Days after brawls involving up to 100 Chinese tourists broke out at an airport in Hokkaido, Japanese outrage is dissipating – and turning into condescension.
The fighting that broke out between the passengers and Japanese police and airline staff following flight delays on December 23 – footage of which was broadcast on television – had initially incensed the Japanese public, many of whom responded on social media with racist insults (some of the more printable comments branded Chinese tourists as “barbarians”, “criminals” and “livestock”).
But, after initial outbursts, many Japanese have headed for the moral high ground, seeing an opportunity to school their sometimes wayward neighbours in that noted Japanese trait: good manners.
“Here in Hokkaido there are an increasing number of Chinese tourists and it is true that you often hear complaints that they do not have good manners, especially people from rural China,” said Makoto Watanabe, a lecturer in communications and media at Hokkaido Bunkyo University. “Many people feel they do not respect local rules and customs and the footage of the incidents at the airport was quite shocking,” he said. “But Chinese tourists have been coming here in large numbers for more than a decade now and they are part of the landscape, they are important to the local economy and, when you talk to people here, they often say that their manners have actually improved in that time,” he said.
“The feeling is that people who have travelled to Japan previously have learned about our manners and customs and they are changing their behaviour to fit in with that,” he said. “And it is possible that they are taking that back to China with them as well, sort of like a Japanese cultural export.”
Such damning with faint praise indicates the clash of cultures is not ending anytime soon. Tourism officials in Hokkaido had to revise a booklet issued in 2015 calling on visitors to mind their manners after being accused of picking on Chinese tourists. The illustrated pamphlet was originally released by the Hokkaido Tourism Authority in response to requests from local hotel operators who complained Chinese guests were inconveniencing others by making too much noise and leaving their rooms dirty.
In response, the tourism authority drew up another booklet, in Chinese and English, that cautioned visitors against stealing cutlery from restaurants, being late for appointments and breaking wind or belching in public. Tourists were told to flush used toilet paper rather than place it in the rubbish bin and not to open the packaging of items on store shelves before buying.
“Japanese etiquette is based on avoiding causing discomfort or nuisance to others,” the guide pointed out.
After a Chinese resident protested, the tourism authority quickly backed down and subtly revised the booklet’s wording.
Japanese often point to problems on the South Korean island of Jeju as a warning of what could happen in Japan if visa requirements are relaxed further for Chinese tourists. In October, South Korean prosecutors indicted seven Chinese tourists on charges of assaulting a restaurant owner, causing a brain haemorrhage. The woman, 53, had asked the tourists to leave after they brought their own alcohol into her restaurant.The incident came a week after a Chinese tourist entered a church and stabbed a local woman to death. His defence? The woman had reminded him of his former wife.
Another concern is that Chinese may join tour groups to get into the country before slipping away to work illegally. At least 20 Chinese citizens who arrived in Japan on cruise ships in the 10 months to May disappeared and are yet to be found.
Meanwhile, efforts to bring occasionally wayward Chinese visitors into line with the finer points of Japanese etiquette look set to increase in importance. With the emergence of a moneyed middle class in China keen to experience other cultures, the number of Chinese arrivals in Japan has soared. In 2015, 4.99 million arrived, the largest single national group and more than double the previous year. ■