Regarding the June 26 Kyodo article “Ogasawara Islands join World Heritage family“: Last year I was part of a delegation of foreigners sent by the Japan Tourism Agency to assess the overseas tourist potential of the Ogasawara Islands.
The news that the islands have been added to the list of UNESCO World Natural Heritage sites has been greeted by the islanders as positive for protecting their natural environment and for boosting tourism. But recognition by UNESCO has not changed my conclusion that the overseas tourist potential remains very low, for several reasons.
One is that the islands can be reached only by a limited ferry service that takes 26 hours each way, and costs $300 for the cheapest fare. The majority of tourists with limited time in Japan want to experience Japanese culture and cuisine in accessible and world-famous cities like Kyoto.
Next, thanks to whaling, Japan does not have an international reputation as an oasis for nature and conservation. The UNESCO designation is unlikely to change this, particularly since — somewhat contrary to the islands’ conservation claims in foreign eyes — a traditional food on many island menus is sea turtle! The “natural wonders” on offer in Ogasawara, such as unique snails and tiny luminous mushrooms, are likely to appeal to zoologists and botanists rather than to the average tourist.
Yes, you can swim with dolphins, but you do it more easily and cheaply in New Zealand.
Lastly the tourism infrastructure is poor: There are only a handful of places to stay and to eat out at, and there is not much guidance in English or any other language. The few available organized tours cater very much to Japanese tastes, and getting around the islands is a challenge.
I suggest that Ogasawara residents concentrate their efforts on attracting more retired Japanese tourists, who can spare the time it takes to get there, and might appreciate turtle sashimi and regimented bus tours more than most overseas visitors.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
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