Star power recruited to aid tourism



After the March 11 quake and tsunami put on hold publisher Yasuko Suzuki’s plan to launch a free English magazine introducing Japanese culture and travel information to foreign visitors, the next idea that occurred to her was to turn for help from celebrities known to be fans of Japan.

Hoping to turn around the sharp postquake fall in tourism, Suzuki and her staff emailed more than 300 cultural figures abroad to seek their help in reviving Japan as a travel destination, and 41 agreed to cooperate, listing their recommendations for tourists.

The first 8,000 copies of the resulting Travel Guide to Aid Japan, offering travel tips from celebrities such as British and U.S. fashion designers Paul Smith and Tommy Hilfiger, British actress and singer Jane Birkin and Hawaiian ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro, hit bookshelves in Asia, Oceania and the U.S. in August.

“I thought we should resume business because the mood of self-restraint that prevailed after the quake could give foreigners the impression that Japan was foundering,” said Suzuki, who managed to issue the free magazine, called WAttention, in Tokyo in late April, more than a month later than originally scheduled.

The 160-page booklet, priced at $18.55 (about ¥1,400), features lists of accommodations, restaurants and tourist attractions as well as pictures of Japanese cultural icons such as cherry blossoms and kabuki actors by renowned photographer Kishin Shinoyama.

In the guide, which is relatively small and can be easily carried by travelers, the celebrities offer recommendations regarding places, buildings, shops and events. Their notes are accompanied by full-color pictures of tourist attractions.

For example, Birkin, who has visited Japan often over the last 40 years, relates her trip to the Jigokudani hot spring in Nagano Prefecture, where snow monkeys soak, along with her experiences in Kyoto, Nara and Tokyo.

Smith, who has traveled to Japan more than 80 times since 1982, writes about the old houses and streets in Magome, Gifu Prefecture, and Tsumago, Nagano Prefecture, on the old Nakasendo inland route that linked Tokyo and Kyoto: “I found these villages are so beautiful. It is great to see they are still there and unchanged, which is rare and amazing.”

While Hilfiger recommends his favorite sites in Tokyo such as Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park, Shimabukuro calls on tourists to visit Hokkaido, saying it is known for “amazingly breathtaking scenery” and “delicious seafood,” including his favorite, “ikura” (salmon roe).

South Korean actor Im Ho and model Lee Ji Hyo, Chinese politician Pan Qinglin, Brazilian TV reporter Catarina Hong, Spanish chef Ferran Adria and Singaporean film director Eric Khoo are among other celebrities who contributed to the book, recommending such spots as Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture, and Kochi, as well as manga culture.

Suzuki, who heads publisher WAttention Co. based in both Tokyo and Singapore, said the views of foreign celebrities were needed to encourage a recovery in tourism because it wouldn’t be convincing if only Japanese people asserted their country is safe amid the fear of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The proceeds from the travel guide, sold via the distribution network of bookstore chain Kinokuniya Co., will be donated to support reconstruction in areas affected by the March disaster, she said.