Promoting Tohoku tourism

“Destination Tohoku,” the tourism campaign to help promote and revive tourism in the Tohoku region, started March 18. The Japan Tourism Agency and the local governments and tourism industry in the region hope that the campaign will bring tourists back to the region, which was devastated by the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami, and the subsequent Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The appeal of the campaign, which will last through March 31, 2013, is that people can help Tohoku recover from the effects of the disasters by enjoying hot springs, festivals, shopping, local food, cherry blossoms, and other attractions in the region.

It is hoped that as many people as possible will visit Tohoku. Schools are strongly encouraged to choose Tohoku as the destination of their excursions. Business enterprises should strive to hold their employee-training seminars in the region.

According to the tourism agency, the numbers of tourists visiting various parts of Tohoku have fallen 20 to 40 percent from pre-3/11 levels. The central government will spend ¥800 million on the campaign. Those who are interested in having fun while helping Tohoku recover should visit www.visitjapan-tohoku.org to learn more.

The website offers information on tourist sites, experience programs, events, restaurants, shops and recommended tourist courses. Website information is provided in Japanese, English, Korean and Chinese.

As shown on the website, the campaign divides Tohoku into 28 tourism zones. They include Hirosaki in Aomori Prefecture, Hanamaki/Tono in Iwate Prefecture, Matsushima in Miyagi Prefecture, Shonai in Yamagata Prefecture, and Fukushima. The northernmost zone is Shimokita, Aomori Prefecture, and the southernmost is Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture.

In each zone, a “traveler salon” is set up at an entry point (in many cases near a JR station) and is staffed by tourism guides who can provide information on local attractions.

At the first traveler salon they visit, tourists can receive a stamped “Tohoku passport.” Visitors can receive discounts at restaurants and sightseeing spots by showing this passport, and those who collect a certain amount of passport stamps by visiting multiple zones will receive a present.

In addition to stimulating much needed tourism, the Destination Tohoku campaign has another benefit. It will enable the tourist agency to collect data such as tourist evaluations of various destinations, and use this information to both improve travelers’ experiences and to devise an effective strategy to promote tourism throughout Japan.