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On a light note — without any reference to Yasukuni Shrine, the Senkaku islands, “Abenomics,” school textbooks, history, etc. — I’d like to say that after living and working here for more than 17 years, I am always interested to discover a facet of the Japanese character that had been unknown to me.

On a recent trip to England, I read an article in one of our newspapers about the British tourist industry receiving advice from a semi-official body known as VisitBritain. The advice — to hoteliers, restaurateurs and others — included what to say (and what not to say!) to foreign visitors.

I was amused, and a little disturbed, to read that, of all the foreign visitors to my beautiful country, the Japanese were, to quote from the article, “the most difficult and demanding, expecting their every need to be catered for.”

Their hosts were advised to anticipate their needs without those needs being expressed verbally. Is this supposed to be an example of the “beauty of Japanese silence”?

After I discussed this with my family, friends and students, they all expressed initial surprise but, when questioned further, admitted they also felt that way about service, whether received here or abroad — that the “customer is king,” come what may.

If only that philosophy was reflected in Japan’s diplomatic dealings with its neighbors. But I won’t go into that as I promised to keep it light.

paul gaysford
tokyo

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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