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Okazaki’s grapes, Ieyasu legacy reel in tourists

Chunichi Shimbun

The city of Okazaki in Aichi Prefecture this year is doubling efforts to attract visitors from its neighbors in East Asia, especially China and Taiwan.

The city is famous as the birthplace of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the warlord who founded the Tokugawa shogunate in the 17th century and remains a popular historical figure among Chinese and Taiwanese.

Even though more than 400 years have passed since his death, the prominent warlord is contributing to the fresh growth of his birthplace.

Okazaki also participated in a tourism expo in Taiwan for the first time last October, while articles about Okazaki Park and grape-picking in the city appeared in Taiwanese travel magazines in March.

Okazaki Park is situated in the center of the city and many tour buses bearing groups of Taiwanese stopped there every week last fall and winter.

The number of visitors has since declined, but tourists still stop by regularly.

Visitors to the park can try on body armor in the Ieyasu museum and take photos with warlords characters who appear in the “Great Ieyasu Ko Aoi Bushotai” show, which is a popular attraction.

One of the reasons why Ieyasu is popular with Chinese tourists is because the book “Tokugawa Ieyasu,” written by Sohachi Yamaoka, has been translated and published in China and Taiwan. The book, which recounts his rise to prominence, has been well received by business owners.

Younger people are also familiar with Ieyasu thanks to the action game series “Sengoku Basara,” in which the warlords feature as characters.

The city of Okazaki began making efforts to attract visitors from East Asia after Aichi Prefecture announced plans to revive tourism in the region in March 2011.

City officials have made several visits to travel agencies in Taiwan and placed information about Okazaki in free papers there. They also collaborated with nearby cities, such as Toyota and Anjo, to publish pamphlets and videos, and with Shizuoka and Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture, to create comics depicting the life and accomplishments of Ieyasu, and launched advertising campaigns in Taiwan.

In addition, they joined hands with Gamagori, a city in Aichi that faces the sea and boasts many hot springs and hotel facilities.

“We were surprised at how effective our PR is in Taiwan,” said Miho Sugiura, 52, a staff member at the tourism division at Okazaki City Hall.

At the tourism expo in Taipei, warlord characters from the “Great Ieyasu Ko Aoi Bushotai” show attracted a lot of attention. Many women posed for photographs with the actors.

According to an employee at a travel agency in Taipei, the long-running historical drama aired on NHK in Taiwan about a year after it debuted in Japan.

“Ieyasu is a popular figure in the country and visiting Okazaki Castle and the museum in Okazaki Park gives visitors an opportunity to learn more about his life,” the employee said.

Meanwhile, getting Chinese tourists to visit Japan has been more difficult because of the steadily souring ties between the two countries.

In April, Okazaki took to Weibo, a Chinese microblogging service similar to Twitter, to start posting information about the city there.

Okazaki, together with the city of Hamamatsu, will participate in a tourism expo to be held in Shanghai in August.

However, one problem the city is likely to face is that travel agencies in both Taiwan and China often ask for a hefty discount for groups of inbound visitors.

Another popular tourist attraction is grape-picking, and the agencies often ask for rates 20 percent to 30 percent lower than what is offered to local Japanese.

“We will offer different courses (packages) to the agencies, for example, limiting the number of grapes they can pick, and so on,” said Masuo Okada, head of the Okazaki Komadachi Grape-Picking Association.

Another likely problem is the lack of other attractions in the city apart from Okazaki Park. They also lack accurate data on the number of visitors they get and the countries they come from.

To resolve this issue, Okazaki plans to hold surveys during peak holiday periods to determine the number of visitors who visit in a year.

“We are thinking of translating signboards in different languages so that visitors will feel comfortable traveling here alone. Hopefully, this will also lead to more repeat visitors,” added Sugiura of the Okazaki municipal tourism bureau.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on June 2.