The travel industry in western Japan has been hard-hit by the floods in the region, some of the worst the country has seen in the past 30 years.
A number of foreign tourist groups were caught up in the disaster and others were cancelling plans to visit the region, TTG Asia understands.
Travel agencies in the area insist, however, that problems are temporary and that major tourist sights are largely unaffected. Moreover, they say hotels in the main cities are operating as usual and that transport services could be back to normal in a matter of weeks.
The prefectures of Hiroshima and Okayama have been most affected by flooding and landslide, triggered by torrential rains on July 7 and 8. Several towns in the region have reported more than 58cm of rain in the space of 18 hours, causing rivers to burst their banks, inundating low-lying areas and destabilising hillsides.
“The flooding and landslides have been very bad and we have had some clients call to cancel or alter their trips after seeing the images on the news,” said Megumi Ueda, general manager of the Kyoto-based Ayabex travel agency.
“We are lucky in some ways because we are not into the peak travel season yet so we have been able to change destinations for groups that still want to come to Japan, while others have chosen to delay their trips until later in the year,” she told TTG Asia.
One group was in Okayama Prefecture during the height of the flooding, Ueda said, but decided to continue with the trip as the bad weather has passed.
Popular sights in the region – such as the Atomic Dome Park in Hiroshima and the UNESCO-listed Miyajima Island, in the Inland Sea – have largely escaped damage and are operating normally, said Eiji Tanaka, president of the Travel With agency in Hiroshima.
“The problem right now is the road and rail links into the region,” he said. “Hiroshima Airport has been affected by power outages, but we understand that it is open again now. But the highway and rail links to the city have been damaged. We have been told that the government is working hard to repair the links, but the work will not be completed for another few days at least.”
Travel firms are keen to emphasise that floodwaters have largely subsided and landslides mainly affected more remote mountain towns rather than destinations that are popular with foreign travellers.
The death toll in what is the worst flooding to affect Japan in more than 30 years has surpassed 200 and rescue teams are still searching towns and villages for survivors.