Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The Day Japan is Jam-packed
STILLMAN Mikie / Senior Fellow, Institute for International Policy Studies

August 9, 2004
Once upon a time, the Japanese themselves were convinced that foreigners would not indulge in sushi. Prince Charles, on a state visit, was quoted as saying that squid felt like rubber and was rather distasteful. In the succeeding years, however, Japanese restaurants went on to far outnumber British ones in major cities around the world. In the same manner, the day must come when Japan, with enough ingenuity and effort, is jam-packed with foreign sightseers.

1, English is not widely understood or spoken. 2, High cost of living. 3, Not exotic enough. These are the three images of Japan as a travel destination held by foreign tourists. As a result, only 4.8 million foreigners visit Japan each year. This is in stark contrast to the 77 million of France, the most visited country, and China's 33 million, the fifth most popular destination (2001). It is also of interest to note that the number of yearly Japanese visitors to foreign countries is 16.5 million (2002).

The biggest roadblock in Japan's rise to a tourism nation lies in the Japanese perception of its home country. In addition to the assumption that the country is somehow an unsuitable sightseeing destination for foreigners, the Japanese are convinced that earning foreign currency through tourism is for developing countries with no discernible high-tech exports. They have always felt proud that semiconductors and automobiles are the nation's key industries. The hospitality industry, however, is an industry in its own right. The Japanese must face the fact that many advanced nations also rank highly on the list of major tourism nations. Local travel agencies have been able to profit by sending off Japanese abroad because the national population reaches 120 million. There has thus far been no need to take pains making new customers of foreigners seemingly unwilling to see Japan as a popular tourist spot.

From now on, the Japanese must release themselves from the confinement of the above three restrictions. Even if English is not widely spoken, interested people will come. Travelling is an adventure. People reluctant to tread waters where English is not widespread have no right to be a traveller hoping to 'escape the everyday.' Even with some language barriers, Japan remains a safe country for travellers from overseas. Criminal cases where foreign tourists are involved as victims, as well as agencies eager to take unfair financial advantage might increase perhaps if the number of visitors themselves should rise in the future. So far, there seems to be no need to worry about the matter.

Even if commodity prices are steep, people will visit if the country has enough appeal. In the first place, there is the question of whether the Japanese cost of living is indeed highly-priced for foreign visitors. The government, companies and business groups all invite foreign associates and partners to Japan. It is the preferred Japanese custom to offer unparalleled services to visitors from afar. Bookings at five-star hotels where English competence is de rigueur, providing \3000 breakfasts at the said-hotels, and entertaining at high-end ryoteis (Japanese-style restaurants) inaccessible cost-wise to normal Japanese, will only cement the impression of Japan as a super-priced nation. Only a short foray from the hotel will reward the trailblazer with what should be the excitement of travelling in a foreign land; discovering \100 sozais (various prepared side dishes) at convenience stores, \500 breakfast sets, and \280 gyudons (rice topped with seasoned beef).

Japan has enough competitive edge in terms of food prices, but the Japanese no doubt feel that transport and lodging expenses in the country is rather costly. There are measures. Japan Rail Pass, available only from outside Japan, is at a great discount. English guidebooks on Japan also list other reduced air fare as well as coupons that make for less expensive transport. Just as Japanese tourists abroad rely on travel guides filled with information from previous visitors and Japanese residents of that locale, so do foreign sightseers depend on information from their compatriots. Fortunately, out of those who have become fond of Japan and have settled here as well as those who repeatedly visit, some provide information about the country in their own language. It is important to supply these people with an environment in which they can flourish.

There is no mistaking the allure of Japan as a country. Antique Japanese furniture and kimonos are nowadays often used to their best advantage by foreigners. There is snow in Hokkaido, a rather novel experience to the Taiwanese, and Okinawa, with its local specialties, coral reefs, and nature offer much to discover even for the Japanese. There are even guidebooks for thermal springs written by foreigners.

'Made in Japan' has successfully shed its cheap and shoddy image and morphed into a worthy brand, and those who have previously shied away from raw fish have now embraced sushi and sashimi as a way to increased health and longevity. But this has taken two to three decades. The Japanese transformation into a nation of tourism will require a similar stretch of time as well as a renewed confidence in itself as a country.

The writer is Senior Fellow, Institute for International Policy Studies.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

スティルマン美紀恵 / 世界平和研究所 主任研究員

2004年 8月 9日


観光立国への道の最大の障害は日本人自身の自国への認識にある。外国人が日本に観光に来るなんて、という思い込みに加えて、観光産業で外貨を稼ぐ国は、これといったハイテク輸出産業もない開発途上国だ、と思い込んでいる。半導体や自動車を基幹産業と自負してきたからだ。が、hospitality industryも立派な産業である。観光大国の上位に多くの先進国が名を連ねていることを直視すべきだろう。国内に1億2000万人からなる大きなマーケットがあるので、日本の旅行代理店は日本人を海外旅行に連れて行けば利益をあげることができた。日本を観光地だと認識していない外国人を、顧客として開拓する苦労や努力は必要なかったのである。



食費は世界的に十分競争力はあるが、交通費、宿泊費はやはり高い、というのが日本人の実感だろう。対策はある。海外でのみ購入可能なJapan Rail Passは、外国人観光客にとっては長割安の切符である。英語の日本ガイドブックにはその他の格安航空券、回数券等交通費を安く上げる方法も記載されている。日本人観光客が海外に行く際、日本人旅行者や現地在住者からの情報を満載したガイドブックに頼っているように、外国人観光客も同胞からの知識、情報を頼りにしている。幸い、日本が好きで定住したり、何度も訪日したりして観光情報を母国語で同胞に発信している個人やグループは存在する。彼らが大いに活躍できるような環境を整えることが重要である。



一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