Amongst the many goals set by PM Abe was 20 million tourists by 2020. A nice round number in line with all those Olympic twenties. At the time, many locals thought, "Another hot air political promise" ... but wait, we are still in 2015 and the latest forecast for inbound tourists this year has been raised to 19.9million. How can that be? One may be shocked to learn who are all these new-found tourists.
High tourism growth rates in Japan
The above article provides data from the Japan National Travel Organization. Jan - Aug 2015 incoming tourists were 12.88million (+49.1% versus 2014). Breaking it down further, Chinese tourists were 3.35million (+117%) whilst South Korean tourists numbered 2.56million (+ 43.6%) and 2.47million Taiwanese tourists (+ 29.9%). Many a business can only dream of such revenue growth rates!
China and Korea bring the most visitors
Anybody knowing a little about Taiwan-Japan history and relationship will not be surprised. On the other hand, there will be initially a lot of head-scratching why China and Korea hold the #1 and #2 positions. From the endless verbal attacks on Japan by the governments of those two countries, one would think the tourist numbers should be decreasing. Arguments over ownership of uninhabited islands, comfort woman during WWII and colonial occupation are all red-button topics for politicians, so why not for the residents? Of course, rent-a-crowds and lemming media lip-service reporting exist, but that is where political positions and the real world diverge.
I have personally been visiting China and Korea on business since the 1980s. Yes, I have had to fend off tough questions as to why one would live with "the enemy" from government officials or those patriotic citizens who only watch and believe the one-eyed view presented by their local media. However, in the great majority of cases, Chinese and Korea business people have their eye on a bigger target. They view Japanese business as a great success story showing Asians can also succeed on the world stage.... and they want to eat that cake too!
As is normal when doing business in Asia, building "Guanxi" with your potential business partner is so critical to success. Many obligatory out-of-hours meetings in restaurants and pubs, where the host wants to impress by bringing guests to the establishments that show the trappings of their (local) success. In recent years, that means I eat sushi and sashimi in high-class Japanese restaurants in Seoul, Beijing and Shanghai, then bore new friends with my awful singing abilities at Karaoke bars. Knowing this, are you still surprised the same successful business people want to bring their family to their Mecca?
Of course, there are downsides, favourite hotels unavailable due to being booked out months in advance by tour operators, fighting your way through walls of rice cookers being brought as hand-carry luggage through Narita, finding somebody in Ginza who speaks Japanese ..... but these are much smaller issues than the world where politicians prefer to have us live, don't you think?