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Typhoon, quake shutdown of airports sparks worries about blow to tourism

New Chitose Airport, where all flights were cancelled after a large earthquake led to a prefecture-wide blackout, is seen from a Mainichi Shimbun aircraft on Sept. 6, 2018, in Chitose, Hokkaido. (Mainichi)

After Kansai International Airport in Osaka Prefecture was battered by a historic typhoon, New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido was shut down by a blackout following a large earthquake, leading to worries about the negative influences these disasters will have on the tourism industry in Japan.

Both airports are representative transportation hubs of Japan, becoming main points of entry for the rising number of foreign tourists over the last few years. However, news of disasters in Japan has piqued interest abroad, and there are concerns that the damage to Japan's reputation will be a hard hit to the country's inbound tourism.

According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, a total of 25.61 million travelers flew domestic and international routes through Kansai International Airport, and 21.54 million did the same through New Chitose. Of Japan's airports, Kansai airport is third in the number of passengers behind Haneda and Narita airports in the greater Tokyo area, and Chitose comes in fifth after Fukuoka Airport in southern Japan. Kansai airport serves as a gateway to tourism in popular cities such as Osaka and Kyoto, and Chitose is the starting point for exploring Hokkaido's famous magnificent natural beauty and bountiful cuisine, making both hubs particular popular among foreign visitors.

Both airports resumed a portion of their flights on Sept. 7, but for Kansai airport, which sustained heavy water damage from the typhoon, the road to full recovery looks to be a long one.

Both the typhoon and the earthquake were covered by foreign news outlets, and news about the disasters in Japan even topped the access ranking on the digital version of the British newspaper The Guardian, showing the level of interest in Japan abroad.

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is aiming to firmly root Japan as a center of international tourism, and even raised the goal of having 40 million foreign tourists visit the country by 2020, when the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held. Japan has already seen some 28.69 million visitors in 2017.

"There is no way to avoid a temporary drop in inbound tourists," said an official at the transport ministry. "In order to dispel any damage to Japan's reputation (as a destination), it is important to have both airports up and running as soon as possible."

(Japanese original by Masahiro Kawaguchi, Business News Department)

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