As life slowly starts to return to something resembling normal, I find it easier and easier to look beyond Europe and Hawai’i for places to see, to go. You can tell a lot about countries from how they’ve adjusted to the world coming out of its stupor. Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, South Korea, Cambodia, India, South Africa, Botswana, etc. are once again open. Taiwan, Hong Kong and China are closed. Japan is open in theory, but is closed in practice. One can visit as part of an organised tour group, but not as an independent traveller.
Of course, Japanese authorities are bemused by the lack of interest in package holidays to Japan. Those who’ve arrived have generally come from Taiwan and South Korea. Very, very people people from Western countries have expressed much interest. The Japanese struggle to understand Western mindsets. Australians are intrepid travellers. In Europe, in Africa, in South East Asia are beloved Antipodean cousins are found in all the most unusual places. Australia’s diversity makes it easier for Australians to feel comfortable in all sorts of situations. After all, if your neighbours are Afrikaners, Italian, Vietnamese, Hong Kongers, Dutch, German, English, Scottish, Irish and New Zealanders along with the Australian-born, then interacting with others won’t be that great a challenge. For Europeans, different languages, different people are a fact of life that most are perfectly accustomed to. We’re comfortable being strangers in strange lands. Well, maybe not all of us are fully comfortable with travelling solo through Congo or Kyrgyzstan but most of us are comfortable enough in travelling on our own.
What raises concerning questions is that Japan, which does not allow non-citizen non-residents to travel freely to Japan, does allows its own citizens and non-citizen residents to travel freely. You can see Japanese travellers in the UK, in the Netherlands, in Sweden, in Hawai’i, in France… What you don’t see is British, Dutch, Swedish, French or American travellers in Japan. If the reason for this is “controlling disease”, then it is not a reason. There is no difference in the ability of Japanese and non-Japanese to transmit disease. A Dutchman would be right to be annoyed as he has to cancel a planned holiday in Japan (again) whilst looking at a Japanese holidaymaker drinking coffee next to him in Utrecht.
Although the Japanese government have taking cautious, gradual steps in fully re-opening Japan what hasn’t changed is the reluctance of the Japanese people themselves to accept the return of independent holidaymakers. I’m in regular contact with Japan. All have told me the same thing. Even when Japan fully re-opens, it would be better for me not to go to Japan for at least five years. It is not that they bear me any personal animosity. It’s that many businesses will not serve holidaymakers (including restaurants, hotels and inns) and many individuals will display that chilling passive-aggression for which Japan is so famous.
Life is charging ahead for most people. People are travelling again, people are eager to explore again. Countries like Taiwan and Japan risk being sidelined, they risk falling off the global public’s radar. Even someone as positively predisposed as I am can’t easily overlook this. Why hold on for years to go to Japan when I can go to South Korea or Vietnam? Both are beautiful places with much to offer. When deal with people who don’t want me there when I can go to a place like South Africa where people actually “want” to see me? Jy moet Suid-Afrika besoek! Jy moet sokkie dans! Nee, Mevrouw, ek moenie sokkie dans nie! Maar om Suid-Afrika te besoek klinkt baie goed!