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Off the beaten track

Article - July 19, 2017

Reaching regional Japan brings unique experiences for tourists


Ask global citizens where they want to visit in Japan and you may be surprised to find that almost all of them have the same answers: big cities. Though Japan has many diverse places to experience, a whopping 48 percent of all tourist visits are in and around Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. The prospects available in the major urban areas have caused a population exodus from the rural regions as Japanese residents flock to job opportunities. Since 2014, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made “regional revitalization” a key component to revamping the economy.

Technologically progressive companies like travel app developer NAVITIME work to promote the lesser-known areas of Japan. CEO Dr. Keisuke Onishi says, “In rural areas of Japan, most signs and information in the train stations or on roads are not multilingual, as they are in the larger cities. With our navigation app, we support tourists with the information needed in their own language while traveling through Japan.” Expanding on the idea of travel ease and encouraging visitors to take in smaller, local sites is part of the Abenomics effort that companies like the West Japan Railway Company (JR West) need to stimulate business.

President of JR West Tatsuo Kijima says, “It is necessary to promote the local towns and cities in Western Japan such as Kanazawa, which is fundamentally different from the beaten tracks of Tokyo or Kyoto.” Many tourists may have the notion that getting to these rural areas is difficult or expensive, but JR West offers a “Japan Rail Pass” that covers all regions. Mr. Kijima explains, “During one week, a visitor would be able to visit Kansai, Hiroshima, and Miyajima as a package.” Packages that are marketed to Western tourists are becoming a more viable option to visitors like Americans and Europeans who tend to have a higher interest in traditional and historical Japanese culture. The focus has been on the large cities for so long that, like Dr. Onishi says, “Another point is that many municipalities are trying to attract foreign tourists, but they may not know what attraction they can offer that will be of interest to the tourist.” The Gifu region strives to conquer this challenge from both a business and touristic outlook.

Eager to show the potential of the most centrally located city in Japan, business leaders like Mr. Takashi Tsuchiya of Ogaki Kyoritsu Bank (OKB) offer insight on the future development of the region. “Gifu has a preferable location at the geographical center of Japan, which is something we are very proud of. Gifu is also known as the “manufacturing Mecca” of Japan; we have an abundant water resource and the transportation services are very well developed. This region has a lot to offer foreign and local companies,” he says.  

With the development of additional infrastructure and more promotion of the rural cities, there are still some concerns about tourist spending in the regional areas. Mr. Ichiro Hamakawa of the credit card company JCB Co. is optimistic that conditions will continue to improve for travelers. He says, “As for the financial barriers, our main objective is to enable the use of all credit cards around the country.” The combination of all of these developments are expected to “facilitate the tourist influx in general” says Mr. Hamakawa. The beauty of tropical beaches in Okinawa or fresh snow in Hokkaido simply offers an enriching cultural experience unlike their larger counterparts. As Mr. Tsuchiya of OKB states, “All regions in Japan, not only ours, are welcoming the reforms and looking forward to the results.”