Campaigns urge foreigners to pleeease visit Japan

July 19th, 2011 by Felicity Hughes

Japan’s tourist industry is in dire straits. In May, figures collected by JNTO (Japan National Tourism Association) showed that the number of foreign tourists visiting the country had dropped by 50.4 percent compared to last year. Though that’s a slight improvement on April, during which numbers were down by a massive 62.5 percent, it’s not as if foreigners are flocking back to Japan in droves. Fears of seismic activity, tsunami and, of course, radiation, are all keeping the numbers of overseas visitors down. So what’s it going to take to lure visitors back to the land of the rising sun? Here are few of the current “pleeease visit Japan” campaigns.

To increase the numbers of bums on airplane seats between Japan and Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific launched their “We Love Japan” campaign last month. Giving away 500 flights between Hong Kong and Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Sapporo, the company hoped to boost numbers of tourists as well as restore the confidence of Hong Kong citizens in Japan.

Another way of getting people back into the country is to demonstrate how safe it is, and that’s the modus operandi of the “Travel Volunteer in Japan” campaign. Created by Magellan Resorts travel agency, the competition offers the chance for one lucky winner to travel the length and breadth of the country for a total of 100 days. Reporting back on the experience to the world, the traveler will hopefully show just how safe Japan now is for tourists. Open to all non-residents, the closing date is July 31.

Though these campaigns by private companies really seem to be on the right track, Japan’s own tourism agency appears to be at a bit of a loss when it comes to bringing the tourists back. A campaign video titled “Message From Japan” (see above), which was shown in over 133 countries at airports, embassies and even in New York’s Times Square, features boy band Arashi extolling the joys of their native country. Japan Probe quite rightly pointed out that Arashi, while well-known in Asia, are completely unknown in other parts of the world. We agree that choosing native artists with an international profile, or at reasonable handle on English, might be a better approach. Luckily, last month Lady Gaga flew into Japan to lend her support, which probably did a lot more good than this this costly Arashi promo.

What do you think? Are you ready to visit Japan?

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20 Responses

  1. If someone offered me free airfare I’d go back. I was there on 3/11 to 3/22 in Tokyo and would love a chance to take photos and write about how things are there now. It was a very interesting experience back in March. I only left because my trip was over.

    Sadly it’s the cost that is keeping me from returning right now. I haven’t seen much of any effort to reach out to travelers here in the US. Perhaps if they did more programs like the Travel Volunteers (which application isn’t working) one it might make a difference. I live on the west coast and there are still people here who are scared.

    I’m about to start blogging about my adventure in March. I do hope in the future to go back and include going to Sendai, Matsushima, Ishinomaki and Cat Island. It’s going to be a while because of the cost.

    Good luck with this,

  2. I desperately want to visit Japan with my children. I have been holding out on buying tickets because:

    1) I am not 100% convinced it’s safe to visit Japan, especially with young children. I have friends in Japan who tell me it is absolutely safe, and others who tell me they are not being told the truth and to not take the risk.

    2) Travel to Japan is very expensive and getting even more expensive by the day.

    If Japan wants more tourists, they should work on lowering airfare prices. That would definitely give me the incentive I need to go. Perhaps they could set up a website stating the FACTS on safety for travelers as well…

  3. I usually visit Japan once or twice a year, but right now the airfares are ridiculously high between Honolulu (where I live) and Tokyo. I’m sure it’s related to fuel costs, but it seems to me if the government of Japan wanted to stimulate tourism, it would give all air carriers serving the country’s international routes a way to mitigate their currently high expenses. (Waiving landing fees or underwriting fuel surcharges might be a possible approach.)

    The other barrier is the value of the yen. Since I can only get 78 yen for a U.S. dollar, everything becomes pricey. Travelers will easily find better deals for their travel dollar in other countries.

    While programs like “Message from Japan” and “Travel Volunteer” are well intended, they are not going to bring in more visitors unless some of the underlying issues are addressed by the government.

  4. There is another issue. The price of tickets increased a lot from Europe and North America. So that should be another barrier to take into account on why people are not going to Japan in addition of the fear of recent events.

