A travel agency executive who has spent half a century going abroad believes overseas trips and people-level exchanges help build understanding of the importance of world peace.

Jungo Kikuma, 61-year-old chairman of the Japan Association of Travel Agents, is promoting such trips to mark the 50th anniversary of Japan’s liberalization of foreign travel.

“If you sincerely observe and respect the culture of the country you visit, you will discover the great aspects of the nation and appreciate its history and the aesthetics of its people,” he said.

“We need to keep working over generations on promoting people exchanges through traveling,” Kikuma said.

Kikuma was 15 when he left Japan for the first time. He went to the Soviet Union with his family in the late 1960s because his father was engaged in international exchanges.

The journey came shortly after Japan on April 1, 1964, lifted restrictions on overseas trips, allowing ordinary Japanese to go abroad for sightseeing and to take certain amounts of foreign currency with them. Foreign money was precious at the time because Japan needed it to purchase goods from abroad. That was the same year the Tokyo Olympics were held, in October.

When he returned to school in Japan, Kikuma was asked by his teacher to talk about his trip in front of his classmates as no one else at school had gone on an overseas trip.

Through the foreign travel, he learned firsthand that it is important to be exposed to different cultures. His experiences led him to his career.

After graduating, Kikuma joined World Air-Sea Service Co., a travel agency founded by his father and a few others.

At the Tokyo-based company, Kikuma looked for a niche market and developed new tours, such as language training trips for those interested in more than English, and journeys to rural areas in Europe rarely visited by Japanese.

His efforts paid off as he steadily moved up the ladder to become chairman.

Kikuma said the 1964 liberalization of travel heralded a new “cultural enlightenment” for Japan, stressing the importance of rediscovering the bearing and power that overseas trips had on Japanese society back then.

He also emphasized that domestic travel agencies should have a solid sense of mission in promoting travel, whether domestic or foreign.

Kikuma has visited over 130 countries and enjoyed buying handicrafts while roaming foreign streets abroad.

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