The number of travelers visiting Japan is surging. Last year Japan welcomed 19.74 million people, close to the goal of 20 million that the government previously set for 2020. This has prompted Japan to set new goals of receiving 40 million visitors by 2020 and 60 million by 2030.
Travel by Japanese people, on the other hand, is not so rosy. Both domestic and overseas travel remain slow. The Japan Tourism Agency said that the number of visitors to Japan last year outstripped the number of people heading overseas for the first time in 45 years. While the number of people arriving from overseas rose 47 percent compared with the previous year, that of those traveling overseas from Japan dropped 4 percent.
Domestic travel has recently declined in Japan, with the number of travelers in 2014 down 5.7 percent from the previous year. Consumption by travelers also fell 8.1 percent over the same period. The Japanese government has called for making Japan a tourism-oriented country, and has put effort into increasing the number of foreign visitors, hoping to reap economic benefits. But if the people living in Japan do not or cannot enjoy day-to-day sightseeing, then Japan cannot truly be called a tourism-oriented country.
A country whose own people like to travel should be a fun place for people from overseas to visit. When Japanese people go overseas they will notice things which Japan doesn't have, or they may rediscover the appeal of Japan. Those experiences will no doubt be helpful when welcoming people from overseas. Exchange between Japanese people and foreigners during trips overseas will become an asset whose value can't be calculated in monetary terms.
What, then, are the reasons for the decline in travel by Japanese, and specifically, in sightseeing trips?
The population decline is no doubt one factor, as is the weak yen, which makes overseas travel more expensive for those living in Japan. Another point drawing our attention is the low rate at which people in Japan take paid holidays. In a survey of 26 major countries, U.S. travel booking company Expedia Inc. found that the rate at which people in Japan take paid holidays is the second lowest after South Korea, which sat at the bottom of the list. Moreover, over 50 percent of workers in Japan did not know how many paid holidays they had -- the highest level out of all the countries, and markedly more than other nations where the rate hovered around 10 percent.
Traveling during the midsummer Bon period and on weekends linked to public holidays is costly, and those on low incomes probably hesitate to go on trips at these times. The number of days people can take off and their destinations are limited, and traffic congestion and crowding can cause stress. It is also difficult for families to go on trips on weekdays when children are in school.
In Europe, there are quite a few countries where school holidays are created in the spring and autumn as well, and areas where the timing of a trip can be shifted, making it easier to travel with children. Can't we see more efforts to make it easier to travel lightheartedly?
The Golden Week holiday period has begun in Japan, and there are probably now many people heading on trips within Japan and overseas.
At this time of year, Kumamoto and Oita prefectures are usually bustling with tourists, but the prefectures are still reeling from the recent series of powerful earthquakes. They surely face many restrictions in receiving visitors. But visiting those areas will cheer up the people there. We hope tourists will visit places that have come to be visitable.