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I–Thou Relationships in Tourism: The Case of Cross-Cultural Interaction between Okinawan Locals and Japanese Tourists

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This study examines encounters between Okinawan locals and Japanese mainland tourists on Okinawa. Rarely has Okinawan tourism been studied. The study applies the I–Thou ideas of Martin Buber, the great theologian, to those interactions. It appears this is the first study in tourism research to do so. I–Thou relations are those that engage another person fully, while I–It relations view the other person as a means to another end. I–Thou relations lead to change; I–It relations do not. It is difficult to ascertain the presence of I–Thou relations, but transformation, community, friendship, certain short encounters, as well as certain ways of describing the experience may be marks of I–Thou relations. This study interviewed 42 tourists and 35 locals via in-depth qualitative interviews. The results suggest some surprising conclusions. Goal-oriented tourism inhibits cross-cultural relations. Neither cultural similarity nor cultural difference affect whether I–Thou relations occur. I–Thou relations do not occur often, tempering views about tourism as an agent of change. The tourism goals of cultural plurality and transformation of our world can be achieved through I–Thou relations. The cultures of Japan and Okinawa indicate how transformation can be handled where I–It relations dominate.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2011-07-01

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  • Tourism, Culture & Communication is international in its scope and will place no restrictions upon the range of cultural identities covered, other than the need to relate to tourism and hospitality. The Journal seeks to provide interdisciplinary perspectives in areas of interest that may branch away from traditionally recognized national and indigenous cultures, for example, cultural attitudes toward the management of tourists with disabilities, gender aspects of tourism, sport tourism, or age-specific tourism.
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