Dear good people of JNTO, Japan’s tourism development board,
You need me.
Sorry to be so blunt. It is very un-Japanese of me. I am bowing a hundred times as I type this as an apology for my boldness.
Tomorrow is an awful day, the anniversary of last year’s earthquake/tsunami disaster, a somber day of remembrance. But what about the day after? The day after you need to think about how to repair the country’s image, jump-start the ever-moribund economy, and get people thinking about Japan in a positive way. You need visitors. A spike in tourist arrivals would address virtually every economic need and be a psychological boost to a country that desperately needs it.
The JNTO’s mission is to promote travel to Japan. You are at the forefront of this push to get visitors, and Japan these days is a hard sell. You need help. I can help! I’m even willing to try and forget the debacle of offering free flights to tourists before it was confirmed by the government, which was a misguided effort to begin with. Those exalted, beautiful people who read my website already know that it’s not hard to fly to Japan cheaply; the challenge is to travel cheaply once there. Your heart is in the right place, but let’s get cracking on what works.
Here’s your problem:
Forget Fukushima for a moment. No one was going to Japan before that happened. A few did, but they all had the same tired itinerary of Tokyo/expensive railpass to Kyoto and Osaka/day trip to Hiroshima/back to Tokyo with maybe Nikko or Hakone thrown in.
The rest of Japan is a deep, inpenetrable mystery for the vast majority of travelers. Who knows Ibusuki’s quirky black sand hot springs in southern Kyushu? Who knows the raw, windswept beauty of Rebun Island off northern Hokkaido? Who has ever set foot on Shikoku? Even in Tokyo there are so many fantastic places where I rarely see tourists. This is where I come in.
Here’s how I can solve your problem:
Make me a budget travel ambassador. I don’t need a fancy title, just something classy and understated, like Japan Travel God. I am needed to promote the idea that Japan isn’t too expensive to visit, and budget travelers (for lack of a better name for us) can make a big difference by our sheer numbers. It’s a mistake to always focus on high-end tourists and package tour groups. Budget travelers spend a lot more money than you think, plus they spend all their money on a local level. Is one tourist spending $200 in an international hotel in Tokyo the same as 10 backpackers spending $20 a night in a mountain lodge above Nagano? No.
Everyone is curious about Japan but one of three things happen: they either assume it is too expensive and don’t go, or they assume it will be different but not compelling (aka South Korea Syndrome) and don’t go, or they suck it up and do the overly expensive tour I outlined before and leave frustrated because this was their one trip and it only whetted their appetite for more.
Enter Japan Travel God. I will get people to come. I will blog, I will make videos, I will promote. I’ll unleash my secrets on an unsuspecting public about how Japan can be visited inexpensively, show what there is to do beyond the so-called “must-sees” in guidebooks, and demonstrate mundane yet daunting stuff to those unaware, like how to use a 10,000 yen ($125) banknote to buy a ticket on the local bus. I will pique travelers’ interest and get them to visit.
There’s an ancillary benefit you need to consider. Inevitably, some of these travelers that go to Japan will fall in love with the country and a Japanese local, learn Japanese, get married and have babies. This raises your anemic birth rate and also resolves the politically-sensitive dilemma of hiring foreign guest workers. In fact, I am working on a filter for my website so only ovulating females read it.
What makes me qualified to be Japan Travel God? I’ve been to Japan 11 times, 10 of them as a tourist. (The other time I worked in a dog hotel, which is a website all by itself.) I’ve been to most prefectures (a governmental division, akin to a county or state) in Japan—I’ve slept in most prefectures, I think I can say—and try to visit untouristy parts, which is just about everywhere.
You can perform your due diligence on my Japan bona fides in two ways: my blog from my last visit beginning here and a stylistically embarrassing section of my old website that gives a glimpse into “my” Japan is here. While it is heresy for anyone to say they “know” inscrutable Japan, I am familiar with it in a way that will inspire others to make it their destination of choice next time they hijack a plane.
Here’s how much it costs to solve your problem:
I’m not such a crass foreigner as to suggest a number here. Look at it this way: it will be a miniscule amount compared to how I am going to singlehandedly turn Japan’s fortunes around, plus it will be less than a full-page ad in those glossy fifi travel magazines.
My summer is free.