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Ryoichi Matsuyama, President of Japan National Tourism Organization

Ryoichi MatsuyamaElite Traveler: Congratulations on the 2020 Olympics. How were you involved during the bidding process?

Ryoichi Matsuyama: Thank you, I was one of the presenters when the Olympics Inspection Committee came to Japan and I was fully involved throughout. I feel very proud to have been a part of the winning team for the 2020 Olympics Japan. Subsequently, we achieved record of 10 Million visitors to Japan last year, which I am also very proud of.

ET: Elite Traveler recently rated 7 restaurants in Japan within our Top 100 World Best Restaurants. Only 3 other countries in the world had more restaurants. Please do tell us about the food scene in Japan.

RM: We appreciate your support.  Thank you so much for including 7 Japanese restaurants in the world’s top 100. Interestingly, the Japanese cuisine, “Washoku”, which you featured, was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list last year. We’d like to promote the Japanese cuisine more, as this is such a big part of who we are. There is a Michelin guide, which covers luxury restaurants all over the country. We would like to urge your readers to explore various regions across Japan so they may sample the distinct flavors of each area, which is very apparent. I believe they will be very impressed by the unique differences we offer in Japan.

ET: What can Japan provide to luxury travelers?

RM: Japan has a great deal to offer. Just for skiing, we have Hokkaido and Nagano. For food lovers, there are so many spots to cover other than Tokyo and Kyoto, which are often your first stop. You’ll find majestic scenery across the country, with four distinct seasons:  The gorgeous cherry blossoms in the Spring, powder-snow in the winter, breath taking color changes in autumn,  and an endless array of summer activities.

According to the Country Brand Index for Tourism, Japan came in second just after Italy. According to the report, Japan holds the strongest brand in the world for attractions, third strongest for food .Also, we came in third for Culture and Heritage, just after Italy and France, ‘and sixth for value for money. Despite the 2011’s devastating disaster, Japan’s brand has generated enough good will over the past decade to perform well.’

Also, “Seven Stars” Japan’s first Cruise Train in Kyushu, , made her debut run last October offering by warm “Omotenashi” of the local communities. The Seven Stars journey has several attractions, one being the interaction between the passengers and the crew. It is an Oriental Express style train journey designed for the luxury traveler.

Japan has long developed special techniques of various kinds of traditional fine art works such as lacquer craft, pottery or textile. You can purchase them, while listening to the explanation of “living national treasures” and taking a close look at their techniques.

And more, luxury travellers will have a chance to experience Japanese sophisticated culture such as Zen meditation, tea ceremony or Japanese flower arrangement in a special place. Japanese temples are usually closed but if you really would like to learn and understand Japanese culture, you can experience these activities in real temples.

In the past, the Tourism Industry has not been a top priority to the government. Now, however, our administration has made tourism their priority. Traditionally, Japan has relied on domestic tourists. At the moment, 7% of Japans lodgings are taken by foreign visitors, however we expect to increase this share with the ramp up to the Olympics.

ET: Wow, you have a lot to be proud of in Japan.

RM: We really do. Japan is now focusing on the luxury market as part of our strategy. We want luxury travelers to experience our heritage, culture, food, and experimental travel. Japan is so very diversified, and we urge people around the world to experience our warm welcome.

ET: Let’s talk about the festivals that take place across Japan.

RM: We have so many festivals that are similar to carnivals in Europe and America. They happen nearly every week throughout the year, in each city and region. The Kanda Matsuri festival happens in the centeral Tokyo district including Kanda, Nihombashi, Otemachi, Marunouchi and some 300 people march through.

Tohoku area which suffered heavy damage in the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011, is famed for its magnificent summer festivals. In addition to the portable shrines with a phoenix decorated on the roof, there are all kinds of floats, as well as groups of people dancing in beautiful costume, producing a spectacular sight. As the festival is so important for the community, you can feel great energy there. These are just some of so many spectacular festivals that take place each year; worth experiencing in Japan.

ET: As President of Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO), what are your personal favourite luxury brands?

RM: I was assigned as Japanese ambassador to Botswana for three and half years. During that time I became a fan of DeBeers diamonds; I admire how they survived the financial crises by retaining their employees during the crisis. When it comes to cars I really like Lexus. We Japanese are precise in engineering and refinement.

TM: Ryoichi, it has been a real pleasure sitting down with you and learning about what makes Japan so very special. Thank you very much for your time. We look forward to your continued success and keeping our readers fully informed of why Japan is the place to visit at all times of the year, again and again, as there is so much to see and be enjoyed in your country.