Terrie's Take: Cycling Japan with an 8-year Old, Aging Society, New Airline, and J-Casinos!

Terrie's Take - AkihabaraNews.com

Terrie’s Take is a selection of Japan-centric news collected and collated by long-time resident and media business professional Terrie Lloyd. AkihabaraNews is pleased to present Terrie’s learned perspective; we all could use another take on the news - here’s Terrie’s:

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Terrie’s Take on April 21, 2014

Feature:

  • How to Cycle Japan with an 8-year Old

Briefs:

  • 25% now over 65
  • And the lonely increase as well
  • Casinos on the way?
  • Spring Airlines about to make major push in Japan
  • Japan consumer confidence down

As many readers will know, we have been delving deeply into the Japan inbound travel sector with japantravel.com. The company is going to make a major announcement in a few week's time, affirming that crowdsourcing works and that travelers in particular like lots of information and choice.

One interesting aspect of crowds is that you never know what you are going to get. Crowdsourcing is based on chaos and thus it throws up a wide variety of quality and topics. In Japan crowdsourcing is generally defined by transactional sites such as jobs matching sites like Crowdworks. Crowdsourced User Generated Content (UCG) sites are only just getting started, and Japantravel.com is a good early example. One thing we've learned is that to get good quality from the chaos, you need a strong editing and control system, and you need a big enough crowd to maintain flow.

While the chaos part may not sound attractive, UCG also means diversity. This is a good thing for Japanese inbound travel, because as a sector it is hidebound. We jokingly refer to standard Japanese travel as "old people's travel" because the expectation is that you will board a bus or train and be whisked by gracious but expensive hosts from one d'oeil to the next, with little investment of personal effort. This works for first-time and non-adventurous travelers, but it also means that the average tourist misses out on much of the unique and local life experiences that make Japan so special.

So we have started researching special interest tours, especially those that involve risk, adventure, the unknown, and places outside the Golden Triangle (Tokyo-Osaka-Kyoto). What kinds of interests can you pursue in Japan that take you outside the megacenters? Actually the list is extensive and just some of the options include: hiking, diving, fishing, skiing (of course), onsen, bonsai (the best are grown in regional cities), sword making, kimono and other traditional textiles, arts and crafts, paragliding, temple pilgrimages, silk and pearls, agricultural tourism, ceramics/pottery, world heritage visits, and cycling.

So it was with some interest that we were introduced to the source of a great Japan cycling story, American Charles Scott, who not only decided to ride the length of Japan by bike, but, and this is the really adventurous part, he did it with his 8-year old son, Sho. Charles chronicled the experience in his book Rising Son: A Father and Son's Bike Adventure across Japan. (You can buy the English version of the book at Amazon.co.jp - http://amzn.to/1iv9VYc).

We asked Charles to share some suggestions for others interested in exploring the country by bicycle. He lived in Tokyo for two years in the 1990s, is married to a Japanese woman and speaks Japanese. But, he emphasized that a person who does not speak the language can get along perfectly fine cycling through the country, thanks to the many people who go out of their way to help foreigners.

Charles and Sho started their ride at Cape Soya on the northern tip of Hokkaido, and finished at Cape Sata on the southern tip of Kyushu. They visited nine World Heritage sites, cycled over eight mountain passes in the Japanese Alps, slept in a tent, and pedaled through major metropolitan areas and virtually uninhabited stretches of countryside alike. One wonders how they didn't wind up divorcing (;-)).

Sho is likely the youngest person ever to pedal the length of Japan, and many people they met worried that such a trip would be too much for an eight-year-old. Sho just told them, "A kid can do a whole lot more than most adults think." -- sounds like our kind of kid!

Some tips from Charles:

* Put Hokkaido high on your list of cycling destinations. It boasts gorgeous countryside routes, dramatic coastlines and friendly people. Many people stick to the coasts, but there are challenging mountains too, if that's your thing.

