‘Land of the Rising Sun’: an exceptionally awesome country to visit

‘Land of the Rising Sun’: an exceptionally awesome country to visit

Q. Japan is an exceptionally beautiful country, an exquisite blend of natural diversity, traditions and modernity and a favorite international tourist destination. In an exclusive interview, His Excellency Mr. Kenji Hiramatsu, Ambassador of Japan to India, spoke about the huge potential of Japan as a tourist destination, and why Indians should visit the country. Excerpts from the interview: What is extraordinary about Japan as a tourist destination?

Japan has all the elements that make a country a favorite tourist destination. The country offers something for every kind of tourist. Japan is already a very well-known tourist destination attracting tourists from across the world. The number of foreign tourists visiting Japan is increasing fast. There are several aspects of tourism in Japan, such as nature, culture, heritage, art, shopping and cuisines. The country has a wide range of fascinating tourist attractions, catering to the different segments of tourists. We have a very distinct nature and culture, and many diverse seasons. We offer amazing tourist experiences all over the year. The country is known for its natural beauty, stunning landscapes, heritage sites, traditional ways of life, towering castles, ancient shrines, beautiful beaches, lipsmacking gastronomic experiences, etc. The ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ is a perfect blend of traditions and modernity. Japan is also famous for its cherry blossoms, which are the hallmark of Japan’s spring season. It is an amazing experience to view cherry blossoms in their full bloom. The arrival of the spring or cherry blossom season varies from place to place. It is January in Okinawa, March-April in Kyoto and Tokyo, and May in Hokkaidō. Japanese people celebrate the cherry blossom festivals to enjoy the beauty of Sakura ( cherry blossoms). We have a very rich gastronomical culture. Japan is famous for some unique and sophisticated cuisines. We also have a variety of western cuisines to offer, and Indian tourists have ample options of Indian foods. Besides, Japan is known for being a top shopping destination, having shopping centers in many cities of the country, which offer a wide range of quality and fashionable products at reasonable prices. Some of the Japanese cities are counted amongst the best shopping desti- nations in the world. The most wonderful thing is that, whatever you try, you will be amazed by the hospitality of the Japanese people.

Q. Which destinations would you advise the first-time Indian visitors to Japan?

My advice for the first-time visitors to Japan is that they should visit Kyoto to experience the traditional facet of Japan. Cities like Kyoto and Nara are well-known for their ancient shrines, culture and traditions. Japan is also famous for its multitude of hot spring accommodations. Indians would surely love these attractions. We also have beautiful mountains, beaches, wonderful luxury hotels and amusement parks for the tourists to explore. Besides Kyoto, there are many cities and regions of Japan, which Indian travelers should visit. Some of the Japanese cities including Tokyo are very famous and considered among the most favorable destinations for travellers from across the world. For food lovers, big cities such as Tokyo offers a multitude of food options. There are so many restaurants offering different types of cuisines. Indians can also avail various types of Indian foods, including vegetarian ones. So you don’t have to worry at all about food in Japan.

Q. How important is the Indian travel market for Japan?

India is a very important market for the tourism sector in Japan. It is one of the fastest growing tourism markets in the world due to its ever expanding middle-class population. We see here a huge potential and are taking steps to tap this opportunity. In order to facilitate Indian people planning to travel to Japan, we recently decided to open 13 more visa application centers throughout India. As of March 4th, we have already opened the ones at Gurgaon, Jaipur and Kolkata, and expect 10 more to open soon. Last February, we also simplified the visa application process for Indian university students. Please access our Embassy’s website for more detailed information.

Q. How simple is the Japanese visa process for Indians?

Japanese visa application processes differ, depending on the purpose and duration of travel, but the process is generally very smooth and fast. If you apply for a short-term multipleentry visa, you could get it on the third working day from the day you submit the documents. Even for the first-time travellers, the process is easy to understand since all the guidelines are posted on the websites of our Embassy or visa centers.

Q. How many Indians are visiting Japan annually?

In 2016, the number of Indians visiting Japan was 1,23,000, out of which, 40,000 were tourists. For me, it is surprisingly a very low number. As of now, the number of Japanese tourists visiting India is higher than the number of Indian tourists visiting Japan. Chinese people visit Japan in large numbers; very large as compared to Indians. More than 6 million Chinese visited Japan last year. There is a perception prevailing in India that Japan is an expensive destination, which somewhat inhibits Indians from visiting Japan in large numbers. This is a completely false impression. We are a very affordable destination. I agree that there is a need to remove these misunderstandings. We need to communicate more effectively, and also need to create awareness in India that we are an affordable, hospitable and delightful destination. We have economical accommodations for tourists. There is no language problem. Guides are available in sufficient numbers. Japanese people are especially more welcoming toward Indians. So I see enormous potential in the Indian market, and there is ample possibility of a dramatic increase in the number of Indian visitors to Japan. The two countries are currently celebrating the year 2017 as the Year of Japan-India Friendly Exchanges, and a series of events are being organized across India, aiming to enhance the people-to-people exchanges and cultural relationship between the two countries. We understand that there is a need to create more awareness about Japan in India. Considering its huge potential, we are organizing cultural events in the country so that Indians can learn more about Japan. Once the Indians fully recognize the value that Japan offers to tourists, the number of Indian tourists visiting Japan will substantially increase. It is my commitment to increase the number of Indian tourists to Japan by 10 times of the current number, during my tenure.

Q. How is air connectivity between Japan and India?

Air connectivity is an issue between Japan and India, but I think that, as the number of Indians visiting Japan increases, the air-connectivity between the two countries will also improve considerably. At present, two Japanese airlines operate flights between India and Japan, in addition to Air India, and connect two Indian cities directly to Japan: New Delhi and Mumbai. I think more Indian cities should have direct air connectivity with Japan. For example, there is a pressing need to connect southern cities such as Chennai and Bengaluru to Japan.

Q. What do you like most about India?

I like so many things about India: Indian cities, culture, traditions, food, etc. I have been fond of Indian food even before I came to India. I especially like Indian sweets. World heritage sites such as Ajanta and Ellora caves are extraordinary. I have so far visited 17 states in India, as well as the north-eastern part of the country, including Kohima, Nagaland, which has a special historic relationship with Japan. I have also been to Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and many more states. On that topic, I could speak forever!

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