Japan is seeking to attract inbound tourists, particularly wealthy travelers from Southeast Asia, to visit rural areas in and around Osaka and Kyoto prefectures when the 2025 World Exposition is held in western Japan.

The industry ministry's branch in Osaka invited officials of travel companies in Thailand and Malaysia in late February to a program that included sightseeing beyond the usual trips downtown. They were also briefed about the expo by its organizers.

The idea is to promote tour packages tied to the World Expo, slated to take place from April 13 to Oct. 13, 2025, on Yumeshima, an artificial island in Osaka Bay.

Travel agents from Thailand make matcha tea in the town of Wazuka, Kyoto Prefecture, on Feb. 27, 2024, during a tourism promotion program organized by the Kansai Bureau of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. (Kyodo)

In late February, nine travel agents from Thailand visited the town of Wazuka, a producer of premium Uji tea in southern Kyoto Prefecture with a population of about 3,500, as part of a five-day tour that also took them to Fukui, Nara, Osaka and Shiga prefectures.

The participants learned how to grow tea leaves, and make and drink matcha, a finely milled green tea powder.

Kesinee Wongchai, 33, who is planning a tour in Japan, said the scenery of tea fields will be popular among Thai people who like taking pictures. A tea farm with a unique storyline will be included in her tour package.

Travel agents from Thailand take part in ink making in Nara on Feb. 27, 2024. (Kyodo)

The number of visitors from Thailand had been on a rising trend, topping 1.3 million in 2019, before plunging due to the coronavirus pandemic. The figure recovered to nearly 1 million in 2023, with repeat visitors accounting for a large portion.

The participants in the program organized by the Kansai Bureau of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry also learned to make ink in Nara and "washi" Japanese paper in Fukui's Echizen.

Demand for visits to the countryside is high among "wealthy individuals who tend to seek experiences distinct from others," said Yoshiko Miura, director of the bureau's International Investment Promotion Division.

According to the Japan Tourism Agency, spending by foreign visitors grew 33.8 percent in 2023 from 2019 to 212,000 yen ($1,400) per person.

With spending shifting from buying goods to buying experiences, Wazuka Mayor Masami Baba said, "We want to cultivate tourism suitable for us such as offering stays in farmhouse inns."

While Japan sees the expo as a chance to attract foreign tourists, the event has yet to gain recognition.

"We have occasionally received calls from overseas (regarding expo tickets) but they are not selling well," said an official of major Japanese travel firm H.I.S. Co.

Punn Krissakornviji, 42, from Bangkok, who listened to the expo organizers' presentation on the final day of the program, said she wants to organize a tour starting from the expo venue.

Another participant said, however, it would be difficult to introduce the expo to clients as the exhibition's content remains unclear.

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