Chinese Tourists

I just this weekend returned from a one week Tokyo bizcation (business and pleasure), where I got my fill of great food, great temples, great cherry blossoms and Chinese tourists. But rather than me go off and tell you what I saw of the Chinese tourists, I will instead discuss how the Japanese are reacting to them, starting with this article from The Nanfang entitled Chinese Tourists Rampage Through Japan’s Cherry Blossoms.

This article talks about how Japanese are so angry with the behavior of (some) Chinese tourists that they are calling for “Chinese only zones” to minimize the damage and the disruptions they cause. For two reasons, I find this horrible and incredibly sad. First, it reminds me of how badly the United States treated the Chinese who came to the United States in the 1800s and the early 1900s. Calling for Chinese only zones harkens back to those days as it is discriminatory to the extreme. No matter how bad Chinese tourists may act, I would never condone segregating them. Second, I find it sad and horrible that it has come to this.

But even with my very limited dealings with Japanese while I was there, I heard more than once their views on the Chinese tourists in their midst. Our hotel concierge urged that we go to Ueno Park “before 10 a.m. because the Chinese start to come after that and ruin it for everybody else.” When I looked at her somewhat stunned, she proceeded to apologize profusely for their behavior and said that “everyone is hoping that they will not be allowed to come during cherry blossom season next year. It would be better.” A Japanese lawyer told me pretty much the same thing and of how “much better the cherry blossom season was before the Chinese started coming.” He then went on a diatribe about how they do not “really appreciate beauty but just come to say that they were here and because they are still really mad at us.” I did not bother to ask why they would come to Japan because they are mad, because the whole conversation made me too uncomfortable and I feared it would only get worse.

Japan has to be one of the most orderly, law abiding, safety conscious nations in the world. Nobody jay walks. Nobody cuts in line. Nobody steals. Nobody speaks so loudly as to bother others. Pretty much everyone is helpful and respectful. It is flat out amazing in these regards. Not surprisingly, it expects similar behavior from others.

Japan does not hesitate to discriminate. Pretty much every single time I have left Japan via air, including this time, I am taken out for a “random” search, along with pretty much every non-Japanese male over 5’8″ tall. Come on. So is it possible that Japan will block Chinese tourists for a few weeks during next year’s cherry season? I highly doubt it. But I could see them start steering Chinese tourists to certain parks/places at certain times, while alerting non-Chinese that is what is happening. For all I know, that is happening already, hence the concierge’s advice to get there before ten. This too would be very sad.

What can and should be done about this, beyond just adding more names to China’s cannot leave list? What are your thoughts? Is this just a China problem or is this happening because of globalization and the Chinese are unfairly getting tarnished with one big brush that should include others? Is this a case of unfairly imposing one country’s values on another? Do you find all of this as sad as I do? hese are some really tough times for globalization and no country is immune to this. Is this a Japan problem or a China problem or a problem of both countries or the entire world?

Serious and respectful comments are welcome.

Dan Harris

I am a founder of Harris Bricken, an international law firm with lawyers in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, China and Spain.

I mostly represent companies doing business in emerging market countries. It has taken me many years to build my network and it takes constant communication and travel to maintain it. My work has been as varied as securing the release of two improperly held helicopters in Papua New Guinea, setting up a legal framework to move slag from Canada to Poland’s interior, overseeing hundreds of litigation and arbitration matters in Korea, helping someone avoid terrorism charges in Japan, and seizing fish product in China to collect on a debt.

I was named as one of only three Washington State Amazing Lawyers in International Law, I am AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory (its highest rating), I am rated 10.0 by (its highest rating), and I am a SuperLawyer.

I am a frequent writer and public speaker on doing business in Asia and I constantly travel between the United States and Asia. I most commonly speak on China law issues and I am the lead writer of the award winning China Law Blog ( Forbes Magazine, Fortune Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, Business Week, The National Law Journal, The Washington Post, The ABA Journal, The Economist, Newsweek, NPR, The New York Times and Inside Counsel have all interviewed me regarding various aspects of my international law practice.

I am licensed in Washington, Illinois, and Alaska.

In tandem with the international law team at my firm, I focus on setting up/registering companies overseas (via WFOEs, Rep Offices or Joint Ventures), drafting international contracts (NDAs, OEM Agreements, licensing, distribution, etc.), protecting IP (trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights and patents), and overseeing M&A transactions.

