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Column "My Cool Japan"

Tak Umezawa

Inbound and Cool Japan

President of Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) Ryoichi Matsuyama

◆Challenges of Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO)

 As a result of the Inbound Strategies that the Japanese government has made a concerted effort to promote for a number of years, interest in Japan has increased and foreign tourists to Japan reached a record high of 19,737,000 in 2015. Now that the goal of 20 million foreign tourists to Japan is within sight, the Inbound Strategies have entered the new phase. The Council for the Development of a Tourism Vision to Support the Future of Japan, which is headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and was established to discuss the specific measures to expand the number of foreign tourists to Japan, set the new target to attract 40 million visitors to Japan by 2020 and 60 million by 2030.
 It is important to increase the number of tourists, but how should we go about pursuing high quality? How can we lure foreign tourists to every region of the nation and contribute to the regional vitalization? How can we satisfy the individual tourists in rapid expansion and encourage them to return to Japan? These are the new issues that Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) has been addressing.

◆Promoting Japan

 One of JNTO's missions is to promote the Japan brand, in other words, to transmit to the targeted customers the image associated with Japan that makes people from other countries want to come and visit. It is critical to choose the right image to transmit and, to do so, JNTO suggests "having the courage to discard the options you don't need" and "transmitting the information through the eyes of people from other countries".
 Japan's appeal is characterized by its diversity, and its ability to attract a wide range of people. However, I suggest having the courage to discard the options you don't need because if you transmit each and every point of appeal that Japan has, in the end you are not transmitting any message at all. If you are brave enough to narrow the focus to a single point of appeal, such as Cool Japan, and discard the rest, you will be to attract people from abroad who are interested in Cool Japan. If they discover other points of appeal during their visit to Japan, the experience can arouse new interest. Although the people of each region in Japan who seek to attract foreign tourists to their communities also need to narrow their focus, having the courage to discard the various points of appeal their region has, we are asking them to convey the point they choose with pride and confidence. For example, each region of Italy has a distinctive culture and gastronomy, a reminder that the country was once divided into city-states, and the people of each region boast about their hometown with pride and confidence. Regional vitalization is, in other words, a journey for local inhabitants to discover their own identity and speak proudly of their own land.
 In the eyes of foreign tourists, what interests Japanese tourists or the focus of their attention does not always coincide with their own. The Inbound Strategies target foreign tourists, and thus should transmit a medium or an image that would make them want to visit.
 A few years ago, the Japan Tourism Agency invited the ASEAN administration officials involved in tourism to a conference held in Iwaki City, and organized a bus tour to Yamagata for the guests to enjoy hot spring and cherry picking excursion. When they were asked at the end of the trip what they enjoyed the most, some said they were most impressed by the landscape they saw from the bus window, comparing it to a vista from a fairy tale. What this episode tells us is that, although the landscape they saw from the bus windows was something commonplace to Japanese people, the idyllic landscape nurtured by the local farmers with great care for many years is actually a valuable asset.

the World Heritage site Mt. Fuji

 This is a photo of the World Heritage site Mt. Fuji. It is said that a Thai tourist discovered this photo spot. This spot is located in a park about a 20-minute walk from Shimo-Yoshida Station on the Fujikyu Railway, a station where Japanese tourists would not get off. According to Thai tourists, this spot possesses three elements typical of Japan that can be enjoyed at the same time: Mt. Fuji, cherry blossoms, and a goju-no-to (five-storey pagoda) reminiscent of Kyoto. This photo spread online through SNS, making the place a famous photo spot that a great number of tourists from Thailand and other countries rush to so that they can take photos. The photo also made the cover of the Michelin Guide to Japan 2015.
 Based on information spread by word-of-mouth, individual tourists from overseas nowadays visit various areas throughout Japan, including places that Japanese people know little about. People from other countries are interested in the ordinary daily lives of Japanese people. Inbound tourists are a precious commodity that makes us rediscover the appeal and value of Japan that even Japanese people fail to see.

◆Collaboration between Inbound and Cool Japan

 JNTO and Cool Japan Fund Inc. signed a partnership agreement in 2014 to strengthen their tie-up. This collaboration aims to increase the number of Japanophiles around the world and lure more foreign tourists to Japan with support of Cool Japan that forms a part of the appeal the nation possesses. The related government ministries and agencies will work together to promote the broadcast and distribution of Japanese TV content that conveys what is great about the regions of Japan to viewers in other countries.
 I believe that the Cool Japan concept has been widely established and has entered a new phase. Just as the name of this column is "My Cool Japan", the concept has become so widespread that anything can be interpreted as Cool Japan. Each person interprets it as he or she likes. Perhaps now is the time to redefine the concept and its target.
 It occurs to me that we probably shouldn't refer to ourselves as "cool." What is more important is that foreign tourists think Japan is cool.
 In regards to the collaboration between these two organizations, aggressive investment by Cool Japan Fund bore fruit, with Japan Malls to be established in Malaysia, China, and other countries. We aim to use this platform to get more people interested in our country and attract more tourists to Japan and its regions.


Ryoichi Matsuyama

President, Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO)

1949 Born in Kagoshima City, Kagoshima Prefecture
1972 Graduated from Faculty of Economics, the University of Tokyo and joined Mitsui & Co., Ltd.
1995 President & CEO of Mitsui & Co. Italia S. p. A.
1997 President of Japanese Chamber of Commerce & Industry in Italy
1999 General Manager of Corporate Communication Division in charge of PR & IR activity of Mitsui & Co., Ltd.
2001 General Manager of Information Electronics Division, IT Business Unit, Mitsui & Co., Ltd.
2004 Senior Vice President of Mitsui & Co. (USA), Inc. and General Manager of the Information Industry Division
2005 Chief Operating Officer, Kyushu Headquarters, Mitsui & Co., Ltd.
2006 Held the positions of Managing Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Kyushu Headquarters, Mitsui & Co., Ltd.
2008 Appointed The Ambassador of Japan to the Republic of Botswana and Special Representative of the Government of Japan to the Southern African Development Community. Standing at the forefront of diplomacy on resources, he called on Japanese companies to invest in southern Africa.
Has held current position from October 2011