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Japan opens up to the world

Article - July 17, 2017

Improving technology and infrastructure makes Japan more welcoming to visitors than ever before

A nation known for its beautiful traditions and authentic craftsmanship, Japan’s image has remained rather unchanged on a global platform as economic challenges shape the nation’s culture and outward appearances. “From the north to the south of Japan, tourists have the possibility to enjoy a multitude of varying landscapes and changing weather. From the beach to the mountains, you can find everything in Japan,” says Commissioner Hiroshi Mizohata of the Japan Tourism Agency (JTA).

“We have seen a 20-percent-plus yearly increase in tourism, followed by a clear growth pattern in expenditure and consumption,” says Mr. Mizohata. At present, almost 80 percent of visitors to the country are from Asia, but these guests “spend less money and stay a shorter amount of time” so, as the tourism industry grows, a focus to “accommodate our country’s services to attract new visitors, such as Europeans and Americans” is crucial to increasing spending by guests, he says.  

Currently, foreign guests can use credit and bank cards issued overseas to make cash advances in yen at over 48,000 of the 190,000 ATMs Japan has to offer. By the time the Olympics come to pass, that number is expected to rise to 80,000.

Things have begun to change as Abenomics continues to make tourism a focal point in boosting the economy. In 2016, the number of overseas visitors rose 21.8 percent to 24.04 million, showing that Japan is well on its way to reaching the desired 40 million tourists by 2020. In the past, travel to rural destinations has been a struggle, but the Prime Minister’s signing of a $61 billion project to connect better infrastructure is opening up more opportunities to visit unique places.

Authorities like the JTA know that it is much easier to travel in Japan than tourists perceive. Mr. Mizohata says, “We are currently enhancing our digital infrastructure in order to make our country more visitor-friendly.” As part of the effort, “we will facilitate free Wi-Fi connections nationwide while enhancing multi-lingual installments,” he says. Public and private sector companies are both engaged in the effort to combat the stereotypes of difficult travel throughout Japan.

NAVITIME has created a multimodal travel app that can help tourists navigate the sometimes-complex transportation routes of Japan with enhanced GPS in four languages. CEO Dr. Keisuke Onishi describes the service like this: “For example, our system will tell the user by audio which exact exit to use when leaving the metro, and instead of simply suggesting where to turn, it will also inform about what different facilities are surrounding. This helps the user to easily navigate and find the closest police station, coffee shop, or post office.” Use of the app is encouraged by its convenient availability.

Dr. Onishi says, “Currently apps show around 50,000 free Wi-Fi spots across Japan. Most users download the app before they enter the plane to Japan, and since the Wi-Fi spot search is available even when you are offline, users can immediately search for Wi-Fi spots when they arrive and get connected.” With a focus on tourism and technology like this available, travelers have an easier time than ever before in finding where and how to get to diverse and interesting destinations in Japan.