Friday’s announcement that Japan will host the 2016 summit of the Group of Seven industrialized nations in the area where Ise Shrine stands in Mie Prefecture underlines Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s conservative credentials.
“I hope world leaders will feel the rich culture and tradition and beautiful nature” there, Abe told reporters at Haneda airport before heading to Germany for this year’s G-7 summit. He said he hopes the leaders will visit the shrine, which dates back around 2,000 years and is dedicated to the ancestral deities of the Imperial family.
Abe “wanted to emphasize the history and tradition” of Japan, a fellow Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker said.
When the government was still considering candidate sites, it was the staff of the Prime Minister’s Office who encouraged Mie Gov. Eikei Suzuki to enter the bidding.
“It was December last year when they asked Gov. Suzuki to apply as a candidate site,” an executive in the Mie Prefectural Government said.
But that was long after the central government’s deadline of August last year. Nevertheless, Mie was allowed to enter and declared its candidacy on Jan. 21.
The seven other candidate sites were Karuizawa in Nagano Prefecture, Sendai, Niigata, Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture, Nagoya, Kobe and Hiroshima. Abe said the government would consider choosing the venues for the summit from among those sites.
Abe has always been fascinated by Ise Shrine, one of the most sacred Shinto sites in the nation. When, on Oct. 1, 2013, the Cabinet formally decided to raise the consumption tax to 8 percent from 5 percent, the government scheduled a Cabinet meeting on Oct. 2. But because Abe wanted to attend a rare ceremony at Ise Shrine that day, an event held only once every 20 years when its buildings are replicated, the meeting was rescheduled for Oct. 1.
Abe has often described how the atmosphere on the premises makes him feel fresh and focused. Like other prime ministers, Abe has made it a custom to visit the shrine when the New Year’s holidays are over.
It is also no secret that Abe, along with 288 other Diet members, is a member of Shinto Seiji Renmei, a political group that promotes Shintoism, the Imperial family and lobbies the government to hold a state-sponsored ceremony to honor the war dead at Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine.
Whatever Abe’s political intentions are, it is great news for residents in Mie, who expect to see a windfall from business and tourism related to the summit.
“We’ve witnessed the opening of a new chapter in history,” Suzuki said at a news conference in Tsu, the capital, adding that he received a phone call from Abe on Friday informing him the prefecture had been chosen.
The summit’s economic impact on Japan could reach about ¥51 billion, including ¥13 billion for Mie alone, mainly by stimulating tourism, according to Hyakugo Economic Research Institute, an arm of Mie-based Hyakugo Bank.
“Even after the summit ends, the area will be able to sell itself as an international resort,” said Hiroyuki Nakahata, senior analyst at the institute.
Masami Fujita, who heads the confederation of chambers of commerce and industry in Mie, said, “We are expecting an increase in foreign visitors.”
The think tank estimates the overall budget will be around ¥27 billion, but believes the government can reduce costs by using existing facilities in the city of Shima as the main venue, thereby limiting new construction for the brief security-laden event.
Japan last hosted the G-7 summit in Hokkaido in 2008.
The event will likely add to Japan’s tourism boom as the weakened yen, duty-free shops and a relaxation in visa requirements reel in record numbers of foreign visitors.
On Friday, the government set the ambitious goal of doubling annual spending by foreign tourists to ¥4 trillion, while increasing the number of duty-free shops throughout the nation, particularly in rural areas, ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.