Learning from Japan’s hospitality
I returned to Seoul last August after completing my post as a Tokyo correspondent and have became more uncomfortable about using taxis here. Some of the cars are so extremely dirty that I have to suppress my disgust. There are drivers who leave all the windows down, even during the winter, to let out the smell of cigarettes. One driver talked over a mobile phone using the speaker mode, forcing the passenger to listen to the tiny details of his conversation. Some drivers turn the radio on to the maximum volume.
During my three years in Tokyo I never met a taxi driver who used a mobile phone.
I decided to discuss my experiences because of a newspaper article I read recently. The report said that Korea was beaten by Japan, for the first time in seven years, in the competition to attract foreign tourists. From last November to February, more foreign tourists visited Japan than Korea for four consecutive months.
Because of the Shinzo Abe administration’s continuing provocations over the Dokdo islets and “comfort women” - the euphemistic term used to describe women and girls forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army during World War II - I can’t hold my tongue.
The report said that due to the lower value of the yen, the cost of traveling to Japan has gone down, and that the government’s initiative to promote tourism over the past decade is also seeing an outcome. As the number of foreign tourists visiting Japan is rising every month, Japan is trying to push the drive forward until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Japan is a threat because it has more invisible weapons in addition to its low yen, tourism policy and successful tourism products such as sushi and hot springs.
Japanese people are extremely kind, whether you use a taxi or visit a store. They repeatedly say “Welcome” and “Thank you” until you feel uncomfortable. For Muslim tourists, they create spaces for prayers and provide compasses so that they can figure out the direction of Mecca.
Omotenashi, the spirit of hospitality in Japan, makes anyone feel they have received wonderful treatment, and this attitude is far more frightening for Korea than the low yen.
It is human nature to want to receive better service with the same price, and all Korean people are the strikers on the frontline of the tourism battle against Japan. Competing against the entire Japanese population, who are armed with their special kindness, is perhaps a more difficult fight than the history war against the Abe administration and the Japanese rightists.
The author is the deputy international and political news editor for the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 8, Page 30
by SEO SEUNG-WOOK