News / Asia

Disasters, Strong Yen Dissuade Tourists from Visiting Japan

Visitors to Senso-ji in Asakusa tourism district, Tokyo
Visitors to Senso-ji in Asakusa tourism district, Tokyo



Japan's tourism industry has been knocked into a deep recession. Foreign tourists, who normally contribute about $16 billion annually to the economy, canceled planned visits after the March 11 earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster devastated the northeastern part of the country.  The yen's surge this year against many other major currencies, including the U.S. dollar, has done further damage.

The buzz of cicadas outdoes the voices of subdued vendors on a hot August day at Sensoji Temple, one of Tokyo's top tourist attractions. The lane leading to the temple contains dozens of stalls selling souvenirs, snacks and cold drinks.

July and August are normally the peak months for foreign visitors to Sensoji and the rest of Japan. But this summer their numbers are noticeably fewer.

A soft drink seller makes a transaction with a Japanese tourist: 100 yen, that is $1.30, for a half-liter bottle of oolong tea.

The vendor, who did not want to reveal his name, laments such sales are not as frequent as they should be.

He says the season is not as bad as he might have feared. He explains that he has seen worse times in his 20 years on the job, but there is a noticeable drop this summer in the number of foreigners.

Standing along the curb in the Asakusa district in the 34 degree heat is rickshaw driver Ryuta Nishio. He charges tourists 3,000 yen for a ten-minute ride. At the current exchange rate that has soared to about $40.

Nishio says the number of riders has dropped about 30 percent this August compared to the same month last year. It is not only the number of foreigners that has declined, he says, but domestic tourists as well.

Slideshow: Tokyo tourism district

But some foreigners are overcoming concerns about lingering radiation, seismic aftershocks and a worsening exchange rate. The yen has gained about 8.5 percent on the U.S. dollar in the past six months.

Blaine Deitch, a retiree from southern California, says the trip has turned out to be worth every devalued dollar he has spent.  

"That does take a dip in your pocket. That's going to stop a lot of people from coming. It almost stopped me," notes Deitch. "But my wife wanted to come back, so here we are."

Taiwan college student Teng Changcheng is on a five-day visit to Japan with family. She says the situation seems to have improved in the country since the calamity five months ago.

Teng says her family did not worry about making the trip because the Japanese government now seems to have the nuclear crisis under control.

U.S. Marine Clayton Simpson is visiting from the U.S. state of North Carolina.

"Despite the disaster, I've always wanted to come, so we decided this year was the year," Simpson says. "All the sites have been great but the people they've been extremely helpful. We don't speak a lot of Japanese ourselves. They've been very nice and helpful and it's been a great experience."

Japan's major tourism organizations are running publicity campaigns to reassure visitors. One promotion says Tokyo's radiation levels are lower than those in New York, Hong Kong and other major destinations.

Some hotels are slashing room rates amid a continuing dip in bookings by foreign tourists, although business travelers are trickling back in.

Many in the travel industry believe, however, it could be another year before overseas leisure travel bookings return to previous levels. They warn the industry could suffer further setbacks if another damaging earthquake hits, or the strong yen continues to reach new record highs.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

Report: US to Sail Warships Near Disputed S. China Sea Islands

Move will signal nonrecognition of Chinese territorial claims over area, Financial Times reports, citing senior US official More

Study Describes Ancient Deltas, Lakes on Mars

Research builds on recent NASA announcement that water flows on red planet today More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs