Why do/ did the Japanese travel in large groups?

The book I’m reading at the moment (Gaishi- The Foreign Company in Japan) makes the point that not only do Japanese obsess about safety/ security, they also value “anshinkan” (feeling safe and secure) and are willing to pay for it. They are unlikely to be able to feel that arranging a holiday around Europe for themselves because they don’t know any of the brand names that might give the rest of us a similar feeling (American Express and Thomas Cook are still basically unknown, and international hotel chains are only just making an impact), and unlikely to know the language(s) to deal with any problems that might come up (if indeed they can be direct enough in any language to actually complain). This stress is likely to be increased by the typical Japanese reactions of feeling embarrassed by inconveniencing the person you are imposing your crappy English on, and being even more embarrassed if any other people, especially people you know/ other Japanese, see that interaction- possibly even more so if it shows a hidden ability to actually speak English!

One thing that is very noticeable is that a British coach tour is mainly people on their own or in couples who might want a bit more social interaction than they’d get from a hotel reservation and a train ticket, whereas Japanese often travel in whole families or group of friends inside a larger tour group, possibly to save Dad/ husband from any interactions with foreign people that might show him up and even lead to the famous Narita divorce*.

As usual, there are certain other more practical and historical reasons too:

 Japanese package tours actually offer pretty good value for money, considering how expensive the individual components like flying from Narita usually are

 The only way of getting Japanese levels of service in Italy is going with a Japanese company!

 If you want the kind of holiday explained in the last post, you need someone to arrange it for you

 If someone outside their family tells them “You really must see…”, they are virtually forced to then do so. A guided tour saves them you that pressure

 The main reason independent travel became such a big thing in the West is that an industry grew up around it and then sold the idea to us. Until HIS became big, Japan’s travel industry was a famously closed shop and so had no reason to promote change

 Japanese guidebooks don’t give you the kind of critical evaluations you need in order to plan a holiday for yourself- some of them even seem afraid to give a top ten things to see in case they offend the others! Translations of Western books like Rough Guide and online review sites and beginning to make up for that

 Decision making between friends can be almost as fraught with seniority issues etc as decision making in companies, so maybe it is just easier to leave it for a travel agent to decide

* When Japanese couples first started taking their honeymoons abroad, the female half of the new couple were apparently so appalled by how their macho husband back home turned into a nervous wreck who is incapable of ordering a coffee abroad that they dropped them as soon as they got back to Narita Airport (helped by the fact that the legal signing of papers often happens long before or after the ceremony)

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2 Comments

  1. crella said,

    September 12, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    “Japanese guidebooks don’t give you the kind of critical evaluations you need”

    You’re telling me! I was in Atlanta two years ago with a group from Japan for a conference. Underground Atlanta was not safe even in the daytime at that point, the area had problems at that time (don’t know the current situation), locals said not to go, you get approached for money ‘just to be sure you get back to your car safely’ or ‘to make sure nothing happens to your car’. One of the group had a Japanese guide book that listed Underground Atlanta as a ‘must see’ and he hounded me daily, saying that the locals must be wrong, his guide SAID it was a great place to go. I wonder how often those guides are updated, and what the heck they base their recommendations on…..

  2. alexcase said,

    June 15, 2011 at 11:15 pm

    “travelers needed official permission to go abroad and were severely limited in the amount of yen they could exchange. The restrictions… led to those picturesque groups of Japanese shuffling forty or fifty strong behind a tour leader with a flag and a bullhorn who rushed them from site to site” About Face pg 211. Not convinced that is the main reason, however, given the prevalence of those kinds of tours domestically too.


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