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Why Are Filipinos Flocking to Japan?

Move aside Hong Kong, as Japan is passing you by to become the destination of choice for the rapidly growing number of Filipino tourists heading overseas.

This trend is the result of both a stronger Philippines’ economy and the country’s expanding middle class. Largely known for its vast number of OFWs going abroad for employment each year, with this steady demographic shift that image could soon change to one where its citizens are viewed instead as cash-flashing travelers.

Japan has long been a popular destination for Filipinos seeking employment opportunities, many of whom were women working as domestic helpers, nannies, caregivers, and hostesses. But all that changed about 10 years ago, when Japan—desperate to gain a seat on the United Nations Security Council—slashed the number of visas it granted. This largely targeted Southeast Asian nations as the stated goal was to combat human trafficking.

For the Philippines, this meant that 80,000 visas per year fell to 8,000 literally overnight. In addition, stricter requirements were implemented and more scrutiny was placed on the issuance of tourist visas, as many had in the past entered Japan on these in order to find a job.

Fast forward to 2015 and times have certainly changed.

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Japan relaxed visa issuance requirements last year for a handful of Southeast Asian countries. The period of visa validity was also increased to up to five years. These changes are part of greater efforts by the government to promote tourism, driving up numbers with the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games in mind.

As a result, the rate of increase in Filipino tourist numbers has been higher for Japan than other destinations throughout East and Southeast Asia, with the exception of Chinese travelers.

As with most tourists heading to Japan, they are mainly drawn for the unique experiences the country has to offer: cherry blossom season, onsen (hot spring spas), the ultra-modernity of central Tokyo, and the overall ease and safety of traveling.

According to the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO), the year-on-year growth for tourist arrivals in 2014 was:

  • China   +83%
  • Philippines   +70%
  • Vietnam   +47%
  • Thailand   +45%
  • Spain   +36%

A handful of other Asian countries actually have larger numbers of tourists heading to Japan, but they are not seeing the same growth rates that the Philippines has demonstrated.

There are a few more significant reasons behind this rapid increase in tourism as well.

Philippine Airlines (PAL) has played a role in facilitating demand from these travelers. Since being removed from an aviation blacklist, and receiving a Category 1 ranking from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the airline began operating direct flights to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport just last year. This is in addition to its existing routes to Narita International airport, which also services Tokyo.

Japan’s JTB Corporation—the largest travel agency in the country—has also been busy cashing in on this growth. They now have an office in Taguig City, Metro Manila. Apart from catering to travelers heading to Japan, JTB was motivated to establish a local office as there are now approximately 1,300 Japanese companies in Metro Manila and Southern Luzon. So the focus here for JTB will also include corporate clients and travel associated with the events market.

JNTO has said that the Japanese government hopes that Filipino tourist numbers break 200,000 this year. Seems very likely, especially with the added attraction of the weakening yen.

H/T: Nikkei Asian Review