In Japan for bleisure i.e. business with a bit of time thrown in to experience some culture and nature, actually in my line of work that was still business since tourism is my gig 😉. Woohoo! Gotta love what you do!
Tourism in Japan
According to the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO, 2019), there were some 31,191,857 visitors to Japan in 2018. This total represented an increase of 8.7% over the previous year and was another record for the country – each of the previous five years saw record arrivals (from 2007 there was a change in how visitor was defined and this positively affected the numbers). From the mid-70s onward, tourism to Japan increased steadily with small dips, though in 2011 there was a predictably significant decrease resulting from the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. As at October this year, Japan had already welcomed 26,914,400 visitors and seems on track to surpass the 2018 total (JNTO, 2019). I was fortunate to be one of the millions who will be included in this year’s total 😊.
Caribbean people say that we are found everywhere; that’s certainly the case for Japan. From 2012 to 2018, around 895 Bajans visited Japan – 13% were there on business, 59% were there for leisure, and the remaining 28% for other purposes (in tourism jargon we refer to the aforementioned and the ‘primary purpose of visit/trip’). During that same period, there were some 276 visitors from Antigua & Barbuda (including one of my friends), 904 from The Bahamas, 6,600 from Jamaica, 935 from St. Kitts & Nevis, 260 from St. Lucia, 165 from St. Vincent & the Grenadines, and 3,911 from Trinidad & Tobago (JNTO, 2019). So not plenty of us, but we dey 😁.
Since most visitors to Japan aren’t from the Caribbean, where are they actually from? In 2018, most visitors to Japan were from China at 8,380,034, then South Korea at 7,538,952. There were also 4,757,258 from Taiwan, 2,207,804 from Hong Kong, 1,526,407 from the US, 552,440 from Australia, and 333,979 from the UK.
I always complain that destinations focus on visitor arrival numbers, but those numbers don’t tell the full story of tourism’s impact. In fact, as visitor arrivals increase, so do my concerns about negative cultural and environmental impacts. In reviewing stats about tourism in a destination, I also like to know how much money visitors actually spend in the destination and the types of activities they engage in. Other types of impacts require more in depth research to be undertaken, but I also like to know about changes to natural and cultural resources that can be realistically and objectively, attributed to tourism.
I was able to find information about visitor spend and activities very easily for Japan. For example, in 2017 international tourists to Japan spent an average of approximately US $1,418 per person – tourists who were there for leisure spent US $1,385/person, while those there for business spent US $1,379/person. Forty-two percent of spending by visitors from the US was on accommodations, 15% on shopping, 3.6% on entertainment, 16% on transportation and 23% on food and beverage (JNTO, 2019). Some 53.9% of the tourists visiting for leisure stayed an average of 4-6 days, while 47.8% of business tourists stayed 4-6 days on average. There were fewer mid-stay visitors: 4.7 % of leisure tourists stayed 14-20 days vs 4.5% of business tourists. For long-stays, 6.1% of business tourists stayed 28-90 days on average vs 0.8% of leisure tourists.
Can you tell I’m very impressed by JNTO’s statistics website? 🙂
So now that you Japan’s tourism context, you’re probably wondering what this bleisure tourist did besides spending slightly more money than the average tourist …
This Bajan in Japan
Warning: the rest of this post is photo heavy but the photos are caption light 😏.
I arrived at Narita Airport a few minutes earlier than scheduled and since my colleague’s flight was delayed, my host took me to visit the nearby Naritasan Shinshoji Temple. It was late evening and there were very few people around so it was a very peaceful experience, unlike the visit to the Sensō-ji Temple in Asakusa that I’ll talk about later in the post.
I spent a few days in Mito, a city in the Prefecture of Ibaraki, along the east coast of Japan, followed by a few days in Tokyo. My visit to Mito included the nearby town of Kasama where I visited the Kasama Inari Shrine and enjoyed displays from Kiku Matsuri – the Chrysanthemum Festival; Ibaraki Ceramic Art Museum; and did a special tour of a pottery workshop. In Mito, in addition to the business that was the primary purpose of my visit there, I had the opportunity to tour the Art Tower Mito and its adjoining arts complex.
