How to Write “Love” in Japanese

Yesterday I attended the Los Angeles Times Travel & Adventure Show, where, for the $12 admission price you could scale a climbing wall…

…have your photo taken with Taiwanese princes…

…watch a hula show…

…zip-line the length of the convention hall, pick up  packets of Thai jasmine rice or Santa Maria Valley pinquito beans, snack on dozens of varieties of candy, acquire swag like right-sized plastic bags for carry-on liquids courtesy of Los Angeles World Airports and colorful beach balls from about half-a-dozen booths. All told, about 500 vendors handed out brochures and samples, sold their products (single-use underwear? Really?) and vied to get people to spend their vacation dollars on experiences from Los Angeles County to exotic Peru, Fiji or Turkey and as far away as the Maldives and South Africa.

One booth, though, stood in contrast to all the commerce.  The space normally staffed by the Japan National Tourism Organization had been transformed into a torii gate-shaped shrine of peace and consolation for the victims of this month’s earthquake and tsunami. Instead of selling Japan, staffers, would-have-been folk dance performers and volunteers collected funds (almost $18,000 over the weekend; “People were leaving $100 bills,” one staffer told me.), helped visitors sign a book of condolence and hope…

…taught visitors to write the Japanese character ai (“love”) to be transmitted to Japan…

…and folded origami cranes, the symbol of peace and wish-making, as thank-you gifts for stopping by.

Although my business is travel, this dignified, sales-free commemoration moved me more than any other booth at the Travel Show. Travel is meaningless unless it helps build understanding, and one mark of understanding is giving with no reciprocation necessary.

To see the “love” characters transmitted to Japan, visit aifromla.org

For donations, the booth was referring visitors to the website of the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles.

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