“Duty-free reform to boost tourism” and “Narita Express train headed to Mount Fuji” (Japan Times, Wednesday, June 18, 2014) are more ideas to boost foreign tourism in Japan, to encourage people to visit and shop here, and to make the country more inviting. Because Japan is so far away from most anywhere else a lot of attention always has to be paid to this point, to attract visitors wealthy enough to get here and then to enjoy the country once they arrive. Other suggestions include standardizing English signage to facilitate sightseeing, increasing English lessons in junior and senior high schools to facilitate communication with foreign visitors just in time for the 2020 Olympics, extending the hours of operation of trains and buses (even making them 24-hour services), boosting the number of bilingual emergency responders - police, paramedics and fire fighters - and other service providers - hoteliers, taxi drivers, bank tellers - to facilitate an easier sojourn in the country. They are all strategies to manifest Japanese “omotenashi,” or hospitality.
It’s all good, but my immediate concerns are more mundane. I commute around Tokyo every day and I’m exhausted, especially in the hot summer months. I’d like to see more public bench seating in train and subway stations and in parks. Even on public streets. It’s more about boosting hospitality than boosting tourist numbers but it can’t hurt.
I know that public seating is an expense. The materials - cement, wood, plastic or metal - and the design have to be commissioned and chosen. Then they need to be installed. After that they need to be maintained because there certainly will be some abuse and damage. As things are now I am put out when I walk through a huge underground station and it’s obvious that benches to sit and rest on never entered anyone’s imagination. What seating does exist on station platforms is wholly inadequate. Japanese don’t seem fond of public space. Or, the culture is not fond of people occupying public space, hence minimal public seating as a deliberate strategy to discourage loitering. I don’t want to loiter so much as simply rest my weary bones. Please.
Published in The Japan Times newspaper on Thursday, June 26, 2014 as “A plea for more public seating.”