A nation admired for its nobility in identity as well as for its exceptional levels of economic development, Japan is one of the most unique of places you can set your foot on anywhere in earth. The Land of the Rising Sun, Japan sits in a place from where stems its aura of calming tranquility even when it happens to be a land more susceptible to a host of natural calamities. Be it earthquakes or tsunamis or volcanic eruptions, Japan’s location along the Pacific Ring of Fire has seen it quite susceptible to tremors and turbulations ever since its existence as an island nation geographically. Quite laudably however, Japan has managed to evolve ahead of its geographical constraints of space and susceptibility to emerge today as a country that is among the foremost in the world when it comes to building an image that appeals to all. And this ‘desirability’ that Japan has managed to bring to its own manifests itself through such advantages that further reinstates its position as a country with an identity to boast about, which the nation does indeed, albeit in all its humility that is so characteristic of its enamoring presence.
One of the most significant ways in which the propagation of Japan as a nation towards an identity that makes it accepted by all has time and again been manifested with its standing in the power yielded by its passport. For long, the Japanese passport has been one of the strongest in the world and especially in the last couple of years when it has positioned itself as the numero uno when it comes to relative strength vis-a-vis that of 198 other countries globally.
What that means for the people of Japan is something that is every travel buff’s ultimate dream. With visa free access to 191 countries granted to Japanese citizens by virtue of the strength of the passport they hold, it indeed is stupendous what Japan has managed to achieved in a world constantly restrained by travel protocols and the like. With visa hassles at bay for a stupendous number of foreign nations, Japanese wanderlusters sure stand at an advantage. In having their travel dreams fairly accessible as far as convenience is concerned, the people of Japan should be a happy lot when it comes to exercising vehemently their right, or rather privilege to travel. And yet, quite surprisingly, Japanese people are not the most avid of travelers on the face of the earth.
In fact, the travelling trend among the young lot of Japan, particularly to foreign locales have constantly been on the decline since the mid 2000s. This is something that appears to be quite perplexing on paper. With the ease of travel granted to people from the country and also its positioning as one of the developed economies of the world, Japan should have jumped forthright on the travel bandwagon to amass all the advantages that would have accrued out of its position of power. But the Japanese dilemma continues to persist even here, with only a mere 23% of the population even holding a passport. Not many entertain even the idea of venturing out of the country, even for tourism purposes. What drives this aversion of the Japanese to seek out other confines of the world even when their nationality renders them in a particularly favourable position to do so is a mix of factors. Despite being a strong economy in the global stage, the falling value of its currency, the yen indeed is a key factor that deters the majority of the Japanese’s travel ambitions. But given how people from much less developed countries with much weaker currencies still are regular globetrotters, it indeed is evident that what drives Japan’s lack of desire for travel goes beyond the economies at work. One factor that makes all the difference here is the language barrier. As a nation that has not really taken to English as its medium of communication, a majority of Japanese fear therefore to be stranded out with their alien existence in a foreign land where their language no longer stands validated. Another very surprising impact that has considerably influenced a whole nation of people into staying within their territory emerges from the role exerted by the media. Largely a safe haven in itself, what perhaps does not let the people of Japan chart out lands other than their own has to do with how a section of media in the country outlines specifically the prevalence of crime in most other parts of the world. With such reports that imply that the Japanese once again are particularly susceptible to threats in the outside world, it is no wonder that this has built a nation of people unwilling therefore to venture out of the safe and secure confines of the country they call their home.
Additionally though, it also is the polarising nature of how food in most Asian countries, Japan included, tend to be so different and unique as compared to the rest of the world that has the Japanese having a tough time to yield into the hashtags of travel goals and the like, rendering them explore therefore the comfort in their own tastes, which largely is quite an acquired one. Even when it is the super popular sushi or the superfood Natto, the food experience in Japan is one that you are unlikely to encounter in any place elsewhere in the world. No wonder the Japanese do not have a preference for foreign lands where gastronomic experiences differ vastly.
Yet another inward looking aspect of the Japanese that might have thrown outbound tourism out of their radar pertains to certain drawings from their culture. As a nation constrained geographically by the ambits of space, Japan forever has been a population that has not known how to seek solace in solitude. Until only recently since when the concept of ohitorisama began to gain greater ground, the single experience in Japan had largely been one that was looked down upon with ridicule or was scorned at. Naturally then, with not too many eager folks willing to travel anyhow, the some few that had the desire to pursue the world might have been undone by the serious lack of travel partners, adding therefore to the already burgeoning population of a nation largely apprehensive about treading into foreign lands. Also a nation infamous for its many deaths due to overwork, for which they attribute the term ‘karoshi’, it is no surprise that many people in Japan cannot even afford the time to jet set off for a trip of the world. In view of such compounding issues that seemingly render a majority of Japanese better off if they rather not travel, it is quite ironical that Japan should emerge consistently to be the country that holds the world’s strongest passport, specifically when it seems to have little impact.
What however is no less an irony is that some of the very factors that discourage the Japanese from seeking out the world are still the reason why Japan managed to yield such strength of its passport in the first place. As a nation where crime rates hover low, Japan easily comes across as one of the most trusted countries that which make it fairly attractive a proposition to further ties with for other countries. Thus comes across Japan’s power steeped in its passport that which emerges from a view of its people as being ‘safe’ to be welcomed by most other countries. Other considerations that shape up how passports acquire their strong reputation are also fairly acclimatized to the Japanese context. Be it refugee flows, the economic situation, the political scenario pertaining to the country, Japan comes across as reasonably well balanced across all of the parameters. As a result, Japanese passport holders could visit 190 countries and regions unrestricted, that is to say visa-free, or by applying for one on arrival. Trusted immensely as well, as evident in the many waivers granted to it, holding onto the power that the Japanese passport brings along with it also means that immigration procedures are relatively easy to cater to for such nationals as compared to people of countries that do not rank high on the passport index. But even in the world throwing wide open its doors for Japan and Japan having shunned it all with an ease that comes only naturally to it, the country however is quite stringent with its own visa exemption norms. With a visa waiver program that caters to just some 68 countries, Japan asserts once again its supremacy both in the strength of its passport and its reluctance to ‘give away’ the status of its power even when exhibiting no serious tendency to employ it on its own. Yet another Japanese paradox, we presume.