I found the Nishiki Market officials naive in “Tourist hubs struggle to stop the practice of eating while walking” (May 8). The association cited fears of driving away foreign tourists should there be a hard penalty against eating and walking but refused to recognize that simply asking tourists to “cooperate” won’t be enough to minimize food spillage and littering.
The association’s faith in “cooperation” reflects a rather common mindset in Japan that unwritten social rules, rather than laws with clear punishment, are enough to deter deviant behavior. From standing on the right side of escalators to talking quietly in trains, locals are socialized from a young age to act in certain ways in public to not inconvenience others.
Yet, the blind expectation that foreign tourists are socialized the same way is quixotic. Indeed, to tell people that they should not do something just because it is socially inappropriate “here” can come off as xenophobic.
A better way is to clearly set out laws that prohibit certain behavior and the punishment for violations. Then, by clearly announcing the laws to travel agencies, foreign media and around well-trafficked areas, major tourist sites like Nishiki Market can play a positive role as a passive enforcer of the law, rather than a condescending enforcer of restrictive Japanese culture on hapless foreigners.
People around the world understand the importance of adhering to the law. Stopping foreign tourists from eating and walking because of the law will not drive them away. But compelling them to stop based on culture-specific unwritten rules just might.
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.