Japan tourism website touts regional food treats, activities

Kyodo, Staff Report

A new tourism website allows people to share tips and information about the nation’s regional cuisine, goods and activities. It aims to attract foreign customers and thereby help local economies tap into the nation’s current tourism boom.

Nippon Quest showcases hundreds of regional specialties, illustrated with colorful photos and descriptions that can be translated into a range of languages for the benefit of foreign viewers.

Nipponquest.com, launched on Aug. 11, is designed to enable anyone — individuals or businesses — to contribute information about local specialities and attractions. By clicking the search icon, users can learn about a popular food in a particular district or contribute their own posts, recommending for example activities indigenous to a certain region of Japan.

The number of posts had grown to a little over 600 as of Thursday afternoon, and the site operator, advertising agency Hakuhodo Inc., plans to improve the user experience and boost access by introducing new features soon, said a spokesman.

“So far, you can only search the site by areas, but we’re going to introduce a keyword search function,” he said. This addition will appear in mid-September.

The site will also introduce a ranking function that tallies scores for individual posts based on the number of clicks on “Tried It!” and “Wanna try it!” buttons similar to Facebook’s “Like” button, and ranks them in order of popularity.

“I think the largest number of posts are about food,” the spokesman added.

Comments that explain the items or activities can be automatically translated from the original language into Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean, although the translations themselves appear to be literal and sometimes hard to understand.

The website is operated with subsidies from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

The number of foreign tourists visiting Japan this year has skyrocketed, topping 10 million by mid-July.

“This is a chance to send messages throughout the world. We want many people to post their comments,” said a METI official.

Among the regional specialties mentioned are a series of rice bowl menus that contain local seafood and other fresh ingredients of the Atsumi Peninsula in Tahara, Aichi Prefecture. One summer treat is a Shirokuma (polar bear) shaved ice dessert in Kagoshima.

There is a post for the Aizutajima Gion Festival in Fukushima, featuring Kabuki performances by children and a parade of women clad in traditional Japanese wedding dress, as well as Yosegi Zaiku parquetry work from Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture.

Some 350 posts appeared on the first day alone.

Meanwhile, the ministry has also launched a project with a consulting firm and other entities to help promote regional specialties and develop markets for them worldwide.

Under “The Wonder 500” initiative, 500 regional specialties and sightseeing spots were selected from around 1,900 applicants by experts in various industries, including food, sundries, as well as marketing.

Announced on Aug. 27, the selection features “Japan’s finest goods, foods and travel experiences” that “are yet to be known to the world” and which “Japan should be proud of.” The website is thewonder500.com, which bears photos and descriptions in Japanese.

The listed items will also receive support through the production of booklets describing the story behind the products and tourism locations. They will also be promoted at events overseas.