J-Tourism: Can you feel my heart?
Image by timtak
Most Western tourism theorists agree that tourism is about seeing. People go to places to gaze (Urry, 2002) at images (Boorstin). Even the most semiotic of analyses (MacCannell, Culler) has (Western) tourists go to sites where they apply "markers" (guidebooks, signs, labels) to sights. Very occasionally MacCannell notes, such in the case of a piece of moonrock, the labels maybe of more interest than the sights themselves.
The Japanese have been going to see markers since time immemorial. The author of Japan most famous travellogue – The Narrow Road to the Deep North – went to see "Ruins of Identity" (Hudson) Matsuo Basho, places were once great things happened but where now there is no trace even of ruins, only the markers (such as a commemorative stone) remains. Basho wrote a poem and wept. This trope is continued in other Japanese travellogues, and tourism behaviour, which is often described as being "nostalgic".
This "nostalgia" is sometimes thought to be a reaction to Westernisation, but it has clearly been going on for a lot longer. The Japanese have been waxing lyrical about ruins, since the beginning of recorded time. This practice originates in Shinto. Shinto shrines and visiting them – the central praxis of the Shinto religion – are themselves ruins, markers to events that, supposedly, took place in the time of the gods.
The first Tourist attraction that Matsuo Basho visitied Muro no Yashima, is a shrine to the a god that gave birth to one of the (divine) emperial ancestors in a doorless room (Muro) which was on fire. It has since been traditional to use the word "smoke" (kemuri) in poems about that location.
The Japanese worship markers. In Japan the sign has fully present and evident corporeality.
I thought at first that the Japanese were going to names to provide the sights, the images. In these days of television, sight is as portable as information. While (as described below) Westerners are inclinded to believe in the spooky immateriality of the sign (used as they are to talking to themselves in the "silence" of their minds) so the thought of travelling to a sign is probably not very attractive. Signs are everywhere and no-where. Signs are within. We travel to see "it" that thing out there "with our own eyes".
But for the Japanese signs have to be transported. The first of these, the Mirror of the sungodess was transported from heaven, to be the marker of the most important deity. The imperial ancestors then distributed mirrors to the regional rulers and some of these were enshrined. Subsequently Japanese gods have been be stamping their namess on pieces of paper and being transported all around the country to be enshrined far and wide.
The Japanese do not travel for sights but for markers and since markers are portable, then one might think that it would be the Japanese that might stay at home. Why don’t they set up a marker saying Paris and visit it instead? This is indeed what they do. As Hendry points out, throughout Japan there are markers to places abroad, Spanish towns, shakespeare’s birthplace "more authentic than the original!" (Hendry’s exclamation mark). If the marker has been transported, and the sights have been provided, then the Japanese are happy to visit that transported marker instead, or in preference to the original. "Foriegn villages" (gaikoku mura) have a tremendous history streatching back as far as their have been shrines but more recently, again, the first tourist attraction that Matsuo Basho visited, as well as being associated with the actions of the gods, was also "the shrine of seven islands." In the grounds of the Muro no Yashiam (Room of Seven Islands) shrine there are miniature version of eight other shrines all around the country (in those days abroad). In other words, Basho’s first destination of call was a "foriegn village." Likewise as Vaporis elucidates the most popular site in the Tourism City which was Edo (the place which all feudal lords had to travell to, the place with the most famous sites and still today the most visited place in Japan: Tokto) was Rakan-ji a temple in which all of the 88 buddha statues of a famous pilgrimage were collected to gether. As if going to an international village, by going to that one temple, the Japanese were able to feel that they had completed a pilgrimage in the afternoon. The 88 stop pilgrimage has itself been copied into many smaller, piligrimages all around Japan, sometimes at a single temple, including at my village of Aio Futajima. In sort of nested copying, the copied 88 sites of the larger pilgrimage are themselves copied to one of the temples where again, one can complete the pilgrimage at one visit.
The Japanese are also fond of post-tourism via the use of guildebooks and maps, which are like super-minature "foreign villages."
