TT-905 (Tourism Edition) -- Japan's Biggest Tourist Magnet - Food and the Bloggers that Follow

Japan Travel
* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S (TOURISM) TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie
Lloyd, a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.

Tourism Sector Edition Sunday, July 16 2017, Issue No. 905

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+++ Japan's Biggest Tourist Magnet -- Food and the Bloggers that Follow

Whenever we have guests staying at home, which these days is regularly,
almost the first thing we get asked is where are some great places to
eat. Everyone visiting Japan has their own favorite foods, ranging from
ramen to sushi, and luckily for those arriving on low-cost carriers in
the middle of the night, there are stores open 24 hours a day to cater
to those cravings. What's interesting for us to see is that food
preferences are very much a cultural thing, especially for those
countries with homogeneous populations, and so this makes it easier for
us to prepare for guests and to make a good impression on them.

Let's just remind ourselves that the top activity foreign tourists want
to do before coming to Japan is to try some particular type of food.
According to the Japan Tourism Agency (JTA - "Kankocho") Q1 2017 survey
of 10,063 inbound foreign travelers, 69.1% listed food as their top
anticipated experience, followed 16 points further back by 52.5% wanting
to go shopping. Perhaps even more importantly, the JTA's survey of
people exiting Japan lists the Number One experience during the trip as
"Eating Japanese food", which came in at an amazing 95.3%! Next after
food was shopping, at 83.5%.

On the same survey, the type of food craving prior to arrival broke down
into three cuisines. For example, if you were from Vietnam, India,
Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia, Canada, or France, statistically your
preference was sushi. If you were from Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia,
China, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, United Kingdom, United States,
or Australia, your preference was ramen. If you were from South Korea or
Hong Kong, you preferred Wagyu steak or Sukiyaki.

What's interesting is that if you track these food preferences over
time, which I did on a rainy weekend, you can see the "food education"
of travelers from those source countries with a high rate of repeater
travelers. For example, Chinese used to prefer Wagyu, presumably because
they couldn't get the same quality/price value back home, while
Americans, British, and Australians used to prefer Sushi but now seem to
be getting bored with it as the product quality in their own countries

[Continued below...]

--------- From Veggie Burgers to Carrot Cake --------------

Our commitment at Alishan Organics is to give our customers the best of
western organic foods, but prepared with a Japanese twist. That's why
our menus cover such a broad range of styles and tastes. If you're just
getting to know us, why not visit our cafe by the river in Saitama? That
way you can try out a variety of dishes and decide for yourself. Choose
from an Amy's organic pizza straight from the oven, a mouthwatering
veggie burger packed with seasonal greens and reds, or if you're feeling
chilly, a filling vegetable curry with rice. And although we're healthy
minded, we don't skimp on desserts. Favorites include Jack's scrumptious
carrot cake, vegan brownies (of course with vegan icecream), and baked
banana cheese cake.

Our Cafe:
Our new online store:

So, it's fairly obvious that food is a big motivator for tourists. This
fact is not lost on local merchants, and we are now seeing the
phenomenon of local eateries and their menus being designed around
tourist potential. Forward-thinking establishments are highly aware of
the power of east-Asian food bloggers in particular, and if they get it
right, they are discovered, blogged about, and become the latest
"must-eat" destination where their biggest problem becomes one of how to
manage the queues. This is leading to a proliferation of niche food
outlets with creations that are as much art as they are nutrients.

Of course it helps if you're in a sector that is already trendy, such as
coffee or confectionery, but even standard fare is becoming
"gentrified". Let's cover some examples of small food start-ups that
understand the Inbound tourist:

=> Coffee
One of the most noticeable trends in food in Tokyo is that the charge is
being led by foreigners and their Japanese disciples. This of course
follows a time-tested method of introducing new ideas into the local
market, by emphasizing the exotic nature of the concept. Nowhere is
concept more important perhaps than in the coffee business, given how
many great cafes are now operating around the country - to the extent
that good coffee is more like a commodity these days. So when local
investors decided to partner with Norway's famed Fuglen Cafe and plonk
the concept in a decidedly down-market location in a dowdy old post-war
house in the back streets of Shibuya, they were betting that they'd
attract an artistic crowd who appreciate the vintage interior and the
rustic feel of the place.

Well, they got it right, and now Fuglen has become famous throughout the
East Asian blogging world as serving one of the best coffees in Tokyo.
Even Japanese foodie and trendsetter Takanori Nakamura swears by the
place. Unfortunately this means it's always full, but at least they have
put seating outside for those who are waiting. What's perhaps more
important is that this one shop has started a revolution in downmarket
cafe boutiques throughout the entire Tomigaya district. Local cheeses,
Portuguese tarts, French bistros, "same-day fresh" sashimi... you name it. (Fuglen website)

=> Hotel dining
Another sector becoming a commodity is hotels. My company was approached
about 18 months ago by a group of young designers who'd been fortunate
enough to score a large investment from a Wedding Design firm CEO to
build a trendy hotel in Shibuya. The reason they were seeing me is that
they had several big negatives to making the hotel work financially, so
they wanted to know if foreign tourists would have the same concerns as
did the local Japanese audience. The negatives were the distance from
the station, about 10-12 minutes and so just a bit too far for many
Japanese, and a restriction from the Shibuya Ward planning division that
most of the rooms had to be single rather than double rooms. A stupid
rule designed to make hotels less attractive to operate in the precinct!

Personally I thought the room rule would bust the hotel's chances of
making money from tourists, but anyway the group went off and did
something very different. They moved the emphasis of the hotel from
being a lodging provider to one of socializing, share-house environment,
entertainment, and food. And that is how Trunk Hotel with its funky
decor has become the trendiest new place to have a party. Metropolis
Magazine had a big event there last month and apparently had over 600
people show up. The hotel is well patronized by dining guests, and the
international menu is great. For Brunch, for example, they have
tabbouleh salad, veggie burritos, and pork in sweet-and-sour sauce,
while for dinner there is Wagyu steak and Matcha Panna cotta desert.
They do need to improve the table waiting times, though. [kitchen sub-site] [brunch menu - downloadable PDF]

=> Confectionery
Probably the hottest bakery around at the moment is another
foreign-owned business, run by a New Yorker who has won wide acclaim in
that city. I'm talking about Dominique Ansel (DA), the James Beard Award
"Outstanding Pastry Chef" in 2014. The big attraction point of DA's in
Harajuku is the inventiveness of the products and of course the quality
- both things that Japanese chefs working under foreign master chef are
good at. I'd never heard of this place until special requests started
coming in from travelers who wanted to know how to beat the queues.
Products like the Cronut (croissant-donut), Cookie Shot (cookie shot
glass filled with cream), Square Watermelon cake (chocolate seeds),
Pull-Apart Flower cookie, and Zero Gravity chiffon cake keep DA's filled
to capacity all-day every day. [DA Tokyo site]

=> Upmarket Ramen
The Afuri ramen chain has been around for about 10 years, gradually
opening their new signature post-industrial interior stores as they have
gained popularity. Historically their biggest attraction was the tart
taste of Yuzu juice in the ramen broth, a great counterpoint to the
grease that makes ramen so tasty. But in 2014 the restaurant garnered
even more attention by introducing a 100% Vegan ramen. They're not the
first, but taste-wise they are one of the best. Not surprisingly, it was
around this time Afuri really started getting noticed by Singaporean
bloggers (Asia's big foodie nation in my opinion). This started a
positive feedback loop that isn't quite viral, but which has pushed
their Ebisu store to #14 out of 6,865 restaurants in Shibuya. [Afuri website and menu]

...The information janitors/

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