Foreign visitors look beyond traditional attractions, target new hot spots


The number of foreign tourists visiting Japan is increasing, and they are discovering a variety of destinations and attractions ahead of time on the Internet.

Besides conventionally popular sightseeing spots such as Mt. Fuji and Kyoto, new tourist centers are appearing across the nation.

One such spot is Nakano Broadway, a shopping street in Nakano Ward, Tokyo, that houses many shops selling items related to pop idols and cartoon and anime characters.

I visited Nakano Broadway and met Samuel Chong, 30, and Joyce Yeung, 25, from Hong Kong. They were shopping for figurines.

“I’ve visited Japan four or five times in the past year and I always come to Nakano,” Chong said.

Yeung added: “I came to buy [anime character] Captain Tsubasa items. He’s very popular in Hong Kong.”

Chong and Yeung got information about tourist destinations from the Internet and Japanese magazines, they said.

Yoshitaka Nakano, a Nakano Broadway promotional association official, said, “Foreign shoppers often tell me it is fun to see the unusual variety of shops here.”

Last year, the association published a brochure for foreigners and established Web sites in English, French, Mandarin, and Korean.

Department stores are popular too.

According to an official of Mitsukoshi department store in Ginza in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, many tourists buy Japanese cosmetic products. Others come to Japan to buy luxury items that they cannot easily get in their home countries. One item, handkerchiefs made by the famous British brand Burberry, is a common souvenir.

The number of tax-free purchases at the department store in 2007 increased by 49 percent compared to 2006.

The diversity of foreign tastes when it comes to tourist attractions is evident on the tourism information Web site

A section of the site features interviews with tourists. One tourist said, “I want to check out fashion trends in [Tokyo’s] Harajuku.”

Another tourist said he wanted to go skateboarding on the streets of Tokyo. Many of the interviewees know what they are looking for.

Besides Kyoto and Nara, a number of other tourist destinations have gained popularity.

Among them are Tokyo’s Akihabara, where there are a large number of electric appliance shops and shops catering to amine and computer game fans; Mt. Takao in western Tokyo; Naoshima in Kagawa Prefecture, where art lovers gather at the art museums; and golf courses in the Tohoku region which is endowed with natural vistas and variety of hot springs.

“These days, a larger number of foreign tourists have clearly planned their travel to Japan. They often say, ‘I want to do this’ and ‘I want to go there,'” said Akiko Mitsuhashi a public relations official at JTB, a travel agency headquartered in Tokyo.

“Many people have taken an extra effort to enjoy Japan. We’d like to continue to meet the needs of foreign tourists,” the official said.