In this talk, Chris McMorran, from the Department of Japanese Studies, National University of Singapore, introduce the ryokan and share the behind-the-scenes work that keeps a ryokan running smoothly, from the everyday tasks of cleaning, serving, and making guests feel at home, to the generational work of producing and training a suitable heir who can carry on the family business.
Mobilizing Hospitality in Rural Japan
Amid the decline of many rural communities in Japan, the hot springs village resort of Kurokawa Onsen is a rare, bright spot. Its two dozen traditional inns, or ryokan, draw hundreds of thousands of tourists a year eager to admire its landscape, experience its hospitality, and soak in its hot springs. As a result, these ryokan have enticed village youth to return home to take over successful family businesses and revive the community. What does it take to produce this family business and one of Japan’s most relaxing spaces?
Chris McMorran spent nearly two decades researching ryokan in Kurokawa, including a full year of welcoming guests, carrying luggage, scrubbing baths, cleaning rooms, washing dishes, and talking with co-workers and owners about their jobs, relationships, concerns, and aspirations. He presents the realities of ryokan work—celebrated, messy, ignored, exploitative, and liberating—and introduces the people who keep the inns running by making guests feel at home.
Chris McMorran is Associate Professor of Japanese Studies at the National University of Singapore. He is a cultural geographer of contemporary Japan focusing on the geographies of home across scale.
McMorran is the author of Ryokan: Mobilizing Hospitality in Rural Japan (University of Hawai’i Press), an ethnography of a Japanese inn, based on twelve months spent scrubbing baths, washing dishes, and making guests feel at home at a hot springs resort. He has published widely on tourism topics, including heritage tourism, post-disaster voluntourism, and gendered labor in the tourism industry, as well as on topics like MOOCs, area studies, and field-based learning. He also co-produces the Home on the Dot podcast with NUS students, which explores the meaning of home on the little red dot called Singapore.