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Not half bad: 6 of Japan's oddest tourism schemes
Thinking caps on (most of the time) as government, resorts and travel businesses look to bounce back
Given the hardships Japan has faced in the 16 months since the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown, winning back tourists hardly seems all that important.
Nevertheless, life moves on, bills need paying and the travel promos keep on rolling.
Here are six of the best, sometimes head-shakingly misguided, tourism promotions we’ve seen over the last year.
1. Fly to Japan for free ... not
Unsurprisingly, this amazing-sounding scheme -- 10,000 free, yes free, flights to Japan -- hit the headlines big time when it was announced last fall.
Sadly for Japanophiles and skinflints the world over, the promotion failed to gain the necessary government approval and was scrapped at the end of December.
“We express our hearty gratitude to a multitude of people for offering inquiries and messages to support Japan after the coverage [of the failed scheme],” the Japan Tourism Agency said in a press release it slipped out on Boxing Day.
Note to the Japanese government: perhaps next time, wait until a proposal has been approved before announcing it to the world?
Rumor has it the dictionary definition of “own goal” has since been amended to include a photo of the tourism minister.
2. Twitterers to the rescue
After the free-flights fiasco, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs changed tactics and decided instead to invite prominent bloggers and social media “opinion-formers” from around the world to visit Japan.
The aim of this, of course, was that these visitors would use their influence to help increase incoming tourism.
The program ran until the end of March 2012, and participants ranged from a Chicago food blogger to a Chilean university professor and even the editor-in-chief of Egypt’s official Muslim Brotherhood website.
As for the success or otherwise of the scheme, there’s been little said since it ended.
While the few tweets, stories and blog posts we’ve seen coming from the trips have been perfectly acceptable, we’re not convinced they couldn’t have been done better for overseas readers by more-clued-in local residents.
3. Discovery Channel pitches in
For folk who want to lend their support and contribute to the economic recovery of the Tohoku region, a clever scheme involving the Discovery Channel may be just the ticket.
That applies double if you prefer sightseeing to backbreaking volunteer work -- in that case the “Rebuilding Japan: Discover Tohoku” tour is for you.
The four- or six-day tour visits popular sights, such as temples and hot springs, as well as reconstruction projects, like a photo-restoration workshop and a sake brewery that lost everything in the tsunami.
The project was developed in collaboration with the United States-based broadcaster, and visits many of the communities featured in its miniseries “Rebuilding Japan.”
“The tour is meant to be something of a companion to the miniseries and it includes visits to and meetings with some of the areas and people featured,” said Brian Blanchard of coordinating travel agent JTB Global Marketing & Travel.
“Even for those who have not had the opportunity to see the series, we hope that the tour will appeal for the same basic principles: lending support to those ravaged by the tragedy of March 11, hearing their stories firsthand and witnessing their strength of will as they rebuild their homes and lives.”
Bookings are currently being accepted for September, with prices running from ¥98,000 (US$1,230).
More on CNNGo: Tsunami wreckage becomes tourist draw
4. Lady ... KA-ga?
On the other hand, Kaga Onsen-kyo in Ishikawa Prefecture went completely left field in tying itself to a certain attention-seeking pop star in its bid for headlines -- the “Lady Kaga” campaign is the result.
As if its color-changing lagoon, centuries-old hot springs and beautiful mountain scenery weren't enough to convince travelers to make the trip, the town has enlisted the help of 100 local women to showcase its culture and hospitality.
A YouTube video promoting the project has garnered 50,000 views and has even been picked up by various news outlets.
Appropriately, given the name of the campaign, the Kaga Music Festival takes place on September 30.
Featured artists include Ego-Wrappin’, Tokyo No. 1 Soul Set and Chitose Hajime. No, neither have we.
5. Cool warmed over
Airline ANA's contribution to boosting tourism in Japan took the form of a website asking visitors to rate the “coolness” of certain typically Japanese things. Predictably, it was called the “Cool Campaign.”
Putting aside the fact that we’d love a penny for every harebrained scheme out to promote a random collection of pretty stuffy, and unrelated, Japanese things as somehow “cool,” ANA’s effort at least attracted minor levels of interest.
Up until the end of March 2012, users got to click on "cool" or "not so cool" to describe sumo wrestlers, Mount Fuji, Harajuku girls, conveyor belt sushi and more.
“One year after the earthquake, ANA wants to appeal to the world,” said ANA spokesman Ryosei Nomura.
“Through this campaign, we want to boost the demand to travel to Japan and also enhance our awareness.”
Happily for anyone who was still set on that free flight to Japan, ANA gave away a pair of round-trip flight tickets to Japan to one lucky participant, who was chosen at random.
It wasn’t 10,000 free tickets, but it least it beat the big, fat zero the government managed.
If you’re curious, the bragging rights of cool went to "Japanese hospitality," followed by high-tech toilets and onsen hot springs.
6. Romance on the road
Coming from the Japanese words for “town” and “mixer,” a machicon is basically one big, citywide singles party.
While not a creation of any particular organization, machicon have become popular throughout the country, as they encourage people to travel to other areas while also stimulating local economies.
A 2011 machicon in Tokyo's Ebisu area drew more than 1,000 participants, while some of the bigger events can attract up to 3,000 hopeful singles. Now that's some serious mixing.
Summer 2012 events include beer garden machicon (sure to be a winner, we reckon) and a Haneda Airport machicon that promises hope of love aloft on a flight to Hokkaido from the Tokyo hub.
Sex still sells, so we’re calling the machicon concept some pretty smart work on the travel-promotion front, huh?
More on CNNGo: How to cycle from Tokyo to Okinawa in a day