TOKYO (YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Japanese government is banking on experience-based consumption, especially night entertainment, to get foreign visitors to spend more.
In addition to shopping for items such as electronic appliances and cosmetics, there seems to be particularly strong demand among foreign visitors for night tourism such as theatre shows.
The tourism industry has thus begun putting more effort into developing entertainment programmes.
Leading travel agency JTB Corp, for instance, has been holding a show called "Revue Japan: Geisha & Samurai" at a theatre in the Dotonbori district of Osaka since December 2017, in cooperation with Shochiku Co, the theatre group OSK Nippon Revue Company and others.
Beautifully attired members of the troupe performed classical Japanese dances and other shows.
This is "non-verbal entertainment", which incorporates as little speech as possible so that more foreigners can enjoy the show. It is held twice a day at 7.30pm and 9.30pm and costs 3,500 yen (S$43) per person.
A 30-year-old tourist from Hong Kong enjoyed the show, saying: "The costumes are colourful and beautiful, and it's nice that we can freely take pictures."
Explaining why the new service was launched, a JTB official said: "In New York, for example, tourists can enjoy Broadway musicals at night.
"But in Japan, some foreigners complain that only izakaya Japanese pubs and drugstores are open at night."
Initiatives to give foreign visitors entertainment options at night are gradually growing.
In December, Shinagawa Prince Hotel in Minato Ward, Tokyo, refurbished its restaurant on the 39th floor into the Dining & Bar Table 9 Tokyo. Business hours of the bar area were also extended from midnight until the early hours of the morning.
"We'll create a new culture of nightlife in Shinagawa," said Mr Takashi Goto, the president of Seibu Holdings, which owns the hotel and other facilities.
SHOPPING SPREES ON DECLINE
According to the Japan Tourism Agency, average spending per foreign visitor reached 176,167 yen in 2015, boosted by shopping sprees.
However, after the Chinese authorities introduced higher taxes on goods purchased overseas and taken back by returning travellers, average spending per visitor declined to 155,896 yen in 2016.
The government has set goals of increasing the number of foreign visitors to 40 million, and doubling the total amount they spend to 8 trillion yen from the current amount of about 4 trillion yen by 2020.
To achieve this, the government aims to increase the average amount spent per visitor to 200,000 yen (S$2,440). However, there is a limit to how much purchases of tangible items can be increased, so spending on nighttime experiences will be key.
In London, where there are many late-night facilities such as pubs and clubs, nightlife activities are said to have an economic impact of about 4 trillion yen on the country .
For this reason, an association of Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers has submitted a proposal to the government on boosting nighttime economic activities. It includes an extension of business hours for cultural facilities and expanding night entertainment programmes that give foreigners a taste of Japan, such as yakatabune pleasure boats and fireworks.
Secretary general of the association Tsukasa Akimoto, who is the state Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, said: "Japanese people have a sense that they should sleep at night, so Japan lags behind (when it comes to providing nighttime entertainment). It's important to raise cities' nightlife potential."
CHALLENGES IN TRANSPORTATION
Cooperation from transportation services such as railways and buses is essential to boost the nightlife economy. Unless transport systems are in service until midnight or dawn, tourists cannot go out at night.
In major overseas cities such as London and New York, buses and subways operate 24 hours a day on weekends, if not throughout the week.
In 2013, the Tokyo metropolitan government began operating a metropolitan bus between the Shibuya and Roppongi districts around-the-clock. However, due to sluggish growth in the number of users, the service became unprofitable and the metropolitan government ended it after about a year.
Currently, railway companies are negative about around-the-clock operations of trains, except for special occasions such as New Year's Eve, citing such reasons as the effect on rail maintenance.