When I first came to Japan, USJ was just a typical theme park. Major rides had an hour to 2 hour wait. Most other rides were a 30 minute wait. You could pretty easily get a seat at one of their many restaurants, and in the winter months, you could practically have your run of the place.
Nowadays it is a completely different picture. They recently opened a new Jurassic Park roller coaster creatively named “The Flying Dinosaur.” The line, at one point, was an 11 hour wait. 11 hours! I’m pretty sure that there is nothing on this planet that is worth that kind of wait, but obviously some people do.
USJ has become so crowded in fact that JR, which runs the one and only train line to the park, announced that they will be adding more trains to keep up with the number of visitors to the park. And of course, a packed theme park means higher admission fees. USJ now charges more than Disneyland Tokyo for the privilege of spending the day there.
I’m still a sucker for it, of course. I just renewed my annual pass, and I will most likely continue my once a month USJ fix. It doesn’t help that my daughter is an unrelenting fan of the place as well. And I can honestly say that even though the place is packed to capacity every time we go there, I still really enjoy spending the day there.
I’m personally looking forward to Nintendoland with Mario and some other key players. And I still haven’t been able to ride the Kyary Pamyu Pamyu ride yet. I almost want to go by myself one day to ride everything despite the crowds.
The Cure to a Slump’s Blues?
Japan has been in a perpetual slump for the last 20 years. And nothing has come close to pulling Japan out of it. The Internet bubbles and real estate bubbles that emerged in the States never made it here.
Japan has actually been shrinking, deflation has been pretty steady over the last 20 years, which great if you work here because any raise you get is not eaten up by inflation. But the party can’t last forever. Japan has monstrous debt, and there is nothing worse for debt than deflation.
So Abe has been attempting the impossible – inflation. And it is possible if he doesn’t get distracted by side projects. Unfortunately, the Bank of Japan has made use of its last and probably least effective weapon a few weeks ago – negative interests rates. So, what now? Well, tourism might be the answer to that question.
JNTO, Japan National Tourism Organization, the body of government responsible for pushing the tourism industry to the next level has set some very ambitious goals. They would like 40 million visitors per year by 2020. That’s double the record breaking 19.7 million that visited in 2015.
In 2015, tourists (foreign and domestic) stayed for over 500 million hotel nights. That’s 4 nights for every Japanese citizen. An ever larger portion of that is from foreign tourists, up 48.1% to 66.37 million hotel nights. It’s a great time to be in the hotel business. For personal experience, I can tell you that reasonable hotel rooms are in short supply these days.
Friends from the East?
The largest group by far are visitors from China. Somewhere close to 40% of tourists come from the giant just to the east of Japan. The booming Chinese economy and a slight change to visa restrictions has made the influx possible.
Chinese don’t only come to Japan for sightseeing but also for purchasing numerous items from rice cookers to diapers. There are stories of drugstores being completely bought out of such items and even shortages.
So this is a match made in heaven right? Visitors pay for services in Japan, buy Japanese products, spend money at USJ and other places. It’s like the Chinese economy is having a spillover effect on its neighbor. What’s not to like?
Well, Japan and China have more often than not have been at each other’s throats for all sorts of random misunderstandings. Whether they are arguing over some islands or their troubled and often rewritten war history, they haven’t been happy neighbors for a long time, at least politically speaking.
The Odd Couple
And let’s be honest with ourselves, tourists are tourists, no matter where they are from. People want to relax, and have fun. There are a good percentage of tourists that mind their manners and respect the culture they are in, but there are a handful that don’t and it really doesn’t matter where you are from.
Even the Chinese government has issued repeated warnings to its citizens to be on their best behavior, even going so far as to threaten to notify police, customs officers, border patrol and credit agencies upon their return to China. And if you need any further proof that tourists of all colors are unruly, be sure to read the comments where Brits, Aussies, and Yankees argue over who is the rudest among them.
So, it is a bit of weird balance to say the least. Tourist areas are getting more and more crowded. It only takes a small group of unruly tourists to trigger something. I hope everyone can learn from each other and chill out. Only time will tell though.