Japan Travel

* * * * * * * * TERRIE’S (TOURISM) TAKE – BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie
Lloyd, a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.

Tourism Sector Edition Sunday, Sept 06, 2015, Issue No. 818

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+++ Tips for Turning a Town into a Tourist Destination

Now that the number of foreign tourists coming to Japan has passed 9.14m
people for the first half of the year, it looks reasonably safe to say
that we will hit 18m at least by the end of 2015. This will be a record
and will represent an amazing 25% increase in foreign visitors over last
year, and an almost 300% increase since 2011. Thus it’s no wonder that
towns and cities all over Japan, funded either directly by the Japanese
government or indirectly through private investment programs (real
estate, hotels expansion, agri-tourism, etc.) are now wondering how to
attract their share of visitors.

The problem is that if you’re just an ordinary country town that sprang
up 300-500 years ago to service shogunate officials traversing the
country, probably you don’t have much in the way of beautiful temples,
spectacular scenery, or famous arts and crafts to tempt modern-day
travelers to stop. In fact, when most of your inhabitants are probably
still living hand-to-mouth in the countryside, thoroughly ignored by
newfangled Abenomics, you no doubt look like the Japanese equivalent of
a highway truck stop in the USA or a factory town in China’s northern

And as so many nondescript towns around the world have learned,
sometimes you have to manufacture a reason for people to want to spend
some time, and hopefully tourist dollars, with you. Today we thought
we’d pick up a few places that are either doing this purposefully or
accidentally, and in so-doing offer some pointers on what other tourist
destination aspirants could be doing to pull more visitors.

And, no, we’re not talking about building Japanese-type favorites, like
the “biggest sembei” in Japan, or “the most soba you can eat”
competition, although these places/events do exist.

World’s largest rice cracker: http://bit.ly/1Uv8SMF
Soba eating competition: http://bit.ly/1NW2A4E

One thing I have found out after being on a number of pilot tours for
regional travel organizations is that what the Japanese find interesting
and use to pull in tourists is often a niche activity or local (food)
flavor that can be completely lost on non-Japanese speaking foreigners.
In most cases a new variety of soy sauce or giant plastic sign is not
sufficient to get foreigners off the beaten track. Of course, by the
same token, what turns foreigners on is also unpredictable and
perplexing. So here is a short list of examples that we think could
easily be replicated elsewhere in Japan.

[Continued below…]

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1. The Pissing Boy, Tokushima, Shikoku
You might wonder how we picked up this rather unusual destination.
Mostly because it makes a great example of how to draw travelers who are
in the area anyway, but who are not so likely to make it to your
specific neck of the woods. A similar example would be Miyama, home of
the wonderful Shindo Little Indigo Museum, just 15km away from the
millions visiting Kyoto, and yet no one has ever heard of it.

Indigo museum: http://bit.ly/1EK6OJw

Anyway, the polite name for this small bronze statue in Shikoku is the
“Manneken Pis Boy”. But with a name like that, probably few would ever
bother to take the 10km detour to see it. How much better to give it a
more vivid colloquial description…! The statue was erected by locals
in honor of a tradition among village boys to see who could get closest
to the edge of the 200m high cliff to relieve themselves. It’s well
executed (artistic) and the view below is truly vertigo inducing.

Why is this a clever marketing ploy? Because there are actually two
Route 439 roadways traveling down either side of the Iya River, and this
is the smaller and more winding of the two routes. The Pissing Boy
ensures that the less convenient roadway is positively crawling with
curious foreigners looking for it during the summer and autumn months.

Pissing boy: http://bit.ly/1g3AuWf

2. Scarecrow Village, Nagoro, Tokushima, Shikoku
This would be our number one pick about how to “manufacture” a tourist
destination in Japan. Nagoro is the home town of Tsukimi Ayano, a
60-something grandma who returned to her remote mountain village after a
falling out with the hubby. There are about 135 registered inhabitants
of the village, and although it’s a pretty place it’s not somewhere
you’d normally seek out — except that Ayano-san has a unique hobby
which has become famous worldwide — she sews human-looking scarecrows.
150 of them at last count.

I visited her home last year, after cycling up from the Iya Valley, and
she shared with us that she’d been the center of a number of TV
documentaries in Brazil and Germany, as well of course as numerous
newspaper and magazine articles around the world. When I was there, I
didn’t see any evidence of overt tourism to the area (indeed, she
invited myself and my riding partner in for tea and snacks because we
were the first foreigners she’d seen all day), but this would be a prime
location to promote if someone ever got around to it. What should be
done? Some accommodation, a scarecrow boutique, and coordination by a
local tour company would be a great start.

Nagoro scarecrow art: http://bit.ly/1M3wofl

3. Naoshima Art Island
Naoshima is the home of the Fukutake family’s world famous Benesse Art
Site, consisting of hotels and museums. Although this is not a
surprising attraction — in that it is well-known and well visited —
what Naoshima demonstrates is that an out-of-the-way island off the
coast of Okayama can go from zero to “must-see” in just 20 years, simply
because one well-heeled family patriarch decides to team up with the
local mayor to house their art collection there. They got started in
1982 with the hotel.

There are a number of other world-class art collections around Japan,
many built during the crazy-80’s that would probably move to equally
beautiful and remote settings if asked. Indeed, the Pola art museum near
Mount Fuji might have to move anyway, if Mount Hakone does decide to
erupt. Already part of their September exhibition of Cezanne works has
been curtailed for fear of damage. So this is certainly one art
collection that could be up for grabs if an innovative local authority
had the gumption to step forward.

Naoshima: http://bit.ly/1Qifw3b
Hakone Pola museum: http://bit.ly/1O6n6i9

4. Zao Mura Foxes
If you can’t create a beautiful location, nor convince an art collector
to support your town, then the next best thing is to exhibit animals in
a unique setting. Forget your rabbit, owl, cat, and goat cafes. In fact
the most popular story www.japantravel.com has ever run, and we have
over 20,000 stories on the website now, is one about a fox sanctuary in
Zao Village, Miyagi. This story has been carried by many major media
sites (Huff Post, ABC News, etc.) due to the rather unique and open
sanctuary for foxes, and the stunning backdrop of the Zao mountains.

Zao fox village: http://bit.ly/1KUbiyy

A more contrived version of the Zao idea but nonetheless effective is
the Alpaca weddings being run by the Naqua group Epinard Hotel in Nasu,
Tochigi. While we’re not sure if this will excite many westerners, it
certainly has generated a flow of Japanese and Asian visitors to the
hotel. An alpaca wedding runs around JPY488,000, which includes rental
of the alpaca, chapel, bouquet flowers, and dress and tux for the lucky
couple. No reports on whether the resident alpaca has been trained not
to spit — one of the few defense mechanisms the animal has. :-)

Alpaca wedding: http://bit.ly/1O6ne0X

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RSVP: By 1pm on Monday October 12th, 2015. Venue is The Foreign
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Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd@japaninc.com)

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