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Rising from the quake
The biggest casualty of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last year was the country's Tohoku region. Now limping back to its feet, it is aggressively promoting itself as a tourist destination. Motonari Adachi, executive director of the Singapore office of the Japan National Tourism Organisation, tells TOI-Crest why he thinks that Indian tourists and brand ambassador Dia Mirza can make a difference.
You have co-opted Dia Mirza as brand ambassador for Tohoku. Why the move to promote Tohoku as a tourist destination to Indians?
Tohoku was affected very badly when a big earthquake and tsunami hit the area in March last year. This led to the number of visitors from overseas falling drastically last year. So we'd like to increase the number of tourists to Tohoku to help the economy there.
In the past we conducted a survey all over the world asking: 'What would be the most attractive reason for you to go to Japan?' The most common answer in other countries was that the prices in Japan would come down. But in India, the answer was, 'If a visit to Japan helps the country, I'd like to go to Japan. ' So the Indians felt a lot of sympathy for Japan, especially for people in the affected areas. It was very touching.
How badly affected was Tohoku?
The situation was of course very bad right after the tsunami. The coastal area was heavily damaged. Twenty thousand people were killed or are still missing. It was one of the most severe natural disasters in Japan.
Is it safe for tourists to go there now?
Most of the hotels and infrastructure has recovered. For example, the Sendai airport was engulfed by a big tsunami but it opened after just a month. There is still a lot of debris near the coastal area. But the main infrastructure is already back in place. Tourists can freely use the roads, trains, airports and hotels. There are not many hindrances and restrictions at the moment - except near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. You can't travel within a 30-km radius of the plant. But tourists are free to go to the other areas.
What are the places of interest?
The region has a lot of attractions. I would recommend the hot springs, especially the Yamagata springs. Japan is covered by volcanoes so there are a lot of hot springs. Tohoku is also culturally very rich, and in summer a lot of festivals are organised in many cities. In autumn, the leaves change colour from green to yellow or red and the entire area looks very beautiful. Visiting the hot springs, relaxing there with red and orange leaves all around you is a beautiful experience.
How important is the Indian market for you?
The Japan government has targeted 15 countries for tourism, of which India is one. Last year in February, we announced the "Visit Japan" initiative in India. But the tsunami happened in March, so we had to suspend it. Now we have begun those activities again.
The number of tourists from India to Japan was only 59, 000 last year. The number of Japanese tourists coming to India is 160, 000. So our aim is to make the numbers equal. We have already increased the number of flights to Japan. Our target this year is to have 80, 000 Indian tourists. We will target the high-end and upper middleclass population. The Japan National Tourism Organisation realises that India is a very promising market.
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