International Tourists at a Japanese Festival

Friday, July 18, 2014: 10:54 AM
Room: 423
Oral Presentation
Leif SELSTAD , Norwegian School of Hotel Management, University of Stavanger, Norway
The paper concerns the experiences of international tourists visiting a traditional festival in Japan. The festival, Tsukuda Ômatsuri, is a shrine festival held every third year in August in an old neighborhood in Tokyo, and attracts thousands of spectators and tourists. I have had the privilege to observe this festival for thirty years. Over the years the festival’s relationship with tourists has changed. At one time during the 1990s, when the local area was threatened by urbanization, tourism was encouraged to boost political support and protection. Once the area avoided demolition, the crowds of tourists were seen as disturbing to festival performances, and the festival was no longer advertised for tourism. In spite of this, tourists continue to visit the festival in great numbers, mostly Japanese, but to some extent also international visitors. Contrary to expectations the decision not to promote the festival or encourage tourism has not diminished its value as a tourist experience. People appreciate the lessened crowds and heightened authenticity of getting closer to local performers and events. Also the few international visitors who come feel that they get a better understanding of the festival with lesser crowds. This raises the question if tourist events such as festivals have to be completely adapted for tourism in order to be enjoyable for tourists. It is often forgotten that small banter and incidental events may be as memorable for tourists as well rehearsed performances. As long as safety is preserved and conflicts are avoided, tourists can relate to limited information about an event and still see it as a good experience. In fact, such partial or ad hoc knowledge may be the norm rather than exception when tourists take part in special events; matters may still run fairly smoothly and provide good experiences.