Gastronomy tourism is a combination of cuisine and cultural values. Therefore, to develop gastronomy tourism successfully, nations should profoundly understand their cultural features. With a diverse culture, Japan has built this type of tourism based on the geographical and cultural strengths of each region.
Food is considered as one of the main motivations for both domestic and international travelers to visit Japan. According to the “Consumption Trend Survey for Foreigners Visiting Japan” conducted in 2016 by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, 71.2% of respondents said that the main motivation for them visiting Japan was “to eat Japanese food”. Meanwhile, “drinking Japanese sake” was the 6th on the list of what they expect to do in this country.
For domestic tourists, “to enjoy a variety of foods” is the second-most-common reason to travel between regions in their country. According to data from Japan Travel & Tourism Association in 2015, the percentage of food and drink expenses in domestic travel expenditure is about 12%, or 1.92 trillion JPY (approximately 15.6 billion USD).
These numbers show that Gastronomy tourism is an important part of Japan’s tourism sector and contributes to shaping features of the country to travelers.
The role of Gastronomy tourism in Japan:
The Japanese government, local authorities and private enterprises are increasingly interested in Gastronomy tourism. This type of tourism is considered as a means for regional development – the ultimate goal of the tourism value chain in Japan. Two end goals for sustainable regional development by means of gastronomy tourism were defined:
- Destination development: developing a destination that not only receives attention domestically and abroad, but is actually visited by traveler
- Culinary-culture preservation: preserving the traditional culinary culture, environment and way of life of a region that already enjoys a number of visitors.
Japan has four distinct seasons and various climate zones. This geographical feature creates diversity in the regional culinary culture and also plays the role of a contributor to the diversification of Gastronomy tourism activities, which are developed based on the strengths of each region.
Gastronomy tourism activities in Japan can be mentioned as:
Preserving and promoting traditional brew – sake
Sake is a traditional Japanese brew that any visitor would like to taste. In February 2013, twelve Japanese sake breweries in the Takayama city and the brewer of Shirakawa Village cooperated with the local government to establish Hida Sake Tourism Association. The local sake is symbolic of the ancient village of Hida – which is blessed with a rich supply of mountain water and rice, as well as preserves the tradition of making sake for over 300 years. Therefore, the initiative to promote sake of Takayama has historical and cultural allure to travelers. The association also promotes walking tours to sake breweries and allow tourists to taste sake.
Meanwhile, the Saijo Sake Festival organized by the Saijo Sake Brewing Association attracts about 250,000 visitors to Saijo city and significantly boosting the local economy. Especially, this festival is not a local government initiative but organized by Higashi-Hiroshima City Tourism Association with the support of all locals, private enterprises, the local brewing association and students participating as volunteers.
Cultivating pride in the diverse culinary culture for locals
Ask any Japanese about the culinary culture of Shiribeshi, their first answer would be sushi. However, sushi is not the only specialty of this region. As a subprefecture rich in food resources from sea and mountains, Shiribeshi has an abundant culinary culture and is promoted through Shiribeshi Food Festival annually. The year 2018 marks the 23rd time that this festival was held, which shows the strong attraction of this festival to travelers. Shiribeshi is also famous for Cotriade, a difficult fish stew originating from France. The Shiribeshi Cotriade Promotion Council was established in 2013 and set up many cooking workshops for local housewives, cooking classes at schools and developed recipes that can be made at home.
While Shiribeshi local government focuses on promoting traditional Japanese cuisine, Isumi local government aims to convert the city into a place where travelers from all over the world gather to enjoy the cuisine made by famous chefs, including Michelin-starred chefs. To achieve this, Japan’s leading gourmet & restaurant guide Gurunavi proposed a culinary contest for aspiring young chefs to contribute to developing the Isumi brand. They developed a three-to-five-year plan that calls for local chefs to improve their skills and encourages locals to promote their homeland cuisine to visitors.
Exploiting the value of farming tourism
Nishi-Awa region has about 200 villages spreading out from the steep mountainside of Mount Tsurugi of Shikoku island. When visiting this region, travelers can experience the lifestyle and culinary culture of mountainside communities that have coexisted with nature for over a millennium as the villagers have built facilities for them to experience the unique lifestyles and extraordinary landscapes here. For example, visitors in Ochiai village can enjoy cuisine served in traditional Tokushima wooden boxes, participate in cooking classes for local cuisine taught by women in the village or join a local family for dinner. Also, in Fuchina village of Mima city, travelers can go to Fuwari restaurant to enjoy dishes made from vegetables grown on nearby sloping farms.
Nakijin Village in Okinawa Prefecture has a 17-hectare farm called Aiai, which supplies organic produce to local restaurants and sells processed products at a direct sales outlet. Thanks to this initiative, Nakijin Village attracts a lot of domestic and international visitors. Inbound travelers can also try making local soba noodles while learning about the unique culinary culture of the Ryukyu Islands.
The success of Gastronomy tourism in Japan shows the attraction of this type of tourism to travelers as well as the potential of development in countries that have a diverse culture. In addition to making a positive impact on the economy, Gastronomy tourism also reinforces residents’ pride in their region and helps preserve the traditional features of the country.