Tourism in Japan: An Ethno-Semiotic Analysis

Author: Arthur Asa Berger
Publisher: Channel View Publications
ISBN: 9781845411336
Released: February 2010

My review of Arthur Asa Berger’s book Tourism in Japan: An Ethno-Semiotic Analysis is part of the 2010 Green Books Campaign. Today, two hundred bloggers are simultaneously publishing reviews of books printed on recycled paper or paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. By featuring books printed in a more eco-friendly manner, we hope to support and raise awareness of environmental issues surrounding book publishing and purchasing. The campaign is being sponsored and organized for the second time by Eco-Libris. For a complete list of participating blogs and links to reviews of “green” books, see the Green Books Campaign 2010 website. As for Berger’s Tourism in Japan, published by Channel View Publications in 2010, it’s printed on FSC mixed sources certified paper. The book is also part of an ongoing series called Tourism and Cultural Change. While I don’t have a particular interest in tourism, I do have an keen interest in Japan.

Tourism in Japan is divided into two major parts. “Part 1: Japan as a Tourist Destination” analyzes the facts and statistics surrounding Japan as a place and country with a particular focus on the tourism industry. This section contains an interesting review of literature which includes an analysis of tour and guide books, looking at people’s perceptions of Japan in general as well as a place to visit. In the second and longer “Part 2: Semiotic Japan,” Berger explores aspects of Japan that have often come to represent or symbolize the country to visitors and outsiders (such as sumo wrestlers, geisha, manga, high-tech toilets, and pachinko parlors, among others). He also investigates how tourism causes cultural change in Japan and recounts his personal experiences as a visitor to the country on a recent trip.

Personally, I don’t agree with some of Berger’s assumptions regarding manga, but I still think he provides valid interpretations. But because of this I also wonder about his interpretations of other subject areas I’m less familiar with. Regardless, his discussion of symbols and icons of Japan is fascinating, however it is important to remember he is basing his analysis mostly on the perspective of tourists and particularly American tourists. Stereotypes and assumptions, whether based on fact or fiction, inform tourists and others and impact how they approach and think about a country and its people and culture. For me, it was Berger’s exploration of these topics that was the most interesting part of the book. Some of his research materials and resources did seem to be a little outdated, but it was interesting to see how Western perceptions of Japan have changed over a relatively short period of time.

If there was one thing that confused me about Tourism in Japan, it’s that I’m not sure who the intended audience is meant to be. The work for the most part is very approachable and certainly doesn’t require the reader to have an advanced degree. Often I was reminded of my undergraduate anthropology and sociology courses while reading the book (not at all a bad thing) but I think that anyone interested in Japan and Japanese culture will enjoy aspects of Tourism in Japan. Occasionally Berger is a bit repetitive and seems overly fond of charts and tables, but these do allow him to get across ideas and concepts quickly and clearly. The book also includes a nice list of resource and a useful index. Tourism in Japan is relatively short and isn’t a comprehensive investigation into the symbolic interpretations of Japanese culture and tourism, but it is a decent, interesting, and accessible introduction and overview of the subject.

Thank you to Channel View Publications for providing a copy of Tourism in Japan for review.