Why do Japanese people love Hawaii?

(CNN) – Hawaii has always been one of the most popular vacation destinations for Japanese tourists. But they don’t show their love just by going there.

Food, clothing, and even festivals all over Japan prove that people’s love for the islands is more than just the beaches.

According to the 2022 travel trends report from Japanese domestic travel agency HIS, Hawaii has the most bookings for overseas travel during the summer vacation, accounting for 20% of those booking overseas trips. in the summer through this company.

Japan’s two largest airlines, ANA and JAL, restarted daily flights to Hawaii in July and June for the first time since the pandemic.

“ANA and JAL know that Hawaii is the first place Japanese tourists return when traveling abroad. It’s a place where they can travel freely without a visa,” said Kotaro Toriumi, an analyst. Japan aviation and tourism analyst said. “These airlines are ramping up their Hawaii campaigns the most… all they do is advertise trips to Hawaii.”

Japan’s love affair with Hawaii can perhaps be summed up in one word: iyashi. It means “healing” or “comforting” in English but often encapsulates the sense of freedom and relaxation that many Japanese associate with the islands.

Increase in popularity, increase in price

While Japanese tourists’ love for Hawaii dates back decades, it will take some time for tourism numbers to return to their pre-Covid-19 peaks.

Before the pandemic, Japanese tourists accounted for the largest number of foreign tourists in Hawaii. Based on Hawaii Tourism Authority data, Japanese tourists also spend the largest amount per visitor.

The number of tourists coming from Japan fell by 95.2% in the first half of 2022 with only 34,925 arrivals compared to 734,235 arrivals in 2019. Japanese tourists spent $86.7 million in the first half of 2022. , down 91.6% from $1.03 billion in 2019, in Hawaii alone.

And there is another factor at play, which is the devaluation of the yen. It became much more expensive for the Japanese to travel to the US due to the depreciation of the yen against the dollar. The majority of current flight bookings to Hawaii are for upper classes such as business and premium economy.

“The people who want to go now are mostly rich people or people with high salaries because that’s normal for them. I don’t think young people can go arbitrarily to Hawaii right now.” Toriumi added.

Experience Hawaii without leaving Japan

For those unable to get to Hawaii, Japan offers local options.

Hawaiian-themed festivals – featuring hula dancers, ukulele players and Hawaiian food carts – are hugely popular.

These festivals take place in metropolitan cities such as Tokyo, Yokohama, and Osaka, as well as rural areas such as Ikaho Onsen, a hot spring town in Gunma Prefecture.

David Smith said: “(In Japan) people are too hasty, whether it’s about going to college or (worrying about) other things like war or politics, but in Hawaiian culture, this culture maintains only one island of its own”. , CEO of Leiland Growa Japan-based company that specializes in Hawaii-themed concerts and events.

“I thought (these festivals) would lead to bringing that kind of Hawaiian culture to Japan and letting people know about the goodness of Hawaii.”

Punalu'u is painted yellow to remind visitors of the sunny Hawaiian sky.

Punalu’u is painted yellow to remind visitors of the sunny Hawaiian sky.

Kathleen Benoza

In addition to the periodic festivals, there are Hawaiian restaurants all over Japan.

Punalu’u, a cozy Hawaii-themed restaurant in Yachiyo, Chiba, is decorated with an array of typical American and Hawaiian memorabilia. There’s a Harley Davidson motorcycle at its center next to the wall and a surfboard above it with the name of the store.

The owner and chef, Yuji Nonaka, 57, quit his salaried job and started the restaurant 14 years ago with his wife, Kiyomi Nonaka, 50.

Kiyomi discovered her love of Hawaii – especially hula dancing – during a work trip at the age of 18.

“Hula has helped me get through a lot of things in life, whether it’s my relationships with other people or something that’s not going well at work. When I’m working with hula, I feel like I’m in a higher space. I want to share this feeling with others, so I opened my own hula school here 18 years ago,” she said.

A common misconception about hula is that the dance tradition is for women. No. In ancient Hawaii, men were the first to dance the hula, and the best dancers were even chosen to become warriors. Today, Ke Kai O Kahiki – one of the most popular male hula schools in Hawai’i – is continuing this tradition by telling warrior stories with dance. To do so, the dancers train in the same way as their ancient endurance athletes, using the very ground as a harsh and uncompromising gymnasium. To dance like a warrior, you need to train like a warrior.

Origin of a relationship

Yujin Yaguchi, a professor at the Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Tokyo, focuses on Hawaii and US-Japan cultural relations.

Yaguchi notes that in the early 19th century, large numbers of Japanese immigrated to Hawaii, making it a familiar and easy place for Japanese tourists.

Many have relatives they visit, and that also helps with the language barrier.

Data from the American Community Survey conducted by the US Census Bureau in a 2016-2020 study found that 22.3% of Hawaii residents identified as Japanese or partially Japanese.

“Today, I think people (in Hawaii) speak Japanese for business purposes. It’s very easy to reach people who can understand, if not speak Japanese, and you have notices, signs and everything. stuff in Japanese,” explains Yaguchi.

For nearly 20 years after the end of World War II, leisure travel abroad was banned in Japan, with occasional exceptions for study abroad programs or business trips.

Spa Resort Hawaii is the first Hawaiian-style resort in Japan.

