Utilizing travel and tourism knowhow to energize communities and build a better Japan
Jalan, which offers a lodging and activity booking service alongside a travel information magazine, is one of Recruit's leading businesses and a key component to the success of the group. Though Jalan's main endeavor is supporting the travel lifestyles of its countless customers, it also operates the Jalan Research Center (JRC), an organization meant to promote tourism using Jalan's wealth of market data along with the latest research and examples of tourism and community vitalization.
The mission of JRC is to work alongside communities to create a better, more fulfilling future. This means not just using prior experience and knowhow as tools to do this, but also finding, cultivating, and sharing the distinct charms of each locale in order to contribute to the vitalization of Japan as a whole.
©ISESHIMA TOURISM＆CONVENTION ORGANIZATION
Ise City in Mie Prefecture is a tourist destination famed not only for the rich nature of the surrounding mountains and sea, but also the Ise Jingu, which is composed of 125 shrines, including the 1,500-year-old Geku and the Naiku, which has a history spanning two millennia. Ise Jingu is often described as the spiritual homeland all Japanese yearn for, so it comes as no surprise that it receives many visitors for the Shikinen Sengu, a ritual in which a new divine palace is constructed once every 20 years. The last Shikinen Sengu was conducted in October 2013, with nearly 14.2 million people visiting throughout the year. However, the drop-off in visitors following the Shikinen Sengu is a continual source of concern, which prompted Ise City and JRC to devise a countermeasure to this decline from December 2014 to March 2015.
"For many years the majority of those visiting Ise have been senior citizens, part of the reason for this being that we've also been a perennially popular destination for school field trips. We see a cycle where these students grow up and then want to revisit those places that created such strong memories when they visited them with their friends during those impressionable years. Unfortunately, with so many other entertainment options available and society drifting away from traveling in general, we were seeing fewer and fewer young visitors. We needed to find a way to inspire people to come out here. There's a limit to what we can do administratively, though, which is why we decided to work with JRC. What turned things around was the 'Hatsu TABI in Ise' (First Trip in Ise) campaign using the 'Maji Club' app, a platform for helping young people take part in activities."
The Maji Club is a service offered by the Recruit Group that gives young people the chance to build experiences and memories by giving them the chance to go skiing, snowboarding, golf, fish, visit hot springs, and view J League games free of charge. The goal of the Ise City project was to attract first-time visitors to Ise by offering youths aged 18 to 24 a free expressway bus campaign, discounts or free vouchers for rental cars or buses, coupons for 5,000 yen off per guest at lodgings, as well as points that could be used at facilities throughout the city.
The Maji Club app
"The result was an 80 percent increase in the number of people in this age group requesting lodging versus the previous year. Of course, we will need to continue to attract even more visitors leading up to the next Shikinen Sengu in 2023. My hope is that we can keep trying new things to help the younger generations have fun out here so they become repeat visitors. The people of Ise love their hometown very much, and never take it for granted despite living here. An example of this would be how Oharai-machi, a town attached to the Naiku of Ise Jingu, is a favorite destination for locals and not just tourists. What I mean to say is that the things the locals like resonate with people throughout Japan. I think this ability to project these inner charms to the outside world is one of the strengths of Ise City."
* From the 2013 Ise City Tourism Statistics Report
Ise City Department of Tourism
Division of Tourist Promotion
Managing Director & Chief of Tourist Planning
©ISESHIMA TOURISM＆CONVENTION ORGANIZATION
Nara Prefecture and JRC have an ongoing project aimed at tackling the issue of the region's declining population by increasing the amount of tourist traffic in the southern and eastern parts of the prefecture, which are collectively referred to as Okuyamato. The slogan of the promotion is "Travel as you would live", with the idea being to draw attention to the lifestyle of the Okuyamato region.
"Nara Prefecture is home to many temples designated as world heritage sites like Tōdaiji, Yakushi-ji, and Hōryū-ji, each of which are also invaluable tourist assets. Despite this, whenever we came up with tourist strategies in the past, they always focused on the city of Nara itself and didn't do much to bring livelihood to the rest of the prefecture. A good example of this is Totsukawa, the largest village in Japan, which has become severely depopulated due to its remote location three-and-a-half hours away from the city in the southernmost tip of Nara Prefecture. Within Totsukawa there is a smaller hamlet known as Kannogawa where the way of living is very much like the self-sufficiency of yesteryear. The hamlet is found in a secluded location along the Kohechi road that leads from Mount Kōyama to Kumano Hongū Taisha shrine. Kannogawa doesn't have many sightseeing attractions or places for people to stay, but the nature there is so lush and pristine that it's been named a world heritage site. It also has a rich lifestyle and food culture passed down unbroken from olden times that truly respects the bounties of nature in a way you won't find in urban areas. All of the old men and women living there are very happy and healthy. We hope to share all of this with as many people as possible, and to connect those living in the city with the residents of Kannogawa. This is why we started the Kannogawa Happy Bridge Project, in which we worked with JRC to present the idea of farm-style inns to the villagers while at the same time introducing Kannogawa to those in Tokyo and other cities."
