Japan gets more than it bargained for with tourist boom
Nikkei -- Apr 18
Can the country welcome 60 million visitors a year without losing its culture -- and its mind?

Yuko Kato, a 50-year-old housewife, was raised in Kyoto and has lived there all her life. Going to the 1,300-year-old Nishiki Market, known as "Kyoto's Kitchen," to buy fish, pickles and seasonings used to be a weekly habit for her, but that has changed over the past five years.

These days, the traditional retail market, which covers five blocks of narrow laneways lined with shops, is overrun by foreign tourists, many of them eating skewered shrimp and other local delicacies as they stroll, making it difficult for daily shoppers to go about their business. Posters saying "No Eating While Walking" are pasted everywhere, but are largely ignored.

"Today, I'd rather go to a department store, and only come to Nishiki when I really need to," says Kato. "Now we have so many new shops for tourists serving green-tea-flavored sweets or takoyaki [small balls of deep-fried batter filled with octopus pieces]. ... Kyoto's Nishiki has disappeared."

While the increased tourism should imply bustling business, it has been the reverse for Nishiki Daimaru, a 60-year-old fish outlet that is one of more than 100 shops in the market. Its owner says 80% of his customers are now foreigners, and as a result sales have declined for the past three to four years. Tourists tend to buy only small amounts of sashimi to eat in a dining area at the back of his store, he says, whereas in the past, locals shopped there for their daily needs. Katsumi Utsu, chief director of the market, says Nishiki is now a "crush of spectators rather than a lively scene of local shoppers."

The situation at the Nishiki Market, and indeed in Kyoto overall, may be a harbinger of things to come for other cities in Japan. With inbound tourism surging, the country is grappling with the government's plan to develop the industry into a new pillar of the economy even as over-tourism threatens to burden historical sites and infrastructure.

Kyoto's 1,300-year-old Nishiki Market: Rising numbers of tourists are disrupting local business, say some shop-owners. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

In 2018, foreign visitor arrivals jumped 8.7% to 31.19 million from a year earlier. And as Japan sprints toward two major sporting events -- the Rugby World Cup from September to November and the Tokyo Summer Olympics next year -- the numbers are expected to keep rising. Goals set by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2016 peg foreign tourist arrivals at 40 million in 2020, and 60 million in 2030.

Abe is also working to stimulate domestic tourism, announcing that this year's annual Golden Week holiday will run from April 27 to May 6. The usual weeklong vacation has been extended to 10 days to celebrate the coronation on May 1 of Crown Prince Naruhito as emperor. Data from JTB, Japan's leading travel agency, shows the number of residents who are planning to travel domestically during the period is up 1.1% on the year; those with plans to travel abroad are higher by 6.9%.

The surge in foreign visitors to Japan reflects a gradual easing of travel visa requirements since 2013 for countries including Thailand, the Philippines and China; growth in the number of budget airlines in Asia; and a depreciation in the yen, all of which have made Japan one of the most popular destinations in the region.

News source: Nikkei
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