All Eyes on Japan

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Celebrating Japan's heritage—those garden lanterns are made of paper—at JATA Travel Expo Japan, which kicked off today in Tokyo.
Celebrating Japan’s heritage—those garden lanterns are made of paper—at JATA Travel Expo Japan, which kicked off today in Tokyo.

Five years from now all eyes will be on Japan when the country hosts the 2020 Olympics, but it seems visitors are not waiting around for that milestone event to visit fascinating Japan. In 2014, visitor numbers hit a record high of 13 million, and from January to August of this year, 12.9 million people have already visited Japan. In fact, the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) expects to hit the 18 million visitor mark in 2015. Getting a bit more granular, this past August saw 76,900 visitors from the U.S., a 20.4 percent increase from the previous year in that same month.

At a press conference during the VISIT JAPAN Travel & MICE Mart, taking place Sept. 25-27 in Tokyo, Shuichi Kameyama, executive director, Overseas Promotion Department, JNTO, said there are five major reasons for the increase in visitor arrivals, including yen depreciation, increased access, and increased interest in Japan, especially its food. In fact, in a 2014 opinion survey on travels to Japan conducted by JNTO, 76.2 percent of people surveyed said they wanted to eat Japanese food. That’s closely followed by shopping; nature/scenery sightseeing; walking in shopping districts and bathing in a hot spring. Other reasons those surveyed said they were interested in traveling to Japan included staying at a ryokan, having a history/traditional culture experience, as well as for seasonal attractions. And, of course, the most popular destination for visitors is Tokyo.

That said, the government has put “strategic initiatives in place for a new era of inbound tourism,” says Kameyama. Those include dispersing visitors beyond Tokyo, Mt. Fuji and Kansai. In order to do that, the government is developing regional tourism routes such as Hokkaido, with its natural beauty; Tohoku, offering visitors an exploration of the deep north of Japan; Chubu; Kansai; The Inland Sea, Setouchi; Shikoku; and Kyushu.

Other initiatives include promoting shoulder and off-peak seasons; increasing promotion in Europe and North America; and promoting rail and drive tourism—”riding the train itself is an attraction,” says Kameyama. Remind clients, too, that Japan is home to 17 World Heritage Sites, including the shrines and temples in Nikko; the historic monuments of ancient Kyoto; the sacred sites and pilgrimage routes in the Kii Mountain Range; the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape; and the Ogasawara Islands. Kameyama also points to the country’s many flower fields, including the Hitachi Seaside Park and the Ashikaga Flower Park.

With all these attributes in mind, the government’s goal is to have 20 million foreign visitors by 2020; and have foreign visitors spend 4 trillion yen that same year.

The Hotel Scene
Japan’s hotel landscape is keeping up with demand. This year saw the opening of the 84-room Aman Tokyo in Otemachi; the 329-room Millennium Mitsui Garden Hotel in Ginza, Tokyo; the 970-room Hotel Gracery Shinjuku in Tokyo; the 72-room Henn-na Hotel in Huis-Ten-Bosch, Nagasaki; and the 332-room Courtyard by Marriott Shin-Osaka Station. Next year another Aman resort opens, in Ise-Shima. Tokyo, meanwhile, will welcome the 84-room Hoshinoya Tokyo in Otemachi; and the 250-room Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioicho in Akasaka. A Four Seasons with 180 rooms will open in Kyoto, and the Tokyo Disney Celebration Hotel at the Tokyo Disney Resort will open next year with 700 rooms. For more information on Japan, visit