Tokyo’s tourism players are responding to a growing desire for outdoor and wellness experiences by crafting programmes that spotlight off-the-beaten track locations and activities. Kathryn Wortley finds out more.
Demand for experience-based travel, particularly in the areas of well-being and the great outdoors, has been growing pre-pandemic, prompting Tokyo’s tourism sector to work hard at securing its share of the market. Opportunities for unique experiences and activities now abound in the Japanese capital, including in rural and off-the-beaten-track parts of the city, giving even the most adventurous and curious travellers something new to try.
As Tokyo has more than 100 rivers and canals flowing beneath her, experiences centred on her waterways have enjoyed particular growth. Tokyo Great Kayaking Tour offers day and evening tours in the canals while Outdoor Sports Club Zac offers SUP (stand up paddle) experiences and tours in the vicinity of Tokyo Sky Tree.
Before the outbreak of Covid-19, Tokyo Great Tours, which operates outdoor sightseeing tours on kayaks and bicycles as well as by running, had enjoyed a boom in sales. Yukiko Koezuka, owner and guide, attributed growth to an increase in the number of visitors to Tokyo and demand from repeat visitors seeking new activities.
Once international travel resumes, she expects sales to rebound and continue to experience an uptick as people seek outdoors activities that promote a sense of well-being and allow for social distancing.
“Even during the Covid-19 situation, (local) people who have booked our kayak tours say they feel safe to join as they can keep their distance from others,” she said.
Tokyo is also preparing to welcome more tourists to her subtropical chain of islands, located about an hour by plane from Haneda Airport or up to 11 hours by boat from Takeshiba port in central Tokyo.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government has stepped up its promotion of the archipelago to tourists, while travel marketplaces like Voyagin have packaged itineraries and experiences under the slogan of “Tokyo’s Island Getaway.” These experiences include outdoor pursuits such as hiking, scuba diving and meeting sea turtles as well as classes to make island silk or prepare fresh mountain herbs. There are also night activities such as night snorkelling and a starlight and forest exploration tour.
Tokyo can expect to see more of such unique offerings as travel businesses prepare to attract tourists back in confidence after the pandemic, according to industry experts. Options that allow people to be outside or in small, well-managed groups with infection control measures are likely to be the first to recover, even more so if those options are for something that visitors cannot enjoy elsewhere.
Kyoko Nagano, founder of Mypal Inc, a Tokyo-based agency for Japanese cultural experts and tourism-related business, hopes to resume the company’s vast range of traditional craft, cooking and cultural classes, some of which attracted more than 200 tourists per month in 2019.
Two classes popular for their uniqueness were incense making and kodo (the way of incense), one of the three major classical arts along with sado (tea ceremony) and kado (flower arrangement) that women of refinement were expected to learn in ancient Japan. Kodo involves burning incense and guessing its fragrance.
“Tea ceremony has become popular among tourists, but incense is not so known and there are few teachers of it in Japan,” Nagano said, adding that beginner classes hosted by a 90-year-old kodo master pre-pandemic were mostly attended by travellers from the Middle East and France.
Independent travel options and self-contained or exclusive accommodation are also seeing a boom due to the pandemic.
Jared Campion, founder of Tokyo-based campervan rental company Dream Drive, has seen a rise in bookings in 2020 and expects even better numbers this year.
“Japan has great roads, (many) hot spring bathhouses and amazing places to explore, so (she is) perfect for campervan travel,” he said.
And with so much to see and do in the capital, tourism players are working hard to encourage visitors to travel around rural as well as central Tokyo.