Why are the Japanese happy to travel such a long way for such a short time?

For example, my in-laws planned a weekend trip which involved four hours driving into Chiba, arriving in the afternoon. As the local area had no particular points of interest they would then have dinner and a dip in the hot spring baths before crashing for the night so they could wake up the next morning bright and early and drive all the way back – all with a famously noisy baby (my own) taking her first ever long car journey. I simply refused to go.

It must be said that there are plenty of the people in the UK who do virtually the same on bank holiday weekends or as city breaks, and I had exactly the same problem with Greek daytrips where the grannies pulled down the blinds so you couldn’t see anything while you were travelling and headed straight to a restaurant for the three hours we were actually given in town before heading back to Athens.

I do think it is more prevalent here, however, and with far less idea that you should actually do or see something while you are at the place you travel to. I have dealt with similar questions before (click on the category to see them) but have never considered its possible religious roots. Japanese religion does not ask for much more than claps, bows, incense and quick prayers most of the time, meaning a trip back to your ancestors’ graves or a pilgrimage was always going to be more about the travelling back and forth than the staying there.

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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)

Why do the Japanese want to see eight countries in six days?

It’s certainly not just the Japanese, with Brazilians and Koreans being just two nationalities who do exactly the same thing. Here are my possible explanations for the nationality I know best, anyway:

– They do tourism in Japan exactly the same way, e.g. every famous thing in Kyoto in half a day, probably mainly for the same reasons

– Although the speed wasn’t possible, traditional pilgrimages like the 88 shrines in Shikoku had a very similar list ticking approach. Series of landscape Ukiyo-e also seem to take a similar sightseeing by numbers approach

– Japanese holidays are short (two weeks a year, of which they usually only take one to save inconveniencing their colleagues) and they expect to make the most of them

– Things were even more extreme until the 70s, when currency restrictions basically restricted foreign travel to business trips

– They plan absolutely everything before they go, and it’s difficult to plan “Wander around and sit in a café” for Day Four

– The knowledge of each place is limited

– Japanese and world geography is taught this way, with each place being represented by one thing, one dish etc

– If they don’t see the famous stuff, people back home will want to know why. In the same way, if you go to see anything different, there’s the chance that your colleagues will label you as an eccentric individualist. In other words, it makes conversing when you get back a whole lot easier

– Ditto with photos- if you can just show yourself in front of the Eiffel Tower, you can quickly get the conversation out of the way

Like I said, other nationalities do exactly the same thing despite having totally different cultures, so it could just be as simple as never knowing if/ when you’ll have the chance to go again. After all, I’ve never known a “five Asian countries in seven days” tour, though it would certainly be possible