TT-945 (Tourism Edition) -- Art of Travel in Japan - Screening Out the Ugly

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, May 20, 2018, Issue No. 945

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+++ Art of Travel in Japan - Screening Out the Ugly

The last 5 days I have been riding with an Australian friend, mapping
out a new cycling route from Lake Biwa, up to the Kyotango coastline
north of Kyoto then back down to Himeji. The route is about 500km and
offers a wonderful view of a semi-remote part of Japan where
centuries-old homes, unconcreted coastlines (yes, they do still exist),
dense forests descending into white water rivers, and steaming natural
onsen are in abundance. It is becoming a trending destination with
foreign tourists (particularly with French people, who we met
frequently), where the visitor hits Kyoto for a day only, then because
of the overwhelming crowds there, they flee northwards to serenity,
beauty, and reasonable prices.

Riding that distance offers you a lot of time to think, and of course
being on the bike puts you in close contact to the elements and people
around you. After this ride, the overwhelming feeling I come away with
is one of missed opportunities. Things like the lack of continuity
between really great tourist destinations, such as the Amanohashidate
pine tree-forested sand spit and the rugged coastline of the Kyotango
peninsular - the opportunity being to re-route the tourist trail away
from a rusting and never-ending set of malls and factories in the
middle. For once I wish that the authorities could take a series of
visual pearls and actually connect them together as a perfect string.

* [Amanohashidate, video]
* [Kyotango]

Indeed, what this experience has made me realize is that there is a big
perception gap between what the Japanese tourism and infrastructure
authorities think they should spend their money on and what foreign
tourists are actually seeking. I believe this gap is caused, quite
naturally, by the history of Japanese tourism, post war. In other words,
as the Japanese middle class became mobile in the 1970's, their
overwhelming desire was to get out of town for the weekend and enjoy a
modicum of luxury (generally represented as an over-the-top gourmet
spread) in a destination far enough away to feel disconnected - but not
so far that you couldn't get there by bus, train, or car in 3-4 hours.
Thus you got destinations like Odawara and Atami near Tokyo, and Arima
and Biwa-ko near Kobe and Osaka.

[Continued below...]

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As an aside, regarding the luxurious meal thing, while onsen and ryokan
in general are relatively cheap to stay at, the habit ingrained from 50
years of service to Japanese travelers is that they expect customers to
want to splurge on sumptuous meals, which of course helps the
establishments make their real profits. The inefficiency of this model
has been in how the Japanese traditionally take their holidays - almost
always at the same time, on weekends and on major national holidays.

In contrast to this, it must have come as a bit of a shock when about
five years ago western organizations such as started wanting
to offer a week-round supply of customers and thus more sustainable
profits, but at the same time they also demanded giving customers prices
that don't include meals! Students of the Japanese tourism industry will
one day recognize the important contribution has made in
starting a groundshift change in the Japanese hotel industry (in regards
to pricing and services separation).

Anyway, back on topic, as with the ryokan being set up for spotty usage,
our tourism destinations are configured in much the same way. They
involve areas of hyper focus and development that are over-the-top (if
they were food, they'd be "sumptuous") and non-contiguous. Perhaps the
biggest disconnect is that the locals want those destinations to make
them money directly - forget about the niceties of indirect financial
flows. So beautiful locations are surrounded by streets of stores
peddling souvenirs, more food, and overpriced parking. Granted,
sometimes, these are well kept and cute, like in Amanohashidate.

Unfortunately for the souvenir merchants, the "hordes" of Japanese
salarymen who used to be bussed in have now become too old, too poor, or
too absorbed in video games to be interested to go visit the nation's
thousands of countryside museums and tens of thousands of rusting
lookouts - a few retirees with wanderlust excepted. Instead, the bulk of
the new customers are non-Japanese, who are hoping to see some of the
nation's beauty and history on display.

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I always find it interesting how the average Japanese traveler seems to
have an ability to turn off his or her visual senses for the ugly bits,
a habit probably learned from city living, where you can't help but be
confronted by ugly surroundings. But what it does mean is that an area
that could have been a major international tourist draw, while still
managing to get a few bus-loads of visitors to key parts, is degraded by
the ugly sprawl on either side - to the point that no one really wants
to hang around. This is very much the case in Nanao (Wakura onsen) where
a really beautiful inland bay is marred by a main street of garish,
rusted onsen hotels built in the 1990's, and even worse abandoned shops
and factories to the east.

I realize that it's not possible to renovate every dilapidated building
and relocate factories. Instead, local authorities need to think more
about roading, tree planting/screening, access limitations for trucks,
building codes that match the area, and civic removals of unwanted
houses (except old kominka, which should be protected nationally).
Unfortunately this isn't going to happen until they start realizing that
once in an area, unlike Japanese tourists who will hop back on a bus at
09:00 to head to the next stop, the foreign tourists will often want to
walk around town (the beautiful or quaint parts anyway) and possibly
even use that location as a base for a couple of days.

To be sure, there are some towns that do get it, and it's no surprise
that these places are becoming extremely popular with foreign tourists.
Kyoto is of course one such prime example, and so we can understand why
it's being overrun. But on my trip I saw other iconic places where the
entire community IS trying to preserve their history and identity, and
which are becoming an obvious magnet for tourists. North of Kyoto, such
places would include Miyama (thatched roof houses), and Ine (rustic
houses right on the water, lining sheltered bays) on the Kyotango

* [Miyama village just north of Kyoto]
* [Ine village on Kyotango]

...The information janitors/


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