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A Reflection on ‘Japanese Tourism’

Carolin Funck and Malcolm Cooper’s Japanese Tourism: Spaces, Places and Structures, published this month, explains the nuances of Japanese tourism, both by the Japanese and within Japan by tourists from around the world. Below, the editors recall what drew them to this fascinating field of study, how the field has changed since they started writing, and how they predict it will continue to change in the future.




Berghahn Books: When were you drawn to the study of Japanese tourism? What inspired your love of your subject?


Malcolm Cooper: The lack of a readily available text that brought together the several elements of Japanese tourism and chronicled its form and function over the years when I first started to teach this subject more than 10 years ago.


I also wanted to contribute to a better understanding of Japanese tourism and of the stereotypical Japanese tourist. In the course of writing I think we were able to debunk some of the myths (always a group traveler, no interaction with other people in their social settings, etc.) and contribute to that understanding. Living in Beppu is a plus, endless hot spring water, small city but with many tourists to keep it on the ball, and great people and countryside as well.


Carolin Funck: My interest in Japanese tourism started when I first came to Japan 25 years ago. On a beautiful day in May, 25 degrees [Celsius, 77 degrees Fahrenheit] outside, warm water, I wanted to go swimming in the Seto Inland Sea, and the people looked as if I where crazy, because the “official” swimming season is from middle July to mid of August only. They found me even crazier when I went on a three week trip around Japan – did I really have so much time and money to spend? So, differences in travel behavior between Germany and Japan — although both are vigorous tourists — drew me to tourism studies. As for love of the subject, travelling in Japan is really fascinating, so much to see, friendly people and good service. Just not enough beaches…


BB: What aspect of writing this work did you find most challenging? Most rewarding?


MC: The challenge initially was to get real data about the topics we had chosen to discuss. This is by no means easy to find or in enough detail to be useful. While this situation should change with the new law on the “tourism nation” (2007-8), data collection and dissemination still lags in some areas.


CF: It was quite a challenge – though also very rewarding – to work together on such a project, as we both come from very different research and writing traditions. Also, the situation surrounding tourism in Japan has changed rapidly during the time we wrote this book, so it was tough to follow up on everything.


BB: Do you think there are aspects of this work that will be controversial to other scholars working in the field?


CF & MC: We hope there will be plenty to discuss! We have not chosen a particular theoretical approach, but the role of Japanese tourism in Asia and our views on the question of what has changed and what has not will certainly be discussed.


BB: What’s a talent or hobby you have that your colleagues would be surprised to learn about?


CF: I think they know all my hobbies, as I talk about them a lot – not so sure about talents. Something that would be considered a talent in Germany might be a problem here in Japan and vice versa – so I don’t really know about my talents myself.


BB: What inspired you to research and write?


CF: I saw quite a few presentations on international conferences and papers where people really didn’t know much about Japan and still behaved like an expert, so I wanted to make sure that some well-researched and context-based information on Japanese tourism becomes available.


MC: Information that is either missing or distorted prompts me to research and write in the areas I do. A desire to understand tourism and hospitality in the Japanese context was especially important here.


BB: What is one particular area of interest or question, that hasn’t necessarily been the focus of much attention, which you feel is especially pertinent to your field today and in the future?


CF: Travel biographies are changing rapidly, especially with new technologies available. So I think we need more focus on how people develop their travel behavior over their lifetime. Also, the new media and technologies change the balance of power between travel industry, destinations and tourists – it will be important to research how destinations deal with that and how they can be “empowered.”


MC: The evolution of social media and its implications for marketing and destination management is going to be one of the most important fields for the tourism and hospitality industry to understand. This, and the use of technologies like internet gaming to avoid travel by some segments of the population is already changing both the face of travel and the implications of “word of mouth” in its marketing.




Carolin Funck is Associate Professor in Human Geography at Hiroshima University (Japan) Graduate School of Integrated Arts and Sciences. Her research focuses on the development of tourism in Japan and the rejuvenation of mature tourist destinations; machizukuri and citizen participation are her second theme of interest. She is the author of Tourismus und Peripherie in Japan and co-editor of Living Cities in Japan.


Malcolm Cooper was Vice-President, Research and International Cooperation until 2011 at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Beppu, Japan. He is currently Professor of Tourism Management and Environmental Law. He is a specialist in tourism management and development, environmental planning, water resource management and environmental law. He is co-editor of the books Volcanic Tourism – Geo-Resources for Leisure and Recreation, Biomedical Knowledge Management: Infrastructures and Processes for E-Health Systems and Information and Communication Technologies in Support of the Tourism Industry, and co-author of Health & Wellness Spa Tourism and River Tourism.


Japanese Tourism is Volume 5, Asia-Pacific Studies: Past and Present