a The Transit Lounge: Racism Costs

Back in the Day: I had a quarter life crisis, headed to Osaka, Japan for the unknown–only to discover that a passport plane ride are not necessarily a ticket to escape. Some Years Later: Settled back in Oz, the man of my dreams ended up in Tokyo for work–which is how a passport and plane ride showed me home is where the heart is. And Now: Well as luck would have it, we are about to embark on Japan Mark 3, with a baby in tow and another on the way...

Monday, February 22

Racism Costs

An interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald over the weekend.

Insensitivity makes waves with Japanese tourists
February 20, 2010

BEFORE Noriko Mochizuki travelled to Australia, she had heard about koalas, kangaroos, beaches, and strange men in cars who killed backpackers.
By the time she returns home to Tokyo, the 25-year-old will tell her friends that - the infamous Ivan Milat backpacker murders aside - Australians are relaxed, kind and sometimes very rude.
''Sometimes you go to buy something at a coffee shop and they don't want to understand or they just ignore you,'' she said during a surfing lesson with Surfs Up near Cronulla.
''The customer service is much, much better in Japan.''
Ms Mochizuki, from Tokyo, is one of a dwindling breed: the Japanese tourist Down Under.
While much has been made of the economic reasons behind their declining numbers, a study suggests condescending behaviour towards non-English speaking travellers has contributed.
The two-year research found there was a perception among Japanese visitors that racism pervades parts of Australia's tourism industry, helping to account for Tourism Australia's figures, which showed their number fell to 351,000 last year - less than half the 1997 level of 841,000.
The authors of the study, Macquarie University academics Ingrid Piller and Kimie Takahashi, said although Australia was still considered an attractive destination by Japanese tourists, the ''monolingual mindset'' at airports, hotels, train stations and restaurants was a strong deterrent.
''A lot of commentators have talked about Japan's economic problems, the outbreak of swine flu, the decline in flights and overseas travel generally,'' said Dr Takahashi, an applied linguistics expert. ''But no one talks about what happens to the tourists here that might be affecting the image of Australia back in Japan.''
Between October 2007 and last year, Professor Piller and Dr Takahashi interviewed Japanese baby boomer tourists, service providers in both countries, Japanese flight attendants, and tourism experts in Japan. They will publish their findings in The International Journal of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education.
''The Japanese people we interviewed loved it here. They loved the urban planning and the landscape and said Australia had much to offer tourists,'' Dr Takahashi said. ''But at the same time, there was a very strong sense that Australia has a closed, monolingual mindset.''
Participants cited the scarcity of foreign-language information or support in major public places as a reason for feeling that they were not always welcome.
''Particularly bad was at the airport, where they felt they were treated like criminals,'' Dr Takahashi said. ''They're elderly and have limited English, but at the same time they're not dumb. So they know when airport staff are raising their voices and treating them like idiots.''
Haruo Orito, a director of the Japan-Australia Tourism Foundation and a professor of tourism at Tamagawa University, said foreign language-friendly destinations such as Korea, Bali and Hawaii were taking Japanese tourists from Australia.
But Sydney-based Noriko Sato, who organises surfing tours for Japanese visitors through Dream Tube Australia, said places such as Hawaii and Bali were simply cheaper. ''Everything's expensive now, so they just go to Hawaii,'' she said.
Professor Orito said Tourism Australia had done nothing to help itself with the disastrous 'So where the bloody hell are you?' advertising blitz, "whose meaning was lost on the Japanese".
"The campaign last year based on the movie Australiawas an even bigger flop."
The problem has been compounded by a series of misguided tourism campaigns, which culminated last year in the ''Aussie Oji" competition, designed to lure Japanese women to Australia to look for their oji, or prince - a message a Japanese tourism expert described as "insensitive''.
One Japanese tourism operator in the Gold Coast said there was no point offering constructive criticism to the Australian tourism industry "because they ignore our complaints about the treatment of tourists. Nothing is going to change."
Japanese tourists made up the second-largest group of travellers to Australia until 2002, but were ranked fifth last year. Arrivals are forecast to fall a further 5.5 per cent this year.
Tourism Australia said the reason for the decrease was ''predominantly economic''.

IMAGE All aboard for fun in Australia ... Hiroshi Kawano, a Japanese tourist, learns to surf at Kurnell peninsula. Photo: Wolter Peeters See at
Sydney Morning Herald

Ultimately, I agree with the article. More and more often, Australians are now referred to in the international press as rude, insensitive and racist - gone are the days of Aussies throwing shrimps on the barbie and being referred to as laidback, carefree and obliging.

Yet it is intersting to note that the points of rudeness the Japanese tourists have spoken of run rampant amongst Japanese society also. The attitude towards foreign tourists and ex pats in Japan can also be less than welcoming and extremely unkind. Taxi drivers will refuse to stop for foreigners, Japanese hospitality staff will sometimes pretend not to understand Japanese-speaking foreigners and Japanese people are also very good at using tone and intonation to express their feelings, believing that the "stupid" tourist will not understand. Friends of mine trying to make a booking on New Years Eve at a local restaurant were turned down 3 times as soon as the restaurant became aware it was for foreigners. Before the restaurant asked for a name, there was room and they were happy to take the booking. As soon as the surname was said, all of a sudden there was a private function on. I have also had this experience when trying to make reservations in Tokyo restaurants and bars. Japan is also extremely mono-lingual in some regions. And don't forget about the supreme "extremists" who are all for a "true Japan". These guys are allowed to drive around in their vans, equipped with mics and loud speakers telling all the foreigners to get out and get out now.
I am not saying it is always like this but it definitely works both ways. This doesn't mean it is right, but I just feel that the tourists interviewed for this article need to know how it is in Japan too.

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Anonymous Claire said...

I've definitely had some bad experiences in Japan, just because I was a foreigner, even when I have attempted to converse in Japanese. But then I've had some extraordinary experiences because of it too. I will say this, customer service leaves a lot to be desired here in Australia, especially compared to Japan, but that applies to everyone - not only Japanese people. Ever been to Bimbo's on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy? They have the worst customer service ever. Doesn't matter if you're Aussie, Kiwi, or Japanese; they're just really rude to everyone.

11:36 am

Blogger Miss Riz said...

Yes customer service leaves a lot to be desired. Went up to a bottle shop here in Greenwich yesterday and the shop owner was so rude. Mind you we were the only customers in the shop but he was acting as though we were a major inconvenience because he had to get up off his bum to help!

5:18 am

Anonymous i-bec said...

Tourism is an important industry in Australia and they need those Japanese tourists. When's the last time you saw a Visit Japan campaign? Just a fact, not to justify anything.

3:20 pm

Blogger Miss Riz said...

Good point, yes Oz does need those tourist but Japan is starting to think that way too. Yosoko Japan's slogan current campaign is "Visit Japan 2010" http://www.japantravelinfo.com/top/index.php . They are starting to realise there is a market and a need for it.

3:27 pm


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