When I wrote ‘Yes, Japan is unique, but it's not your fantasy land‘ last week, I wasn't sure of the response it would get. I mean, I write a lot of things about Japan and, honestly, it's surprising sometimes which posts are popular and which ones aren't.
I'm sure I'm not alone in a sense of frustration at times that topics that are important and that we really need to have a conversation about often get thrown to the wayside for “sexier” topics, and, as a blogger, it can certainly be disheartening when a post of personal significance and one you're really passionate about, doesn't get traction.
The post, about poor behavior of foreigners in Japan, is one that I've been lamenting for a long time. And when you see so much of it day in and day out, you start to wonder if you're trying to fight a losing battle.
But then I put it out into the world and people not only said they agreed or had noticed similar trends, but they shared it with their friends and networks, and a conversation was being had. Overwhelmingly the response – from Japanese, non-Japanese, expats and visitors (both those who have visited or would like to) – was that this kind of behavior is unacceptable and that it needs to be called out. For this, I want to say a wholehearted thank you.
I don't write here for everyone to agree with me or agree with me all (most of) the time, but in an age when basic human decency is often forgotten amongst the fear mongering, corporate greed and constant battle for clicks, I can't tell you what it meant that in all the comments I received, that there was no debate on this.
Not a single person justified “amusement park syndrome” gone too far for the sake of fun or entertainment, and I didn't even get one “stupid wh*re” troll comment. Seriously, that must be some kind of record.
Thank you for sharing and discussing this with your friends, and for being all-round good people. You have honestly restored some of my faith in humanity over here.
So you might be thinking, what's next? What can we do to circumvent this “amusement park syndrome”?
I think one way is to look at a lot of the information that is shared about Japan online. Much of it follows the “Japan is SO weird” theme that so seamlessly plays into “amusement park syndrome”. We have the power to change things through how we represent and consume content on Japan.
For the content creators
As content creators, we have to think critically about the kinds of narratives we publish, and yes, I include myself in that. Let's be extra mindful about how we represent Japan.
We can still write about the things we find strange or bemusing or exciting, that is part of visiting this (and any) country, but let's not do a disservice to the country's more nuanced identity by simply leaving it there.
Delve a little deeper, promote alternative narratives, and if you're not sure about the accuracy of a claim, do more research and ask questions of locals. There are more than enough of us here to help you out.
As content consumers
There's a reason why “Japan is SO weird” articles are so widely read and it's because they get clicks.
It's a state of affairs that both creates and maintains “amusement park syndrome” to the point that many readers/viewers don't seem interested in anything else.
There was a point in time when I thought that this kind of content is what I “should” be focusing on too because that is what people seemed to be asking for in their consumption habits.
These kinds of articles and videos are the ones that people come to expect from Japan and they love the idea of this crazy utopia so much that they almost avoid anything that doesn't confirm the image they have built up in their minds.
We can make it clear that we'd liked to see content that celebrates the uniqueness of Japan while at the same time promoting respectful and responsible travel, and content that goes beyond the usual stereotypes, simply by reading this content.
There are a million and one stories to be told, but they will never be heard if we are not willing to challenge our pre-existing beliefs about Japan.
Value this chance to expand your horizons and share content with your friends that allows you to examine this amazing country in a new way.
For publishers and media outlets
Work with a diverse range of content creators and be willing to publish work that goes beyond the usual stereotypes.
I've seen so many amazing pitches by local content creators rejected simply because they don't conform to certain expectations about Japan. It needs to be “wackier” is the usual remark.
The strange thing is, Japan has more than enough unique cultural particularities that there isn't really a need to use superfluous adjectives in every sentence to make it seem extra extreme to the reader. The fact that the topic is so far from the “norm” for many readers already is more than enough to create interest when well-written.
There is a distinct lack of local voices in so much international content on Japan. Use that local knowledge to pursue pieces that go further and deeper, and highlight Japan's many facets and diversity.
Shout out to Intrepid Travel for actively seeking out local narratives.
As visitors to Japan
Like I said in the original article, no one expects you to be an expert on Japan or Japanese culture on your holiday, or even if you've been here a while.
If you are polite and show respect for a different way of life, locals will be more than happy to help guide you and will forgive you for honest mistakes. But you can easily avoid a lot of basic faux pas in the first place by reading up on general etiquette before your trip.
Talk to your traveling companions about it too and commit to traveling with these things in mind, and actively observing and learning along the way.
Pin me for later
It's probably going to take a significant amount of time for things to noticeably change. But change is coming and we can all be a part of making it a positive one. Who's with me?
What do you think is the best way to overcome “amusement park syndrome”? I'd love to hear your suggestions in the comments!