Imabari City Foreign Tourism Project
This month, the Japan Blog Matsuri is being held at What Japan Thinks, and the theme is “Slow Times in Japan.” Now, while I live on a tiny fishing island in rural Japan, I’m a pretty busy guy. I’m frequently scooting from one school to the next, blogging, networking both on and offline, planning classes, planning trips, starting upcoming podcasts (the rumors are true…), and more. Then it occurred to me – this is the perfect opportunity to announce the special project that I’ve been asked to help with. You could say that my city, Imabari, is having a bit of a slow time with tourism lately. It’s my job to help – and I want your input!
Imabari is an interesting place. I’ve lived here for almost 3 years, and it’s become very comfortable and homey to me. But in all honesty, it’s not a place you’d think of as a tourist attraction. Especially if you’re foreign. It’s not a city of shiny skyscrapers, luxury shopping, or hip new subculture. It’s also not a super-quaint historic piece of pristine Japan. Imabari is somewhere in the middle. It’s a place where around 175,000 people live their lives. It’s a transportation bottleneck that people pass through by bus or train on their way to Matsuyama (or deeper into the countryside, for that matter). It’s famous for reasons that appeal (quite naturally) to Japanese people: it is part of Ehime, which is famous for mikan oranges; it has some killer yakitori shops that avoid charcoal in favor of smashing the chicken under hot metal plates; it sells the famous “ichi-roku” tart; it has an interesting history involving lots of pirates; it produces lots of major cargo boats and nearly 60% of all the towels in Japan; and it has Hakata no Shio.
Not much about that screams “you’ve got to visit here!” to foreign folks. The Imabari City Tourism Board has put together a project to try and help us fix this. I’m one of seven foreigners being asked to pitch in. The PR plan goes something like this: make a survey, analyze the survey, do monitor tours. The monitor tours are the interesting bit. [Disclaimer - I am not being paid to do this work, since it is a volunteer operation, but I am reaping the benefits of these free inner city monitor trips. I am being asked to make some presentations when I'm done, and share some of it on my blog - which I would have done anyway. Ha ha.] The tourism board will create the first trip as a single-day bus tour, featuring some sights that they want to show some attention. We’ll be asked to reflect on the tour, offering our foreign perspective.
Next, we’ll be given free reign to create OUR OWN overnight trips. (That’s a trip that lasts 2 days, 1 night, to be taken individually.) I want to open this up for community input. I want to take a trip that other folks might be curious about, too. So I plan to present you with options I’ve researched, etc. I hope you’ll help me out. Will you? If you’ve read this far, I’d love it if you’d answer this quickie no-commitment-necessary poll.
Will you help me make a cool trip?
- Yeah, sure! Why not? (93%, 26 Votes)
- No. (I am a big jerk.) (7%, 2 Votes)
Total Voters: 28
Most foreign people who come to Imabari are temporary workers, businesspeople, or visiting relatives. It’s rarely makes the cut on a person’s first trip to Japan otherwise. Plus, loads of things aren’t English-friendly or marked well on maps yet. I speak and read Japanese (at JLPT2+ levels, depending on the amount of sleep I get), I’ve got the international association to help me with reconnaissance that I can’t hack alone, and it’s subsidized. We should be able to figure something really cool out with your input.
If this thing goes at all like I think it will, I’ll learn a ton about my city and I’ll be able to share interesting stuff that I learn with you guys. And, you know, we just might be able to make this place a more interesting tourist location for foreigners. The truism that foreigners only travel to places with stations in Japan is unfortunate – and Imabari only has one main station, but there’s much more to it. Imabari is a part of Japan that most people will never see, and it holds some cool secrets. If I can get to those and make them more easily accessible for other foreigners, we could have a really neat experience together. I hope you’ll support me.