Six regions were selected as national strategic special zones as part of the structural reform of Japan. One of these zones, Okinawa, was earmarked as a special zone for tourism and research and development with the aim of establishing world-class tourist resorts through tax incentives and deregulation. Further luxury hotel openings are scheduled following the opening of the Ritz Carlton Okinawa and Double Tree by Hilton Naha in 2012, and the presence of Okinawa as the gateway to Japan is growing.
The easing of foreign tourist visa requirements has been examined as part of deregulation. As a result of the exemptions provided to Malaysian and Thai tourists, the extension of the period of stay of Indonesian multiple entry visa holders, and the approval of multiple entry visas for Philippine and Vietnamese tourists, the number of tourists visiting Japan last year increased by 24% year-on-year. The easing of tourist visa requirements for Middle Eastern tourists, including those from the UAE, is expected to follow, expressing Japan’s attitude of actively welcoming Muslim tourists.
Okinawa was originally famous for its abundance of pork dishes, however it is now the prefecture most eagerly working to become Halal. As well as distributing the Muslim guide book I previously introduced in this column, restaurants and souvenir shops are actively developing Halal products and, they are beginning to attract the attention of Muslims in Japan. As Okinawa is located on the southern tip of Japan, it is more easily accessible from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China than Tokyo and Osaka. The day Okinawa becomes an East Asian tourist hub like Singapore may be close.