In Las Vegas, where I live, when we see tourists arriving we say to each other “Thank you for paying our taxes” since LV is a tourist town. It is designed to cater to tourists and the more there are, the better it is for the economy. But in Las Vegas, when tourism turns down and visitors stop arriving in droves, they let go of thousands of workers and staff is reduced throughout the industry.
Japan is different. When tourism drops, the Japanese continue with their strong history of full employment and keep on their staff. They figure out how to make it work; maybe reduce hours a little, maybe reassign duties, maybe catch up on work put off for just these times. But they don’t fire their staff and they don’t further drive down their economy.
So now that Japan has been struck with a devastating blow to their country, their economy, their land and their people, they have also been dealt a blow to their tourism industry as well. Visitors from abroad have dropped dramatically; hotels in areas of the country totally unaffected by the disasters are empty; restaurants are empty; the nightlife on the tourist streets are empty and the flights are empty.
Yet everywhere we go, we hear the happy echo of “Thank you for coming” in the particular sing-song intonation that anyone who has heard it in a Japanese restaurant or shop cannot forget. The thank you is deep and heartfelt.
They thank us for coming. They thank us for taking care of them. They thank us for donating toys to relief efforts. They thank us for sending our military.
It’s not a general thank you – it’s a personal thank you that we receive from everyone we talk to, delivered genuinely and with sincere gratitude as if by thanking me they are thanking all the millions of people who have been holding the Japanese in their hearts and prayers.
And so I think that perhaps it is time for westerners who are of a heart and mind to travel to Japan, to experience the culture, to reach out and meet this remarkable and resilient people and to see for themselves how a strong and peaceful nation recovers from unimaginable disaster need to start returning to Japan – so they can thank you for coming.