Make money to spend money
The author is the Tokyo bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Japan claims to have passed the peak of Covid-19, and June 19 was an important turning point. The travel ban in metropolitan regions was lifted. Last weekend, Kyoto, the biggest tourist destination in Japan, started getting vitality back. Notable sites such as Kiyomizudera and Arashiyama were visited by a considerable number of tourists.
However, the entry ban still remains and foreign tourists are not returning anytime soon. Until recently, Kyoto was described as a place of “tourism pollution.” In 2018, 4.5 million foreign tourists visited Kyoto. As foreigners took local buses, residents had trouble commuting. Trash piled up in front of houses and foreigners filled local restaurants. Locals complained that they’d love to make money but couldn’t live with the tourists.
Japan, which once complained about tourism pollution, is now worrying about the collapse of tourism. As tourism industries struggle and a series of bankruptcies are reported day after day, the Japanese government is troubled.
The Shinzo Abe cabinet has been considering tourism as a key growth strategy. The number of foreign visitors increased from 6.2 million in 2011 to 31.9 million last year in the seven years of the Abe administration. Tokyo even allocated nearly 20 trillion won ($16.55 billion) to tourism and consumption boosting projects in the Covid-19 supplementary budget. They are not discouraged by the criticism that Japan is too eager, even when Covid-19 is not controlled.
There is another area that the Japanese government is focusing on. It is the low fertility rate since the 2019 population stats were announced on June 5. The total birth rate — the number of children that one woman is expected to have in her lifetime — fell to 1.36. The Japanese government aims to raise it to 1.8 and is working on a plan after the low birth rate trend continues even after spending 55 trillion won annually.
Korea’s total birth rate in 2019 was 0.92. It is the only country lower than 1 percent among OECD member countries.
Japan is going all-out to reinforce tourism infrastructure and raise birth rates in order to maintain a basis for growth. But I can hardly hear discussions on growth in Korean politics. Politicians are engrossed discussing how to eat the pie, not how to expand it. Isn’t it common sense that you should think about how to make money and how to make the country grow if you really want to splurge?