This promotion put Okuyamato on the map as a new tourist destination due to the unspoiled original scenery and culture of Japan found in the southeastern region of Nara. It also proposed the idea of short stays akin to moving in for the weekend, with JRC making digital pamphlets that collected firsthand accounts from people who had tried living in Kannogawa. The ultimate goal of increasing the number of people passing through the village shifted to one of increasing the number of people actually staying there.
"Taking in the scenery is probably the most common form of tourism, but we decided to put forth the idea of actually living there for a bit instead. There is still plenty of good, simple country living to be had in the southern and eastern regions of Nara, and I think the most fun thing would be experiencing that in its unadulterated form. It would help people realize that not everything has to be bought with money, and also how rich and easy life can be even when keeping one's consumptions to a bare minimum. It would also be great if at some point we could get entire companies and organizations to come try it out instead of just individuals and families. The population of Japan may be on the decline, but I think that's all the more reason that the day will come when people stop focusing everything on a single city and turn to value more individualistic lifestyles rooted in communities found elsewhere. We want to help people find a way of living day-to-day that works best for them while taking advantage of the unique features of their locale."
Nara Prefecture Department of Regional Promotion
Director of the Office of Okuyamato Migration and Exchange
Japan is seeing more and more tourists from overseas each year as we approach the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. A survey of tourists from the six countries that produce the most visitors to Japan revealed that the No. 1 reason for coming to Japan was to enjoy the local cuisine (this and the following all from Recruit Lifestyle's 2014 report "Fact-finding Survey of Visitors to Japan"). Meanwhile, the most frequently encountered problem during stays in Japan was the lack of people able to speak English, with other top issues including not being able to read menus at restaurants and not knowing what ingredients are in dishes. The city of Tokyo turned to JRC to devise a solution that could mitigate these difficulties faced by such guests. Utilizing the restaurant network of Recruit Lifestyle, JRC built "EAT Tokyo", a system that allows eateries to take the initiative in making multilingual menus.
"Creating a trouble-free environment for both restaurants and tourists that lets people focus on enjoying Japanese cuisine"
The City of Tokyo
Bureau of Industry and Labor, Tourism Department, Accepting Environment Section
Acting Section Chief (Head of Information and Publicity)
"Here in Tokyo we have been implementing inbound tourist strategies for restaurants such as workshops on how to serve tourists from overseas to translating menus for establishments in areas like Tsukiji and Asakusa since around 2002. In 2009 we began operating a system that allowed restaurants to make their own multilingual menus. Recently, we've been seeing more visitors from non-English-speaking countries, along with tourists who enjoy eating the same things people here enjoy and not just the old standby traditional cuisine. So, in 2015 we launched 'EAT Tokyo', a new system that takes into account the knowhow of JRC and the needs of the restaurants themselves. We increased the number of languages we support from six up to twelve, while also boosting the number of translated dish names and other terms per language up to 6,000 different items."
There are also plans underway to expand the endeavor to include features like training sessions for restaurants that use the system, as well as original pictograms that indicate the ingredients found in a dish in consideration of allergies and religions. As of the present there are over 3,000 businesses registered with EAT Tokyo, with many more likely to follow.
"With the population of Japan on the decline, we're going to need to start thinking even harder about how to keep restaurants and even commerce itself afloat here. Promoting tourism is going to be key to this, with strategies for dealing with inbound visitors being especially crucial to revitalizing more remote areas. We think that the preparations to receive the mass influx of visitors from abroad at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics is a great opportunity to start these initiatives. That said, we don't think it's right for the government to intervene so directly in the dining industry, which is why we're working to build systems founded on cooperation between the public and private sectors. EAT Tokyo is just one example of this policy. In the days to come we plan on exploring many other ways to create an environment that is worry-free for both tourists and restaurants."
Mr. Sasaki from Izuei
"It is our sacred duty to share the history and culture of Japanese cuisine"
Mr. Sasaki from Izuei
Izuei has been keeping the flavor of Japan alive for over 290 years, specializing in unagi cuisine. Eel is a dish that is near and dear to the hearts of the Japanese, so naturally it is also popular with tourists from overseas looking to experience the real food of the Land of the Rising Sun. Izuei's flagship location is in Ueno, an area known for packing a lot of Japanese culture into one place with its selection of museums, art galleries, and quaint shopping streets. The large amount of guests from abroad they receive at Izuei prompted them to give EAT Tokyo a try.
