The tenth anniversary of The New York Times Travel Show took place January 18 through 20, and Japan was one of the many countries represented at the Javits Center. The Japan National Tourism Organization assembled New York-based Japanese businesses to inform travel show visitors about the most popular destinations Japan has to offer.
One concern for potential visitors to Japan – or anywhere for that matter – is the cost.
“During last year the yen was really, really strong, so we’re always asked what is a reasonable way to travel in Japan,” says Yuki Tanaka, Executive Director of the New York office of Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO). “Many American people think it’s really expensive to travel in Japan, but actually if they’re staying in Tokyo, in some places the accommodation cost is lower than in New York.”
When asked if she’d fielded questions regarding radiation levels from the nuclear disaster in Fukushima following the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, Tanaka responded that Americans “are well educated people, so they do their own research and collect information, and they can understand that the radiation level is no problem.”
Yasutaka Kambe, New York Branch Manager of Amnet, a travel agency that is partnered with JNTO’s Visit Japan Campaign, echoes Tanaka’s sentiment. “Some people have asked about the nuclear situation, but I want everyone to know that Japan is safe,” says Kambe. “There is recovery and economic recovery, so it’s good to travel to Japan now.”
“Right now the level of travelers from the United States to Japan is almost the same as pre-earthquake in 2010, almost higher than that, so I assume that there is almost no effect from the earthquake,” says Tanaka. “Even before the earthquake, most of the people usually go to the hot springs trail routes from Tokyo to Kyoto or Hiroshima. Those are the most popular places from 20 years ago, even 30 years ago. For those areas, there was almost no effect at all (from the 3.11 disaster).”
For people who are concerned about the possible dangers of going to a country in the midst of a nuclear crisis, Tanaka suggests to visit the JNTO website. “We have the information about the radiation level in Japan, and we compare the radiation level of Japan to other international cities,” says Tanaka. “For example, Sendai, which is close to Fukushima, the level of radiation is actually lower than Beijing or Seoul. We provide that information, and the American people know that it is safe to go to Japan.”
And when people go to Japan, Tanaka says most potential travelers from are interested in visiting Tokyo, Kyoto, and Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Hiroshima.
“I feel many American people love historical places,” says Tanaka. “They enjoy culture.”
With The Art of Travel, visitors can explore Japan’s unparalleled culture through personalized tours to visit museums and artists’ studios. The Art of Travel is a creative travel agency headquartered in Kanazawa, Japan, and emphasizes traditional and contemporary Japanese arts using materials such as ceramics, bamboo, and kin-makie, a type of gold lacquer. Through their cultural expeditions, The Art of Travel, which also has a showroom in Midtown where they sell products made by Japanese artists and non-Japanese artists based in Japan, hopes to preserve the traditional Japanese arts that are dying in these modern times.
“Our company does tours to standard places like Tokyo and Kyoto, but we try to do a little different spin,” says Alice Chin, The Art of Travel’s Sales and Marketing Director. “We’re building our network of museums. It’s a unique tour.”
While history and tradition are important for tourists to Japan, many contemporary aspects of Japanese culture are becoming popular.
“Especially for the younger generation like 20s and 30s, maybe even early 40s, they like modern culture as well, like fashion or design,” says Tanaka of JNTO. “Some younger people say they become interested in Japan because of anime and manga, so we try to attract the younger generation as well.”
One member of that younger generation is Jessii, who visited the Japan booth to collect brochures and gather travel information. “I’m the only one in my group who hasn’t gone to Japan,” says Jessii, whose interest in anime sparked a deeper appreciation of Japanese culture. “I started learning the language from (anime), and then it started progressing into music.”
Her ideal vacation there would include Tokyo for the anime culture and music, Kyoto for the temples, and rural towns for hot springs. She also has friends in Sendai and an aunt in Sapporo.
On the opposite end of Sapporo is Okinawa, and for the first time in the The New York Times Travel Show’s ten years, Japan’s southernmost prefecture had a booth. The Okinawa Convention and Visitors Bureau (OCVB) shared the Japan booth, encouraging visitors to give Okinawa’s beaches a try.
Akimitsu Miyazato, Coordinator of the Overseas Marketing Section of OCVB says, “People go to Tokyo and Kyoto, along the ‘golden road,’ and we’d like visitors to add Okinawa to their itinerary as a place to relax.”
There is typically a lot of walking and sightseeing and squeezing as many Tokyo and Kyoto landmarks into vacations, so Miyazato suggests to counter that, people should take the 90-minute flight from Haneda Airport to Naha, the capital of Okinawa, and find a spot on the beach at one of Okinawa’s heralded resorts.
Okinawa contains hundreds of islands, and Miyazato promotes their natural beauty, especially that of the Miyako Islands and Yaeyama Islands southwest of Naha. The subtropical climate is a huge draw for visitors, as are diving spots and lush forests.
Satoko Kaneshi, a representative of the Okinawa Prefectural Government, heard many questions about Okinawa’s diving environment at the Travel Show, but she learned that there is interest in main Okinawa Island. “I’ve also spoken with many people who were stationed in Okinawa (at one of the US military’s 16 facilities) and want to go back,” says Kaneshi. “A lot of people are interested in the history and unique culture of Okinawa.”
New York-based Okinawa native Junko Fisher spent Saturday near Miyazato and Kaneshi’s station, supporting her home prefecture through traditional music and dance. She wore several different styles of Okinawa kimono, played sanshin (a three-stringed banjo-like instrument), and danced classical and folk pieces.
Fisher also appeared on the Asia Stage, which was situated near the Japan booth. Renowned taiko drumming troupe Soh Daiko gave a brief but invigorating performance on the Asia Stage, which was also the setting for a cooking demonstration by David Bouley, the James Beard Award-winning chef of the Michelin starred restaurants Bouley and Brushstroke. Chef Bouley discussed the use of healthy Japanese ingredients in any type of cuisine. Read about Chef Bouley’s demo here.
Members of the Consulate General of Japan in New York were on hand in collaboration with JNTO to present their activity, “Samurai Armor Try-On!” Travel Show visitors young and old were invited to wear a kabuto (helmet) and yoroi (chestplate) and pose for pictures with a samurai dressed in full regalia.
Through performances and demonstrations, booth participants made a strong push for travel to Japan and helped potential visitors explore the possibilities at The New York Times Travel Show.