Looking Back on Perspectives of Anglo-Japanese Tourism

In the October 13th, 1938 edition of the Japan Chronicle Weekly, there is a full page spread on the relationship between Britain and Japan in the context of tourism. The author of the article, A.F. Thomas, asserts that despite the tenuous political relationship between the two countries, the people of Britain maintain a friendly disposition towards Japan and are a potentially fruitful market for Japan’s tourist bureau. At the time this article had been published, Japanese troops had already invaded and were in the process of occupying much of China. The Rape of Nanjing had occurred early in the year and the Battle of Wuhan just four months prior.[1] Thomas ignores the Japanese Empire’s brutality and crimes throughout its invasion of China – perhaps partially as a result of lack of information about the atrocities that were taking place. Regardless of whether Thomas’ ignorance of the geopolitical situation of the time is conscious or not, he laments Britain’s lack of cultural relationship with Japan. He articulates that “everything is to be gained by beginning , even during the present Conflict, an intense publicity campaign to attract tourists and students to Japan after the regrettable crisis is over.”[2] Thomson points out that while there are Japanese Tourist Bureau offices in New York and Los Angeles, there are none in Britain. Despite the lack of bureaucracy facilitating Anglo-Japanese travel, Thomson says that “England can show a train of first-class Japanologists which America would find difficult to rival.”[3] He goes on to say that he envisions a new class of traveller emerging should Anglo-Japanese tourism proliferate. This new class of traveller would be scholarly and more focused on understanding Japanese people and their ways of life than the stereotypical Globetrotter of previous decades who ostensibly only travelled for the sake of travelling. An increasing amount of cultural understanding, Thomson says, “leads to international friendships of the more lasting kind.”[4]

Thomson’s account of the lack of a tourist-centred relationship with Japan in 1938 elicits an examination of the nature of Anglo-Japanese tourism in earlier periods. When Thomas references the “Globetrotter” he is referring to a stereotype of Western travellers that toured Asian countries, most notably Japan, in the late 19th century. Thomas Cook was an early pioneer of Anglo-Asian travel. He founded a travel company (which still exists today) that brought groups of British tourists on an around the world tour, the first of which set off in 1872 and after traversing the United States, arrived in Yokohama. An author and traveller by the name of William Griffis, writing sometime between 1870 and 1874, noted that tourists “have become so frequent and temporarily numerous in Yokohama as to be recognized as a distinct class.”[5] Other Westerners who had spent extensive time in Japan made fun of these eccentric travellers. One of these figures, Basil Hall Chamberlain, describes the interests and character of globetrotters as widely varied, from those interested in wildlife to politically-minded nobles.

These accounts show that there is a rich and entertaining history of Anglo-Japanese tourism in the early Meiji period that contrast to Thomson’s campaign for the re-establishment of tourist ties over half-a-century later. While the upheaval of the early 20th century undoubtedly curtailed opportunities for travel, the phenomenon of Anglo-Japanese tourism may in fact be more deep than Thomson suggests.


[1] Thomson, A.F. “England and Japan’s Tourism and Culture.” Volume 1938 – Japan Chronicle Weekly Edition. (13th October 1938).

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Hockley, Allan. Globetrotter’s Japan: Foreigners on the tourist circuit in Meiji Japan. MIT Visualizing Cultures. (2010)

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