The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is trying to help parts of the country recovering from disasters by steering tourists who visit the capital toward those areas.
The government has developed tourist routes linking Tokyo with 17 prefectures, including six in the Tohoku region still trying to rebound from the devastating March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. It plans to add more destinations in the future.
Tokyo, of course, is the most popular destination. More than half of the record 24.03 million tourists who visited Japan last year spent time in the capital, according to the metropolitan government.
Next is the “Golden Route” linking Kyoto and Osaka with famous attractions, followed by Hokkaido and Okinawa, which are enjoying favorable demand. Other regions, however, are struggling to attract travelers from overseas.
To revitalize disaster-stricken areas, the metropolitan government began cooperating with the six prefectures in Tohoku in fiscal 2015.
The following year, Kumamoto and Oita prefectures joined the project after being damaged by a series of earthquakes, followed by nine prefectures in the Chugoku and Shikoku regions that usually see few foreign travelers.
Using a special website, the metro government lists convenient ways to get to each destination and attractive tourist spots, offering information in such English, Chinese, Korean and other languages.
It also lays out specific itineraries, proposing, for example, a three-day trip for tourists who plan to hit Tokyo first, providing detailed information on airline, train routes and traveling time to other prefectures.
For example, for a proposed trip to Fukushima Prefecture named Mirai (future) & Samurai, the metropolitan government proposes that tourists visit the Miraikan (the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation and home appliance stores on their first day in Tokyo.
On the second day, it suggests they enjoy a bowl of rice topped with deep-fried pork cutlets in Fukushima and visit Tsuruga Castle in Aizuwakamatsu.
According to an official of the Fukushima Prefectural Government, the number of foreign tourists visiting the prefecture is starting to recover but is still below pre-disaster levels.
“We appreciate the cooperation of the metropolitan government, as how to bring in tourists from Tokyo is an important issue,” the official said.
The metropolitan government, meanwhile, is aiming to have 25 million tourists a year visiting Japan by 2020 and 30 million by 2024.
“If tourists stay longer in Japan, it will lead to more spending. We want to aim for coexistence and co-prosperity,” a metro government official said.
Among those who have yet to team up with Tokyo, Fukui Prefecture is struggling because it lacks an international airport and well-known attractions, such as a world heritage site.
Fukui saw about 54,000 foreign visitors stay at hotels and inns in 2016, the fewest of the 47 prefectures.
“We would like the state to put more emphasis on supporting prefectures with few foreign visitors, such as by allocating subsidies,” an official at the Fukui Prefectural Government said, acknowledging that it faces challenges offering internet access and information in different languages.
But an official at the Japan Tourism Agency called on governments outside big cities to use what they have.
“Even in regions with few foreign visitors, they can still devise ways to attract people by polishing up existing local resources,” the official said.
The central government plans to support the development of tourist programs based on experiences at farms and fisheries, and efforts to turn old houses into lodging facilities and restaurants.
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