  • Vigarano

    Well, the “Chinese tourist problem” is well-known in China. And everywhere else. I think Wen Jiabao made public statements about it in the pre-Xi era.

    Equally, Japan (and many other countries) know that 1) the problem is here to stay, and 2) Chinese tourists are keeping the economy afloat.

    As you know, I live in Japan and have lived here a long time. And I lived in Hong Kong for many years before that and know mainland China very well. I’ve never heard statements from Japanese as extreme as those you heard on your recent trip. There is regret, sure, about uncouth and insensitive behavior, but also acknowledgment that the economy is benefiting tremendously.

    And so …

  • stew

    The CCP Central Committee recognizes Chinese tourist behavior has become a serious issue and is damaging the country’s image. Some Chinese tourists have engaged in very destructive behaviors, from carving names into ancient ruins, loud obnoxious behavior in restaurants, killing animals while taking selfies, and damaging natural resources. The China National Tourism Administration and the central government’s Office of the Spiritual Civilization Development Steering Commission have released a list of “dos and don’ts” for citizens intending to travel abroad, and there is talk of forbidding Chinese worst offenders from even leaving the country. The problem is probably blown out of proportion just by the sheer volume of Chinese traveling overseas but then it only takes a few rotten apples to spoil the whole barrel.

  • Kevin Colby

    Sad is not the word I would use. Somehow this seems more about economic Japanese decline (or maybe stagnation might be more appropriate) and Chinese upsurge as well as the ongoing tensions of Sino-Japanese relations. In addition, Japanese have not be known for being the most open-minded with foreigners. To extrapolate a bit, if Japan still treats Brazilian Dekasegi as second class citizens….and for all intent and purpose they are Japanese (though culturally Brazilian), do you really think they would treat better other Asian nations that are not Japanese?

  • Fallacy Ref

    Reduced number of tourist visas issued. Mandatory in-flight pre-arrival debriefing film on how to behave in Japan. Fines levied by police on foot patrol for damaged public property and littering, with automatic visa ineligibility rendered for future attempted visits. Thailand, France, Italy, you name it. They’re all suffering the same problem and taking steps.

  • chrislanterman

    People love to complain about tourists. Its a sign of how great you are. (A) The place we live is so desirable (B) we’re better than than people who come to visit us and make our area worse. French do it to Americans, Americans do it to others.

    Chinese tourists are highlighted a bit unfairly because (a) any time culture have different values, the gaps in values become fairly noticeable pretty quick (b) China, obviously is HUGE, and 1% of China going abroad anywhere make a big impact. I always wonder, 20% of Seattle property is being bought up by China, big impact for us, but for them, that’s like .0001% of Shanghai, Hangzhou, Qingdao, buying up property in Seattle, no real impact for them.

    For tourism, one thing I have to say is that Japan is nice and orderly, but no one there speaks English, things are confusing, and if you’re like me and stupidly take a taxi from the airport to downtown Tokyo, you’ll be set back $200 USD, though the taxi cab driver will be super nice about it. In China, all signs are in English, or at least pinyin, it’s really hard to get lost as you’ll find someone who can speak English, and of course, a taxi cab driver may (almost certainly) cheat you on the fare from the airport, but it’ll probably cost you 200 RMB, or just $32.

  • Yunwei Liang

    At the begining I was curious about what did Chinese people do to make Japanese so angry, and after I opened the article from The Nanfang, I understood right away. Chinese people (maybe tourists from other countries too) need to realize that people’s expectations to tourists’ behavior vary in different countries. Before going to Japan, at the very least you should show some respect by learning that Japanese people has very high standard as for cleaness, shoes are not allowed indoor, etc. I agree with Dan that the globalization is part of the reason that resulted this. Still it is very sad for me to say that I understand such discreminating solutions, as I could imagine posting signs outside of the parks saying “Do not climb the trees” and “Plucking flowers is not permitted” wouldn’t stop these type of behaviors. However, it is not smart for Japanese to complain TOO much because Chinese tourists brought tons of money to Japan and once Chinese people get upset about this (discremination and complaint), what happened to HK would happen to Japan and I think Japanese wouldn’t like that as well.

  • KCL

    I will first apologize if I offend anyone, but it is important that we express our honest opinion for the betterment of this forum.

    As a Taiwanese who grew up in Taiwan/US and now living in Shanghai, I can tell you this type of “odd” behavior will probably be observed for a while, although they are being displayed by very different group of Chinese people as more and more of them travel abroad.

