FUKUOKA – In mid-February, one of the world’s largest cruise ships, resembling a floating skyscraper, arrived at the city of Fukuoka, releasing some 5,000 Chinese tourists who then boarded more than 100 awaiting shuttle buses.
The port of Hakata in Fukuoka Prefecture saw a record 245 cruise ship port calls last year, the most nationwide. The port expects 400 arrivals this year.
Most of the cruise ship tours from China last about five days, touring East Asia and increasing port calls in Okinawa and Kyushu.
“Ships allow me to travel with lots of luggage,” said Zhu Xiang, 25, a passenger on a cruise ship that called at Nagasaki, holding bags of cosmetics she bought in the city in both hands. “I can hand these out to my friends (as souvenirs).”
The number of cruise ships making port calls in Japan is rapidly growing.
Last year, they made a record 965 port calls, up from 373 in 2013. Tourists entering Japan from cruise ships also hit a record 1.11 million in 2015, skyrocketing from about 174,000 in 2013. The majority are Chinese.
But the rise in large ships — some 350 meters long and 16 stories high — is posing new challenges for many communities.
Naha in Okinawa had to turn down 47 ships seeking to dock in 2017 because its port doesn’t have the capacity.
Ports in Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya and Osaka, meanwhile, can’t accept such large ships because they won’t be able to fit under the bridges in their bays, forcing them to dock at freighter piers.
The changing needs have led ports to expand capacity, and several renovation projects aimed to accommodate larger ships are under way.
In the next few years, Tokyo plans to build a new passenger terminal for cruise ships near the landmark Rainbow Bridge, while Yokohama is preparing a similar project near Bay Bridge.
The port of Hiroshima has allocated about ¥520 million to a project to build a tourism information and immigration facility.
According to a survey by Fukuoka, Chinese tourists who came to the city via cruise ship spent an average ¥107,000 per person, lifting the economy.
“We can’t just sit and do nothing,” said a prefectural official from Hiroshima. “We need to attract the people who didn’t go to Kyushu and Okinawa.”
Although the trend is helping Japan’s economy, there are concerns about the disadvantages.
Last fall, 10 elementary and junior high schools in Fukuoka were unable to charter buses for field trips, delaying their plans.
Some fear the economic effect will be limited, saying only big malls and restaurants with large parking lots that can fit chartered buses are benefitting from the rising tourist tide.
Since the majority of the cruise ships depart before the end of the day, businesses that offer nightlife attractions aren’t likely to be benefit.
“If we don’t want it to end up as a fad, we need to create a system that will benefit both tourists and local economy, including small tours that cater to their needs,” said Noriko Yagasaki, a Toyo University professor specializing in international tourism.