By Hidetaka Yamamura and Ayaka Kudo / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WritersTo boost spending by foreign visitors to Japan, attention is now focused on “experience-based” consumption, in which foreign tourists spend money on experiences in sightseeing areas, in addition to the consumption of items such as electronic home appliances and cosmetics. There seems to be particularly strong demand among foreign visitors for “night tourism” such as theater shows. The tourism industry has thus begun putting more effort into developing entertainment programs.
‘Only izakaya and pubs’
Leading travel agency JTB Corp. has been holding a show called “Revue Japan: Geisha & Samurai” at a theater in the Dotonbori district of Osaka since December, in cooperation with Shochiku Co., the theater group OSK Nippon Revue Company and others.
Beautifully attired members of the troupe performed classical Japanese dances and other shows. This is “non-verbal entertainment,” which incorporates as little speech as possible so that more foreigners can enjoy the show. It is held twice a day at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. and costs ¥3,500 per person.
A 30-year-old tourist from Hong Kong enjoyed the show, saying: “The costumes are colorful and beautiful, and it’s nice that we can freely take pictures.”
“In New York, for example, tourists can enjoy Broadway musicals at night. But in Japan, some foreigners complain that only izakaya Japanese pubs and drugstores are open at night,” an official of JTB said, explaining why they launched the new service.
Moves to give foreign visitors entertainment options at night are gradually growing.
In December, Shinagawa Prince Hotel in Minato Ward, Tokyo, refurbished its restaurant on the 39th floor into the Dining & Bar Table 9 Tokyo, and the extended its business hours of bar area from midnight until the early hours of the morning. “We’ll create a new culture of nightlife in Shinagawa,” said Takashi Goto, the president of Seibu Holdings Inc., which owns the hotel and other facilities.
Shopping sprees on decline
According to the Japan Tourism Agency, average spending per foreign visitor reached ¥176,167 in 2015, boosted by shopping sprees. However, after the Chinese authorities introduced higher taxes on goods purchased overseas and taken back by returning travelers, average spending per visitor declined to ¥155,896 in 2016.
The government has set goals of increasing the number of foreign visitors to 40 million, and doubling the total amount they spend to ¥8 trillion from the current amount of about ¥4 trillion by 2020. To achieve this, the government aims to increase the average amount spent per visitor to ¥200,000. However, there is a limit to how much purchases of tangible items can be increased, so spending on nighttime experiences will be key.
In London, where there are many late-night facilities such as pubs and clubs, nightlife activities are said to have an economic impact of about ¥4 trillion on the country .
For this reason, an association of Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers has submitted a proposal to the government on boosting nighttime economic activities. It includes an extension of business hours for cultural facilities and expanding night entertainment programs that give foreigners a taste of Japan, such as yakatabune pleasure boats and fireworks.
Secretary general of the association Tsukasa Akimoto, who is the state minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism, said, “Japanese people have a sense that they should sleep at night, so Japan lags behind [when it comes to providing nighttime entertainment]. It’s important to raise cities’ nightlife potential.”
Challenges in transportation
Cooperation from transportation services such as railways and buses is essential to boost the nightlife economy. Unless transport systems are in service until midnight or dawn, tourists cannot go out at night. In major overseas cities such as London and New York, buses and subways operate 24 hours a day on weekends, if not throughout the week.
In 2013, the Tokyo metropolitan government began operating a metropolitan bus between the Shibuya and Roppongi districts around-the-clock. However, due to sluggish growth in the number of users, the service became unprofitable and the metropolitan government ended it after about a year.
At present, railway companies are negative about around-the-clock operations of trains, except for special occasions such as New Year’s Eve, citing such reasons as the effect on rail maintenance. To what extent the tourism industry and transportation companies can cooperate is likely to be a challenge.Speech