Taking a deconstructive turn, I associate the Western practice of going to see sights, such as Frenchyness and proclaiming them Frenchy, with the ongoing efforts of Western philosophers to promote dualism (Derrida). Derrida argues that the dualisms for mind and body, or thinking matter and extendend matter, locutionary and illoluctionary acts, speech and writing, etc, are all designed to purify the habit of listening to oneself speak, to frame this habit as thinking. As other deconstructive criticism has argued, the creation of dualities does not only take place at the Philosophers’ desk but also in pictorial art, literature, mythology (Brenkman) and society. If the philosophers are interesting it is because they give us clues of to the tactics by which dualities can be preserved. One of the most recent such tactics is that provided by Jackson in his papers regarding Mary in a black and white room.
Mary grows up in a black and white room. She sees the world through black and white monitors. She knows everything there is to know, physically, about the world except she has never seen colour. When she leaves here room and sees some red flowers, she is (we are persuaded) surprised. "Wow, so that is what red is." This demonstrates to somethat there is something non-physical about the world. Even if one has all the data, all the information, all the language about the world, there is something about the sights, the seeing, the images, that makes us go wow, and proves that the world is not only physical. This thought experiment persuades some of duality.
Tourists are all Mary. They go in search of Frenchiness and in a mass trancendental meditation, they see Frenchiness, the niagra falls, and are assued that there there is a world out there, and a private world in here.
But what of the Japanese? The seem to be going to see the marker, the sign saying "This is red." I had thought perhaps they they then provide the sight from their imagination to go with it. I.e. we go to sights to mark them, Japanese go to markers to site them. But this is not entirely the case. Yes, there is some "image provision" going on on the part of the tourists. Someone intending to visit the site of the famous duel between Miyamto Musashi and XYZ in the straits of Kanmon -another completely empty ruin of a tourist attraction – said that the the place brought up many images (omoi wo haseru). Someone taking a super miniature foreign village style-tour aroud a map of Edo said that just looking at the map brought back "the mental image of the Edo capital" (omokage wo shinobaseta).
But that is not what is going on in Japanese tourism as I found out this weekend. Before writing about Japanese tourism I thought it would be a good idea to do some, so I visited some of the J-Tourism style ruins in my local village and was powerfully impressed.
In the local town there is a ruin of an ancient governmental site from about 1200 years ago. All that remains is a field and some commemorative stones. There are benches lined up beneath the trees at one side of the site, in front of the empty field with some "markers" explaining what used to be in the field. Imaging the tourists rathe than the ancient town hall, I could not but laugh out loud.
In my village of Aio, there are ten tourist attractions, two of which are empty. One is to the early twentieth century European style Japanese painter Kobayashi Wasaku. There is a bust. Two commerotive stones and an empty area of tarmac. And finally and most movingly, close to our beach house, on the road on the way there is the site of the birthplace of one of the Choushu Five, Yamao Youzou a young revolutionary, who was sent to study in my hometown, London, towards the end of the nineteenth century. He studied engineering in London and Scotland and came back to Japan to lead the Westernization of its technology education, founding what is now the engineering department of the University of Tokyo. At the site of his birth place there is a large black stone upon which there is a poem.
There is a poem which goes something like
At the end of a long journey
Which is the heart
Nothing beside remains. Laughing at myself all the while, I had a Matsuo Basho momement and cried. It was not that I imagined the figure of Mr. Yamao but, as was suggested to the readers of a modern guide to Basho’s work, he travelled all over Japan to the sites visited by the ancient so as too "commute with their hearts" (kokoro wo kayowaseru) and that we by visiting the same sites, or just reading the guide book can do the same through the filter of Basho. By the same logic, can you feel my heart in the above photo?
The attraction of the small hillock next to a stone surrounded by bamboo it was not the sights, or the marker, nor the tourists gaze (my gaze), but the gaze of Mr. Yamao who had also stood there well before setting off to London, and back to change the world. I felt I saw the world through Mr. Yamao’s eyes.
Had I imagined things, then I might have attempted to keep up the dualism between name and vision. On the contrary however this desination seemed to have been designed to make me feel the gaze of another, together. I will have to use Kitayama Osamu’s gazing together theory too.
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