  5. Japan has never really been too serious about tourism. Personally I think it goes back to the isolationist, island culture. Anyways,

    Things that could make travel in Japan easier.
    – broader availablity of booking services for hotels, trains and car rental on major international travel booking websites.
    – broader acceptance of international visa, mastercard, amex… at every ATM.
    – broader availability of pre-paid sim cards for a tourist to use in their phone. As in other markets, a large range of sim connection packs available in every grocery and c-store.
    – domestic connections from Narita, even if to just 4 or 5 major airports, Sapporo, Kansai, …

    none of these things will lift travel this year, but they’re the small details that need to be components of a longer term plan, even without radiation worries.

    greater tourism = more foreigners, people have relationships, marriages and children.
    Japan needs to modernise it citizenship laws, easier residency for a spouse and dual citizenship.

  6. This campaign seems to have been designed for asian tourists, rather than for western tourists. These 5 guys are basically unknown outside Asia and I believe they don’t represent what western tourists are looking for in Japan.

    But most important : They show us food that looks great but we need more factual information about food safety (radioactive contaminaton) rather than nice images !

    We know that Japan is beautiful, food is great and so on, but as raised by another reader, we need actual facts about air, food, water before going to Japan with peace of mind.

  7. To people who ask me, I don’t recommend Japan as a travel destination. Unfortunately there is too much discrimination from the policeagainst foreigners. I wouldn’t want a friend or relative of mine to be innecesarily singled out in public just for riding a bike, being near a bike, having his own handbag open while in public, etc (all happened to me). Also, a country with so much prejudices when renting even a miserable room to non-japaneses… I mean, sorry, but this is not a country that wants foreigners to be here.

  8. I love Japan, and lived there for two years in 2008 and 2009. I would also love to return. As a tourist within Japan, and with a very limited knowledge of Japanese, I found the lack of good quality English information and poor local English communication skills made travel REALLY challenging. Major tourist spots, including national museums, galleries, gardens, temples etc. need to publish ALL their tourist information in English (since this is the world’s most used language for international communication, like it or not) AND other languages. People working in the tourist industry, from desk staff to guides, to waitresses and taxi drivers need to understand that an ability to communicate in a language other than Japanese is an economic necessity these days. I have traveled in much poorer Asian countries where English is absolutely ubiquitous, and it is amazing to see just how far behind Japan is in comparison. Motorcycle drivers in Cambodia, some of whom have told me they have never been to school at all, can speak better English than the average Japanese high school graduate. English teaching and learning methods in Japan are hamstrung by outdated curricula and ill-conceived exam requirements. The low levels of English in Japan should be considered a national shame! At the very least, there should be many, many more bilingual, subtitled local TV programs and bilingual labeling of products in supermarkets.English is not just something to be plastered (ungrammatically) across a T-shirt in order to make it appear cool. It needs to be MEANINGFULLY applied everywhere in daily life. Tourists need to know they will be able to make their needs understood and that they will be able to do this readily. Not everyone travels in an organised group, and people need to feel they can communicate and get information effectively when they are on their own. Japan really needs to ‘get with it’ in this crucial aspect of international interaction.

  9. Japan has never had much tourist infrastructure and is hard work to see what remains of what once was a beautiful country – most of the coastline is concrete as are the rivers and the towns/cities merge into massive habitat zones where the only difference between them is the name of the station.

    Not having much to offer aside Japan took a risky shortcut to run this all on nuclear power, played nuclear roulette and lost, and there isnt any turning back.

  10. Further there is the ‘Yokoso’ of fingerpriting and photographing all non-Japanese entering Japan in the name of preventing terrorism – all terror acts in Japan have been carried out by japanese not visitors or non-japanese residents.

    Just not a good start to your Japan experience.

  11. Japan was never a favorite destination for tourists because of the high cost of living, besides the language almost no one speaks English there and now by the fear of earthquakes taht we are not used in other countries and also for the crisis that still exists in many countries then, if Japan wants to attract more visitors seriously right now, they have to change their immigration policy, and I think they will have millions of tourists from all over the world that not only will visit but to stay living in this country.

  12. If Japan wants to attract tourists back they are going to have to turn the lights back on, turn the escalators on, expand museum hours back to what they were before 311 and maybe even offer tourists some discounts. I’ve had visitors recently and took them around to see museums – only to arrive at 4:30 pm and be told they were closing early. I took them to see some public art at Roppongi Hills and Midtown only to arrive and find the lights turned out. And I’ve seen no discounts offered by hotels or tourist sites. It would not be fair to ask tourists to visit without trying to meet their needs.

  13. Actually this is last thing they need to be worried about, its the end of Japan as they know it – gone, goodbye, sayonara, the laws of physics dont listen to politics.

