In the land of the rising Tourism
Will the Covid get the better of the tourism expansion strategy in Japan?
Just a hundred days before opening of the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, prospects are not looking good at all. The pandemic is claiming new victims – certainly far below European or American figures – forcing the authorities of the capital and those of the regions of Osaka and Kyoto to take new containment measures, at the risk of sacrificing the sacrosanct “Golden week ”, a traditional holiday week at the end of April-beginning of May. Will this be enough to rule out any risk? Nothing is less certain, when some specialists predict a health disaster. Even placed in a sanitary bubble – but how will they be admitted in there? – the some 60,000 athletes, coaches and other journalists, coming from all corners of the earth, would provide a culture broth, from which the virus and its variants (known or not) would necessarily escape, not only in Japan itself , but also in the rest of the world, when the participants will return to their respective countries.
Faced with such threats, it is easy to understand the reluctance of the Japanese people who, at least nearly 40% of them now 1 , wish to see the event purely and simply canceled. Already compromised by the postponement of one year, then marred by controversies and scandals, prohibited to foreign tourists, the 2021 Olympics are shaping up to be a resounding media and commercial fiasco ; such a dramatic contrast to those of 1964, which marked the economic rebirth of Japan and its return to the international scene.
The tourism sector is not just an economic contributor, but the vector of cultural and identity integration into regional dynamics.
Japan, country of the miracle of post-war reconstruction, third economic power in the world and converted for thirty years to both cultural and mass tourism, seems hesitant in the face of the pandemic calamity. The vaccination campaign has barely started in the Land of the Rising Sun, with barely 1.5% of its population inoculated so far. The announcement of the release of a million cubic meters of decontaminated water into the ocean, 10 years after the Fukushima disaster, marks a further setback in the country’s reputation and a cause of tensions with its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region, while Yoshihide Suga’s ruling LDP 2 sees its support crumble in the by-elections.
In 2020, the Japanese economy shrank 4.8%. It is expected to rebound just over 3% this year, according to IMF forecasts 3 . Leading indicators still point to a mediocre and patchy recovery, driven by manufacturing segments linked to the global recovery and technology. An unwavering ally of the United States, Japan, their strategic bridgehead in Asia-Pacific, has nonetheless become the cultural and gastronomic model and one of the favorite destinations of a growing number of tourists from Asia and the rest of the world. A confidential destination, considered unaffordable not long ago, Japan received more than 31 million visitors in 2019 – 10 times more than in 1999. The Abe government even expected a doubling for 2030. To support this policy, remarkable changes were instated in the land of the Rising Sun, where the tourism sector is not just an economic contributor, but the vector of cultural and identity integration into regional dynamics. In the service of a great soft power, but still subject to the vagaries of lingering difficult diplomatic relations with its neighbors. This was particularly the case in 2018, during the boycott of the country by Korean tourists. In addition, Japan has long maintained strict visa requirements for fear that the number of irregular migrants on its soil will swell.
“Deconcentrated ” tourism beyond the country’s 3 major capitals (Tôkyô, Kyoto and Osaka), would certainly promote the development of its attractions.
Over the past 15 years, an active tourism promotion policy has sought to remove the material, economic and organizational obstacles that made visits to the country difficult (visas, cost and congestion of transport, adaptation to English, compatibility of modes of payments, tax refund conditions, telecom etc.). As everywhere, the pandemic brought this development to an abrupt halt.
Marked in its history by long alternations between openness and isolation, one can fear that this painful interruption – like the economic and financial impact of the Olympic Games – will cause Japan to fall back into a new period of withdrawal. “Deconcentrated ” tourism beyond the country’s 3 major capitals (Tôkyô, Kyoto and Osaka), would certainly promote the development of its attractions.
Having started my career there and have had the privilege of knowing Japan long before it became fashionable, and still still a little enigmatic, I am impatiently waiting to be able to find myself there.
1 Kyodo agency survey, carried out in mid-April.
2 LDP, Liberal Democratic Party
Published 29 April 2021 in French in www.allnews.ch – Cartoon ©Barret