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Asia Minute: Japan’s Tourism Ambitions

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Soo C. Kim/Released)

Hawaii’s tourism industry is on track for another year of growth. Last week, the Hawaii Tourism Authority reported increased spending and visitor arrivals on every island except the Big Island. The figures are even more dramatic for another location that is expecting continued growth in tourism: Japan.

Tourism in the island nation has exploded in recent years. The Japan Tourism Agency reports the number of visitors to the country grew by three and a half times in the five years between 2012 and last year. Visitor spending over that period quadrupled.

Still, the government wants more - a lot more.

Right now, the number of visitors has passed 20 million this year and authorities say it should pass 30-million by the end of the year. The goal is to reach 40-million visitors by the year 2020 when Japan will host the Olympics.

At the end of last week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he’s confident the goal will be achieved, but the government also plans to increase its spending to reach that target.

One area ripe for continued investment is the northeastern part of Japan’s largest island, Honshu. This is the area struck hardest by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The federal government has run a regional subsidy program for the past several years with funds used to organize events, improve infrastructure, and boost regional tourism. Local officials say they need that support to continue.

While Japan’s national tourism figures continue to climb, the governor of Miyagi Prefecture says visitors to his region are only now returning to the levels before the disaster of 2011.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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