In the early 1990s, the term "Narita rikon" (Narita divorce) was added to the Japanese lexicon. It referred to couples on overseas honeymoons who, having discovered they were incompatible, went their separate ways immediately upon returning to Japan.
Sometimes they didn't even wait that long.
Writing in Shukan Shincho (Nov 12), veteran tour escort Arisa Tanaka talks about some of the awkward, embarrassing and vexing occurrences that have cropped up in the course of her quarter century on the job.
The most recent took place just this past September, during a 7-day tour of Italy. The bride was a teacher, and the groom, considerably younger than his spouse, appeared to be something of a mama's boy.
Even before boarding the flight, Tanaka had the impression they were seriously mismatched. And sure enough, the morning after the group's arrival in Rome, the bride approached her with this request: "We're physically incompatible. I want a separate room."
Two days later, the spat went public. "It's all your fault!!" the infuriated bride screeched while the group was taking supper. As restaurant staff came running to investigate the uproar, a wine glass went flying through the air; then the frenzied bride flung a fruit cocktail full of diced watermelon at her husband, missing him but striking an older woman whose white sweater was stained pink.
"I'm older than he is, but I thought I'd be able to groom him on the trip," the bride later confessed to Tanaka. But upon their return to Narita, the husband fled without so much as a "thank you." The wife asked her, "What do you think I should do about this marriage?"
"Does she think I'm a marriage counselor?" Tanaka asks.
"I don't know what became of the couple, as conductors are not given customer's contacts," Tanaka writes. "If requested, I would give out mine, but they didn't ask. I suppose they went back to their respective families and filed for divorce."
Over the past decade, the number of Japanese traveling abroad annually has held steady at 16 to 17 million. And considering how they regularly confirm the old adage that goes "Tabi no haji wa kakisute" (there's no feeling of shame when away from home), Tanaka wonders if her compatriots have learned anything at all from their experiences.
Thick-skinned, "jikochu" (self-centered) behavior, moreover, is by no means confined to the younger generation. While in the Spanish Pyrenees last spring, a couple in their 60s went gallivanting around the town, leaving the other group members assembled in a church parking lot, where they baked for one hour in 38-degree heat. The couple reappeared without a word of explanation or apology; the same evening the husband ordered a bottle of wine for himself, but paid no heed to the other group members.
Tanaka is constantly struck by other irritants, large and small, like the sight of Europeans snickering at a Japanese woman walking down a street empty-handed while her husband follows carrying her handbag -- behavior scorned as effeminate.
Despite her wards' uncouth behavior, however, Tanaka appears to be sufficiently gratified by occasional words of praise and thanks to have remained on the job.© Japan Today