Japan is relying on Chinese tourists to reach its ambitious goal of 40 million annual visitors by 2020. China is Japan’s biggest source market, representing 27 percent of total tourist arrivals. However, the country can’t rely on the so-called “explosive shopping” trend anymore, since Chinese per-capita spending has been declining in recent years, even though visits are still increasing in number. Instead, the Japanese government is hoping that the country’s pop culture can continue to drive arrivals and spending, and the country’s theme parks seem ideally suited to meet this strategic need.

Much like Chinese tourists going abroad everywhere else, experiences are taking priority over shopping for Chinese tourists in Japan

These days, tourists from China are more likely to spend their money on experiences to enjoy on location than on products to take home. That is where Japan’s soft power no. 1 comes in: popular culture. That means first and foremost anime and manga (animation and comic books).

Despite all the political tension and cultural friction that exists between China and Japan, Japanese anime and manga are still wildly popular among Chinese youth. In 2016, the Chinese market for imported Japanese pop culture (including manga, anime, games, and novels) stood at $38 billion. There are some predictions that the market will double in just a couple of years.

The Chinese market for Japanese pop culture stands at $38 billion and growth shows no signs of slowing down

Instead of coming to Japan to buy manga that they probably can’t read, young Chinese can now flock to the country’s theme parks to rub shoulders with 3D recreations of their favorite two-dimensional heroes. Universal Studios in Osaka holds a unique event centered on anime every year since 2015.

This year it features boy detective Conan, one of the most popular manga and anime characters worldwide from the series Case Closed. Visitors are invited to help Conan solve a case, using multi-lingual tablets. There are also attractions based on homegrown, internationally successful video game franchises Final Fantasy and Monster Hunter, as well as anime super hit Sailor Moon.

The Fuji-Q Highland park is conveniently located at the foot of Mount Fuji, a more traditional tourist hallmark. It recently attracted lovers of Japanese pop culture with an entire area based on manga/TV/cinema sensation Attack on Titan, a brutal tale of humans battling giants. So brutal, that it has been blacklisted in mainland China. That probably won’t stop any Chinese fan from wanting to take the 4D flight simulation ride which features exclusive imagery in 6K high-definition, or enjoy the 360° VR experience of being crushed by giants.

Anime and theme parks fit well within the Japanese government’s efforts to promote Japan abroad via pop culture

The Universal Studios attractions and Fuji-Q’s Attack on Titan event will only be offered for a limited time, but some theme parks have a number of permanent features that fit the “Cool Japan” label, the title given to the Japanese government’s campaign to attract foreign visitors through pop culture.

Apart from a haunted house based on gentle monster comic GeGeGe no Kitarō, which outside of Japan will only be known to die-hard manga buffs, Fuji-Q Highland is home to Evangelion: World where fans can fully immerse themselves in everything Neon Genesis Evangelion, a sci-fi franchise known all over the world. With its very big, very vocal, and very emotionally attached fan base, it wouldn’t be completely off the mark to call it the “Japanese Star Wars.” At Fuji-Q Highland, visitors can experience life-size models of giant robots and vehicles from the TV show and movies. The facility even employs Chinese-speaking staff to guide and assist Chinese tourists.

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Destinations, Travel Trends