Japan’s Enduring Love Affair With Hawaii

Hawaii is consistently one of the most popular holiday destinations for Japanese tourists. But they don’t show their love just by going there.
Food, clothes and even festivals all over Japan demonstrate that people’s love for the islands is about way more than beaches.
According to a 2022 travel trend report from Japanese domestic travel agency HIS, Hawaii had the most overseas trip reservations for the summer holidays, accounting for 20% of people booking overseas summer trips through the agency.
Japan’s two biggest airlines, ANA and JAL, restarted their daily flights to Hawaii in July and June, respectively, for the first time since the pandemic.
“ANA and JAL know that Hawaii is the first place Japanese tourists return to when traveling abroad. It is a place where they can go freely without a visa,” said Kotaro Toriumi, a Japanese aviation and travel analyst. “These airlines are strengthening their Hawaii campaigns the most … all they do is advertise for trips to Hawaii.”
Japan’s love affair with Hawaii can perhaps be summed up by one word: iyashi. It means “healing” or “comfort” in English but often encapsulates the sense of freedom and relaxation that many Japanese associate with the islands.

The roots of a relationship

Yujin Yaguchi, a professor at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Studies, focuses on Hawaii and U.S.-Japan cultural relations.
Yaguchi notes that at the beginning of the 19th century, a large number of Japanese immigrated to Hawaii, which made it a familiar and easy place for Japanese tourists to travel to.
Many had relatives they were visiting, and it also helped with the language barrier.
Data from the American Community Survey done by the U.S. Census Bureau indicated in a 2016-2020 study that 22.3% of Hawaii residents identified as Japanese or part-Japanese.
“Today, I think people (in Hawaii) speak Japanese for business purposes. It’s very easy to access people who are capable of understanding, if not speaking, Japanese, and you’ve got announcements and signage and everything in Japanese,” explains Yaguchi.
For nearly 20 years after the end of World War II, leisure trips abroad were banned in Japan, with occasional exceptions for study abroad programs or business trips.

Peace on a plate

A plate lunch is a product of Hawaii’s multicultural background. Usually, it’s two scoops of white rice, a side of macaroni salad with a generous portion of mayonnaise and your choice of protein, commonly doused with thick savory gravy.
“When I went to Hawaii and saw plate lunches, I found it fascinating. It was a fusion of American, Japanese and just of Asian (cultures). That was really interesting to me and so that got me addicted to plate lunches. I realized that there weren’t many plate lunch restaurants in Japan that were close to what I was having in Hawaii,” said Akihiro Misono, who started his plate lunch restaurant Da Plate Lunch 808 in Sakura, Chiba Prefecture, last year.
The Honolulu-based radio station KSSK-FM is transmitted from Hawaii into the restaurant. Customers often sport “aloha shirts,” which are called Hawaiian shirts in the U.S.

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