In this interview with The Worldfolio, Ryoichi Yuki, President and Managing Director of theme park Edo Wonderland, speaks about the tourism industry in Japan, and why Nikko and his theme park are the best places to come for those looking to discover more about the Edo Period
Despite certain hints of economic growth in 2016, critics have it that Abenomics has fallen short of expectation. However, if there is one sector that has clearly benefited from the Abenomics period, it is indeed tourism, as Japan surpassed the 20 million entrants on 2016, four years before the government target. What has been the impact of the surge in tourism on your park?
This facility has not yet seen the effects or influences from Abenomics’ policies. Indeed, it will take time before the results filter down the economy, but as for Edo Wonderland, we have not yet seen any effect on our park, nor the incoming visitors.
2016 was a very historical year in terms of tourism for Japan as a country; it was the first year that the country reached 20 million visitors, and now the government is setting the bar at 40 million visitors by the 2020 Olympics. In your opinion, is this a feasible goal?
Statistically speaking, reaching 40 million visitors is a feasible goal, however, my viewpoint is not only optimistic – I do have concerns as well. During the past three years, the incoming tourists to Japan have doubled in numbers and this fluctuation has resulted in big changes for our country, which in many ways are good. However, this rapid speed of changes also has consequences, and my concerns are from the perspective of the country, the prefecture and the area; my opinion is that Japan is not yet ready to welcome 40 million visitors, and I do not believe we will be ready by 2020 either. The increase in tourists to Japan is growing faster than we can adapt, and the tourism boom thus can have detrimental side effects, where tourists may get a bad impression of our country, which would disseminate wrong information to the world about Japan.
One of the goals of the Abe administration is to decentralize the economy and ensure that the profits of the tourism boom are filtered down to the regional areas, and not only the metropolitan areas such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. How can the government realise this ambition, and make areas such as Nikko, and companies like Edo Wonderland feel the effects of the tourism boom?
The subsidies and the funds provided by the government will be of great help. Another important point will be to promote the beauty of the regional areas; 70% of Japan’s surface is made up of forest, and within this 70%, 60% is not sustainable forest, which therefore is not suitable as a tourism scenery. Considering Japan’s four seasons, there must be governmental efforts to ensure sustainability in terms of nature.
2020 will be a milestone year for Japan’s tourism industry, with the country hosting the Olympics, Paralympics and, a year before in 2019, the Rugby World Cup. As a business within the tourism sector, what impact or effects are you expecting from these events on Edo Wonderland?
Looking in retrospect at the countries that have previously hosted the Olympic games, there are more detrimental sides than positive, and statistically speaking, many companies face a decrease in tourism after the games. Therefore, instead of having a short-term vision towards the 2020 Olympics, we need to focus on what comes next. Both the public and the private sector need to establish a strategy for what will happen after the games. With these big events in 2020, indeed the incoming tourists will increase, but we are striving to prevent these visitors having a bad impression of Japan and our facilities. These kinds of events are good drivers for establishments such as ours, however, I am afraid it might fall short of expectation.
Out of the 20 million tourists of 2015, one million were American, making the US the largest source group outside of Asia. How do you make your park more attractive and accessible to different tourist groups?
Currently, we do not promote Edo Wonderland to the European and American market yet, because I believe that the value of our product, or even of Nikko itself, is not ready to be “out there” for promotion. Indeed, there are different needs depending on where the tourists originate, and statistically speaking, our visitors are mainly Asian today, and I believe it is not enough. Cultural exchange between countries is like an international marriage – it is about exchanging values and understanding different cultures and how we can comprehend each other. Not only focusing in Asia, I hope to expand towards the European and North American audience as well in the future.
As a developed country, and compared to other nations, Japan is far from competitors such as Spain, France and Thailand when it comes to inbound tourism. What can be done in terms of minimizing the gap between the growth in inbound tourists and Japan’s adaptation period? How can Japan realize its tourism potential, and how can tourism become a true economic engine?
Having the structure, and being ready for when the tourists come will be crucial. By this, I mean creating the right environment and infrastructure.
We need to be ready when the tourists come to Japan. We need to make sure we are building the best environment for them and also the government needs to make an effort to revitalize the areas.
Edo Wonderland indirectly competes with some of the world’s best known amusement parks, such as Disneyland Tokyo, Legoland or Universal Studios Japan. What are the competitive advantages of Edo Wonderland?
This is the place to meet samurais, geishas and ninjas. Also, considering the facts that Nikko is a perfect place to find a beautiful landscape and ‘onsens’(hot springs). But our visitors have different needs, the Chinese are not the same as Americans and they are not looking for the same when they travel.
Referring to the theme park “Asakusaka Hanayashiki” and nearby sightseeing spots such as Sensoji Temple, Mitsubishi Research Institute’s Mr. Komatsu said that “cooperation between amusement parks and neighboring tourist sites can benefit from a multiplier effect.” Do you offer any joint-activities with the Nikko district? What is Edo Wonderland’s role in making the area more attractive?
I can’t use the term collaboration but in order to attract the Asian groups back in 2007, I was the only one promoting Nikko as a sector and place, because of our success, Nikko City has become our followers, maybe in the future, I will like to collaborate with the city. Also, in order for us to attract more tourism we need to think what we need to do and work together between the government and the private sector.
That main reason that my father had to establish this facility was to revitalize the region and help the local people by creating more jobs for them, and of course, maintaining the Edo culture that our culture offers to the world. As you know, Tokyo used to be Edo and that is why is people want to know about our culture.
This Edo history is one of the best attractions. When I was in my 20s, I didn’t like to think about this boring history, but now that I am older, I understand how beautiful and powerful this history is, not just for us but for the world.
People come to this place to understand the Edo Period, the history of Japan… our architecture, our food, our geishas and our ninjas. Everything they can find it here and also this facility shows many things that we want to offer them to make them feel more comfortable: the international languages, our international tour guides, some food, some drinks… We bring many options for the ones that want to enjoy their holidays and for the others that want to learn on their holidays.
Established in 1986, Edo Wonderland today spans over an area of 495,000m2 and offers many different activities, from plays to ninja shows, ninja workshops and Shuriken throwing. What do you want to be your legacy to be?
I want Japan to be more a recognized tourist destination. I want to make close relations with the agencies and establish this legacy for the future. We have unique characteristics and that is why this facility is so attractive, it’s a unique experience, it is a place where you can find the identity of Japan.
This identity, that I didn’t understand when I was young, I didn’t feel happy or proud about it. But now I understand this is the place that Japanese, tourism and us can feel everything that Japan can offer, everything that makes Japan as a tourist destination. As a Japanese person, I want to support how Japan is opening to the world and I want to be part of the transformation, I want to operate this place that shows what we are and to show this unique experience we can offer.