Omotenashi Japan and Legacy: Mari Christine | TMC Talks Vol.13

This article is a transcription of a speech given by Mari Christine at TMC Talks held by the Tokyo Media Center (TMC) on Sep 4.
日本語で読む/Read in Japanese
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Omotenashi Japan and Legacy|TMC Talks Vol.XX

I am going to speak in both Japanese and English, by myself although we have very capable and wonderful translators.

I was told by several members of the Olympic Committee, "I don't think the Japanese like foreigners coming to Japan," and this was in the preliminary stages when they were first starting to arrive in Japan for the Olympics. I was surprised to hear this. they don't want foreigners to come to Japan, and you have a group of people that want to cancel the Olympics. What is going on here?" I replied to them that this is a very unique incident because we have never had a big, mega-event like this in the middle of a pandemic anywhere in the world and within any history books that I can recall.

The Japanese Do like foreigners to come to Japan, and the Japanese people Love diversity. They love intercultural communication but this time, because of this pandemic, everyone is afraid of having people from other countries come into Japan. Because perhaps, it will be something that will be devastating for the Japanese public and for the government. With this being said one of the biggest actual experiments that we have ever experienced in the world, where we have a pandemic and at the same time be able to protect as many people as possible from it and to organize this event, in a very organized way, so that if in the future there is a pandemic during a mega event, we will know how to cope with this.

I was very happy, and it was so heartwarming to hear the words of an Olympic and Paralympic family as they said to me, "after we compete and go back to our countries and when I can make safe travels again, we would love to come back and visit Japan." I was completely taken by surprise because I imagined that if you're coming to Japan, and you are so restricted in your movements and you cannot go to the places that you had anticipated going to, after you've finished your different events one would probably say, "well we don't want to come back again," but that was not the case. The case was that they had said they would love to come back to Japan, and they would love to see more of Japan.

When I asked them why? They said "because the Japanese people were so kind and they were so nice and they are so hospitable, and they had gone out of their way to make us feel welcome here". That is what I felt so happy to hear this. The reason is that even within this pandemic, the city cast and also the volunteers have been helping the Olympians to be safe and also to make everyone feel comfortable here in Japan. They had gone out of their way to try to make you feel comfortable.

This is what I think true hospitality is when we speak of legacy, I think the legacy of the Olympics will be that the athletes have come and they have helped the Japanese realized the real meaning of hospitality, and the true meaning of legacy, because as I said before, the Olympic Games this time was actually a very big experiment in having or in hosting a mega-event during a pandemic. This has never happened before in the world. And so now that we know what is necessary and how we can support the visitors that do come to Japan, I think this will be something that can be used as a pilot case. It can also be a case study for different countries that will be sponsoring and being the host of mega-events in the future.

Another episode that I found very heartwarming and impressive was that when you speak of diversity and you speak of diversity in other countries, you find that diversity and intercultural communication in a way is a sort of tolerance between different cultures, where you must respect each other, of course.

And you must be able to accept other people's different cultures which you might not understand, but in order to have a more peaceful society, you need to help each other, and you need to help people to simulate into different countries. Whereas in Japan we find a diversity to be very interesting.

There was a very interesting episode during the Edo period, where they would have big parades during the festival seasons. When they had the Edo festival four hundred years ago, they had elephants in the parade, they had foreign people coming in, people of color coming in, and the people of Edo were watching this as a big mega event, although there wasn't a pandemic at that time. And for the Japanese, it was interesting for them. The Japanese find it fulfilling to be able to speak with people of different cultures and to see differences and to enjoy the differences, whereas I think that in other countries, when you see differences, you tend to push away a lot of the aspects of cultures that you cannot find acceptable to your own country.

So in that way I believe that a lot of the athletes that came this time and the people that were working with the Olympics coming from the foreign countries felt very welcome and I think they felt that they were being given hospitality that they normally would not receive in other countries because of this feeling of the Japanese, that different cultures are interesting, and they want to learn more about different cultures and they want to experience different cultures.

In Japan and in Tokyo, although at this time, you cannot move as freely as you want to, one of the biggest bragging points for me is that you can eat almost any dish of any country or any culture in the world at a very delicious level in Tokyo. We have perhaps every type of food in the world in Tokyo. You can find a restaurant that suits your particular country and cultural taste and therefore, in that respect, the Japanese enjoy diversity; they enjoy different cultures. And so we hope that when you finish your work and do go back to your own country, you will find time again for vacation and come to Japan, when you feel safe and you feel that it would be comfortable for you to come back here to Japan again.

I will finish my talk by saying I was told by several Paralympians when I had an opportunity to speak with that they were pampered so much here in Japan that they would find it difficult to go back to their own countries and live the life that they had been living so far, because there they must do everything on their own. they must be very independent, and although being independent is one of the best things in the world for a person with physical impairment. Being in Japan has really spoiled them and that they will be very happy to come back again and to visit. So, this ends my speech for today. Thank you.

Mari Christine

Christine lived in Japan until the age of four when her father's job took her overseas to Germany, the US, Iran, Thailand and other countries. She returned to Japan in 1970 and graduated from Sophia University with a degree in comparative cultural studies. While in university she began appearing on TV. Christine has MC'd for international conferences, orchestra concerts, and other international events due to her mastery of several languages. She has appeared on numerous TV and radio programs, holds lectures, and works as an intercultural interpreter.

Some quotes have been paraphrased.