For­eign vis­i­tors to national parks hit record

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - FOCUS ON JAPAN - By Chisato Tanaka Ja­pan Times

TOKYO >> The es­ti­mated num­ber of for­eign vis­i­tors to the na­tion’s national parks in­creased to a new record of 6 mil­lion last year, with a park in Ku­mamoto Pre­fec­ture, which was hit by nat­u­ral dis­as­ters in 2016, hav­ing en­joyed a boost, the En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry has an­nounced.

The fig­ure was up by 10 per­cent from 2016, ac­cord­ing to the min­istry, which is hop­ing for 10 mil­lion an­nual vis­i­tors be­fore the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Par­a­lympics.

Of the 34 national parks in Ja­pan, Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park — a gi­gan­tic 300,715-acre ex­panse of na­ture that in­cludes por­tions of western Tokyo as well as Kana­gawa, Shizuoka and Ya­manashi pre­fec­tures — saw the high­est num­ber of for­eign vis­i­tors with 2.58 mil­lion. It was fol­lowed by 926,000 vis­i­tors to Aso-Kuju National Park strad­dling Ku­mamoto and Oita pre­fec­tures, and 901,000 vis­i­tors to Shikot­suToya National Park in Hokkaido, which is eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble from

New Chi­tose Air­port.

Aso-Kuju National Park, which had strug­gled to boost vis­i­tor num­bers in 2016 due to the Ku­mamoto earth­quake and the erup­tion of Mount Aso that oc­curred the same year, ex­pe­ri­enced a 37.2 per­cent in­crease.

“The dis­as­ters had a huge neg­a­tive im­pact on lo­cal tourism busi­nesses around the park,” said Aso-Kuju Park ad­min­is­tra­tor Yuji Morita.

“In fact, the num­ber of Ja­panese tourists is still be­low the level be­fore the Ku­mamoto dis­as­ters,” Morita added. “How­ever, we have seen many re­turn­ing for­eign tourists from South Korea and other South­east Asian na­tions who love ex­plor­ing the moun­tain­side hot spring spas.”

Sachiko Tani­gaki, an En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry of­fi­cial car­ry­ing out the national park pro­mo­tion pro­gram, at­trib­uted the in­bound re­cov­ery to a new project called “Project to Fully En­joy National Parks,” which turns lo­cal cit­i­zens’ ideas into national park tours.

Un­der the pro­gram, Aso-Kuju Park and seven other parks are be­ing pro­moted to at­tract more tourists.

“In the process of re­cov­er­ing from the calami­ties, we changed our mind­set from merely bring­ing back the sit­u­a­tion that had ex­isted be­fore … to trans­form the cur­rent re­al­ity into some­thing more at­trac­tive,” Tani­gaki said.

“Aso is fa­mous for its un­end­ing stretch of beau­ti­ful grass­lands, which lo­cal cit­i­zens have been pro­tect­ing for ages … to at­tract for­eign tourists. We came up with mul­ti­ple grass­land-cen­tered ac­tiv­i­ties such as early morn­ing yoga and horse­back rid­ing,” Tani­gaki said.

Seven other national parks are pro­mot­ing na­ture-ex­plo­ration projects: ideas from lo­cal res­i­dents in­clude whale-watch­ing around the Kare­mashoto National Park in Ok­i­nawa, ob­serv­ing spher­i­cal green al­gae (ma­rimo) in Hokkaido’s Akan-Mashu National Park and mon­i­tor­ing the giant sala­man­ders en­demic to Ja­pan’s rivers in Daisen-Oki National Park in Okayama, Shi­mane and Tot­tori pre­fec­tures.

Vis­i­tors can also en­joy har­vest­ing Sakura daikon in Kirishima-Kinkowan

National Park in the Kyushu re­gion; ex­plor­ing the hot springs in Towada-Hachi­man­tai National Park in the sep­a­rate ar­eas of Iwate, Ao­mori and Akita pre­fec­tures; watch­ing tra­di­tional fe­male pearl divers in Ise-Shima National Park in Mie Pre­fec­ture; and hik­ing along the trails in Nikko National Park, which stretches across parts of Tochigi, Gunma, Ni­igata and Fukushima pre­fec­tures.

“We want more for­eign tourists to see the great na­ture of Ja­pan’s national parks, most of which have yet to be ex­plored, while we also care­fully pro­tect them,” Tani­gaki said.

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