A multilingual menu
"I've been involved with restaurants serving Japanese fare for quite some time now, and with each year that passes I feel multilingual menus are becoming more and more of a necessity. I happened across EAT Tokyo while searching for a good solution for this. I knew that Izuei was facing the same issue after I started working there. But, I also knew that it was not going to be a simple task to introduce a new strategy to a restaurant that has been in business uninterrupted for 290 years. Still, the fact that they have worked hard to preserve the flavor and culture of Izuei for so many years is all the more reason to find a way to ensure it has a future. That's why I was able to get the owners to agree to try EAT Tokyo's multilingual menus."
Japanese cooking involves many unique ingredients and traditional culinary techniques, making it an area that is especially rich in the culture of its homeland. If this information is conveyed accurately on the menu, it helps sell the true appeal of the food. It seems that the newly introduced multilingual menus became a tool for helping customers enjoy the cuisine on offer at Izuei while at the same time building connections between the staff and their guests from overseas.
"We currently employ a staff of 300, including non-Japanese, between all of our locations. The multilingual menus have made interactions much smoother for both the customers placing orders and the servers taking them. Aside from the menus we also now have original pamphlets in Chinese, English, and Japanese. In addition to providing in-depth explanations of our dishes, the pamphlet describes the traditional culinary art of preparing unagi as well as Izuei's connection to Japanese culture. The menus and pamphlet allow us to not only help people understand the wonderful flavor of the food we serve, but also to perform our sacred duty of sharing the history and culture of Japanese cuisine as a whole."
Ueno Ikenohata, Unagi Cuisine Izuei
Accounting Department, Head of Management and Legal Affairs
No other fishing grounds in Japan haul in as much fresh katsuo and swordfish as the city of Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture. Sadly, the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 dealt the city a grievous blow, not just in terms of lives and homes lost, but also in terms of damage to the fisheries industry that is the lifeblood of the city. Six months following the disaster, the city began considering new plans for recovery built around fishing and tourism, while still giving ample forethought to existing problems such as the ongoing tapering off of fishing and population decline.
"Fishing, aquaculture, production of processing materials, boxes for shipping, ice, and other parts of the fisheries industry accounted for 80 percent of the economy in Kesennuma. However, over 90 percent of this was damaged almost irreparably by the earthquake. Many people came to help with rebuilding or to see the effects of the quake for themselves immediately after the disaster. But, we had many concerns about the state of our economy a few years down the road as we could foresee that the number of visitors would drop off as recovery progressed. We needed to find a new core industry that wasn't fishing, even if it was only on a small scale. Normally the locals would take a central role in this, but they had their hands full trying to get back on their feet as victims of the disaster. That's why we decided to work with other outside businesses and experts, one of which was JRC."
In 2013, the Tourism Strategy Committee declared their mission to be refining one-of-a-kind content that combines the fishing industry and tourism, and established the Rias Tourism Creation Platform, a central organization embodying this goal. The government, chamber of commerce and industry, and the tourism convention board joined forces to form teams like "Tourism Team Kesennuma", "Ba! Ba! Ba! no Ba!", and "The Food Development Project" that would produce the actual content. These teams used the results of JRC's studies to re-evaluate their local resources and come up with events like swordfish preparation shows and even local gourmet cuisine such as swordfish shabu-shabu. Kesennuma's efforts are now in the spotlight as pioneering examples of Japanese DMO (Destination Management/Marketing Organization).
"We were aiming for added value by fostering synergy between fishing and tourism, and made sure that our developments embraced the concepts of celebrating the artistry of fishing, producing innovation, and saving the environment. The result has proven to be a tourism industry that is truly by and for the people, instead of just another sightseeing business run solely by a travel company. This is something we did not have here before the earthquake. We've come to realize that the key to becoming an attractive destination for tourists was having the locals learn about their hometown while at the same time working with people from outside to rethink what makes Kesennuma great. Now there are many different experiences for guests here in Kesennuma that can't be found anywhere else, whether it's exploring the fishing supply stores to see how the equipment used in our aquaculture and deep-sea fisheries are made, or visiting local farms to pick strawberries. All of them have proven quite popular. We still have a lot to do, but our main goal is to maximize tourist revenue flowing into the Kesennuma area and then use that to revitalize consumption in the region. Our understanding is that practicing these sorts of things is what people refer to as DMO. So in that sense, DMO is the means by which we hope to become a community where above all else it is possible to lead a rich and fulfilling life."
President, Kesennuma Chamber of Commerce and Industry
JRC produces tangible results by working with communities in dealing with the real issues they face, and joining forces with them to devise solutions needed to help them reach a better state. Though JRC has experimented with endeavors aimed at revitalizing regions all over Japan, we will continue to act as an even stronger bridge between communities and consumers in the future.
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