Fueling the Dream Machine: Japan and the Emerging Politics of Tourism Development Assistance
January 25, 1998 / 6.30 P.M.
David R. Leheny, Institute of Social Science, University of Tokyo
Aside from the complicated data, the often abominable literature, and the definitional problems, tourism is often difficult to study from a political science perspective because most people think it is not political. At acertain level, this makes sense: tourism is a matter of personal leisure,and seems to be removed from the kinds of contestation that generate ourbasic understanding of politics. And the almost militant departure of some governments, such as the US government, from the field of tourism makes it all the more suspect.
The Japanese Government’s 1987 decision to promote increased outbound tourism, however, flies in the face of this a priori rejection of tourism as politics. First, the Ten Million Program — which pledged to double, over the course of five years — the number of outbound tourists from Japan to everywhere else, is the exact opposite of what most states try to effect in tourism: namely, attracting foreigners to spend their money in one’s own territory. Second, this decision not only reflected a prevailing belief that the state has an appopriate place in the leisure lives of citizens, but has also suggested, to Japan’s trade partners and particularly its aid recipients, that tourism is a field in which states can, and perhaps should, get involved. In other words, the protests of the US government to the contrary, tourism and tourism development are now political, have been made political by Japanese government decree.
The Ten Million Program was a fundamentally new approach to international tourism, but grew out of a long institutional history of leisure policy in Japan. Put simply, leisure has never been considered to be a strictly quote;privatequote; phenonmenon in Japan, and the Japanese government’s role in tourism and leisure has been institutionalized. That is to say, leisure policies have had different aims and have been motivated by different interests and goals, but over time — and particularly since the 1970s– they have followed fairly clear rules about what the state can, cannot,and should do with regard to leisure. The Japanese government is supposed to make Japanese behave quote;normallyquote; in terms of leisure, or to practice leisure in a way consistent with that observed in the other normal advanced countries of the industrialized West.
Although the Japanese Government, particularly the Ministry of Transport,had good reasons to promote outbound tourism (to reduce the trade surplus in a nonstrategic sector, to aid large travel-related firms that wished to expand overseas, and to increase access to development aid funds and generate amakudari spots for MOT bureaucrats), it was able to do so because of the institutionalized role for the state in leisure. This role — to make Japan normal, to make it modern (based on an imputed modernity from the industrialized West) — provided the necessary background for the policy.
David LEHENY is a PhD candidate at the Department of Government, Cornell University and a Faculty Research Associate at the Institute of Social Science, University of Tokyo.