The Things People Do For Tourism

Posted By: Kimberly

We have been going around some places in the last few days, from Ise to Hikone, and I have had quite the experience as a traveller, in a way, just the kind of thing I look for when I make a trip.

The importance of tourism is not to be underestimated, after all some countries have up to 99% of their GDP generated by those struck with wanderlust and wonder. But sometimes I don't know if it is worth it, not the travelling... but more the stuff that goes into making people go out there.

The above is one of the ladies who dove into the frigid 10 degree celsius water just a couple days ago while we looked on. Wrapped in my five layers of warm clothing, gloved and hooded, I was freezing while trying to capture the photographs. I cannot imagine what she must be feeling, in that water... certainly she did not have access to a heatpack, nor could she have had the skin of a seal. The demonstration was to show people how previous generations had made a living. Today, even though the community now usually cultivates their pearls through barbaric torture, a few ladies still dive, every hour and torture themselves to titillate guests. I feel guilty for contributing by watching, almost, even though news of this performance was exactly what brought me out to the Ise Peninsula. I wonder if I did wrong, to go. Surely there must be better ways to generate money or teach lessons of the past? In this day and age of computers and 3D technology?

On the next day, this was the sight that greeted my eyes as I stood on Lake Biwa's shores. It is a scene that would not have been out of place in East Coast Park, back home. A lost shoe, plastic bags, discarded bottles and cans among the flotsam and jetsam that had washed ashore. In marketing the place to tourists (this was part of the beach that was designated as a swimming spot), could not more have been done to preserve the environment? Or is the lake simply secondary, since it loses out in popularity to the town's favourite samurai cat mascot?

The aforementioned mascot who adorned lamp-posts and walls all over the city, appeared on edibles (biscuits, cookies, dorayaki), stuffed toys (complete with hello kitty incarnation), clothes (sweaters, tshirts, even lacy underwear), cutlery (every imaginable type), and even as solid stone statues and wooden plaques, culminating in the shrine captured in the photo. We were spammed so solidly with his completely adorable image that I succumbed and am now in possession of postcards, sake cup, pin badge, stuffed toy and a bag. Ok, so not all of it is for me, and clearly the touristy thing is working for the economy of Hikone, but something at the back of my head was squeaking in a small voice "Aaaa! It might be cute, but this is Merlion material!" For those not in the know, this would be the mystical creation of the Singapore Tourism Board to chalk up more dollars in our local economy. Purely for that purpose, because nobody really believes the tripe that the thing might have existed.
See, the thing is this. In the last few days, I have:
1. Visited one of the holiest and most revered Shinto shrines in Japan, dedicated to Amaterasu and stood among the cypress trees that surround the tranquil location, soaking up the peace in my soul.

2. Visited one of Japan's National Treasures, Hikone Castle, one of the oldest castles of original construction left in Japan and stood in the donjon that has been preserved for more centuries than I have decades.

3. Stood on the shores of Lake Biwa, one of the twenty oldest lakes in the world and the largest body of freshwater in all of Japan. So huge that I could not see its opposite shore from the heights of Hikone Castle's ancient donjon and with such a diverse ecosystem that it holds 58 endemic species found nowhere else in the world.

So I think it very odd indeed that the first three items stand out more in my experience, than the latter three. It is only through dedicated research on my part that I have found the latter information at all, and I wish it could have been otherwise somehow. Perhaps I should stick to documenting my meetings with dogs, cats and various bird species instead? They enchant me with wonder, without fail, and leave much less guilt in my heart when they go...

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