South Korean tourists are abandoning Japan in the face of historical conflict

The unofficial "boycott" hits the nearest Japanese province of Korea, Kyushu, where the hotels suffer tens of percent reduction in room occupancy.

japan and south korea trade war map
Japan and South korea trade war

South Koreans are hurting the Japanese tourism industry; tourists from the neighboring country are avoiding a visit, in the face of a long-standing conflict between the two countries, which began with allegations of historical wrongdoing and deteriorating to trade, investment and even military ties.

According to information released last week by the Japanese National Tourism Organization, the number of Koreans visiting Japan in September this year dropped by 58 percent compared to last year, although incoming tourism to Japan rose by 5 percent. 

Japan hosts the Rugby World Championships, one of the world's largest sporting events.

Last month's figures presented a more bleak picture: The number of tourists dropped, due to a 48 percent fall in South Korean tourism compared to August 2018. 

Korean visitors are about a quarter of Japan's tourists, usually in the western provinces, which are closer to South Korea.

Tourist numbers began to decline in July, after Japan tightened its taxation on exporting specialty materials essential to the tech industry in South Korea. 

What is the relationship between Japan and Korea? officials meeting
What is the relationship between Japan and Korea?

Japan and South korea relations today

On a positive note, Seoul announced that Prime Minister Lee Nak-Yeon would visit Japan next week on the occasion of the new emperor's coronation ceremony. 

But without a clearer sign of a thawing relationship between the parties, the conflict casts a heavy shadow on another major event in Japan: hosting the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 

The number of visitors may not reach the 40 million that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo hopes to bring.

Among the biggest casualties are businesses on Kyushu Island, which has become a hotspot for South Koreans on weekends, due to its easy access to spared flights and ferries.

  • The number of foreign visitors to Kyushu fell by 8 percent in July.

In Kyushu, more visitors from China and Southeast Asia are trying to lure, but it is not easy to market the region to these audiences relative to other attractions in Japan. 

The number of visitors to Japan from all major global markets is growing: Chinese tourism has grown by about 25 percent in the past year, and the number of UK visitors has risen by more than 80 percent, to a peak of 50,000, according to the Japanese National Tourism Organization.