Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Random Memories #4

The ribbon that I had to pin on my shirt to keep me categorized with my tour group.

Package tours are a big part of any tourist industry, but they are a rather different animal in Japan, at least in my experience. The whole purpose seems not to be to experience the sites or fully digest the atmosphere. It's an exercise in efficiency. How many places can be seen in the short amount of time that the tour is going on? As I mentioned in one of my posts, I am not a fan of the guided tour experiences because of this point.

Our drill sergeant, er, tour guide.

In 1988, I went on a Tobu (same company that owns the department store) package tour to Nikko. For those who don't know, it is a popular tourist spot in Japan which has a lot of temples, lovely nature, and monkeys. The tour we were on seemed to be designed to make sure we got to take passing glances at every one of these things, but made certain that we didn't get to take many pictures or have a good look at anything.

We piled onto a bus in Tokyo, headed off to Nikko, and then found ourselves being marched all over the place at top speed by a nice, very friendly, but firm about efficiency tour guide. When we paused for a moment to actually try and look at one of the temples, she'd admonish us to keep up with the group. Since we wanted to actually look at things, this happened several times. This is something I've already discussed. However, there is one other memory which I believe is unique to the time period in which our tour was conducted and an experience that I am not sure would happen now because things have changed a lot in the last few decades or so.

The package tour that we went on included a variety of things; it paid for the cost of travel, a guide, and the tour. It also included a group photo of everyone in front of a temple on our bus at the end of the tour.* My future husband and I were the only two foreigners in the group and we congregated with a lot of middle-aged Japanese folks, a few kids, a few young women, and a few teens for the photo. When the photographer was preparing us for the shot, my husband did something which people often do in photos and put his arm loosely over my shoulder. This was not a gesture of overt romanticism, but something even people who are friends do, too. The photographer scuttled over and started speaking in an agitated way. We could not understand him, so he took my then-boyfriend's arm off my shoulder and scurried back over to the camera.

When we got the photo back, there was something else which we noticed besides the fact that everyone was trying their best not to touch their neighbor in any way. There are 21 Japanese people in the photo plus us. Three people in the photo are smiling, my husband, me, and a very young little girl. Everyone else has a grim expression or one in which they are trying hard to look passive or pleasant without actually smiling. Though the photographer stopped my husband's casual draping of his arm around my shoulder from "ruining" the shot, I'm sure our smiles still managed to wreck things for the rest of the group. ;-)

*I would include that photo, but, well, I'm not going to let it out there for my stalkers to enjoy.


  1. Very curious if in your experience that was lessening over time. It's rather ingrained, the physical distance issue, and I have read opinions on why (including yours) but it seems that with the world shrinking digitally perhaps some of that might be mitigating in the younger set. Did you notice any thawing of the taboos in regards to physical contact before you left?

  2. I have to ask, where were you placed in the group. Because if you were dead center in photo, it's make it even funnier.

  3. Curse your stalkers! I was looking forward to seeing the grim photo.

  4. Lizabet: I can only speak to how Japanese people tended to pose in personal pictures with me near the end of our stay and they were fine with arms over shoulders. It may be that group photos that are staged like the one we were in would still not include such displays of closeness, but generally the number of PDAs in Japan has dramatically increased since our initial time there. It's pure speculation on my part, but I think that the taboos, as you so nicely put it, are thawing. I'm not sure if this is globalization or economic prosperity (or both), but they're likely factors.

    Kimbachan: We were just left of center in the back row. :-) I think they placed us by height and the center was for people somewhat shorter than us (not that either of us is very tall - both my husband and I are absolutely of average height for our respective genders!)

    Susie: After I scan it in (haven't gotten around to it yet), I'll try to e-mail you a copy privately... if my leaky brain doesn't forget. I think I have your e-mail address from a picture you sent me of tiny, tiny fries in relation to my snack blog post so I should have an address for you somewhere.

    I considered posting the picture with this post with our faces blurred out, but it seemed wrong to obscure us and reveal everyone else. though I doubt any of the people would be recognizable at their current ages, I still felt it'd seem unfair (oddly, I believe my husband and I would be recognizable).

    Thanks to all of you for your comments!


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