Spa Resort Hawaii is the first Hawaiian-style resort in Japan.

Spa Resort Hawaii

“Delight travel was not allowed for nearly two decades after the war ended. The war ended in 1945 and foreign travel was heavily restricted until 1964, but once the travel ban was lifted. abandoned, Hawaii is one of the most popular places for Japanese people to visit,” added Yaguchi.

Even if they couldn’t go, they dreamed of Hawaii.

Spa Resort Hawaiians is a hot spring amusement park located in the Joban area of ​​Fukushima Prefecture and epitomizes a simulated Hawaii in the years following the ban.

When the coal industry declined in the 1960s, the local mining company turned to tourism to help save jobs and revive the local economy, creating the first resort facility in Japan. Japan, with heated pools, palm trees and even entertainers from Hawaii.

The appreciation of the yen along with the Japanese economy in the 1980s made it affordable for the Japanese to visit Hawaii in the 1990s, at the height of the bubble economy.

“Hawaii became a beach paradise and also a shopping paradise for the Japanese in the 1990s,” says Yaguchi. “Then there was that kind of revamp or re-conceptualization of Hawaii not as a shopping paradise (but as a shopping paradise). more) as a kind of venue for iyashi.”

The owner of Da Plate Lunch 808 wanted to create a plate lunch restaurant in Japan like the ones he visited in Hawaii.

The owner of Da Plate Lunch 808 wanted to create a plate lunch restaurant in Japan like the ones he visited in Hawaii.

Kathleen Benoza

Peace on the plate

The plate lunch is a product of Hawaii’s multicultural background. Usually, it’s two tablespoons of steamed rice, one portion of pasta salad with a generous portion of mayonnaise, and your choice of protein, often served with a rich savory gravy.

“When I went to Hawaii and watched the plate lunch, I found it fascinating. It was a fusion of American, Japanese and only Asian (cultures). That was really exciting for me and so I’m addicted to plate lunch I realize Akihiro Misono, who started Da Plate Lunch 808 broken rice restaurant in Sakura, Chiba Prefecture, said last year there weren’t many lunch restaurants in Japan.

Honolulu-based radio station KSSK-FM is streamed from Hawaii into the restaurant. Customers usually wear “aloha shirts”, known as Hawaiian shirts in the US

Eggs ‘n Things, a Hawaii-based breakfast cafe and restaurant chain, has overseas locations in Japan only. The first store opened in Harajuku in 2010.

Kota Matsuda, CEO of Eggs ‘n Things Japan, cited how popular the brand is among Japanese tourists who have visited Hawaii.

“Especially in these difficult times of Covid, for many people, the barrier to traveling abroad remains high. We offer it to customers who want to travel to Hawaii but haven’t been able to complete the experience. closest experience with people who come here, said Matsuda.

Eggs 'N Things is a Hawaiian breakfast chain with a large Japanese population.

Eggs ‘N Things is a Hawaiian breakfast chain with a large Japanese population.

Kota Matsuda

Wear your fandom

Yosuke “Yo-chan” Seki, a shirt enthusiast and aloha driver, surfs every weekend and never gets tired of returning to Hawaii – he has been going every year since 2011.

“Ever since I started wearing aloha shirts, I mostly just wear them in my daily life,” said the 47-year-old. “I hope that people see me wearing them and think they want to try them on too. Right now, I’m wearing a copy of one of those expensive designs that can cost up to a few million dong. The one I’m wearing right now. wear. wear around 20,000 to 30,000 yen.”

Asami Seki, 40, is also a fan of aloha shirts and owns an accessories business called 82 of aloha. A year ago, she started creating hypoallergenic accessories that people could wear while they were surfing.

“I’ve only been to Hawaii once, but during this time, even if I can’t go because of the pandemic, I’m slowly falling in love with Hawaii more and more,” she said.

“I’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii and have always admired it even before I visited for the first time. After I returned from my first trip, I started to incorporate Hawaiian aspects into my lifestyle. ”

Her husband, Yosuke, agrees with that sentiment: “It became a kind of status for me.”

Hawaiian shirts are known as "aloha shirt" In Japan.

Hawaiian shirts are known as “aloha shirts” in Japan.

Kathleen Benoza

Asami added, “When I want to look good, I wear shirts.

The shirts are heavily influenced by Japanese art and design.

Sun Surf, an aloha brand under Toyo Enterprise with about 50 years in the game, focuses on recreating aloha shirts from the 1930s-1950s. Its brand director, Yoshihiro Nakano, 47, is an aloha shirt researcher who started collecting shirts as a teenager.

According to Nakano, the aloha shirt started with Japanese immigrants in Hawaii.

“They wore Japanese-style clothes even in Hawaii. In the second half of the 1800s, there were immigrants to Japan and soon after, they started importing rolls of cloth, among them clothes. Japan The locals saw it and thought it would be fun to make shirts using them, so they started making aloha shirts with Japanese patterns ,” said Nakano.

Mass production started after that. Instead of importing rolls of Japanese clothing fabrics from Japan, stores in Hawaii imported a wide variety of printed fabrics just for aloha shirts.

Today, these aloha shirts are considered collector’s items.

“There are a lot of (customers) who never wear (shirts) and just collect them or frame them,” Nakano said.

All in the spirit of iyashi.

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