Visitors say 'meh' to sushi ... so what?

Visitors say 'meh' to sushi ... so what?
Thai tourists pose for a photo during a tour of Japan organized by Freeplus. Photo by Kenichi Eda
PHOTO: Nikkei Asian Review

TOKYO - Here is how the Japanese see it: Foreign tourists come here to enjoy eating sushi, tempura and other washoku favorites. They work to get their chopstick technique right and kneel in a seiza stance on tatami flooring before heading out to see temples and shrines. This image of the foreign tourist is, at least when it comes to people from the rest of asia, delusional.

Recognising that traditional culture is not the only thing appealing about Japan, one Osaka-based travel agency, Freeplus, provides services that cater to the tastes and needs of visitors from other Asian countries. The approach has helped the company grow fast.

Freeplus specializes in tourism packages that include itinerary planning, accommodation, meals and transport.

The company started business in 2010 and currently serves approximately 60,000 tourists annually from 18 countries. Many come from Asia. Its sales reached 1.86 billion yen ($15 million) in the fiscal year through March, a fifteenfold increase over fiscal 2010 results.

One major factor that separates Freeplus from its rivals is its ability to adapt. "Most [package tour operators in Japan] are small companies operated by foreign residents in Japan or naturalized Japanese citizens," said Freeplus President Kentaro Suda. "Their business styles have changed little in the last 30 years."

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