  14. I read with great interest the many comments about Japan not being tourist-friendly, but I must politely disagree. I am Japanese-American, so I am sometimes mistaken as a native Japanese–until I open my mouth. I am not fluent in Japanese, but I can get by for the most part (i.e., survival Japanese). It is true that English is not universally spoken in Japan and that everything is not conveniently in English. However, for me, the lack of English everywhere is something that adds to the experience of being in a foreign country. Japan is not for everyone. If you are on an organized tour, you won’t have to worry about too much. If you want to experience the “real” Japan and are traveling independently, part of the adventure is to figure out their culture and try to understand it. There are so many aspects of Japanese culture that I find fascinating as an American. It is the cultural differences that make it worthwhile for me to travel to Japan. Otherwise, Japan would be like anywhere else on this planet–and that would make travel pointless.

    Japan is actually well organized for tourism. Japanese are among the most traveled people on Earth. From childhood, they travel extensively on field trips and tours for festivals, holidays, special traditions, visiting relatives, hometowns, etc. The travel industry in Japan is quite sophisticated. As a foreigner, making reservations online is getting increasingly easier (in English!). I will admit it takes some effort to learn how to travel to and in Japan, but it’s part of the adventure and experience. I have been to Japan almost 20 times in my life, and I’m still learning so many new things on each trip.

  15. if you decide to visit Japan only for tourism will be a nice experience you won’t regret. but if you stay to live, then you will understand why japanese don’t want you to be there.

  16. Sorry, but traditionally there are a lot more male foreign tourists visiting Japan than female, so unless you re gay with an Asian fetish, these Arashi guys dont cut it. And a couple of them are hardly “handsome” even by most definitions (short, chubby faced, dyed hair, no muscles). Go to a gym three times a week please.

  17. The “travel volunteer in Japan” campaign and Lady Gaga`s plea smacks of how the Soviet authorities duped George Bernard Russell and other western VIPs about the famine in the Ukraine by taking them on a guided tour of only places they selected in the last century.

    Ok, I m being a tad cynical but the fact remains that aftershocks continue in Tohoku, radioactive beef turns up in the food supply.

    And we will not really know the full damage for a few years if and when the number of cases of cancer rise.

    I m quite annoyed at Gaga begging people to come back to Japan. What does she know?

  18. I lived in Kyushu for a year and Kansai at another time. In no other country have I found people to be as kind and hospitable as the Japanese.

    I can tell people that Western Japan is completely safe, and Kyushu and Shikoku have less concrete than Honshu does. There is a lot of nature there, but it does not get promoted, and nor does it show up in the tourist guides.

    It could be argued that more English could be helpful, but I have two obejections to that. As Ray Tabata says up above, if you really want to experience something different, then go to a country (such as Japan) where things are not laid out on a plate for you. Most train stations have some English available, as do many shops. A lot of people understand a fair bit of spoken English, even if they are too shy to speak it much.

    But to me that is part of the enjoyment of the trip – what better way to really meet local people than to need to ask for directions, or ask questions about a temple, or comment on how beatiful a waterfall is? Doing so helped me to make lifelong friends of all ages who were thrilled that a foreign person was curious about their lifestyle and culture, as well as a fair few free drinks – and, incredibly, in Hiroshima – a free meal that I didn’t realise was free until the waitress told me that the gentlemen I’d just been speaking to 5 minutes earlier had paid my bill for me! :)

    Also, Japan is much cheaper to visit beyond Tokyo – remember, this is a country with entrenched deflation for 20 years. Japan is mostly clean, calm, and friendly. Please visit it – you won’t be disappointed 😀

  19. Hi there, I go to Japan once every year and there’s no better place in the world. I would love to live there again. God bless you Japan!

  20. I am a non Japanese person living in Japan for more than 3 years. While I understand the idea that it would be very nice to have tourism aids available in English, that is simply not what Japan is about. Let me ask you a simple question. When Japanese people visit your country, are they able to go up to just about anyone in the tourism industry and speak to them in Japanese? Of course not! Yes, English is the lingua franca of international business, science, technology, and aviation, but if you do not work in those fields you probably don’t remember your high school English.
    As many people have said, Japan is one of the cleanest, calmest, friendliest countries there is. And Mr. Tabata makes such an excellent point when he says you can experience something truly different in Japan. And while Tokyo is certainly a concrete jungle and very expensive, there are many beautiful, inexpensive places to visit.


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