* Shimanami Kaido is an expressway with a dedicated bike path that connects Onomichi (in Honshu) and Imabari (in Shikoku). You can rent bikes and helmets at one end and return them at the other. The route offers stunning views as it passes over nine islands. You can complete this 60-kilometer ride in a day, but Charles recommended staying overnight on one of the islands.

* Consider renting a bike to get around Kyoto. The city is compact and easy to navigate on two wheels.

* If you plan to sleep in a tent during a multiple-day cycling adventure, one of the major challenges is finding a place to shower. The ubiquity of public bath houses (onsen or sento) in Japan made it easy for Charles and Sho to clean up almost every day of their ride without needing to get a hotel room.

* There are hundreds of government-designated rest stops throughout Japan, which came in handy on their ride. The stations typically have information on the local area, food and places to rest. Some include playgrounds, an onsen and other family-friendly attractions.

* Japan Cycling Navigator (japancycling.org) is an English language website with many details and suggested routes for cycling in Japan.

If you'd like to read more about the father-and-son family trip across Japan, check out Charles' blog at familyadventureguy.blogspot.com.

25% now over 65
It's now official, more than 25% of Japanese are aged over 65, a milestone that was passed on October 1st, 2013. In contrast, over 12.9% of the population was aged 15 or younger, meaning that Japan is on track for its forecast of the population falling to 100m by 2050. The next two most aged societies in the world are Germany and Italy, both of which have about 21% of their population over 65. Source: TT commentary from wsj.com, Apr 15, 2014)

And the lonely increase as well
Along with a surge in the elderly population, the number of single-person households is also soaring, with the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research finding that this category of household will be in the majority by 2025. According to the 2010 census, already single-person households in Tokyo number 45.8% of all households, and in Osaka 35.8%. Among the elderly, 9.6% were living by themselves, a number which is expected to increase to 15.4% by 2035. (Source: TT commentary from japantimes.co.jp, Apr 91, 2014)

Casinos on the way?
It's been a long time coming, but it looks like the Abe government will OK casinos this year. Hints that the legislation is in the pipeline and is being tipped to pass in June are to be found in a move by the Osaka Government to offer casino operators a 170-hectare plot of reclaimed land on Osaka Bay, for a casino site. The location is Yumeshima, and will apparently be designated as Osaka's preferred site as early as this coming week. While Osaka is moving fast off the blocks, Tokyo, the only other serious contender for a site, seems to be looking at a casino in time for the Olympics. ***Ed: Osaka, of course, would make a perfect location for Chinese gamblers looking for a short distance to travel.** (Source: TT commentary from reuters.com, Apr 15, 2014)

Spring Airlines about to make major push in Japan
A Chinese airline that almost no one has ever heard of is about to make a major push to expand its operations in Japan. The airline currently runs flights out of Ibaraki to Shanghai and also services KIX (Osaka), Saga, and Takamatsu. The company now plans to add Narita and four Chinese city destinations early next year, as well as extra routes from KIX, and intra-Japan flights connecting its current stops. This last part is interesting, because it will open up low-cost internal connections between Narita and Saga and Takamatsu. (Source: TT commentary from asia.nikkei.com, Apr 19, 2014)

Japan consumer confidence down
Mixed signals coming out of the market as to what effect the increased consumption tax is having. On one hand a Reuters spot survey found that many businesses are not noticing a major affect. However, the Cabinet Office has admitted that consumer confidence is now just 37.5, the lowest it's been since August 2011. The general consensus is that people are feeling beaten up by rising prices and stalled salaries, reducing their discretionary income. Especially now that many companies are adjusting prices not just for taxes but for the weakened yen as well, the pressure is definitely on. The high point for consumer confidence during this Abe administration was 45.7 in May 2013, accentuating the dramatic change in mood over the last 12 months. (Source: TT commentary from bloomberg.com, Apr 17, 2014)

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That was Terrie's Take.

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