Japan by night? They're working on it
Tokyo - Japan had more than 30 million foreign visitors in 2018, but its nightlife is not as extensive as in other nations.
Spurred by the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, efforts are spreading to diversify tourism in the evening and vitalize the nighttime economy.
The Kawaii Monster Cafe Harajuku in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, is known as a birthplace of the "kawaii" culture that is now popular all over the world. Passing through the doors, you see a line of colorful objects such as gigantic cakes and animals, creating a fairy-tale atmosphere.
On a Wednesday evening in July, a 20-year-old woman who had come to Japan from Florida for short-term study exclaimed with delight as a monster girl in a colourful costume performed a cute dance. It's hard to find a cafe as cute and pop as this anywhere else in the world, she said.
Kawaii Monster Cafe Harajuku opened in 2015 ahead of the Tokyo Games, which is expected to attract a large number of foreign visitors to Japan. Located in Harajuku, which is bustling with people during the day, it features a three-hour night show starting from 7:30pm on Tuesdays to Fridays. The performances vary each day, in a bid to draw customers.
"The number of foreign visitors particularly increases during the night. I want them to experience a unique Japanese culture that can only be seen here," a cafe spokesperson said.
Lack of resources
According to a survey conducted by the Japan Tourism Agency in fiscal 2018, the number of foreigners who visited nighttime attractions in Japan, and their level of satisfaction, were lower than those who travelled to other overseas destinations.
Other countries offer more selection. For example, the Louvre Museum in Paris closes later than 9pm on some days, and there are abundant nighttime performances of Broadway musicals in New York.
The Tokyo National Museum stays open on Fridays and Saturdays until 9pm. But according to an official of the tourism resources division at the Japan Tourism Agency, "Compared to overseas, there are still fewer sightseeing spots for the evenings."
Spending per foreign visitor to Japan is sluggish, at slightly over ¥150,000. There are hopes that the promotion of nighttime tourism can provide a breakthrough.
Transportation, safety key
Discussions on the night economy in Japan began in earnest not only as a result of complaints from foreign visitors, but also with the enforcement in June 2016 of the revised law regulating adult entertainment businesses.
The revised legislation enabled clubs to operate all night, instead of the previous limit of until midnight in principle.
At the end of 2017, a league of Liberal Democratic Party Diet members compiled a proposal to extend the operating hours of cultural facilities and ensure safety at night. In 2018, nighttime operations for digital darts and simulation golf became easier.
The Japan Association of New Economy, an economic organisation comprising many IT companies, has also proposed measures to boost the night economy to government agencies. The Japan Tourism Agency started certifying model projects in fiscal 2018, and 13 projects were approved in fiscal 2019, including an Asakusa nighttime tour.
Night tourism ambassador
Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, which has many restaurants and tourist spots, is particularly active. The ward's tourism association has produced a night tourism map and organized nighttime tours for foreign visitors. In 2016, the ward appointed hip-hop artist Zeebra as a Shibuya Ward night tourism ambassador. As his activity is based in a club, Zeebra advises the administration on how to enjoy nightlife and ensure safety.
A major issue is cooperation with the transportation sector, including railways and buses. In London and New York, buses and subways operate around the clock mainly on weekends. Another problem is how to secure people who work at night.