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It’s a Small World

SNA (Tokyo) – The Japan Travel and Tourism Association (JATA) annual “Tourism Expo Japan” wrapped up today after a three-day run. It bills itself as the largest tourism expo in the world, and it is undoubtedly very sizeable. Filling up a whole wing of Tokyo Big Sight in Odaiba, there were booths representing all 47 prefectures of Japan as well as about 150 foreign nations. In all, close to a thousand companies and organizations participated.

There are a number of striking elements in regard to a visit to one of these annual expos. On the one hand, it really does seem as if the entire world is represented in one way or another, but always in distorted proportions as if viewed through some sort of crazy crystal.

Hokkaido TourSome areas or countries participate actively in this event, while others make a less impressive effort. The result of this disparity is that size and impact at the JATA Expo does not necessarily translate into size and impact in the real world. In this peculiar place, Okutama emerges larger in the imagination than Shinjuku, and one might believe that Angola is a powerhouse in Africa.

There is also a distinct sense of unreality about the lives of real people. Through the lens of the expo, each country is defined by some curious ethnic costume, or a beautiful waterfall, or some traditional form of music that is more often than not performed exclusively for the benefit of the tourists themselves.

Attending the JATA Expo is probably about as close as most contemporary people will ever come to reliving the “World’s Fairs” that had such a big impact in France and Britain in the mid-19th century, and later in places such as Chicago and New York. Most of those events were focused on new technologies rather than tourism, but they were also a display of the power of European empires that at that time had swallowed up most of the rest of the world.

Of course, the polarity has now reversed. Rather than have, for example, British imperial agents organize a show to demonstrate the curious customs of the “natives” in their newest colony, now it is the natives themselves who are eager to highlight their “unique” features in the attempt to bring some tourist spending into their economies.

The JATA Tourism Expo Japan is thus big business, but it has much more the texture and aesthetic of a Disneyland theme park, like… it’s a small world after all.

But that’s not surprising either, considering the fact that Disneyland’s “It’s a Small World” boat ride itself has its origins in the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

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