Words to Live by: Travel agent in Tokyo Wang Jia Liang
Interview by Judit Kawaguchi
Building a new factory doesn’t create job opportunities anymore, except for the construction industry. We took a factory tour in Japan. During our visit we saw that the lines were moving but we didn’t see any workers in the building. We were told that this huge factory was operated by only two people! The rest of the work is done by robots. The future is already here, right now, in Japan.
Having too many choices is constrictive. At first, the Internet eliminated the need for travel agencies, since online, anyone could act as their own travel bureau. It’s fun to sit at a computer and look for the best routes and deals. I know! I love doing that all day. But there are so many choices. Browsing is enjoyable if you are just gathering information, but if you need to make a choice and a reservation, many people feel trapped in the maze of options and want an expert to help them navigate their way out. We get many such first-time callers. Once we guide them out of the labyrinth, they never venture back in again. They hold on to us for dear life.
Reserving online might be easy, but once you’d like to cancel or make some changes, there is nobody to talk to you, nobody to help you. You’re on your own, and for many people that’s not enough.
Becoming a travel agent was my childhood dream, because in those days this was one of the most exciting jobs a Chinese person could possibly get. It meant free travel around China and meeting foreign visitors. I worked for the China International Travel Service from 1978-1989 and was in charge of inbound travel. Foreigners weren’t allowed to travel around China freely; they had to hire one of the government guides like me. I had the best job and the greatest lifestyle! My rent was less than the equivalent of $1 a month and my starting salary was $8. The best clients were the Japanese, as they were the kindest.
To have a clean city, all you need is well-behaved citizens. Japan has no street cleaners and very few garbage cans yet the streets are spotless because nobody litters. Japanese people even carry their garbage home from the park.
Propaganda only works as long as people can’t travel abroad to see reality with their own eyes. Basically everyone who travels to Japan falls in love with the country. The Japanese people are so kind and friendly and the country so beautiful and well-developed that even those Chinese tourists who believed the Chinese government’s anti-Japanese propaganda completely transform into fans of Japan! Nothing is more convincing than seeing something with one’s own eyes.
Japanese service is the best in the world. Here is just one example to illustrate how amazing it really is: We were going to stay at a ryokan (Japanese-style hotel) with my friends. It was raining as we were approaching the building when the staff appeared in front of us holding umbrellas over our heads. They bowed and apologized for the rain as if it was their fault. The staff didn’t hold umbrellas over their own heads, only above ours. Once inside, they presented us with three bottle of delicious Japanese sake. They said they were sorry the weather was so bad on the day we arrived. My friends just couldn’t believe their eyes. And this was not an expensive ryokan, just an average place in the countryside. Such attentive and kind welcome is normal in Japan but I’ve never experienced it in any other country.
Even if you have a lot of money, stay at simple places to get a feel for the country. Luxury hotels are wonderful but similar everywhere in the world. That’s why I recommend tourists to stay at a minshuku. These family-run bed-and-breakfast places are excellent value and a wonderful way to experience life at a Japanese house.
The Japanese toilet is the pride of Japan. China is the world’s second biggest economy and its citizens feel great pride in their country. But only until they use the Japanese toilet. Once in there, they fall in love with Japan more as they recognize that only gentle, caring and smart people could design such a wonder. The gorgeous design, the cleanliness, the various rooms for children, the elderly, for people with disabilities: It’s just amazing! It’s the essence of Japan. My friend’ son said he thought that maybe in 50 years China can reach that level. I hope so!
To have a clean city, all you need is well-behaved citizens. — Wang Jia Liang