Japanese villages aim to attract post-COVID visitors with food specialties

Gero City, in the Gifo Prefecture of Japan.

Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries kicked off a campaign on 1 June to attract foreign visitors to rural villages.

According to a press release from the ministry, the program aims to attract inbound tourist to farming, mountain, and fishing villages by promoting the regions’ local foods and food culture overseas, under the "Savor Japan" brand.

Recruitment began for villages to apply to be designated as a 2022 "Savor Japan Agricultural Tomari Food Culture Overseas Transmission Area." The ministry certifies the areas that can attract foreign visitors to Japan under the brand, choosing from different areas promoting farm stays and the attractiveness of local food and food culture.

Japan has been restricting tourism as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but from 10 June the country has begun accepting applications for permission to conduct guided tours. Tours will be accepted for travelers from countries designated as “low-risk,” which currently includes the U.S.A, the U.K., China, South Korea, Thailand, and Singapore.

In anticipation of the visitors, and with the expectation of many visitors to the Osaka/Kansai Expo scheduled to be held in 2025, the ministry is trying to draw some of those tour groups to rural areas to stimulate local economies.

The ministry compiled a list of recognized local specialties. For seafood, it includes boiled sea pineapples from Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture; grilled sweetfish from Gero City, Gifu Prefecture; sea bream from Minamai-Chita, Aichi Prefecture; barazushi (meaning “scattered sushi”) from the northern part of Kyoto Prefecture; and kaisen ryiori (a formal Japanese course meal) from Yuwasa-cho, Wakayama Prefecture.

Japan has been playing a difficult balancing act between trying to give stimulus to the foodservice and hospitality industries and trying to curb the spread of COVID-19. A previous government program, the “Go-To” domestic travel subsidy, was blamed for adding to the spread of disease and halted.

It is unclear how many tours will choose to highlight local specialty foods, or even whether many visitors will come. There will still be numerical limits on the number of entries, restrictions on independent travel, and waits for visa approvals. On the other hand, the Japanese yen has recently traded at JPY 132 per USD 1.00, the lowest exchange rate seen in 20 years.

Foreign tourist entries dropped by over 90 percent in 2020 from a record 31.9 million in 2019. The numbers had shot up after visa requirements were eliminated for visitors from China, Malaysia, and Indonesia and their spending gave Japan a boost of about JPY 4 trillion (USD 29.8 billion, EUR 28.2 billion).  

Photo courtesy of TK Kurikawa


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