Visitors’ Engagement and Authenticity: Japanese Heritage Consumption

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Visitors’ Engagement and Authenticity: Japanese Heritage Consumption

Derek Bryce

Ross Curran

Kevin O’Gorman*

Babak Taheri

*Corresponding Author

School of Management and Languages

Heriot-Watt University


Visitors’ Engagement and Authenticity: Japanese Heritage Consumption


Understanding the sense of authenticity of heritage attractions is important for tourism management and marketing because presentation, interpretation and verification has a direct bearing on motivations to visit and engage with heritage tourism sites. This paper establishes relationships among the concepts of culturally specific motivation, perception of authenticity, engagement and attendant behavioral consequences based on domestic visitors' experiences at Japanese heritage sites. It further extends Kolar and Zabkar's (2010) model of authenticity by including concepts of serious leisure, heritage related behaviors, self-connection and their effects over engagement using Partial Least Square, whereby both formative and reflective scales are included. The structural model is tested with a sample of 768 visitors in a culturally specific setting of Japanese heritage sites. The empirical validation of the conceptual model supports the research hypotheses. These findings contribute to a better understanding of visitors' perceptions and valuation of authenticity in Japanese tourist attractions. Several implications can be drawn from the study findings and interesting directions for future research are provided.

Key Words

Authenticity, Engagement, Japan, Heritage, Loyalty, Preconceived notions


  • Tests a structural model (PLS) using both formative and reflective scales

  • Integrating/introducing a visitors’ engagement concept to authenticity

  • Focuses on Japanese visitors’ experience of authenticity

  • Concepts: serious leisure, heritage behaviours, self-connection and engagement

  • Objective authenticity and engagement centric model presented

Visitors’ Engagement and Authenticity: Japanese Heritage Consumption

1.0 Introduction

Japanese consumers’ views and distinctive perspectives on heritage authenticity are investigated in order to explore and challenge the prevailing western-centric perceptions in the literature. Furthermore this addresses the theoretical gap surrounding heritage authenticity and engagement, in particular, testing the idea that tourists’ engagement may vary in authentic consumption experiences (Black, 2009; Gilmore & Pine, 2007). Within tourism, authenticity and engagement research has mainly focused on its application to non-Asian settings (Kolar & Zabkar, 2010). However, select studies have considered aspects of authenticity in East Asia, namely China (Xie, 2003; Zhou, Zhang, & Edelheim, 2013), Korea (Cho, 2012), Macau (Wong, 2013) and a passing reference to Japan (Ehrentraut, 1993). Japan has a capitalist economy and a multi-party democracy; self-styling itself as a Western economy in the far-east (Horne, 1998). Historically, Japanese society has enjoyed low crime rates, high levels of education and an economically prosperous large middle class. Japan shares certain cultural commonalities with Asian neighbors such as China and Korea (Ralston, Holt, Terpstra, & Kai-Cheng, 1997), in particular Confucianism emphasizing the importance of the group, and self-sacrifice, however, Japanese society applied it critically to its own culture (Yan & Pan, 2010). Thus, Japan's heritage tourism, as a context for this study, is shown to be distinctive from its Asian neighbors, including South Korea, because of the maturity and distinctiveness of its domestic heritage tourism market and the divergent cultural sensibilities relative to its neighbors.

A broader concept of authenticity within a new context is investigated: cultural heritage sites in Japan. The legacy of the romantic gaze and the commodification of heritage (Goody, 2006; Rigney, 2001) impose assumptions of antiquity and genuineness on heritage products. In Japan certain factors have conspired against this; a great number of structures are made of wood which tend to decay over time, combined with seismic events (earthquakes and tsunami), and the legacy of Allied bombing in WWII have necessitated extensive restoration or reconstruction. This is not perceived to be the same as Las Vegas building its own version of the Great Pyramid of Giza, however, it does open up some interesting research questions around staged authenticity, primarily, how visitors’ engagement can be influenced by their: perceptions of authenticity, preconceived behaviors, and motivations, and how these four concepts influence loyalty.

This paper now splits into five sections. First it briefly explores authenticity debates within the extant literature. The authors identify limitations in the existing discourse, specifically highlighting a theoretical gap relating to engagement and notions of authenticity. Next, the notion of authenticity is framed within a Japanese context. In the second part of the paper, the authors extend Kolar and Zabkar’s (2010) model of authenticity by including concepts of Serious Leisure (Stebbins, 1996), Heritage Related Behaviors (McDonald, 2011), Self-Connections (Park, MacInnis, Priester, Eisingerich, & Iacobucci, 2010) and their influences over engagement (Taheri & Jafari 2012; Taheri, Jafari, & O'Gorman, 2014). This leads to a new conceptual framework that allows tourist site managers to position and develop their attractions. As well as providing theoretical development, it also highlights the contextual gap in the strength of the overseas Japanese market and its own home market. Drawn from the literature, the authors create a four-stage conceptual model focused on authenticity, but underpinned by visitors’ preconceived ideas, motivations, levels of engagement, and ultimately loyalty to a site. The next section is empirical; the authors first outline the methodological approach, before presenting the results of the survey where the authors test a structural model using both formative and reflective scales (Taheri et al., 2014; Zabkar, Brencic, & Dmitrovic, 2010). In the final section of the paper: the authors draw together the threads of the argument, offering conclusions and a consideration of implications for the industry before highlighting the limitations of the approach, and pointing to avenues for future research.

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