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[Columns]“Shin-Kanko Rikkokuron,” a New National Tourism Strategy Proposed by a Pro-Japan British Business Manager

 I have often heard the word “inbound” recently. The unfamiliar word refers to foreign tourists visiting Japan. In the last couple of years, a flock of foreign travelers have visited across the country, and their bulk buying and the shortage of hotels have become hot topics, which appear to be a sign of popularity represented by the phenomenon called “Cool Japan.” Data from a government agency shows that the number of inbound tourists in 2014 increased by more than three million from a little over 10 million in 2013, and the number this year will be close to 20 million. With the popularity driven by a weaker yen, the relaxation of visa requirements, and the effect of being chosen to host the 2020 Olympic Games, there has been a lot of debate recently about tourism strategies for the nation. The number of foreign travelers using hotels and commercial facilities, and visiting tourist spots in Kansai stands out compared to those of other regions. Kyoto in particular has drawn increasing attention and has been selected as the number one destination in the world by foreign tourists, according to a survey conducted by a travel magazine. When you travel to Kyoto, you see many foreign tourists even on ordinary days, and a large number of people praise Kyoto as a symbol of Japan as a major tourism country. Now, let’s look at the level of tourism in Japan and Kyoto.

 Do you know a person called David Atkinson? The British businessman has had a unique career. The former analyst at Goldman Sachs is now president of Konishi Decorative Arts and Crafts Co. The company is a famous 300-year-old restorer of national treasures and important cultural assets. Mr. Atkinson lives in Kyoto, has a deep knowledge of Japanese traditional culture, and has entered the Urasenke School of tea ceremony with the master name, Soshin. Having written a book titled “Shin-Kanko Rikkokuron,” a new national tourism strategy, Mr. Atkinson is drawing attention as a high-profile pro-Japan corporate manager. I had an opportunity to listen to his tourism strategy this fall at a lecture meeting with Dr. Takeshi Yoro, a brain scientist, presented by Kyoto Kyoiku Konwakai, held in Kyoto City, The subject was “Future of Cool Japan ― Light (Open the Country in the Real Sense of the Term) or Dark (Isolate the Country.)” He decisively said that Japan is a backward country in the international tourism stakes.

 His remark of “a backward country” came as a shock, but the point is how to interpret the numbers of international tourists. Among advanced nations, the most visited country by international tourists in 2013 was France with 84 million. Japan was ranked 26th (21st in international tourism receipts.) The country was outranked by Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau and South Korea. The real meaning of his comment is this. Although Japan has all four resources required to become a major tourism country; mild climate, abundant nature, power of culture, and a great variety of foods, the country is ranked 26th (even when it will have 20 million foreign tourists in future), which is an incredibly low level, and Japan does not make the most of the advantages it has. He also mentioned that the national budget for cultural affairs is about 100 billion yen, which is one fifth of that of France, and the amount has remained at only 0.012% of GDP, which is ranked as the lowest among advanced nations. The budget for repairing cultural assets in Japan is less than eight billion yen compared to 50 billion yen in the UK. These facts show that Japan is far from being a tourism country.

 When it comes to Kyoto, he was severely critical saying that the ancient city looks as if it is sealed off to the outside world. He pointed out that even though Kyoto has abundant tourism resources about which Japan can boast to the world, not to mention things like the World Heritage shrines and temples, Kyoto cuisine, and more than one thousand festivals, the number of foreign tourists who stay in Kyoto is still at the one million a year level, which is surprisingly few compared to the number of foreign visitors to the British Museum alone of four million, and that the scenery is being spoiled with new buildings which do not blend in with their surroundings and traditional townhouses are being torn down one after another. To Mr. Atkinson’s eyes, who is examining the status of Kyoto from a global point of view, the ancient capital seems to have many challenges in structural and non-structural aspects in terms of infrastructure and they need to be developed to attract foreign tourists despite its attractions and considerable potential.

 Japan faces many challenges and Mr. Atkinson believes that the top of its agenda is response to a shrinking and ageing population and that it needs to adopt a new national strategy and become a tourism country by aggressively attracting foreign tourists as “short-term immigrants” so that its dwindling population can be compensated for. He also says that if Japan and Kyoto realize the importance of the tourism industry and stop being isolated, the country will be able to achieve annual inbound tourists of more than 80 million by 2030. He emphasizes that tourism could be the largest growth industry of the 21st Century in Japan, which would be a tramp card to revitalize the economy. His message impressed me, which was for the first time in a long time. (Tokuo Sato, education journalist)

・Photos provided by Kyoto Kyoiku Konwakai.
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