Jumana Khamis Dubai
While Japan may be best known in the Arab world for its samurai culture and anime scene, the Mount Fuji volcano would top the list of places to visit for most Saudis.
A YouGov poll conducted by Arab News found that 77 percent of Saudis interviewed felt the 3,776-meter-high peak would be their No.1 attraction if they were to visit Japan.
According to the results of the survey of 3,033 respondents in the GCC, Levant and North Africa regions, 10 percent of Saudis had already visited Japan, and 77 percent intended to travel there in the future.
The high-speed bullet train proved to be a popular choice among 61 percent of people questioned, ranking second in the poll’s list of top-three Japanese attractions.
For 46 percent of Saudis, sushi was a main attraction, followed by the Japanese manga and cosplay culture (45 percent) and traditional arts such as the tea ceremony (44 percent.)
Omar Al-Otaibi, a Saudi living in Tokyo and studying for a Ph.D. at Tokyo University of Technology, said visitors needed to thoroughly explore the Japanese capital to find its hidden gems.
He pointed out that areas such as Odaiba City, Shibuya, and Shinjuku Station, were popular with Saudi tourists for their mainstream stores, unique local shops and waterfront views.
Among other favorite destinations for travelers from the Kingdom were Tokyo Tower, Disneyland and DisneySea, the Nara deer park, and Kyoto’s famous golden pavilion.
“In the past, Japan was not a popular tourist destination because of its distance from Saudi Arabia, the language barrier and the lack of information to encourage people to visit a country so far east,” Al-Otaibi said.
However, thanks to the growing Otaku culture in the Middle East as well as the travel information shared on social media, the number of Saudis interested in visiting Japan had increased.
Noting the shared Saudi-Japan Vision 2030, Al-Otaibi forecasted easier visa application processes between the two countries and the launch of direct flights from the Kingdom to Japan in the next year.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is opening its doors to the world with newly introduced visa policies that promise to change the face of tourism in the Kingdom. The move is expected to lead to droves of Japanese tourists heading to the country.
“The Japanese people love to travel and explore, and Saudi Arabia as a country has been a mysterious place for most Japanese people who could not visit in the past due to difficulties in applying for a visa,” said Al-Otaibi.
While the total trade volume between the two countries is $38 billion (SR142 billion), Saudi-Japan Vision 2030 seeks to increase entertainment and tourism’s contribution to the Kingdom’s national GDP, by increasing the number of people who visit the country.
“We can already see its impact in the number of tourists that have visited Saudi Arabia, and we can expect huge increases in the next few years through the rise in the number of travel agencies and advertisements,” said Al-Otaibi.
His projections are supported by the findings of another YouGov study that surveyed the views of 9,521 people from the US, China, and five European countries.
The findings suggested an increase in tourism interest in Saudi Arabia from around the world. They also showed that one-in-five people were more likely now to visit the Kingdom for a vacation than five years ago.
The YouGov study coincided with an announcement by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Heritage allowing visitors with entry visas to the US, the UK and EU to enter Saudi Arabia.