Welcoming the Foreign: Hospitality and International Tourism in the Japanese Empire, 1912–1941

Key information

5:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Virtual Event

About this event

Andrew Elliott (JRC Visiting Scholar)
The six stages of ryōkan accommodation. Tsūrisuto (Nov. 1938), p. 16.


In the first issue of Tsūrisuto (June 1913), the trade magazine of the nascent Japan Tourist Bureau, Secretary Shōno Danroku declared that Japan has a hospitality problem: “The unkind and dishonest treatment regularly meted out to globetrotters may well mar the beauty of our scenery.” Solving it, Shōno wrote, would demand attention from not only the Bureau but the general public. Over the following three decades, the management of this encounter between gaikyaku (foreign guests from, predominately, Europe and the United States) and Japan as tourism host nation would be a mainstay of inbound tourism policy. Showing an unprecedented level of interest by a modern state in the minutiae of recreational travel, the Bureau, industry leaders, and official organs of tourism like the Board of Tourist Industry advised on facilities (e.g. the colour of sheets and number of futon to provide in ryōkan), practices (e.g. how to facilitate European desires for post-dinner perambulations) and, increasingly, what to say about national polity in face-to-face meetings. The economic reasons for increasing visitor numbers aside, reforms were initially aimed at projecting an image of Japan as a civilisational equal to the West and, primarily, service providers were expected to internalise and reproduce real or imagined international norms. But, as the propaganda potential of “international tourism” was prioritised in the 1930s, guidance to front-stage workers like guides, hotel and ryōkan staff, and “host-citizens” across the touristic nation, explicitly positioned these in relation to guests and the national-cultural community as loyal, welcoming subjects. Concurrently, inbound tourists were themselves selected and shaped as “good guests” — meaning, typically, the willingness to listen and learn from Japan — in an avowedly bilateral process of negotiation and accommodation.

Yet how did this play out on the ground? To what extent could the state ensure that the moment of service delivery worked as intended? In the second half of the lecture, I turn from official policy and publications on the subject of tourism hospitality to the more difficult task of recovering local and individual experiences of providing and receiving hospitality, in mainland Japan and colonial territories. Workers as well as visitors bent or opposed scripts in often direct ways — laughing or chatting, against JTB guidance, in front of guests, for example; but the degree of conscious resistance is typically hard to ascertain. Differently, guides and visitors formed intimate relations on the basis of a classed and gendered mobility, as transnational travel fellows. Although this suggests ways in which nationalised host/guest relations might be surmounted, cosmopolitanism could be mobilised to support national policy in tours of the empire, providing an affective tie between tourist and Japan, whose representation then shifts from destination of travels to provider of familiar home comforts.

Loading the player...

Welcoming the Foreign: Hospitality and International Tourism in the Japanese Empire, 1912–1941

Speaker Biography

Andrew Elliott is an associate professor in the Department of International Studies, Doshisha Women's College, Kyoto. He received his PhD from Kyoto University in 2011. Recent publications include a co-edited special issue of Japan Review on War, Tourism, and Modern Japan. Currently, he is working on a book about hospitality, international tourism, and Anglophone travel writing in the Japanese empire. In 2020–2021, he is a Visiting Scholar at the Japan Research Centre, SOAS.

Organiser: SOAS Japan Research Centre

Contact email: centres@soas.ac.uk