Japanese train conductor blames foreign tourists for overcrowding
Rail company reprimands conductor who made announcement blaming foreigners for inconveniencing Japanese passengers
A railway company in Japan has reprimanded a conductor who blamed the large number of foreign tourists on a crowded train for inconveniencing Japanese passengers.
The outburst will have done little to help Japan’s attempts to become a more welcoming destination for foreign visitors as it prepares to host the 2019 rugby World Cup and the Tokyo Olympics a year later.
Japan’s successful pitch for the 2020 Games made much of the country’s reputation for omotenashi traditional hospitality and service.
But there was precious little omotenashi on display when the conductor addressed passengers on a Nankai Electric Railway express train bound for Kansai international airport near Osaka on Monday morning.
“There are many foreign passengers on board today this has caused serious congestion and is causing inconvenience to Japanese passengers,” said the conductor, a man in his 40s.
A Japanese passenger reported the incident to a station attendant at the airport, questioning whether the conductor’s wording was acceptable.
The conductor, who has not been named, later defended his choice of words: “I heard a male Japanese passenger at [another station] yelling: All these foreigners are a nuisance,’” the Mainichi Shimbun quoted him as saying.
“I made the announcement to avert trouble and had no intention of discriminating [against foreign passengers],” he said.
A Nankai Electric spokesman told the newspaper that the firm had previously received complaints about foreign visitors with large suitcases, but added: “Whether people are Japanese or non-Japanese, the fact remains that they are our passengers. Language that sets them apart [from other passengers] is inappropriate.”
The incident follows an accusation by South Korean tourists that a sushi restaurant in Osaka deliberately smeared their orders with eye-watering quantities of wasabi, a pungent condiment that should be used sparingly.
The restaurant chain Ichibazushi apologised but denied accusations of racism, saying its chefs had decided to use excessive amounts of wasabi after other foreign diners had previously requested larger dollops for added piquancy.
“Because many of our overseas customers frequently order extra amounts of pickled ginger and wasabi, we gave them more without checking first,” the chain’s management said. “The result was unpleasant for some guests who aren’t fans of wasabi.”
It was not clear how many such incidents labelled “wasabi terrorism” on social media had occurred, but some disgruntled diners posted photos of sushi containing twice as much wasabi as usual.
Whether or not the incidents resulted from misunderstandings, the potential for friction between visitors and local people is likely to increase as Japan gains popularity as a tourist destination.
A record 2.05 million people visited the country in August, according to the Japan Tourism Agency, including 677,000 from China, 458,900 from South Korea and 333,200 from Taiwan.
Japan’s government hopes to double the number of foreign visitors to 40 million in 2020, and expects a tourism windfall of 8tn yen (£63bn).