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Detours in Japan / New ‘Diamond Route’ aims to help Fukushima shine

The Yomiuri Shimbun

By Yuka Matsumoto / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterFUKUSHIMA — With the aim of revitalizing its tourism industry in the wake of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, Fukushima Prefecture is teaming up with neighboring Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures to establish a so-called “Diamond Route” to serve as an inbound tourism route linking major sightseeing spots.

The name Diamond Route takes inspiration from the famed Golden Route — a popular travel itinerary for foreign tourists that takes in Tokyo, Mt. Fuji, Kyoto and Osaka — in the hope that it will come to enjoy similar recognition.

The promotional team for the Diamond Route posted a video online in late February that had more than 11 million views as of late April.

A new express train shuttling travelers between Tokyo’s Asakusa district and the Aizu area in Fukushima Prefecture began operations on April 21, increasing the prospect of enticing more overseas visitors.

The sleek, modern express train takes visitors from Asakusa to the Aizu area, where the samurai spirit lives on.

Dramatic footage from the “Diamond Route Japan” promotional video, created by the Fukushima prefectural government in collaboration with four local commercial TV stations, interweaves views of landscapes and attractions in Tochigi and Ibaraki prefectures, such as Nikko and the Oarai Coast.

The video has attracted overseas viewers, who have posted such comments as “Awesome!” and “I want to travel to Japan right now.” The video dedicates a few minutes each to five themes, including “history” and “nature.”

In 2011, when the massive earthquake struck Fukushima Prefecture, the total number of foreigners using accommodation facilities in the prefecture dropped to less than one-third of the previous year’s level of about 90,000. The figure has not yet recovered to levels comparable to before the earthquake. Regular flights between Fukushima Airport and South Korea or China also remain suspended.

“We cannot stay inactive in the face of harmful rumors,” said an official of the prefectural tourism exchange department.

Two years ago, the local government started widening its target market to include Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam, among other countries. At the same time, it has collaborated with Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures to find ways to attract tourists who landed in Tokyo or Narita Airport.

The idea for the Diamond Route came from brainstorming sessions. It was discovered that the locations of the prefectural capitals linked to form a lozenge-like shape. Furthermore, the line connecting sightseeing spots popular with overseas visitors — such as Aizu, Nikko and Hitachi Seaside Park in Hitachinaka, Ibaraki Prefecture — make the route resemble a diamond even more. As such, “Diamond Route” was adopted and a trademark registration obtained.

“We focused on the digital market, targeting independent tourists and the creation of video footage from the perspective of an overseas traveler,” said Kenichi Watanabe, the chief executive officer of XPJP Inc., which produced the “Diamond Route Japan” video.

The promotional teams also picked up on Japan-specific themes that are popular among people from overseas through conducting a survey on people arriving in Japan.

Images related to the themes were then searched for online. For example, when “Japan history” was entered into a search engine, the most common images were of castles and samurai. Based on this, non-Japanese artists filmed Tsurugajo castle in Fukushima Prefecture and samurai sword demonstrations.

The promotional team also identified countries from which a high number of internet searches about Japan are made, including Thailand and Vietnam. The team then strategically distributed the history version of the “Diamond Route Japan” video in those areas to attract people to the official website. Rather than disseminating the footage randomly, the promoters narrowed down their targets based on thorough data analysis.

The website is designed around icons representing the shooting locations. If people click the icons, they will be directed to related Google search results.

After analyzing the hits, the Fukushima prefectural government will launch promotional campaigns overseas in collaboration with the other prefectural governments and also plans to develop a tourism app this fiscal year.

“We want to connect these initiatives in a step-like fashion and promote cities such as Nikko and Mito, which have strong connections to the Tokugawa family, as well as the Aizu area, which bases its promotional activities on the idea of Aizu as Japan’s ‘last samurai,’” a Fukushima prefectural government official said.

Train links Asakusa, Aizu

Tobu Railway Co.’s new Revaty express train commenced services on April 21. The Revaty Aizu line directly connects Asakusa and Aizutajima stations in as little as three hours. The service shuttles between these stations four times a day.

Aizu Railway Co. also operates train services from Aizutajima to Aizuwakamatsu stations, making it convenient for tourists from overseas to smoothly get around the Aizu area — which is part of the Diamond Route — from Tokyo.

Inside, Revaty is decorated in purple hues and fine “komon” patterns typically seen on kimono. This has resulted in an Edo culture ambience. The train is also equipped with Wi-Fi.

The railway company is attempting to attract tourists from overseas to local sightseeing spots along the railway by setting up an information booth in Asakusa Station, as well as by using social media and by attracting overseas bloggers.

To find out more about Japan’s attractions, visit http://the-japan-news.com/news/d&d

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