    Perhaps it will take another generation of 10 or 20 years but that’s here to stay in the near future. There are three major angles to look at this:

    1) Velocity of wealth generation and number of participants to economic growth;

    2) Have we observe similar patterns in other Chinese societies (Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Singapore)?

    3) Factors that are unique within China.

    1) Velocity of wealth generation and number of participants to economic growth
    There is always this mismatch of newly obtained wealth vs appropriate public behavior. You see that in other parts of the world, but the mismatch is much greater due to China’s fast wealth accumulation and wide economic participation among its general public. Don’t get me wrong the rich and poor gap is obviously very wide here, but if a rural female migrant domestic helper can save 4-5000 RMB a month after expenses (male construction workers even more), you get the idea of the eligible outbound travelers from China.

    2) Have we seen similar patterns in other Chinese societies (Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Singapore)?
    I won’t get into Hong Kong or Singapore because their respective governments have done their work some 50 years ago and I just have not experienced that firsthand.

    I am also trying to draw the parallel between how the Taiwanese tourists behaved in the 80s vs the Chinese today. I see many similarities except everything gets magnified with the scale of China or the sheer number of Chinese and thanks to today’s social media, images are widely discussed, exaggerated, and disseminated exponentially.
    Taiwanese did not trash their own place as much as the Chinese today, but the abuse or poor display of newly established purchasing power is definitely similar.

    I think Taiwan become a fully-fledged democracy (started from the 80s and direct presidential election in 1996) really accelerated this process of respecting others’ rights at the expense of your personal inconvenience or pleasure, because people feel they “own” the place as oppose to the elites. That’s why Taiwanese behave better at home today and that gets carried out when they travel abroad. On the other hand, Chinese trash their own tourist attractions much much worse than other places abroad. In fact I would argue they have consciously show a lot of self restraint when they travel abroad.

    (3) Factors that are unique within China.
    Here is my personal view/take:

    1. Chinese derive their core value more from their family and friends and less from unrelated strangers in the society at large, since the lack of societal duty & responsibility is prevalent, one cannot expect the equation to suddenly change when they travel abroad.

    2. Because of the sheer number of people with limited resources, Chinese are being regulated by a very capable government, so the name of the game becomes – what a person could potentially push for personal gain within the confines of those regulated boundaries? When they travel abroad with the boundaries lifted, things do get carried away.

    3. Many older Chinese (post 70s or prior) have endured extreme material scarcity and have paid dearly for falling behind, so they have developed this natural instinct of swarm first and react later. Again this picture doesn’t bode well when you travel abroad in masses.

    I know the Chinese government is preaching hard and many net citizens are embarrassed or calling for desperate actions to rectify this, but there is still a considerable gap between appropriate civic behavior vs being free spirited at the expense of others. At the same time, it is best interest of the merchants of the host countries to smartly manage this transitional period with good intentions so it becomes a true win-win proposition.

    It is the best interest of the world to engage Chinese middle class consumers constructively with deeper understanding and not antagonistically with pride and prejudice. The world will be a better place if we find a sustainable way to engage the Chinese global consumers so it’s not a pattern of feast or famine, which seems to be the case in many tourist attractions popular with the Chinese.

    • Terry Newman

      Good points

  • Terry Newman

    I have lived in both countries for many years and have seen this issue from both sides of the fence. Generally, Japanese people are extremely tolerant of bad behaviour. They tend to take an intelligent view of what is happening and see it as an evolving situation and look at the upside i.e. economic benefits and a positive experience for most tourists that helps to counter CCP propaganda. The Japanese you talked to were probably also concerned about your feelings and may have felt the need to apologise for the bad behaviour that they feared you may encounter. On the other side of the fence, where I now live, my Chinese friends also feel uncomfortable about the behaviour of their more unruly citizens. Again, looking on the bright side, in traveling back and forth I actually find that the situation is improving and that most Chinese are now quite well behaved. As long as the issue does not get politicised the situation will continue to get better.

  • N Wolf

    China knows those tourists make her look like an asshole, you can’t deny that when the CCP is going out of its way to prevent tourists from causing trouble other countries so that Japan will be more willing to cooperate. Plus the behabior of those tourists truly is inconsiderate. They should not be segrragted but they need to face the consequences for embarrassing China. China wants to look competent and civilized not barbaric and uncultured in front of its Asian neighbors.This is a matter of face my friend. Even China can’t get away with allowing its less educated citizens to cause trouble in other nations