The Art Tower Mito and arts complex were built to commemorate Mito’s centennial which was in 1990. The tower stands 100 ft tall to represent 100 years.
After two and a half days in Mito, my colleagues and I took the train to Tokyo. None of us speak Japanese beyond basic phrases, so our wonderful hosts escorted us to the train station which was walking distance to our hotel, helped us to get tickets and walked us to the right track. The train ride from Mito to Tokyo was less than an hour and quite smooth. On the train, one of my colleagues made a new friend who gave us directions to exit the train station and find the taxi stand (escorting us part of the way) and recommended several restaurants that we tried and enjoyed. The kindness of that stranger was welcome and on about two occasions we were able to provide directions for other tourists as well. A few more days and I could guide a tour or two 😄.
In Tokyo we stayed at the Prince Park Tower Tokyo. It was a very nice hotel in a good location and we got a great rate on our rooms thanks to my colleague and Expedia. However, while my room was well-appointed and the croissants at the on-site patisserie were delicious, the feature I loved most about the hotel was Shiba Park, a very nice park on its grounds. I enjoyed two brisk morning walks and one nighttime after dinner stroll through the Shiba Park and the adjacent temple.
Shiba Park, Zojo-ji Temple, and San Gedatsu-mon (Three Deliverance) Gate
During our three days we did some of the most popular tourist activities. First stop was the Tokyo Tower, a few minutes walk from the hotel. We didn’t go to the top of the tower, but had dinner in one of the restaurants there on our first night. I had an excellent view of the tower from my hotel room.
An easy way to take in a place you’ve never visited before is to take one of the ‘hop-on, hop-off’ bus tours that are common in big cities. We did the tour on our first full day in Tokyo and for a reasonable price we got a good sense of the lay of the land, heard some of the history of the attractions along the tour and decided where we wanted to spend more time visiting on the following day.
On our final full day in Tokyo we toured Hama-rikyu Gardens and took the waterbus to Asakusa to visit the temple and shrine there.
Waterfront Tour on a ‘Waterbus’
Senso-ji (Asakusa Kannon) Temple and Asakusa Shrine
The first few photos are of Senso-ji, a Buddhist temple in Asakusa and the oldest temple in Tokyo. The area teemed with people. I’m not sure that visitors seeking peace and enlightenment would’ve found them easily here with the crowds and the noise. The Asakusa Shinto Shrine next door presented a stark contrast.
Food is Central to Culture
When I’m eating I seldom think of taking photos. I ate many delicious meals in Japan and only took 3 food photos – 2 of them were in one restaurant. The best meal I had was sushi at a restaurant called Sushi Zanmai where demand is so high there’s a 2-hour time limit for each party (the sign is posted at the entrance and pointed out by the host at the entrance). Though I was in Japan my other favourites were a French restaurant called Pomme de Pin and Curry House CoCo Ichibanya. At Pomme de Pin the dinner rolls were just right: warm, crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. Along with those I had a lovely scallop salad followed by pan seared fish for my main. At Curry House I had a delicious Asian curry with chicken and shrimp – food Heaven.
A funny mishap – green apple soda. When we went to lunch in Asakusa, I ordered what I thought was a green apple soda, wanting something different to the water I usually drink. When it arrived I took a few sips, but didn’t like it – the taste was off but I just couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong. Close to the end of lunch, I commented to my colleagues about it and they also tried it with the same result. Then I suggested we check the menu again (written in English) to see if we could figure out the ingredient. Turns out it was a cocktail, listed in the cocktails section but my eye had just been drawn to the apple soda part of the list. Hmmm. We got a good laugh out of that, but the alcohol could not account for the odd taste. It was just not a nice cocktail. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it 🤣.
So would I visit Japan again? Definitely! My only regret about this trip was that I didn’t get to see my friend who is studying here. Perhaps next time.