Our love for Japan began when we chose it years ago as a first overseas destination for our young children. Although our trip around the world with our now tween and teen girls was to be about exploring new places, all four of us found Japan creeping into our “I want to go there” lists. The quiet restraint of Japan’s gardens and temples and people, and their love for quirky experiences created an irresistible draw.
We watched news of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Honshu’s Eastern coast and followed the precarious balance of nuclear containment with broken hearts. It will be a long road to recovery for that part of the country. Some places will be scarred forever.
Once the shock of the news wore off and the crisis lessened, the thought that Japan may be off our list crept into our minds. What would this mean for us? Should we still visit? Although Japan is a nation of islands, it is quite large; its land mass is about the size of Montana, almost 14 times the area of Massachusetts. The drive from Tokyo to Kyoto took a full day on our first visit; destinations away from the disaster struck area would surely be safe. Would it feel appropriate to visit while the country was still recovering from the shock? Were they ready for tourism? Most of our family and friends assumed we would drop it from our plans.
In our previous life, when we ran the dude ranch, we dreaded the summer fire season. Not just because of the all too real danger that our place could become nothing more than cinders, but because of the impact it had on tourism as a whole. If a large fire hit anywhere in Oregon, whether it was close to us or not, our phone would stop ringing. It’s all about perception. News of a forest fire out of control sent the message to those outside the western US that “Oregon is burning, don’t go there.” A fire several hours drive from us would turn away potential guests. It seems that right now the world’s perception is that Japan is not open.
We spent a week in the Osaka area, visiting castles, friends, and museums for the invention of instant ramen and the training of ninjas. We did not see many foreign tourists, but the restaurants and hotels and attractions are all still offering the tastes and experiences that made us love Japan. Besides, the death of tourism would be another blow to an already shaken economy. We chose to show our affection by not staying away.