What is behind Japan’s travel boom?
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What is behind Japan’s travel boom?

JAPAN is in the middle of a travel boom. The country saw a record-breaking surge in tourism in 2017, welcoming 28.6 million foreign visitors, an increase of 19.3 percent from 2016 – and it’s showing no signs of slowing down.

With more tourists, also comes a significant amount of expenditure. According to the Nikkei Asian Review, a staggering JPY4.4 trillion (US$39.68 billion) was reportedly put into the Japanese economy by tourists in 2017, up by 17.8 percent from 2016.

But what is behind this sudden rise in international visitors, why do they want to spend their money there and what exactly are they spending it on?

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The majority of the tourists visiting the land of cherry blossoms, sake and sushi come from China and South Korea, accounting for over 50 percent of international tourists.

Chinese visitors make up the lion’s share, accounting for 7.35 million people, or 25.6 percent of the total. South Koreans aren’t far behind at 7.14 million or 24.8 percent.

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A sushi chef in Tokyo, Japan. Source: Thomas Marban/Unsplash

The close geographical proximity of China and South Korea give these nations the advantage of visiting Japan for a lesser cost and a shorter travel time than other Asian countries.

The rise in Chinese tourism is a relatively fresh occurrence. Back in 2007, just 942,439 visitors from China made the trip to Japan. Since then, figures have soared by 680.5 percent.

Although figures formed by Chinese and South Korean tourists to Japan are the highest, they only form part of the story.

While these two nations drove tourism growth from 2016 to 2017, Vietnamese visitors led overall growth in the last decade, with an increase of 868 percent since 2007. Thai arrivals also surged 489 percent.

Why the rise in tourism?

Apart from close geographical proximity, travellers are now gaining an interest in venturing beyond Japan’s big cities. As technology enables freer, more convenient travel, tourists can comfortably seek out less trodden destinations for unique experiences.

Tokyo remains the top visited destination, yet the ancient capital of Japan, Kyoto, saw the highest year-on-year growth among the top ten visited Japanese cities in 2017 at 20.9 percent.

Other Japanese destinations such as Oita Prefecture, Saga prefecture, and Aomori Prefecture saw huge numbers of overseas visitor’s, which has mainly been put down to tourists wanting to seek out truly unique and memory-making Japanese experiences; such as hot springs, traditional architecture, cultural shows and geographical phenomena.

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A monkey enjoys the hot springs at Jigokudani Monkey Park, Japan. Source: Billy Pasco/Unsplash

What are tourists spending their money on?

Again, Chinese tourists topped the spending rankings, shelling out an average spend of JPY230,382 (US$2,066.53) per person in 2017, predominantly on retail shopping.

Visitors from South Korea were closer to the budget end of travel, seeking out the most affordable options on hotels, food and drink, transport, entertainment, and shopping.

Three years ago, speculators feared Japan was not ready for a tourism boom. However, as the yen dropped against the dollar and Japan’s government saw a sudden rise in visitors, it became obvious that the nation needed to invest in tourism infrastructure, and that’s exactly what they did.

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A shopping district in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan in 2015. Source: Parry Suwanitch/Shutterstock

Through national branding campaigns such as “Cool Japan” and “Omotenashi”, they were able to capitalise on cultural signifiers, such as cherry blossom and anime, which further expanded their economy.

Japan is also working hard to build a strong foreign retail sector that provides foreign visitors with a unique experience. “We need more staff who can speak foreign languages, especially Chinese,” Fancl Ginza Square director Noriko Fukazawa told Skift.

Along with this investment, brilliant transport systems, clean air, an abundance of history and culture, and plenty of duty and tax-free shopping, Japan can expect to see a further rise in tourism in coming years.

This article originally appeared on our sister website Travel Wire Asia

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