The Land of the Rising Sun

Japan doesn’t exactly top the list of “countries I most want to visit right now.”

Half a year after a devastating tsunami triggered by a 9.0 earthquake hit Japan, it has largely fallen out of the news. Any mentions have more to do with the state of the Fukushima nuclear reactors than the state of the country’s recovery. However, even ignoring the global nuclear scare, statistics remain grim. The earthquake and ensuing tsunami are estimated to have cost over $300 billion in just housing damages alone and had over 23,000 casualties. The tourism industry, which pre-tsunami had accounted for 2.2% of Japan’s GDP, crashed worse than the Nikkei index in the following months. In April, tourism was down 62% from what it was the year before, and in May, the numbers were down 50%.

Luckily, the tourism committee has hopefully found a way to reinvigorate foreign interest in Japan. Last week, the Japan Tourism Agency proposed a promotion where they would offer free travel for 10,000 potential visitors to the country. While lodging and food would not be covered, airline tickets themselves can cost over $1,000. To apply to win, entrants would visit the Japanese Tourism Agency web site and detail their travel plans. Furthermore, the entrants would need to explain their goals for the trip, and be willing to write a blog-like journal about their travels to be posted online later. Kazuyoshi Sato, representing the Japan Tourism Agency, noted “we are hoping to get highly influential blogger-types, and others who can spread the word that Japan is a safe place to visit.”

The goals of this campaign are fairly clear: to stimulate growth of the tourism industry through word of mouth and the internet. However, the venture doesn’t go without its costs. $1,000 per traveler isn’t pocket change for the Japanese, and experts estimate that the entire program will cost lawmakers over a billion yen. Will the unprecedented stimulus be able to revitalize Japan’s ailing industry? Perhaps, but maybe it’s not the most economically sensible way to do so. Does it sound like a good deal for travelers, especially cash strapped students? Absolutely.

So, if you’re the “influential blogger-type,” maybe it’s time to give studying abroad in Japan next year a thought. Applications for the program can come out as early as April of next year.

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