Local government officials of the Gifu Prefecture visited the Philippines to introduce and promote a new Japanese destination to Filipino travelers.
Led by Gov. Hajime Furuta, Gifu tourism officials held a dinner reception at Japanese Ambassador Kazuhide Ishikawa’s residence in Forbes Park to promote the region’s destinations and delicacies.
The Philippines is seen by the Japanese government as a “Japanophile” country, ranking third in Southeast Asia in terms of positive views toward Japan’s influence according to a research by Dentsu Inc. in 2015. The influx of Filipino tourists in Japan also rose by 70 percent in 2014, according to Japan National Tourism Organization, further making the Philippines a healthy market for the East Asian country.
“We have done many promotions in Southeast Asian countries. We think that Vietnam and the Philippines are, not the last frontier, but are really growing markets for us,” Tomoko Watari, senior officer of Gifu Prefecture’s Tourism Promotion Division told The Manila Times.
“The number of Filipinos coming to Japan is really growing rapidly. The growth rate is more than any other Asian countries so we found possibilities to promote our area ,” Watari elaborated.
The Gifu Prefecture is located in the center of Japan, and is home to rich Japanese heritage and culture.
The two main attractions of the prefecture include the World Heritage Site Shirakawa Village (Shirakawa-go) and the prized Hida beef.
Shirakawa Village seems frozen in time as its traditional farmhouses have been maintained for more than 250 years. It is a sight to behold especially in winter, when a blanket of snow covers the area, resulting to a picturesque scene that looks straight out of a fairytale.
“To maintain these houses, it costs so much and it’s not fit for the modern life. In this case, the villagers work together to preserve these houses. They have a rule that they cannot build a new modern house,” Watari said of the heritage site.
In terms of delicacies, Gifu is most proud of its high grade Hida beef, which is made exceptional by the more than humane treatment of its cows.
Asked what makes the beef so tender it melts in the mouth, Gov. Furuta explained through a translator, “The people who raise the cattle, they massage the cattle, they put on very good music, and they treat them like a member of the family. This is to optimize the psyche and the well-being of the animals.”
The beef comes with quite a hefty price, as the process is painstaking. Furuta said that the production of Hida beef is meant for exclusivity and not to compete commercially.
“Production wise, it’s not increasing because it’s a very careful type of process,” he said.
A large part of the tourism promotion of Gifu to Asean countries entails collaborations with local travel agencies.
The tourism arm of the prefecture learned that travel agencies in the Philippines offer a lot of Japan tour packages that only focus on big cities such as Tokyo and Osaka.
“Right now, the most popular route going to Japan starts from Tokyo. They have a look at the Mt. Fuji, go to Universal Studios in Osaka, and then fly back to the Philippines. So now, most agencies know well about the big cities but not the other areas,” Watari shared.
“Gifu is actually a very convenient place. It’s very close to Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya and Tokyo so it’s very easy to include this area in their itinerary,” she furthered.
The Philippines ranks 15th among the foreign visitors of Gifu in 2014, and the number of tourists have been increasing in recent years. Gifu welcomed 1,200 tourists from the Philippines in 2014, doubling from 620 visitors in 2013.
Furuta further revealed that the tourism program goes both ways. Gifu is also open to promoting tourism in the Philippines.
“The promotion of tourism will be bilateral; the Philippines to Japan, as well as Gifu to the Philippines. We are in collaboration with Philippine travel agencies to exchange the best tourist attractions,” he concluded.