A good comeback
Akihiko Hoshi, director of the Japan Tourism Agency’s Tourism Resources Division, talks to Kaoru Hori about the future of hospitality and his hopes for the Osaka, Kansai, Japan Expo in 2025
Set up in 2008 and tasked with attracting more international tourists to the country, the Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) had a stellar first decade with the number of overseas visitors rising by over threefold. But then the global pandemic struck. Borders closed, numbers dropped and questions are being asked about whether Japan can once again draw in curious globetrotters. Akihiko Hoshi, director of the Tourism Resources Division at the JTA believes it can—but that the key will be returning to the roots of hospitality. “In Japan, we tend to think that the ultimate hospitality or omotenashi is providing service that allows the customer to sit back and not lift a finger,” he says. “But hospitality is really a two-way street—it’s about the host and guest understanding each other, sharing an experience on a deep level, and feeling happy.”
“Hospitality is really a two-way street—it’s about the host and guest understanding each other”
Hoshi says that many hotel and guest house owners around Japan already understand this, and have secured loyal customer bases as a result. One of these businesses looking forward by looking back is Nagare, an inn housed in a traditional Japanese home in southern Nagano Prefecture. It’s run by a couple who, after traveling around the world for 500 days, took up renovating the century-old house, restoring it to its original state.
Tsuchiyu Onsen in Fukushima Prefecture | Shutterstock
“The true purpose of tourism is to provide a ‘third place’ that’s different from both the home and the workplace”
“The service is attentive without being intrusive, the space is both retro and comfortable, and guests are embraced as part of the local community,” says Hoshi.
Another example of the new type of community-focused hospitality Hoshi advocates can be found at Yumori Onsen Hostel in the hot-spring town of Tsuchiyu Onsen in Fukushima Prefecture. Here the owners have turned a former spa hotel into a comfy guesthouse with a private hot-spring bath. Yumori’s communal room and cafe is open to non-guests too, encouraging “natural and active exchange among guests and local residents,” as Hoshi puts it. “They also offer a range of unique experiences, such as a workshop where you get to make slippers out of deer skin,” he says.
Trying new things and meeting new people, rather than hiding away in a cookie-cutter hotel room, is at the heart of Hoshi’s vision for tourism. “The true purpose of tourism is to provide a ‘third place’ that’s different from both the home and the workplace,” he says. “I’m talking about a place where you get to free yourself from your everyday roles such as parent or manager and ask yourself questions like ‘What kind of person am I?’ ‘What do I really enjoy?’ or ‘What am I capable of?’ It’s really useful to have a place that allows you to bring such thoughts to the surface.”
Akihiko Hoshi | Kisa Toyoshima
The road less traveled
“If true hospitality is practiced, tourism can be a mechanism that amplifies the happiness of both locals and visitors”
The road less traveled
Hoshi believes that staying somewhere different opens your mind to a deeper understanding of society and the environment, and helps you realize your own potential. This can then have a positive impact on the community as a whole. “If [true hospitality] is practiced, tourism can be a mechanism that amplifies the happiness of both locals and visitors,” he says.
That dynamic may play a big part at Expo 2025, too. Until now, tourism to Japan has been centered on Tokyo, but as Hoshi points out, Osaka hosting the Expo offers an opportunity to show off the rest of the country. That would open up new avenues to promoting Japanese culture and traditions to a global audience. “We have history and ways of doing things that don’t exist anywhere else in the world, and a tradition of a cyclical economy and society that goes far beyond modern notions of sustainability,” he says. “Truly opening up to tourism means letting people know that there’s more to Japan than Mt. Fuji, ninjas, and Akihabara. In that sense, I believe the Osaka Expo can be the catalyst for a new era in tourism.”