[From July Issue 2012]
In recent years, all over the country there has been a movement towards regenerating local communities. One famous example of this is the “B-1 Grand Prix,” a festival that gives regions good PR by showcasing inexpensive and delicious dishes (B-grade cuisine) loved by locals. With 63 exhibitors from all over Japan, attracting over 500,000 visitors, last year’s festival was held at Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture.
To revitalize their towns, most municipalities are pouring their efforts into tourism. To attract tourists, especially foreign tourists, they are pulling out all the stops in order to uncover the previously overlooked charms of their local areas. The Japanese government is behind this movement and is encouraging tourism with the aim that it will become a key industry for Japan. The Government Tourist Office is advocating “new tourism” holidays, through which tourists can find out about Japanese lifestyle and culture.
Famous tourist spots, like Kusatsu in Gunma Prefecture, Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture, and Okinawa, are finding out how to attract foreign tourists, by holding “monitor tours” for foreign residents in Japan, or by inviting over members of the foreign media. These efforts are being carried out not only in major sightseeing spots, but also in towns and villages which foreigners are not familiar with.
Towards the end of March this year, Fujieda City, Shizuoka Prefecture invited foreign media and government officials from foreign embassies in Japan over for a monitor tour. Shizuoka Prefecture is located in the center of Japan and is a long prefecture that stretches 155 kilometers from east to west. Flanked by the sea and home to Japan’s iconic Mt. Fuji, it is known for being a beautiful place boasting both attractive scenery and a warm climate.
Fujieda is located in the center of Shizuoka Prefecture, and it takes about two hours by car from Tokyo to Fujieda. The city is known to Japanese as “the football kingdom.” Fujieda Higashi High School has done extremely well in the All Japan High School Soccer Tournament. It is the home town of J-league striker NAKAYAMA Masashi and the Japanese national team captain HASEBE Makoto. However, the town is not well known for anything else.
Shizuoka is the number one producer of tea in Japan. Fujieda Tourist office, which planned this sightseeing tour, highlighted tea as one of the area’s most important attractions. The itinerary included a trip to a tea plantation to show how “gyokuro,” (high quality tea) is made and to a tea factory to show how tea is produced. In addition, at Gyokuro no Sato, you can drink tea served by women in kimono while gazing at a traditional Japanese garden.
The tourist office intends to highlight its many temples and castles as sightseeing spots. The group visited Daikei-ji temple, where you can see a 750-year-old pine tree, works of calligraphy and paintings of historical note. They also visited Jurin-ji temple, where you can see Buddhist monk Mokujiki’s famous two smiling Buddha sculptures. In addition, they visited Tanaka Castle Villa located on the site of Tanaka Castle, which was built 500 years ago. Completely surrounded by a moat, as a result, the castle has never been attacked by enemies.
Furthermore, the group visited Kashiwaya, a samurai period inn. In the old days, between Edo (present-day Tokyo) and Kyoto, there were 53 post stations. One of them is Okabe which, in recent years, was merged with Fujieda. Kashiwaya is located in this area. The tour participants were interested in the life size dolls and tools that vividly brought the period back to life, as well as a diorama that showed what the town was like in those days.
The “cherry blossom tunnel” alongside the Seto River running through the city is a sightseeing attraction in spring. The group had lunch at Suigetsuan, where customers could enjoy a traditional Japanese shoujin (vegetarian) meal, overlooking the river. The participants were impressed with the variety of dishes that had been cooked with local vegetables and fruits. The mayor of Fujieda City came to greet them and gave a welcome speech. On top of this it had been arranged that a local journalist would cover their trip to the cherry blossom tunnel.
The group visited Shidaizumi Sake Brewery on the banks of the Seto River, and sampled sake made from its delicious waters. It’s expected that this renowned sake will become a popular souvenir. Shizuoka Prefecture is also famous for strawberry production, and a visit to “Japan berry,” the largest strawberry farm in Japan was also included. There you can indulge in a “30 minute all-you-can-eat” package; picking and eating as many strawberries as you like in the vast plastic greenhouse. It seems like the tourist association is intending to make food and beverages one of the area’s attractions.
Fujieda also intends to get tourists to visit the surrounding area, including the nearby city of Yaizu, which was also a stop on the monitor tour. Yaizu is well-known as a port for tuna fishing boats to land in, and the group visited the port. They stayed at the Yaizu Grand Hotel, which has a view of the Pacific Ocean. This hotel is ideally located with a view of both the sea and Mt. Fuji from its hot spring.
Those staff from the national tourist bureau and from Fujieda City, as well as the volunteer interpreter, who were responsible for running the tour, promoted the local area passionately. The participants in turn were satisfied with their hospitality. However, it’s a pity that Fujieda does not have any distinctive attractions like Nikko’s Toshogu or Kamakura’s great Buddha. The tour participants were really aware of this, and the tourist office seemed to be groping around for something eye catching.
Fujieda is located in the center of Japan, and has both sea and mountains, as well as a variety of sightseeing spots. The population of Fujieda City is currently 145,000, and, in spite of the fact that Japan’s population is decreasing in many municipalities, that figure is continuing to grow. The city has enough charm to attract tourists and could be described as “a miniature version of Japan,” where typical Japanese people live. It might be a good idea to promote it to foreign tourists as a “sightseeing spot in which you can witness everyday Japanese life.”
Japan has a wide variety of tourist attractions, and moreover it enjoys a good reputation for its “omotenashi” (hospitality) all around the world. If local municipalities keep up their efforts to attract foreign tourists, it might not be long before Japan’s localities become well known as a tourist destination.