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Veteran tour escort relates travelers' lack of decorum

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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

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

31 Comments
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...i'm not really sure what to think of this. I want to believe it has some relavance, but...

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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.

Do they also snicker at the Japanese men carrying their purses too? I do. Just cannot get used to seeing guys carrying purses. What do they keep in there? Make up?

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Mostly it's the stresses of the journey. Put me in steerage aboard a 747 flying halfway around the planet, and I'd be wont to get pretty obnoxious as well.

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yeah, makeup, spare hair-pins and so on

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My friend was a tour escort and is full of stories just like these and far worse.

She took a group to the middle east desert once for a rustic tour where they complained the towels weren`t fluffy enough!

Another time in Hungary she went around the group in a restaurant asking if they wanted "the chicken or the fish" for their traditional Hungarian dinner and they all said "no, just hot water please" - she delivered 20 rounds of hot water, only to find they had all brought instant miso soup with them! She said it is always the well-off, newly retired Japanese who cause all the problems.

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I have to say though - nice to see the Japanese snickered at for a change! We were snickered at just yesterday by our very good friends - the reason? I had the nerve to take over the "mans role" by phoning autobacs myself to ask the cost and procedure for installing a navi system into the car. Shame on me!

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J tourists always get a laugh in UK. Look ridiculous, act like a bunch of hicks and often behave badly too.

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Saw a horde of aging Japanese tourists in Europe recently being snickered at for parading through the airport in face masks. Every last one of them. And all the women were in those frumpy fishing hats to protect their skin. Why do they even bother leaving Japan?

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Apparently Japanese men keep their cash in toilet bags carried under their arms. If only they knew how pathetic they look.

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“I’m older than he is, but I thought I’d be able to groom him on the trip,” the bride later confessed

She should have married a monkey.

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And all the women were in those frumpy fishing hats to protect their skin

I call them "mug me" hats.

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Japanese tourists are maybe snickered at, but their money is welcome all the same...I think almost any tourist spot in the works thinks the Japanese are the best around. Including 100% of the tourist spots in japan.

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Sounds like this lady needs a new profession...

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I feel sorry for the Japanese as they almost never have genuine cultural experiences while overseas. The choices seem to be group tour (bus, get off, pose for photos, bus) or independent (but they can't speak English so it's out of the question). Fear of the unknown seems to be a big factor as well.

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That sounds exciting! Looks like I found my new calling in life.

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In terms of spending money, Japanee, and maybe other affluent Asian countries', spend almost twice as much as the average North American or European Tourist. This is a well known historical statistic in the industry.

Back in my hometown, American tourists usually spend 3-4 days on he beach getting sunburn and drinking cheap alcohol. If they buy a t-shirt or a pair of beach sandals then those are the big spenders. Japanese tourists always like to be on the move, sign up for all the tours and go to all the nice restaurants. They are actually very easy to handle, since you can predict how they will behave or what they will need very accurately.

Hospitality has to do with making people feel at home. If you can make some money out of it then good for you. It doesn't have anything to do with whether you like the person or agree with them. It's the business of taking care of strangers. Of course, you can't expect much from that! If you want to deal only with nice people, then stay in your own house and never leave.

The thing about the guy carrying the woman's purse. No need to make fun of a man being a gentleman... I would think that's sort of the opposite in their homeland, where the husband walks 10 feet in front of the wife.

I agree with Sharky, this lady needs a new career...

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She wouldn't have had any trouble if she hadn´t married him. Women in their 30s are so desperate to get married that they do it with the first rich guy that they find.

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"I feel sorry for the Japanese as they almost never have genuine cultural experiences while overseas."

Just looking at stuff is a cultural experience for most Japanese. Photos at the post-card-image sites and then off to the shops! I'm constantly trying to get my J-gf to go off the beaten path when we travel. If we go to California we go to the outlet. New York, outlet. Florence Italy, outlet... When we went to Hawaii I wanted to rent a car and drive to the North Shore of Oahu, it was like pulling teeth trying to get her away from the Duty Free shops. Hitchhiking in the back of a pickup in Saipan when returning from the beach was a frightening Indiana Jones adventure to her.

I would say that Japanese need to get out more, but they DO. They just need to internalize and personalize their experiences more when they do get out, I think. Visiting another country should not be like visiting a museum (with most of the time spent in the museum gift shop). Other cultures are alive and inviting, not dead and simply on display.

Anyway, if Japanese did truly feel deeply that they were immersed in another country they may watch their manners more. It's easy to be an ass to people you think are just on display for your pleasure.

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Japanese society is fully artifical. Everytalks and Everbody from their mouth does not come real facts.Half only real and the artifical mouth moving when they talks.Never talk and fullfil promise they would say situation has changed.Law discriminates to women such in 21st century whreas it can not count developed country when comes to rent and wife exploit husband.

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@hanadecaka - good point well made.

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There are plenty of people in NZ who shouldn't be let past their front gate, let alone out of the country. Japan certainly doesn't have a monopoly on clueless/impolite travellers....

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"Japan certainly doesn't have a monopoly on clueless/impolite travellers...."

I've heard that the French are the worst.

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It would be nice if the Japanese (the French, the Americans, etc.) wouldn't mind learning a few of the local phrases to show respect to the people hosting you and hoping to get your money.

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Japanese as bad tourists? If I had to rank them from my experience as location tour guide the worst would be the Chinese and Koreans tied for first, then Eastern Europeans and then maybe Americans.

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It would be nice if the Japanese (the French, the Americans, etc.) wouldn't mind learning a few of the local phrases to show respect to the people hosting you and hoping to get your money.

An Expedia survey of hoteliers actually had the French as the worst all round, with the Americans surprisingly high in making an effort to speak localese.

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I agree with eigonosensei that Japanese are obsessed with shopping and not so much the cultural, artistic or historical merits of the places they visit. This is from my own personal experience as well. However, their generous nature is what has kept many small island economies mostly dependent on tourism afloat thess last 40 years.

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I spent a few years guiding Japanese tour groups around my country in the 1970s. It's easy to get cynical, and there were a few badly behaved people, but for the most part I found Japanese tourists to be polite, friendly and eager to learn about our country. Honeymooners were always a problem, though. A high-pressure Japanese wedding, followed by the hell of Narita and a long international flight seemed to leave most of them exhausted and tense.

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Not to mention the arrogance and bad manners of tour guides towards other travelers.

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People don'T complain about them because they spend money. On everything! Travel around Asia and you'll learn there is the locak price, the foreigner price and the Japanese price. The Chinese and Koreans are catching up in that department!

Oh and the comment about carrying a woman's purse being a gentleman... No, it isn't. If she can't carry it she should have packed it so heavy. I want to smack the men I see doing this.

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tanaka - you definitely need a blog!

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My experience:

I used to work at Disneyland. I learned how to say simple things like "please, thank you, have fun" in many different languages. Every single non English speaking person was outwardly pleased that I spoke their language. Except for the Japanese. They acted as if it were expected for me to speak Japanese to them outside of Japan.

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