No Ticket to Ride
The man above is Susume Kaidou. He runs one of the Takatabune, or old fashion house boat cruise companies that ply the Sumida River from Asakusa and business is not good at the moment. Spring is usually one of the busiest times of the year but he is not making any money today. The effects of the earthquake and tsunami of March 11th, not least the fear of nuclear contamination reaching Tokyo from the stricken Fukushima Daichi powerplant, are keeping tourists away from Japan.
Tourism is a new and still relatively small part of the economy here but the drop in tourism numbers, especially from China and Korea, is hurting the business. In an attempt to counter this; to raise some interest and some money for the more directly affected areas of Tohoko, this weekend Kaidou was providing people with free cruises along the Sumida River for thirty minutes, giving his passengers a chance to take in the views of the cherry blossom trees lining the banks and the new Sky Tree tower. All the passengers had to do in return was make a donation to the Red Cross to help with the relief effort and everyone was happy.
Well almost everyone, the line for the free cruises was long, the boats sailing in and out regularly with their requisite sixty passengers. Nearly all those passengers were Japanese however. Domestic tourism is down of course as people voluntarily limit their spending and enjoyment of this busy season out of a shared sense of suffering with the north east, but the lack of foreigners in the line was a more worrying sign of the difficulties Japan may experience this year.
Last year was a good year for tourism, despite the problems in the global economy, 8.61 million visitors arrived on these shores. This year Japan predicted that it could further increase tourism numbers, raising the tourist Dollar to as much as 7% of the country’s GDP with expected earnings of 33 trillion Yen.
Nowadays, with overseas tourism numbers in free-fall it is anyone’s guess how the industry will survive. Even though Japan’s overall economy will not be too adversely affected by a drop in the tourist revenues, for many small businesses that have developed to cater for the increase in tourism over the last decade or two the future looks very uncertain.