What do a tour busload of young Japanese honeymooners see when they visit Los Angeles?
A theme restaurant in the Marina, Rodeo Drive, the handprints of faded movie stars in Hollywood, embroidered sombreros in Olvera Street. They also get a wealth of information, some of which many Angelenos would find quite disturbing.
"We are going to Century City and Rodeo Drive," says Nobuaki Kimoto, 30, the local Joy-Tak tour guide, slim and dapper in his double-breasted suit, as the tour bus creeps out of LAX and heads for Marina del Rey, first stop on a typical 6-hour tour of L.A.'s major attractions. "Look at the map. There are high-class shops in Beverly Hills. We will have 45 to 50 minutes for shopping. Perhaps this is a short time for women because women shop a lot. After Rodeo Drive, we go to Chinese Theater to see footprints and handprints of stars--that is why it is famous--and then go to Olvera Street to see a Mexican village."
As the tour bus rolls through a late-morning fog into Marina del Rey, the 18 sleepy young couples aboard discreetly hold hands. They were married three days ago in Japan. And now, in their suits, dresses or acid-washed jeans, they are on a seven-day JALPAK tour of San Francisco, L.A. and Honolulu, for which they paid $5,000 a couple including the wedding.
To make sure the visitors get the most out of their tour, Kimoto repeats the important information three times, especially the joys of duty-free shops and the dangers of pickpockets and purse snatchers. (For the benefit of a visitor, a translator repeats his remarks in English.)
During a 15-minute stop at Fisherman's Village, a group photo is taken (available though Kimoto at $10 a copy), after which the group is off to lunch at the Warehouse, a restaurant that is supposed to look like a weathered waterfront warehouse somewhere in the South Seas, with a rusted tin roof and colorfully disintegrating artifacts. The couples laugh nervously. Kimoto's brief on American food does nothing to reassure them.
"If it is weird food for you, only take a little," he advises. "We are having boiled fish with cream sauce. It's very good. You eat it with bread and butter. The bread is a little sour, so don't be surprised. Americans eat sour bread with fish, so please try it. I don't mean it's good, but give it a shot."
Tipping for Service
Later they report other confusing things: the universally large portions on dinner plates, what they regard as the abnormally high urinals in American men's rooms, and the practice of tipping people for service.
As the bus rolls through Century City, Kimoto asks how many people are interested in touring the Grand Canyon, Tijuana or Disneyland. "The people going to Disneyland can't eat breakfast, because you will eat at Disneyland instead. It is a typical American breakfast: two pancakes, scrambled eggs, orange juice, coffee," he says, adding, "It is all Americans usually eat."
As the bus comes down Rodeo Drive, Kimoto is pleased to point out the affluence. "Can you see the nice cars? Because this is Beverly Hills; a lot of rich people live here. Look at the map. Please enjoy the shopping."
The bus parks on a side street near the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and the passengers are streaming up Rodeo. Remember, Kimoto counsels, "The husband is the timekeeper. Make the wife hurry."
Shoji and Yukari Koganei, a young couple who live in a 297-square-foot apartment in the Kanagawa prefecture, head directly for Louis Vuitton, where even the gym bags cost $320. Yukari, 23, can't decide between two small handbags, neither one of which would hold more than a saucer. When she asks Shoji for his opinion, he makes a quick conversion into yen on his pocket calculator. Apparently the price is right, and Yukari selects a small cotton canvas/vinyl purse for $425. ("In Japan," she later explains, "the prices are twice as high.")
While waiting for the rest of the tourists to return to the bus, Shoji explains what he likes about America: "People can wear anything they want to." Houses are astonishingly cheaper, he adds, one-third the cost in Japan.
Back on the bus, waiting in traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard, Kimoto points out the Beverly Hills City Hall. "Did you see 'Beverly Hills Cop'?" he asks. "It was a police station in the movie. It was shot right out there. When you go home, go watch the video. You can tell a friend you came to Beverly Hills."
Then it's on to West Hollywood. "After this line," he tells them, as the bus turns up Doheny, "there are many gay people and many discos and bars. I like the disco. I'm not gay but I like that place.
"In L.A.," he explains, "there is a difference between the rich and the poor. And you saw where the rich people live. . . . Up in the hills many rich people live."
"What do they do for a living?" asks a passenger.
"Many of the people are Jewish and make a good living," he says, adding, as if it were fact: "Eighty (percent) to 90% of the people in Beverly Hills are Jewish."