By Hiroyuki Otsuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterOSAKA — There’s been a sharp rise in inbound foreign tourists visiting museums nationwide. Museums are working to accommodate these guests, considering it a good opportunity to introduce them to Japanese history and culture.
However, one of the museums attracting the most visitors from overseas is not well known in Japan — located in Osaka, it’s not even that famous in the Kansai area.
70% of visitors come from abroad
Kimono and joiner shops, a drug store from the Edo period (1603-1868) — every day, packs of young people in kimono gather and have their photos taken in front of these life-size models of traditional merchant houses. They pose in front of shop curtains or sitting on engawa porches.
The Osaka Museum of Housing and Living in Kita Ward, Osaka, is run by the Osaka municipal government. Located in a building that accommodates different offices, it re-creates the town of Osaka from about 180 years ago, among other things. The museum looks like the set of a period Japanese drama, but you can hear many people speaking Korean and Chinese.
A total of 389,000 foreigners visited the museum in fiscal 2016, surpassing for the first time the number of foreigners who visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima that year, at 366,000. It was also much larger than the corresponding figure for the Tokyo National Museum, at 235,000, and the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, at 141,000. Among major domestic museums that have data on the number of foreign visitors, the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living is said to have one of the highest figures.
Most striking is the high percentage of foreigners among the overall visitors to the museum. Of the about 576,000 visitors, foreigners accounted for about 70 percent. That figure is significantly higher than the 20 percent for the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which is visited by people from all over the world.
Admission is ¥600 per adult. The museum has not done any particular advertising that targets foreigners.
“To be honest, we didn’t expect [the museum] would become quite so popular,” said Naoki Tani, the director of the museum and a professor emeritus who specializes in the history of housing culture at Osaka City University.
Social media drives soaring popularity
Immediately after the museum opened in 2001, its visitors were mainly elementary school students on field trips and others, and there were few foreign visitors.
An unexpected turn came after the museum started a kimono rental service in fiscal 2010, initially targeting Japanese visitors. However, as pictures taken by foreign tourists were posted on social media and elsewhere, it became a hot topic. Some people said the facility let them travel back in time to an older Japan.
The number of foreign visitors soared from 12,000 in fiscal 2011, to 270,000 in fiscal 2015, surpassing the number of Japanese visitors. In the five years through fiscal 2016, the number grew by more than 30 times.
By country or region, visitors from South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong make up the majority, with South Korean visitors accounting for 45 percent and those from Taiwan and Hong Kong at 40 percent. Most of them come as individuals, not as part of a tour group, and every day, about 100 foreigners stand in line even before the museum opens to rent a kimono.
A 23-year old woman said she was visiting from Hong Kong with her boyfriend and had seen photos posted by a travel blogger. She was so impressed by the “beautiful and elegant” museum that she definitely wanted to come. She said she would post pictures she took there on the Instagram photo sharing service.
Lee Ji Eun, a 15-year-old girl who came with her family from South Korea, said excitedly that she really wanted to wear kimono, which she had seen on the internet. She enjoyed seeing traditional Japan and took about 100 pictures, she added.
Kasumi Somekawa, a board member of the Japan Museum Management Academy and an expert in the circumstances of museums at home and abroad, said: “One factor behind the popularity [of the museum] is that it’s easy to understand, so even if visitors aren’t that knowledgeable about Japan, they can still enjoy it. Other museums should follow this point in making them more appealing to visitors.”Speech