We would like to see the three Asian countries of Japan, China and South Korea move toward revving up their economies and easing political tensions by increasing the number of tourists travelling among them.
Tourism ministers of the three countries met recently in Tokyo and adopted a joint statement calling for boosting the number of tourists travelling among them to 30 million in 2020.
To help achieve this ambitious target, which is 1.5 times the figure for 2014, the three Asian economic giants will promote expansion of air routes and cruise ship services.
The statement also said the three countries will carry out a joint campaign to lure tourists from such regions as Europe and the United States in light of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
The recent trilateral meeting of tourism ministers marked the first of its kind in four years after being suspended due to the deterioration of Japan's relations with China and South Korea. Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Akihiro Ota highly evaluated the results of the meeting, saying, "We were able to develop dialogue toward improving relations."
It is commendable that the three countries have agreed to co-operate in promoting tourism despite the soured political relations between Japan on the one hand and China and South Korea on the other.
The three nations have agreed to join hands because they shared the wish to spur economic growth by using tourism as leverage.
There were 13.41 million foreign visitors to Japan in 2014, breaking the previous record for the second straight year.
The primary reason for this was a sharp increase in the number of tourists from Asia. Taiwan topped the list, followed by South Korea and China.
Use robust buying power
Many Chinese visitors come here mainly for shopping. In February, when the annual New Year holidays came around under the Chinese calendar, an explosion in purchases of Japanese-made household electronic appliances and daily goods by Chinese visitors became a topic of conversation.
Japan, whose domestic consumer market is expected to dwindle due to the decline of its population, can benefit greatly from the robust purchasing powers of visitors from China and elsewhere.
China and South Korea have reasons why they want to boost the number of Japanese visitors, given that the slowdown of economic growth has become more apparent in China and business has been deteriorating in South Korea amid the strengthening of its currency, the won.
Despite this, the number of Japanese visiting China and South Korea has been declining in recent years - both figures are said to be more than 30 per cent fewer than peak figures.
Behind this decline could be the fact that traveling overseas has become more expensive for Japanese due to the weak yen as well as an increase in the number of Japanese who feel antipathy toward China and South Korea, which have been repeating anti-Japan criticism over historical perceptions. Other factors include the sovereignty issues of the Takeshima and Senkaku Islands.
Unless Beijing and Seoul correct their unilateral anti-Japan stance, it will be impossible to expect mutual benefits from tourism.
The joint statement issued this time also called for "improving the quality of tourism." This is because there have been many problems caused by Chinese tourists due to lifestyle differences.
It is meaningless if an expansion of tourism exchange results in more antipathy among peoples. Joint efforts are needed to improve the manners of tourists.