Tourists a rare but welcome sight in quake-hit Japan

Foreign tourists remain a rare sight more than a month after Japan suffered the most powerful earthquake in its history, as the nation grapples with power cuts and radiation leaks from a nuclear power plant.

April should be peak tourist season for Tokyo, famous for the brief but spectacular blossoming of its cherry trees, which signals the start of spring.

But in Asakusa, one of the capital's oldest districts and home to the Senso-ji temple, a major tourist draw, there are no foreign faces to be seen.

"Before the earthquake, Asakusa was quite touristy and very well-known to foreigners," rickshaw driver Yoshiaki Suzuki told AFP.

"But since the quake, and the accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant, you no longer see them."

Japan suffered its largest ever decline in foreign visitors last month in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami, which left around 28,000 people dead or missing and tens of thousands more homeless.

Foreign governments urged their citizens to stay away, some even chartering planes to fly people out of Tokyo as the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant threatened to spiral out of control.

Around 560,000 hotel reservations have been cancelled nationwide, according to government figures, which do not include the worst-hit Iwate and Chiba prefectures.

But as travel warnings issued in the chaotic days that followed the March 11 disaster are eased, many people in Japan say they hope the tourists will soon return as a show of support for the disaster-stricken country.

"Foreigners think it is dangerous here, with the earthquake and the nuclear accident. Japan is safe. Tokyo is safe," said Uko Komatsuzaki, head of public relations for Tokyo's renowned Imperial Hotel.

"In the disaster zone in Tohoku, people are working together and are doing all they can to rebuild and recover. From my point of view, it would be nice if foreigners came back to Japan to show their solidarity."

Komatsuzaki said only around 40 percent of rooms at the Imperial Hotel, which famously survived the 1923 earthquake that destroyed much of Tokyo, were filled - half the usual occupancy at this time of year.

Japan's tour guides have been particularly badly hit by the crisis - so much so that they have launched a YouTube campaign to try to convince foreign visitors to return.

"At the moment I am living off my savings, but if this carries on, I won't be able to be a tour guide," said Tomoyuki Nagano, a professional tour guide of 10 years who has not had any work since March 11.

"I had six trips booked in 60 days. All of them have cancelled... We have to live with the crisis. But western Japan is unaffected so people can still come to Japan."

The few tourists who have decided to brave the threat from the many aftershocks that continue to shake the capital say they have been welcomed with open arms by the Japanese people.

"They're very positive towards us. They're very happy to see us. We've actually had people speaking to us more this time than when we travelled (to Japan) a year ago," said Krystyna Andrzejewski, visiting from Britain with her father.

Before the disaster struck, Japan set itself a target of attracting 11 million foreign visitors, hoping to offset a declining domestic market caused by a sluggish economy and a greying population.

That now looks impossible after official figures showing the number of foreign visitors halved last month.

But Kimu Yazawa, also a rickshaw driver in Asakusa, remains hopeful.

"There are fewer customers, but I'm not too worried," he said. "With the cherry blossom season they will return."

bur-cc/dwa/ft

 

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Restaurant Manager / Sommelier

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Receptionists - Seasonal Placement

    £12500 - £13520 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced Hotel Receptionists...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Receptionists - Poole

    £12500 - £13520 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Recruitment Genius: Lifeguards / Leisure Club Attendants - Seasonal Placement

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Qualified Lifeguards are required to join a fa...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn