A year ago when the Liberal Democratic Party reduced highway tolls to a maximum of ¥1,000 on designated expressways for passenger cars on weekends, the stated reason was to stimulate the economy, and to a certain extent it worked. Gas consumption went up and highway rest areas saw booming business.
But tourist destinations didn’t necessarily benefit, mainly because people who used the ¥1,000 toll as an excuse to get the family out of the house didn’t stay overnight anywhere. If families or even individuals took advantage of the lower tolls, it was for day excursions. There are many reasons for that, but the obvious one is that Japanese accommodations are most expensive on Saturday nights. In fact, a tourist industry symposium reported late last year that after the highway toll reduction went into effect there was a 6 percent drop in weekday tourist business, which had been gradually growing in recent years, and this drop was not necessarily compensated on the weekend.
For years, the tourist industry has been trying to boost demand for weekday travel, but it’s difficult in Japan where holiday periods are set in stone and full-time workers are still reluctant to ask for days off for reasons of recreation. The average full-time employee in Japan is entitled to 18 days of paid vacation a year, but only uses half that time. The symposium estimates that if all these workers used their paid vacations in full, the Japanese economy would benefit by ¥16 trillion and 1.88 million new jobs. You wouldn’t need foreign tourists if everyone took their rightful time off.