Plunge in Japan tourists "tough situation"

Wed Apr 20, 2011 5:58am EDT
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By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - The plunge in foreign tourist numbers to Japan following a string of natural calamities and a nuclear crisis has put the key industry in a tough situation, particularly with crucial Asian markets, its tourism agency head said on Wednesday.

The number of foreign visitors fell by half in March compared to a year earlier, with travelers scared off by fears of radiation from a crippled nuclear plant some 240 km (149 miles) north of Tokyo after the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

This was the sharpest drop since comparable data began to be compiled in 1961 and the first year-to-year-fall since October 2009, the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) said last week.

The key to luring back foreign visitors will be convincing them of Japan's overall safety, especially in regions far from the disaster-stricken northeast, said Hiroshi Mizohata, commissioner of Japan's Tourism Agency.

"It's true that there are continuing aftershocks and there are still problems with the nuclear reactors," Mizohata told a news conference, terming the 9.0 quake and tsunami a "once in a thousand years" disaster.

"We are in a very tough situation but are doing everything we can to show that Japan is still vital and safe."

The JNTO website ( now has a "travel update" section that includes detailed information on transportation and live video feeds from tourist sites including Tokyo's Akihabara electronics mecca, especially popular with Chinese tourists.

Another section shows detailed radiation levels for each part of Japan, updated daily.   Continued...

<p>New student Rika Kikuchi has her new school hat put on by her grandmother after an entrance ceremony at Kamaishi elementary school in Kamaishi, Iwate prefecture, after the area was devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, April 20, 2011. REUTERS/Toru Hanai</p>