The bitter Tokyo-Seoul dispute has led to a sharp decline in revenue for the tourism industry--but only on one side of the Sea of Japan.

People in both countries say they hope their governments’ feud over trade, security and history issues will not affect tourism.

However, the number of South Korean visitors to Japan has plummeted, particularly in sightseeing areas of the Kyushu region, since the start of the latest bickering between the two governments. Japanese tourist numbers, meanwhile, have increased in South Korea.

Tourism workers and officials in Japan are stunned by the situation and see no prospects of improvement.

“The number of South Korean visitors plunged to around half of last year’s level,” said a tourism official of the Yanagawa city government in Fukuoka Prefecture. “We have no idea how long this situation, caused by political issues, will continue.”

Cruises in a “donkobune” boat along a canal in Yanagawa had been a popular tourist attraction.

However, Daito Enterprise, one of the four cruise operators in the city, had zero South Korean customers throughout August and no reservations by South Koreans for September, according to a company official.

The number of South Korean visitors to Yanagawa had risen to about 117,000 in 2018, accounting for half of all foreign tourists.

But around July this year, after Japan strengthened export controls on materials for semiconductor production in South Korea, the city began losing group customers.

South Koreans are also avoiding Beppu, Oita Prefecture, one of Japan’s most popular hot-spring resorts.

“South Korean tourist numbers are dwindling significantly,” said an official of a sightseeing association in the city.

Hotel rooms in Beppu remained empty on many days in the summer, according to the official.

The declining trend in South Korean visitors is also evident in the nation’s capital.

In Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, the Harajuku outlet of the RedRock restaurant chain serves bowl cuisine with roast beef, a popular dish among South Koreans. The outlet was drawing more than 100 South Korean customers in their teens and 20s per day after an idol from their home country visited the eatery.

Recently, however, the number of daily customers has often been fewer than 20.

A 24-year-old college student from South Korea visited the restaurant with two friends during the summer vacation.

“We should separate cultural exchanges (from political conflict),” he said.

Overall, the number of foreign visitors to Japan in July increased by 5.6 percent compared with the same month last year.

However, the number of visitors from South Korea decreased by 7.6 percent. Many group tours, including school trips, were canceled, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.

A preliminary estimate showed that 17,580 South Koreans entered Japan through Kansai International Airport for short-term stays from Aug. 9 to 18 in and around the Bon holidays, the airport immigration office of the Osaka Regional Immigration Bureau said Aug. 23. That number was down by 59 percent year on year.

The preliminary figure for South Korean visitors using Narita Airport for short-term stays was 12,260 during the same 10 days, down by 34.7 percent from the same period last year, according to the airport immigration office of the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau.

JTB Corp., a leading travel agency, said Korean travelers can use Hangul to reserve accommodations in Japan through its website. Their bookings of independent tours in August decreased by about 70 percent year on year. For September, the number plunged by 80 percent.

Some flights have been suspended or reduced on at least 60 routes linking South Korea and Japan.

“More flight services will likely be suspended,” an official of the transport and tourism ministry said.

Korean Air suspended flights on seven routes from September: Busan and Shin-Chitose in Hokkaido; Busan and Kansai International Airport in Osaka Prefecture; Incheon and Asahikawa in Hokkaido; Incheon and Komatsu in Ishikawa Prefecture; Incheon and Kagoshima; Jeju and Narita International Airport; and Jeju and Kansai International Airport.

The carrier will also decrease the number of flights for five routes, including the one connecting Naha and Incheon.

Asiana Airlines Inc. as well as low-cost carriers will also likely suspend flights between the two countries.

The reason for the suspensions is a decrease in passengers and reservations. The airlines said they see no signs that the situation will improve.


On the other hand, the number of Japanese visitors to South Korea in July was around 274,000, up by about 19 percent from the same month last year, despite the deteriorating relations at the government level, according to the Korea Tourism Organization.

Kim Sung-yun, 22, a South Korean, was strolling with her two Japanese friends who were wearing traditional Korean attire on Aug. 23 in Seoul. They walked around Gyeongbokgung Palace, the royal palace during Korea’s Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), which is now a popular sightseeing spot.

“I do not care about quarrels between politicians,” Kim said.

A 71-year-old man who has been running a souvenir shop in Seoul for almost 20 years expressed concerns: “I hope the sightseeing industry here will not be affected by politics.”

(This article was written by Kentaro Yamano, Takahiro Takenouchi, Kayoko Sekiguchi and Daisuke Shimizu.)