One of the best reasons to travel is often to see how we’re all connected to one another in this global community. J. Chase Harps is a man about his business and his money. As Managing Partner of his own company, Travelers Choice Concessions, LLC, and an MBA grad, he is no stranger to the business world. But it was falling in love with travel that showed him the real world was about more than just dollars and cents.
EBONY: So, when did you first fall in love with travel?
J. Chase Harps: I first fell in love with traveling during a student exchange program for a semester at an international school in Osaka, Japan. The travel bug took over when my classmates and I took local cheap flights to neighboring countries such as Australia and South Korea. Also, during that time, I lived in a 3- story building called a “seminar house” with people from literally all parts of the world such as Finland, Spain, Australia and Egypt. Sharing a dormitory with so many people from other countries exposed me to habits and customs that I had never seen before. This encouraged me to learn more about my housemates as we developed friendships and discovered areas of similar interests in sports, music, and fashion.
EBONY: What inspired you to choose your destination?
JCH: When I was real young, I developed a strong interest in the martial arts after I got beat up by some kids at the community YMCA in front a cute girl I was trying to get with back in the day. I chose to study karate after seeing a Bruce Lee movie, and the nearest martial arts school in my neighborhood taught the Japanese style of karate. I’m the kind of person who goes into something with everything I’ve got, so I when I started studying karate I felt like I had to know everything about the art form- not just how to fight, but its history, its language, and where its culture came from.
Therefore, during my senior year in college when I came across the opportunity to go to Japan for study abroad, the decision was simple to make because I had already set my mind on going there several years earlier.
EBONY: How did you deal with racial, cultural and/or language barriers and differences?
JCH: I welcomed it and ran towards it! I figure things that make us uncomfortable are also things that make us better, if we approach them with an open perspective. Many of the stereotypes I encountered in Japan came from superficial sources of information (television, media, somebody else’s opinion, etc). So, I approached the awkward stares, language gaps, and judgmental comments from some Japanese people as opportunities to change their perception of me, and hopefully other African-American men and women.
For example, when I was living in Japan I used to always walk into a Lawson convenience store (as they are often called) with my headphones on turned up real loud listening to my music. I would notice Japanese kids or workers looking at me funny, and I used to just take my headphones off and offer to let them listen to the music. Sometimes it didn’t work out in my favor and they would walk off, but many times, they accepted and we’d both be in the store chilling listening to T.I.’s ” 24’s” or 50 Cents “ In the Club”.
I noticed how that type of engagement made people smile, and once someone smiles at you with their eyes you know you’ve gotten past their initial barriers. This same kind of thing has happened to me in India, Thailand, Brazil, Indonesia, China, etc. I won’t say everything is okay in any situation and of course you have to always use good judgment, but more often than not, the cultural barriers we deal with are shallow, insignificant and easy to break in my opinion.
EBONY: Was there a defining moment during your trip that you’ll never forget? What lessons did you learn?
JCH: Well, I journal almost everyday when I travel to different countries so I feel like I’m always gathering a lot of amazing moments. But, one moment in particular that I will always remember was again in Japan. The father of my Japanese host family gave me his 25- year old kendo “bogu” (training uniform) and “shinai” (wooden training sword) to take back to America. When he gave it to me, before I left he told me “Chase-san, Bushido wasurenai” or don’t forget Bushido, the philosophy of Japan’s ancient Samurai.
The lesson I learned from this experience is that regardless of nationality, ethnic or cultural differences, fundamentally people can understand why we do certain things even though they may not ever understand the same language or cultural subtleties. At the end of the day, most people want