TOKYO >> Japan had more than 30 million foreign visitors in 2018, but its nightlife is not as extensive as those in other nations. Spurred by the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, efforts are growing to diversify tourism in the evening and vitalize the nighttime economy.
The Kawaii Monster Cafe Harajuku in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, known as a birthplace of the “kawaii” culture that is now globally popular, is a nighttime draw. Passing through the doors, visitors see a lineup of colorful, cute objects that create a fairytale atmosphere.
On a recent evening, a 20-year-old Florida woman who had come to Japan for a short-term study abroad, squealed with delight as a monster girl in a colorful costume performed a dance.
“It’s hard to find a cafe as cute and pop as this anywhere else in the world,” she said.
The cafe, which opened in 2015, features a three-hour nightly show that runs Tuesdays to Fridays. Performances vary each day in a bid to draw customers.
“The number of foreign visitors particularly increases during the night,” said a cafe spokesperson.
But beyond such individual venues, there’s much room for improvement.
According to a 2018 survey conducted by the Japan Tourism Agency, the number of foreigners who visited nighttime attractions in Japan, and their level of satisfaction, were lower than those who traveled to other destinations.
Part of the issue is the selection of things to do at night. The Louvre Museum in Paris, for instance, an iconic site, is open beyond 9 p.m. on some nights. In New York City, Broadway shows perform at night.
Spending per foreign visitor to Japan is sluggish, at slightly over 150,000 yen (about $1,400), and there are hopes that a boost in nighttime tourism can provide a breakthrough.
To start, revised legislation enables clubs to operate all night, and last year, nighttime operations for digital darts and simulation golf were approved. This year, an Asakusa nighttime tour was among 13 projects approved.
Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, home to various restaurants and tourist spots, is particularly active. The ward’s tourism association has produced a night tourism map and organized nighttime tours.
A major factor still to be addressed is transportation, including extended hours for railways and buses. To discuss related issues and explore possibilities of the nighttime economy, tourism experts from around the globe are scheduled to hold a meeting in Tokyo in November.