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Business

New services sell culture -- not products -- to Japan visitors

Shidax held a cultural demonstration for Chinese educators in Tokyo's Shibuya district in February.

TOKYO -- Tourism is booming in Japan. And increasingly, foreign visitors are seeking out cultural, rather than consumer, experiences. Hoping to tap this trend -- not to mention the roughly $30 billion these travelers spend a year -- Japanese karaoke parlor operator Shidax is launching programs that give foreign guests a taste of traditional Japan, including lessons in the tea ceremony, ikebana flower arrangement and archery.

      This is not completely new territory for Shidax; the company already offers similar cultural programs for Japanese people. It will use the same venues, content and instructors for the new undertaking. Details about the content and pricing are now being finalized, and plans calls for starting the program on a trial basis by summer. The number of participants in each program is expected to range from a few dozen to as many as 100 per session. 

     In February, Shidax invited about 40 Chinese educators to its Shidax Culture Village complex, located in Tokyo's bustling Shibuya district. The guests were able to try their hands at flower arranging and kendo sword fighting for about an hour and a half.

     The company is negotiating with Japanese and overseas travel agencies to incorporate the new service into their package tours to Japan. Shidax will in particular be targeting visitors from China, who spend an average of 280,000 yen ($2,442) per person while in Japan. That is about 110,000 yen higher than the average for all visitors.

     Shidax is not alone in catering to growing demand among tourists for a taste of the "real" Japan. The Keio Plaza Hotel, in Tokyo's Shinjuku district, will from April begin offering guests tea-ceremony experiences in a Japanese-style room in the hotel. Visitors will be served a cup of maccha green tea by licensed tea-ceremony instructors. Ceremonies will be conducted in English and held four to five times a day, five days a week. A 30-minute session will cost 2,000 yen per person.

     Marutaka Industrial, a rental office business, in February began offering courses on the tea ceremony, Japanese calligraphy and how to wear a kimono. The sessions are held in a room with a tatami woven-straw floor in Tokyo's posh Ginza district. An hour-long tea ceremony and calligraphy session costs about 3,000 yen per person. A 90-minute session that includes dressing in a kimono and participating in a tea ceremony costs about 10,000 yen. Once dressed in their kimonos, visitors are able to explore the streets of Ginza.

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