The number of tourists visiting Japan has been on the rise this year, thanks mainly to the cheaper yen. In August, a record 907,000 foreign tourists visited Japan, an increase of 17.1 percent from the same month in 2012. This surpasses the 803,000 figure reported in August 2010. Among 40 major countries, Japan ranks 33rd in attracting foreign tourists.
The number foreigners visiting Japan for sightseeing could top 10 million this year, a goal set by the government. Mr. Naruhito Kubo, Japan Tourism Agency commissioner, said if the present trend continues, 10.14 million foreign tourists will visit Japan this year.
The government and the tourist industry must examine whether they are making serious efforts to make foreign tourists’ visits to Japan as comfortable as possible. One important area where they could make progress is the language barrier.
Compared with the overall increase in the number of foreign tourists who visited Japan in August, the rate of increase for tourists from South Korea was small — only 6.9 percent over 2012. Still, the 216,000 South Korean visitors were the largest total by country.
It is very likely that mass media reports in South Korea on the leak of radioactive water from Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have caused worries about the safety of Japanese food. The government must consider that the ongoing nuclear crisis in Fukushima may lead to a drastic decrease in the number of foreign tourists visiting Japan if it fails to handle the crisis properly. It should disseminate accurate and timely information about the conditions at the nuclear plant.
The growth in the number of foreign tourists visiting Japan is attributable not only to the cheaper yen but also to simplified visa procedures for visitors from Southeast Asian countries, including the end to a visa requirement for short-term visitors from Thailand and Malaysia.
The government and the tourist industry should pay more attention to the fact that many signs are not tourist-friendly. In Tokyo and adjacent areas, many signs at public places are written in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean. But even in these areas, efforts to change meaningless romaji such as “koen” (park) and “Kokkai” (National Diet) into English have just started. Many tourist attractions in the countryside fail to include any English.
Nationwide efforts must be launched to use multilingual signs and other information tools at tourist spots and facilities such as hotels and restaurants used by foreign visitors. The government and the tourist industry must work out effective ways to make tourist resources such as scenic areas, cultural assets and hot springs attractive and easy to reach for foreign visitors.