Here at Tokyo Telephone, our focus is primarily on Japan’s fabulous pop culture:  up-and-coming shops, trends, art exhibitions… we love it, and want to share it with you. We also think there’s quite enough info out there about the historical side of Japan; temples will hopefully always be there, but street fashion trends can be as fleeting as sakura.

So, it was with great interest that I stumbled across this article from the New York Times. Talking about current plans to build a hideous new aquarium in Kyoto to boost tourism, the article notes that “Japan drew just 8.4 million foreign tourists in 2008 [France had 79 million]… tourism dropped to 6.79 million in 2009… Ukraine and Macao each attract more foreign tourists a year than Japan” (Hiroko Tabuchi, NYT, 2010).

It seems that in order to increase numbers of visitors, Japan is looking to the new instead of the old. I think in some ways this can be a real positive – the West has generally looked to Japan to fulfil its technological needs, and within the last decade the foreign market for Japanese fashion has boomed, helped of course by the internet and easier international shipping. This obsession with the new has linked to a sense of infantilism (take a look at Superflat & Little Boy both by Takashi Murakami for more on this theory), and we need only took at the kawaii explosion of all things cute to see how this childish sense of fun has become so mainstream. It’s also interesting to look at the current trend for vintage clothing, as the majority of the stock is American and European – what of Japanese vintage? It kind of reminds of the East/West cycle that I mentioned briefly here, as in the early part of the 20th century Europe was greatly influenced by Japan and the idea of the Orient.

But what of old Japan? In terms of tourism, people will always want to experience traditional Japan and there will always be a foreign market for geisha and tatami. I think, as in Japan as a whole, there needs to be a balance in the tourist market between old and new – get some traditional culture in the morning and have fun taking purikura (lit. print club, photobooth) photos  in the afternoon. In this decade, it will be particularly interesting to see how Japan responds to the tourist market – old Japan, new Japan, or both?

(image from Flickr)


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2 Responses to Old Japan & New Japan

  1. […] conspicuously absent.  While I would agree with Rebecca that Japan needs to show a bit more appreciation for its own culture, I am glad to see at least one Tokyo shop keeping the Ainu arts […]

  2. […] on from my previous post about the split between ‘old’ and ‘new’ Japan and declining tourism, Samuel […]

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