NAHA, Okinawa Pref. — Constant conflict over the presence of U.S. military bases and tragic old war stories keep Okinawa in the news.
But tourists continue to consider Okinawa as a great holiday destination. The number of visitors to Okinawa Prefecture’s 55 subtropical islets, surrounded by white sand beaches and coral reefs, has been setting new records for 19 consecutive months, according to the prefectural government.
Last year, Okinawa hosted about 3.86 million tourists, with its tourism industry racking up a record 417 billion yen, far exceeding the prefecture’s U.S. base-related annual income of some 160 million yen. Tourism industry sources, who expect the year’s visitors to total more than 4.10 million, credit the boom to two things — cheaper air fares and a weakened yen.
Until a few years ago, package tours to Okinawa from Tokyo were often comparable, or even more expensive, than trips to places such as Hawaii and Guam. But air fares to and from Okinawa were lowered in July last year, as part of central government measures to promote the Okinawan economy.
The price of a one-way ticket between Tokyo and Naha dropped by 4,000 yen to 31,050 yen, after the Transport Ministry exempted airlines from paying part of airport and fuel taxes, according to Japan Airlines spokesman Akihiko Sato.
“Due to the cuts in air ticket prices and the weakened yen, people are finding it more inexpensive to go to Okinawa than places like Guam,” Sato said. “Other than the beaches, another thing that appeals to the tourists is the exotic food,” he said.
Naha’s main street of Kokusai Dori offers a cluster of various stores, including gift shops, store selling surplus goods from the U.S. military and Okinawan restaurants.
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