By Ryohei Fuji / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterRather than stick to traditionally famous sightseeing destinations in Japan such as Hakone and Nikko, an increasing number of foreign tourists are taking in unusual sights that even local residents may not be aware of.
This move toward unexpected sightseeing spots is attributed to people sharing information online about places they have enjoyed while visiting this country.
A 64-year-old tourist from Sydney who joined a tour in Tokyo exuberantly exclaimed, “This is like a magical cave full of jewels.” The tourist was speaking in front of an escalator inside Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku, a commercial complex in the Jingumae district of Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.
The escalator rises to the second floor of the facility through a tunnel that has more than 100 triangular and quadrangular mirrors attached to the sides and top.
Riding on the escalator is like traveling inside a kaleidoscope, with multilayered images of people and nearby city scenes, and young people coming and going, reflected in the mirrors.
Another foreign tourist in the same tour group said with delight: “This is a suitably modern view of Tokyo. It’s an excellent place for me to take selfies.”
The tour was organized by Travelience Inc., a Tokyo-based travel agency, which takes 10 to 15 groups of foreign tourists to view the escalator each month.
Company President Naoaki Hashimoto, 36, became aware of the place about two years ago when a foreign couple showed him a shot of the kaleidoscope and asked him where it was.
Hashimoto found it on a clip on a video posting website. When he visited the escalator, Hashimoto found there were already about 10 foreign tourists there.
About 10 percent of customers who use Travelience’s tour services ask the company to take them to places that are popular on the internet. The company has received requests, for example, from customers who want to visit the karaoke booth in Shibuya Ward that appeared in “Lost in Translation,” a U.S. movie featuring various locations in Tokyo.
Another unusual sightseeing spot is a railroad crossing near Kamakura Kokomae Station, which has attracted a number of camera-toting tourists.
The Enoshima Dentetsu Line, which connects Kamakura and Fujisawa in Kanagawa Prefecture, is already famous for the panoramic views of the Shonan seascape from its trains. However, when the railroad crossing on the line attracted a lot of visitors in recent years, this writer felt compelled to check it out.
A group of young people from China and Taiwan were snapping pictures with their cameras. When I asked a visitor from Guangzhou, China, what he was looking at, he replied, “This is a very famous place in China.”
He then showed me the opening scene of the popular Japanese anime “Slam Dunk,” featuring a high school basketball club in the Shonan district, on his smartphone screen. The railroad crossing appears in this scene.
According to Enoshima Electric Railway Co., foreign tourists began visiting the place around autumn 2014. Apparently, Chinese who watched the anime on TV in the 1990s have now reached an age when they can travel overseas to visit an anime “pilgrimage” site.
Due to copyright issues, the railway operator does not advertise the railroad crossing, but information about the site has been widely disseminated through social networking services.
The number of passengers using Kamakura Kokomae Station was 1.27 million in fiscal 2012. This figure jumped to 1.4 million in fiscal 2015. On one occasion, a large bus carrying tourists parked near the railroad crossing.
Lure of ‘another Kyoto’
In spring at Arakurayama Sengen Koen park in Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture, visitors can see a five-story pagoda that commemorates victims of war, as well as cherry trees in full bloom against the backdrop of Mt. Fuji.
It’s an ordinary sight as far as local residents are concerned. However, the number of foreign tourists visiting the park began to increase five or six years ago as information spread widely through social networking services that visitors could see “another Kyoto” and Mt. Fuji at the same time.
In April this year, when cherry blossom viewing was at its best, more than 20,000 foreign tourists visited the city in a two-week period, a year-on-year increase of about 40 percent.
Fujiyoshida has attracted attention as “another Kyoto.” A municipal government official in charge of the section dealing with Mt. Fuji expects more information about the city will spread.
A website noted for recommending Japanese sights to foreign visitors included a cafe in Tokyo’s Akihabara district where customers can relax while watching owls, and the Omoide Yokocho street of drinking places near the west gate of Shinjuku Station.
Foreign tourists to Japan are discovering anew the charms of Japan from their own particular perspectives. This may affect the nation’s conventional pattern of tourism, in which sightseers hurriedly visit as many sights as possible in the limited time available.
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