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Travel News

Fukushima tourism strives to recover from disasters

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Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture is set to welcome the first group of Chinese mainland tourists organized by a travel agency since last March’s quake and tsunami, as Japan’s travel business strives to rec

Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture is set to welcome the first group of Chinese mainland tourists organized by a travel agency since last March’s quake and tsunami, as Japan’s travel business strives to recover from the disasters.

Fukushima, a quake-stricken prefecture in northeastern Japan, became a household name for its Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which was crippled by the disasters.

Global fears about the radiation have overshadowed the country, especially Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi, the three prefectures that suffered most from the catastrophe.

“After the quake last March, all tours that were previously booked were canceled,” Kenji Kokubun, chief representative of Fukushima Prefecture Government’s Shanghai office, said on Friday.

Few tourists from the Chinese mainland chose to visit Fukushima before the first batch of individual travelers arrived there last December, Kokubun said.

A Chinese travel agency promoted a group tour to Fukushima with the office, and the first group tour from Shanghai is planned to start in mid-April.

But officials in the quake-stricken prefectures said that the pace of recovery of Japan’s tourism industry remains slow.

Damaged infrastructure and accommodation facilities are among the biggest problems faced by local officials as they try to rebuild the tourism industry.

“We have seen quite a few inns and coastal resorts swept away by the horrifying floods of the tsunami,” Takashi Kikuchi, tourism department chief of Iwate Prefecture, told China Daily on Thursday.

The coastal areas in northeastern Japan suffered much more than inland areas due to their proximity to the ocean, he said.

Only 2,210 foreign tourists stayed in hotels in Iwate in the second quarter of last year, only 11.4 percent of 19,390 visitors that came in the same period in 2010, according to Iwate Prefecture government.

In addition, transport services in tsunami-stricken coastal areas face major challenges.

As a major part of its plans to revive its travel sector, Japan launched a series of major campaigns to attract foreign tourists’ attention, especially from China.

According to statistics from the Japan Tourism Agency, Chinese travelers accounted for the largest number of foreign tourists staying in the country’s hotels in the fourth quarter of 2011.

China-based representatives and staffers like Kokubun from the most quake-stricken prefectures undertook campaigns to lobby potential costumers.

In recent months, subway commuters in Beijing have seen huge commercials presented by Japan’s National Tourism Organization along the tunnels and hallways of transfer stations, introducing Japan’s scenic places of interest.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the normalization of China-Japan diplomatic relations. Tokyo combined a ceremony marking the anniversary on Feb 16 in Beijing with an exhibition to promote the country, especially the tourism sector.

Japan is also using cyberspace in a bid to attract more foreign tourists. The country has established or beefed up the official tourism websites of both central government bodies including the Foreign Ministry and prefectures including Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi.

Banners or text that link to information updates on disaster relief progress and radiation figures are seen among the top columns of the homepages to dispel foreign tourists’ concerns.