National

Railway operators drive rise in overseas visitors by tapping social media for sightseeing spots on their routes

Kyodo

Japanese railway operators are making the most of local sightseeing spots along their routes to attract more foreign tourists, with social media proving an excellent promotional tool.

At Gotokuji Temple, located along Tokyu Corp.’s Setagaya Line in Tokyo, foreign tourists snapped shots of a cluster of maneki-neko (beckoning cat) dolls.

The temple is known for its extensive collection of the dolls, a good-luck charm believed to bring prosperity to shop owners in Japan.

After visiting Setagaya-Hachimangu Shrine near the temple, the tourists appeared to have enjoyed their time in the residential area of the capital, some saying they felt like they got a taste of “ordinary Japan.”

Tokyu has promoted local sightseeing spots in cooperation with Huber Inc., a tech venture offering a service that matches tourists with Japanese guides.

“I thought there are few sightseeing spots, but there was some buried treasures,” said a Tokyu official about the area around the 5-kilometer Setagaya Line tram that is mainly used by commuters and students.

Seeing social media posts by foreign nationals also prompted an increase in Japanese tourists to the area, raising the overall number of Setagaya Line passengers, the operator said.

“Visits to quiet areas reminiscent of old Japan have been catching on as tourists appreciate the contrast between those locations and the popular scramble crossing in the bustling Shibuya district, reachable within 30 minutes,” the official said.

Railways in western Japan are also making a pitch to foreign travelers.

Hankyu Hanshin Holdings Inc. in the Kansai region has been selling one- and two-day passes for foreign tourists since 2012, offering unlimited travel on all lines operating in the Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe areas. Sales have soared from about 20,000 passes in fiscal 2012 to some 440,000 in fiscal 2016.

Leisure facilities on Mount Rokko in Kobe, easily accessible from downtown, are anticipated to draw more inbound travelers. “A ski slope with artificial snow near Kyoto and Osaka is a popular choice for enjoying a bit of snow, in addition to a cable car service that is rare in other parts of Asia,” said a Hankyu Hanshin official.

Nankai Electric Railway Co., which runs trains between Osaka and its neighboring prefecture of Wakayama, will open a new hotel and shopping mall adjacent to its Wakayama City Station in 2020.

“We want to increase inbound travel demand,” said a Nankai official, as Kansai International Airport, the leading gateway to western Japan, is closer to the city of Wakayama than to the Umeda district in Osaka’s city center. An open-air bath will be built on the top floor of the planned hotel, offering visitors a view of a local river while they relax. English- and Chinese-speaking staff will also be on hand at the hotel.