Where have all the tourists gone?


Lake Yu with Mt. Nakai in the background Photo Credit: Joe Peters

TOKYO (majriox news) – The Tohoku region’s famous tourist spot of Lake Chuzenji, near Nikko, remains deserted two months after Japan’s March 11 earthquake. There are no tour buses in restaurant parking lots, and whole sections of tables are closed off, while a skeleton crew of staff serves the few customers at the restaurants that have stayed open.

Despite repeated appeals on television and in newspapers for people to visit Tohoku, tourists are still shunning this corner of Japan, although it is far outside the danger zone of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which is about 100 miles away.

A car trip to Lake Chuzenji in the region months ago meant bumper-to-bumper traffic, jam-packed restaurants and tourists in boats on the lake. The nine-mile Irohazaka Winding Road, with its 30 twisting turns leading up from the town of Nikko, the site of the five centuries old Toshogu Shrine and one of the country’s most lavishly decorated shrines, could take two hours during the busy autumn-viewing season. It now takes less than 30 minutes. In summers past, thousands of people would escape the humid concrete jungle of Tokyo for a weekend of fresh mountain air.

Michiko Nakazawa and her friend Taeko from Kamakura recently visited one of the many hot spring resorts at Lake Yu near Nikko.

“We come to the lake every year during the May Golden Week holidays to escape the hordes that typically descend on our hometown,” Nakazawa said. “Normally, the resorts here are full, and we have to book well ahead of time.”

But this year, their hotel was nearly empty. “It’s nice not to have crowds in the onsen (hot spring) baths, but it makes the place lonely, and we feel sorry for the proprietor,” she said.

Lake Yu, a pristine lake stocked with four species of trout, is situated five miles above Lake Chuzenji. The parking lot at the base of the 70-meter-high Yudaki waterfall at the southern end of Lake Yu is normally filled to capacity on the weekends with families and fishermen eager to land a few of those trout. Now the only cars there on the weekends are those of the anglers who enjoy plenty of privacy at their favorite fishing spot on the lake. Normally, the 376 steps from the base of the waterfall to the lake are filled with families. The only visitors in sight this weekend were one infant, one toddler and a score of adults.

How long will the tourists stay away? Nobody knows for sure. Tourism is down throughout Japan. Many have cancelled travel plans out of a feeling of remorse or guilt at enjoying a holiday while tens of thousands are still living in shelters in many areas of Tohoku. Travel agencies have reported that even overseas travel during the normally busy Golden Week was far below that of normal years.

The businesses that rely on tourists are suffering. One way to help the Tohoku region is to go there and spend that tourist yen.



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2 Responses to Where have all the tourists gone?

  1. Casper on 05/10/2011 at 1:54 pm

    No brainer, the onsens should be used to house the people living in the shelters. And, the government should use the money that they are spending for “temporary” housing to pay the onsens.

    Why build “temporary” housing when those buildings will probably be taken down once this is all over (and it “takes away” land area to rebuild the towns and cities devasted by the earthquakes and tsunamis). They could be using those builders to RE-BUILDING the homes and businesses lost in the devasted areas.

  2. Joe Peters on 05/10/2011 at 3:27 pm

    Thanks for the comments.

    There are onsens in Tohoku that took in refugees. According to news interviews with refugees in the shelters many say they don’t want to leave their home towns – it’s where they were born, grew up, worked, etc.

    One would think that mny of them could be also be temporarily housed in the many empty – soon to be demolished – danchi like the hundreds of empty ones in the Asagaya, Tokyo area, while their towns and homes are being rebuilt. But some may not want to move from their home areas, even on a temporary basis.

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