American tourism to Japan is again booming. In the month of June just past, nearly 90,000 Americans visited the great cities of Japan (especially Tokyo and Kyoto), more than ever went there during any other monthly period in past years. In the six months from January through June of 2014, nearly 500,000 Americans visited Japan, increasing the chance that more than 1,000,000 Americans will go there in 2014--the highest yearly figure in all the history of American tourism to Japan.
That 1,000,000 figure is more than double the number of Americans who travel each year to Australia. It is nearly five times the number of Americans who travel each year to New Zealand. And there are two major reasons for the current popularity of Japan.
The first is a sharp decline in the value of the Japanese currency, of which you now receive approximately 102 yen for one U.S. dollar, an exchange cutting the cost of a stay in Japan for U.S. tourists by approximately 15% in recent years. Japan is no longer the costly place it used to be, and many observers rank it among a number of other inexpensive travel destinations for Americans.
But a more potent reason for Japan's return to high incoming tourism is an effective public relations campaign arguing that its major cities are almost totally unaffected by the radiation that was released three years ago because of damage to a nuclear reactor at Fukushima, 134 miles north of Tokyo. In 2011, headlines all over the world told of an earthquake and tsunami that had gravely compromised this source of atomic energy, and many potential tourists in the subsequent years cancelled their trips to Japan, fearing that the resulting radiation had made stays in Tokyo (and even Kyoto, even furthr away) unsafe.
Japan's tourist officials have responded with all sorts of alleged "studies", claiming that the tap water in Tokyo has less radioactive content that the tap water in London or Paris. More recently, they released another study claiming that the air above Tokyo has less radioactive content than the air of London, Paris, or Seoul, Korea. Though all such "studies" are rather suspect (because of their source, the Japanese tourist agency), I find even more compelling the fact that Tokyo's numerous millionaires and billionaires--all of whom could afford to live anywhere in the world--have not moved out of the key cities, but remain there. Is it possible that Tokyo's many wealthy citizens would continue as residents if any real danger existed?
My interest in travel to Japan has also been favorably affected by the attitudes of persons I have met who have recently returned from a stay there. Without exception, they have all been strongly positive about the enjoyment of Japan, and especially Tokyo and Kyoto. One of them--Brad Reisner (webmaster of Frommers.com), who recently traveled to Tokyo with his family--was especially enthusiastic about Tokyo's free-of-charge "greeters' program", wherby an English-speaking resident escorted his family group on a tour of highlights.
She took them, for instance, to the Tokyo fish market, where--after viewing amazing quantities of giant fish--they had the best sushi and sashimi of their lives in a small cafe within the market. She took them to a lively costumed festival within one of Tokyo's glorious parks. All in all, they had a remarkable time in one of the most colorful and dynamic cities on earth. And they had not even a fleeting moment of fear about radioactive debris that was primarily emitted three years ago from a place 134 miles away;.