Inbound tourists alone are a massive ‘export’ for Japan but the consequent growth in services to support the inflow of tourists has provided enormous economic stimulus. By December 2018, annual inbound tourists exceeded 30 million for the first time, with the surge dominated by tourists from China.
The tourist boom has been replicated in a patchy manner throughout a number of Japanese regions, however the concentration of history, culture, shopping, food, and experiential immersion tourism around the Kansai region has ensured much stronger local growth.
In many ways, the powerhouse of the Kansai economy over the 150 years since Japan opened up to Western influence has been the strong linkages between industry and elite education institutions.
Kansai is the birthplace of the Japanese pharmaceutical industry and the linkage with research commercialisation remains strong. In fact, two recent Nobel Prizes in medicine have emanated from Kyoto University.
According to the Kansai Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry, around 50 per cent of the world’s lithium batteries are produced in Kansai. Osaka is the centre of combined government and industry research into new and better battery and energy storage systems.
In 2020, when Tokyo hosts the ‘Hydrogen Olympics’, shipments of liquefied hydrogen from Australia will start arriving at the newly-built liquefied hydrogen handling terminal on Kobe Airport Island. This is a project being run by Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Iwatani, two more global companies with local origins, who are also at the forefront of solving the engineering challenges involved in Japan’s aspirations to build the hydrogen economy.
Kansai economic leaders are keen to see the Japanese government finally legislate to allow casinos in Japan. Osaka’s vision is for an ‘integrated resort’ emulating Singapore’s Sentosa Island as its crowning glory, making the city a truly international tourism destination.
Yumeshima, the man-made ‘Dream Island’ in Osaka Bay, will be the venue for both the World Expo 2025 and the site of the integrated resort. Construction of the infrastructure for these two venues over the next five years will also provide a significant regional economic boost and absorb some construction industry capacity made redundant by the completion of the Tokyo Olympic infrastructure in 2020.
Kansai tourism is benefitting substantially across the three years from 2019 through 2021, which the local tourism industry refers to as the ‘Golden Sports Years’. Kobe and Osaka will both host Rugby World Cup games in 2019 which will see tourist numbers spike. 2020 will see another spike with the Olympics and Paralympics. In 2020, several cities in the Kansai area will host pre-Games camps for national teams. In fact the entire Australian Paralympic Team which will be hosted by Kobe City. Then in 2021, the 10th World Masters Games targeting to attract 50,000 competitors to Kansai.