More than 600 buyers and sellers attended the recent Visit Japan Travel Mart in Yokohama, where a mood of "business as usual" prevailed despite the earthquake, tsunami and resulting crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant that struck last March.
Japanese tourism officials in attendance addressed enduring concerns about radiation leaks and provided an update on the state of the inbound visitor industry.
"Many people may still believe that Japan is dangerous, but it is not really true," said Shuichi Kameyama, director of the international promotion division for the Japan Tourism Association (JTA). "Most of Japan is as safe as before."
According to the JTA, airborne radiation levels measured Oct. 3 in cities such as Tokyo, Osaka and Sapporo were actually lower than those recorded recently in Berlin; Singapore; Seoul, South Korea; and even New York.
Regarding the safety of Japan's food and water given radiation accumulation in the ground, Kameyama said government officials conduct inspections on products before they are sold, and "we believe that all of the food in the market is safe," he said.
Data released by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) point toward recovery. Year to date through October, overall arrivals were down more than 30%, but for the month of October itself, arrivals were off just 15% year over year, a substantial improvement from the 62.5% plunge in April.
U.S. travelers to Japan, who account for about 10% of total annual visitor spending, were down 11.2% in October but had been off by as much as 55.5% in April. Last year, 461,400 Americans visited Japan from January to October, vs. 614,148 during the same period in 2010.
Fumie Oba, the JNTO's senior assistant manager of marketing and promotion for Europe and the Americas, said many U.S. business travelers had returned to Japan, but the leisure arrivals were still lagging, at least in part due to radiation worries.
"The Japanese government has to report the correct information ... even [if] the situation is not good," she said. "We have to show the world the government is doing the correct thing."
Alice Cai, managing director of Sparta, N.J.-based Pacific Bestours, said radiation has been a concern for some clients considering trips to Japan, but the current strength of the yen is a much bigger problem.
"The exchange rate really affects the total package price, and it's been about a 25% to 30% increase over our [past] regular price," she said. "We've not seen a big increase in costs over the last two years, but because of the exchange rate, everything is 25% more expensive, and that's really hurting us."
Visit www.jnto.go.jp/eq/eng/04_recovery.htm to view the JNTO's airborne radiation figures and sourcing info.