The Japanese Tourist


Japanese tourists.

Having travelled around the world these past two years, I feel the desire to document my perceptions on the Japanese as a tourist animal. They are welcome to respond in kind. I admit that included in this rambling assumption may well be Korean travellers.

Firstly their politeness is legendary, unfortunately to the point of presenting at times as obsequious. They appear to apologize for merely being in your country at every passing, with an embarrassed curtesy. This reaches the nadir of neurotic posturing should you encounter a Japanese woman entering a public toilet as you are leaving.

Animal psychologists tell us that instinct drives your pet pooch to gobble up any and all food, as it does not know if and when it’s next meal will appear. So a Japanese woman will, like Pavlov’s dog, utilise every toilet stop on a bus trip, not knowing when or where the next stop will be. Mind you I do accept the observation that it may well be a female ‘thing’.

Given that they invented the digital camera, I am somewhat empathetic to their unique Hasselblad habits. Should they be fortunate enough to get close up, they will snap sparrows eating crumbs, a blowfly on a sheep’s back or a still-life of a minuscule moss growing on the branch of some vegetation, oblivious to the fact that it is an introduced (exotic) bush, the red berries of which contain a poison so potent that it makes curare appear innocuous. The other intriguing custom is to take a snap of a tourist site information sign. Now this is on reflection, understandable, not the least because I have been known to do it myself. For a foreign national such a picture could even be fed somehow into Google Translate. However I have been stumped on at least one occasion, when I witnessed a Japanese man photographing the road sign at a busy intersection in New Zealand.

They travel around the country in an apparent state of constant apprehension although as far as the woman are concerned, it’s more a look of fear, bordering at times on terror. My strong hunch is that they are only at peace with the world when they are eating Sushi with both feet firmly planted on the ground. As to the latter concern, why do they flock to Queenstown, billed as the Adventure Capital of NZ?

For it is here that the art of flinging the human body off Mother Earth at speeds close to a Saturn rocket, has been perfected. Do you prefer something on water perhaps? For a modest sum you can queue for “The Mission Ride”. Tightly tied to a floating wooden cross structure, you are launched into a raging torrent of white water and if all goes according to plan, plucked from the gates of hell, quicker than you can say ‘Jeremy Irons’.

But riding a cycle, that most innocuous of pastimes, that all of us learnt to do, a milestone acquired at the same time as starting to walk, is more of a millstone for the Japanese. I have yet to come across a Japanese woman mounted on a bike, who does not appear to be in a state of obvious fear. Her countenance says ‘please forgive me, this is the most unnatural thing I have ever done..’ And I believe her!