Nearly a year after Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami, Japanese tourism is inching its way towards a full recovery. YNN's Valarie D'Elia filed the following report.
It’s referred to as "3/11," a momentous date marking Japan’s biggest natural disaster. Besides killing and uprooting hundreds of thousands, the earthquake and resulting tsunami 231 miles northeast of Tokyo wiped out tourism, mainly because of nuclear radiation fears.
The Hyatt Regency Kyoto, located in a fabled city full of shrines and temples about 500 miles west of the epicenter, is still feeling the fallout of misperception.
"We used to have 50 to 60 percent of the guests from overseas, now it’s dropped down to 20 to 30 percent," said Hyatt Regency general manager Ken Yokoyama.
Hiroshima and Miyajima, 186 miles further southwest of Kyoto, experienced a 50-percent decline in tourists. One traditional inn had a lot of empty space on its tatami mats.
"We had a tremendous cancelation," said the inn's general manager, Richard Yoshida.
On a recent media visit as a guest of the Chugoku region, I met just two American tourists, who were part-time residents of Japan.
"My concerns are not too serious here in the south at all," said Robert Stern.
But the question of health and safety is a lingering one.
"I personally don’t have the fear of radiation here, granted I’m not living here for an extended period of time. I'd still be a little cautious about locally grown foods," said Ren Stern.
Meanwhile, travelers are being tempted with some added values.
"If you stay three nights, I will give the third night free. And if you stay the fourth night, I will give the fourth night free," said Yokoyama.
Almost a year later, there is reason for optimism.
"We’ve been seeing people start to come back now, and a lot of our guests have simply rebooked and decided to come back later," said Bodhi Fishman of Plus Alpha Japan.