My good friend, Andy Miles, is winging his way to Tokyo as I write this. At least I hope it will be Tokyo, could be Nagoya or anywhere for that matter as he is due to land here about the same time a typhoon is set to hit and the plane may be diverted. So Welcome to Japan mate!
The Japanese say “Yokoso” for welcome and “Yokoso Japan” was a campaign started by ex -ex prime-minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2003 to encourage more visitors to come here. Japan has some of the lowest international tourism figures of any developed country: it ranks 30th in the World Tourism league tables with just 7.3 million visitors in 2006 behind even Saudi Arabia with 8.6 million. And yet tourism is the world`s fastest growing industry so of course any sane country would want a piece of that pie.
Although this number is an increase it is still low by international standards and Japan is a country worth visiting, believe me, so why aren`t people coming here? It`s an image problem really: Japan is still considered to be too expensive by many foreigners even though it is much cheaper than London or Paris (two of the most popular cities on the planet); it is thought to be difficult to travel here despite the fact that the public transport system is both comprehensive and easy to navigate; most signs and information are bilingual; the main tourist areas are awash with English speakers and there are considerable less “Japanese only” establishments than there used to be. The main problem maybe though that Japan is a bit of a mystery to most of the rest of the world, I have relatives (distant ones I hasten to add) that think I have married a Chinese woman and when I correct them they just say that China and Japan are the same! Japan, however, likes it that way: being an enigma; giving out some Zen kudos and drawing around itself an impossibly complicated, cultural camoflage of rules and reasons that foreigners cannot fathom. Plus, ironically, it still exports all that is (in)famously weird and cute so that many people don`t take it seriously as a country (anyone who has been here will tell you that Japan is a lot more like the U.S. or Europe than you imagined though and aside from some cultural and counter-cultural hotspots is, often, annoyingly familiar and ordinary).
But as I said an increasing number of people are discovering the delights of Japan; so why oh why are the Japan government intent on carrying out the over reaction type immigration policies, like fingerprinting all foreign visitors, that have proved so ruinous to the U.S.`s tourist industry?
Never mind the abuse of human-rights and underlying racism in that idea, think of the bottomline: the tourist Yen that will not be spent; the bad reputation that will stop others coming.