National

Tokyo looks to kick start nighttime spending by tourists but transportation remains an obstacle

Kyodo

Businesses in Tokyo are continuing to look for ways to get foreign visitors to spend their time and cash on the capital’s wide-ranging nightlife options.

But while efforts are being made to boost the “after-hours” economy, the lack of late-night public transport remains a major obstacle for tourists looking to get a taste of what Tokyo has to offer — especially when their only options after 1 a.m. are to wait for the first train in the morning or to take an expensive taxi to their hotel.

Still, efforts from tourism-related businesses have been numerous and wide-ranging.

Travel agencies are arranging special events for foreign tourists such as taiko (drum) performances, while some hotels are extending the business hours of their restaurants to allow guests to socialize into the early hours.

Since last year, travel agency JTB Corp. has joined with Drum Tao, a world-famous taiko percussion and dance troupe, to entertain foreign visitors. Performances of the traditional Japanese drumming were held in September and October 2017. Due to their popularity, the shows are being held from May through November this year, a fourfold increase in the number of performances from the year before.

The Shinagawa Prince Hotel’s 39th-story restaurant was refurbished in December, and the business hours extended for the bar area until 4 a.m. Customers can now enjoy views of Tokyo Bay and listen to a live DJ late into the night.

“We keep in mind that we want visitors to Japan to enjoy themselves during the nighttime,” said the hotel’s public relations department. The number of customers using the bar area from when the renovations started until the end of March rose 30 percent compared with the same period last year.

Since April last year, the Tokyo National Museum has extended its opening times by one hour on Fridays and Saturdays, to 9 p.m. It is not only trying to accommodate people who finish work earlier as part of Japan’s labor reforms but is also attempting to draw more foreign tourists.

In January, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said it planned to survey foreign tourists on what they enjoy about the capital’s nightlife, including restaurants, theaters and sporting events, to better cater to their interests and encourage spending.

The central government is joining Tokyo’s efforts to increase spending by tourists at night. Despite the rapid increase in tourism, the average amount spent per traveler has declined in recent years. According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, foreign tourists visiting Japan last year spent about ¥150,000 per person, well below the ¥200,000 average required to hit the government’s target of ¥8 trillion by fiscal year 2020.

Designating tourism as a key growth area, the government aims to attract 40 million overseas visitors annually to the country by 2020, and 60 million by 2030.

“The night is a big opportunity for consumption,” said JTB President Hiroyuki Takahashi, while stressing the need to improve Tokyo’s entertainment options after dark.

But the problem of a lack of public transportation remains, as well as concerns about noise and security issues in some districts.

Unlike some other global cities, which have 24-hour subway lines, Tokyo’s transportation network shuts down every night to allow for maintenance and equipment checks.

In December, a group of Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers proposed an experiment that would have allowed trains and buses to operate into the early hours of the morning, but the idea received a cool response from transport operators.

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