Cruise ships with Chinese tourists pour into Japan
Japan has been one of the hottest destinations for cruise ship passengers, especially those from China known for “bakugai” or “explosive shopping.”
Major ports in Japan are preparing to accept more travelers to take in their appetite for shopping, while the influx of tourists has been affecting daily lives of local residents in some areas.
According to the transport ministry’s preliminary data, the number of port calls made by foreign cruise ships reached a record 965 in 2015 compared with 373 in 2013, with the number of travelers surging to some 1.12 million from around 174,000.
In mid-February, one of the world’s largest cruise ships, with some 5,000 Chinese travelers aboard, arrived at Hakata port in the city of Fukuoka. After disembarking from the 350-meter, 16-story ship, the tourists rushed into a total of some 100 sightseeing buses waiting nearby.
Last year, foreign cruise ships made a total of 245 port calls at Hakata port, the highest across the country. This year, the number is expected to reach 400.
Ports in southwestern Japan’s Kyushu and Okinawa regions are one of the major destinations for Chinese cruise ship passengers who often cruise through East Asia in five days.
Zhu Xiang, 25, from China who took part in a tour including a visit to Nagasaki in Kyushu, bought cosmetics. “I can load a lot of luggage on a ship. I’ll give (what I bought) to my friends,” said Zhu.
As more and more mega ships seek to call at Japanese ports, however, local municipalities have been struggling to accept them.
The Naha port, a gateway for the southernmost island prefecture of Okinawa, had to turn down 47 port call requests for 2017 as the number of applications exceeded capacity.
At ports in Tokyo, Yokohama and Nagoya, large ships are unable to move under bridges and have to use piers for cargo.
Many municipalities are starting to expand and boost the strength of quay walls, while new terminals for passengers are expected to be built within few years at the Tokyo and Yokohama ports.
The Hiroshima port in western Japan is expected to invest some 520 million yen ($4.60 million) in building a new facility for immigration clearance and sightseeing information services.
According to a survey conducted by the Fukuoka city government, Chinese tourists who travel to Japan on cruise ships spend an average of 107,000 yen, which is expected to boost local economies.
“We cannot just be looking wistfully at (other local municipalities attracting cruise ship passengers),” said a Hiroshima Prefecture official.
But there have been adverse effects. In the city of Fukuoka, 10 schools had to postpone field trips last fall as they were unable to secure sightseeing buses for the students.
Some people say the economic effects brought by such tourists are limited. They tend to go shopping at large facilities where there are parking spaces for sightseeing buses, and small retail stores and restaurants receive little benefit.
On top of that, most ships depart within a day, and not so many passengers go out on the town at night and spend money.
Noriko Yagasaki, an associate professor at Toyo University, said the local municipalities “urgently need to build a scheme that can satisfy both tourists and local people.”
There should be measures tailored to (tourists’) needs such as organizing more individualized excursions “so it would not just be a temporary boom,” said Yagasaki.