The Japanese visitors who come to Korea are changing. Where once big package tour groups dominated who took advantage of the strong yen to go shopping, now more and more Japanese come with their family or friends and visit historic sites or tourist attractions.
"These days Japanese tourists tend to book flight tickets and accommodation only and then travel around Korea to find places worth visiting", a staffer with the Seoul city tour program says.
Their favored destinations are Gongju and Buyeo in South Chungcheong Province, the capitals of the ancient Baekje Kingdom. Foreign tourists to Gongju nearly doubled to 10,499 in the second quarter from a year ago largely thanks to Japanese visitors. Popular destinations in the city include the tomb of King Muryeong and the National Museum of Gongju.
"Most Japanese tourists visit the Buso Mountain Fortress, the site of Baekje's last palace, and the site of Jeongnim Temple, the center of the kingdom's Buddhist culture, where Japan's ancient temples originated", a Buyeo official said.
"Recently Korean historic dramas like 'Jumong
' and 'Yi San
' have become popular among middle-aged Japanese, kindling their interest in historic sites in Korea", an official with the Korean Tourism Organization said. "They are particularly attracted to Baekje as Japanese culture is rooted in the ancient Korean kingdom".
Thanks to the rising number of Japanese tourists to the region, Cheongju Airport in nearby North Chungcheong Province, once on the verge of closure, is now doing good business. From June 21 to July 17, 654 Japanese came to Korea from Osaka through Cheongju Airport. Korean Air, currently offering irregular services between Cheongju and Osaka, decided to operate regular flights on the route four times a week starting in September.
Korean Air and Asiana Airlines also plan to expand services on the route and between Cheongju and Fukuoka in time for the 2010 Great Baekje World Festival, when the number of Japanese tourists is expected to soar. The festival is held in Gongju, Buyeo and Nonsan in September and October.
The Myeong-dong shopping district in Seoul The Myeong-dong shopping district in Seoul
In contrast, the number of Japanese visitors to Myeong-dong, the famous shopping district in downtown Seoul, dropped sharply. "We had over 700 Japanese customers a day last year, but now the number declined to less than half that", a cosmetics store assistant said. Customers with their hands full of shopping bags nowadays are mostly Chinese. A staffer at Lotte Duty Free Shop nearby said the shop has also seen the number Japanese customers halve from last year. "We generated W200 billion (US$1=W1,176) in sales from them in the first half of last year but a mere W130 billion in the first six months of this year", he said.
Gungnamji, a pond in the south of a Baekje palace, in Buyeo, South Chungcheong Province