that they are not incompatible with other people’s native cultures. If you want people to respect your culture you have to make them feel like that culture includes them.

    Liked by 1 person

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