By Ayako Hirayama / Japan News Staff WriterOsaka has enjoyed a boom in tourism in recent years. According to the Osaka Convention and Tourism Bureau, the number of foreign visitors to Osaka Prefecture totaled 11.42 million in 2018, up 2.8 percent from the previous year and a record high for the sixth straight year.
Local businesses are feeling the boom, which has been propelled by such factors as an increase in the number of low-cost airlines offering flights to Kansai International Airport.
One of the places benefiting is Kuromon Market, which features a shopping arcade lined with about 170 stores selling everything from fish and sweets to clothes. Every day, the market is bustling with people seeking local flavors.
Some stores cook on the spot, allowing their customers to roam through the market while eating. Gastronomic choices including sea urchin roe, freshly fried tempura, juicy beef skewers and eye-catching cuts of fruit set visitors’ taste buds tingling.
“This is my third visit. Food is great here,” said Cindy Wong, a 45-year-old traveler from Macao.
After the bursting of the Japanese economic bubble, the market, which housed mostly wholesalers at the time, became deserted as the high-end Japanese restaurants that were its regular customers closed. To survive the slump, the market launched measures targeting foreign visitors in 2011, such as providing information in foreign languages and improving infrastructure, including setting up more bathrooms, foreign currency exchange machines and a rest area with free Wi-Fi.
The market now gets about 30,000 visitors a day, 90 percent of whom are non-Japanese, mainly from China and South Korea.
To attract a wider range of visitors, the market is considering such plans as setting up a prayer room for Muslim visitors. Produce Market Yasui, a fruit and vegetable shop, has obtained a halal certification. “Obtaining the certification is like a future investment to cater to more customers,” said shop president Eiji Yasui.
The market’s popularity has had a ripple effect on land prices. Data released by the land ministry in March this year showed the commercial price of a survey area in the market surged 44.4 percent year on year, the second-highest rise in the nation.
“After the trend for big shopping sprees, tourists now come here for food experiences,” said Yoshinori Yamamoto, head of the market’s promotion association. “We intend to make more efforts to inspire people to visit here repeatedly.” Speech