Japanese villages aim to attract post-COVID visitors with food specialties

Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries launched a campaign on June 1 to attract foreign visitors to rural villages.

According to a press release from the ministry, the program aims to attract tourists to farming, mountain and fishing villages by promoting local foods and the food culture of overseas regions, under the brand name “Taste Japan”.

Recruitment has started for villages to apply to be designated as “Overseas transmission area of ​​Tomari agricultural food culture Savor Japan” in 2022. The ministry certifies areas likely to attract foreign visitors to Japan under the brand , choosing from different areas promoting farm stays and the appeal of local food and food culture.

Japan has restricted tourism as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but from June 10 the country began accepting applications for permission to conduct guided tours. Visits will be accepted for travelers from countries designated as “low risk”, which currently include the United States, United Kingdom, China, South Korea, Thailand and Singapore.

In anticipation of visitors, and with the expectation of many visitors to the Osaka/Kansai Expo to be held in 2025, the ministry is trying to attract some of these tourist groups to rural areas to boost local economies.

The Ministry has compiled a list of recognized local specialties. For seafood, it includes boiled sea pineapple from Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture; grilled sweet fish from Gero City, Gifu Prefecture; sea ​​bream from Minamai-Chita, Aichi Prefecture; barazushi (meaning “scattered sushi”) from the northern part of Kyoto Prefecture; and Kaisen Ryori (a formal Japanese course meal) from Yuwasa-cho, Wakayama Prefecture.

Japan has been playing a difficult balance between trying to boost the restaurant and hospitality industries and trying to curb the spread of COVID-19. A previous government program, the ‘Go-To’ domestic travel grant, has been blamed for contributing to the spread of the disease and has been halted.

It’s unclear how many tours will choose to highlight local delicacies, or even if many visitors will come. There will still be numerical limits on the number of entries, restrictions on independent travel and waits for visa approvals. On the other hand, the Japanese yen recently traded at 132 JPY to 1.00 USD, the lowest exchange rate seen in 20 years.

Foreign tourist entries fell by more than 90% in 2020, from a record 31.9 million in 2019. The numbers soared after visa requirements were scrapped for visitors from China, Malaysia and Indonesia and their spending gave Japan a boost of about 4 trillion yen (29.8 billion USD, 28.2 billion EUR).

Photo courtesy of TK Kurikawa

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