2020 Olympics karate event expected to increase tourism to Okinawa

2020 Olympics karate event expected to increase tourism to Okinawa

A model of the Okinawa Karate Kaikan scheduled to open in 2017. (Photograph provided by the Okinawa Prefectural Government)

August 5, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has determined that among four other sports, a karate event will be added to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Due to the influx of karate practitioners and enthusiasts who will be traveling from around the world to Okinawa , which Karare originated in, it is likely that Okinawa will experience an economic ripple effect. Based on the new Okinawa Karate Kaikan set to be opened in March 2017, the Okinawa Prefectural Government (OPG) is looking to call karate lovers from around the world to Okinawa next year in order to promote the popularity of karate as its tourism asset both domestically and overseas.

There were 411 karate dojos in Okinawa as of 2014, and throughout that year 674 people came to Okinawa for purposes related to karate, according to the OPG. However, there are many cases in which the reasons for people’s travels are difficult to grasp, so the OPG believes that the real numbers are considerably higher. In the past few years the number of people coming to Okinawa for purposes pertaining to karate has increased, and it is likely that this tendency will continue from now on.

Going forward, it is also anticipated that private sector businesses will develop and promote products aimed at travelers visiting the birthplace of karate, and a rise in opportunities to further pass down and develop the karate tradition appears promising.

According to the Japan Karate Federation, there are currently about 100,000,000 karate practitioners and enthusiasts in 192 countries throughout the world. Karate lovers from around the world often stay in Naha City, sometimes for consecutive days, to visit Shureido, a famous manufacturer of karate garb and equipment. A Shureido staff member says that on many days only foreigners will enter the store in dozens and request to buy karate gear, and that it can be expected that the number of karate lovers coming to Okinawa will increase with the Olympic event that is scheduled.

President of the Okinawa Convention and Visitors Bureau, Chokei Taira, says that, “The adoption of karate as an event in the Olympics is a good chance for Okinawa to gain recognition as the birthplace of karate.” He anticipates that karate may earn a spot as a sport in Okinawa advocated by MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions), an online tool to attract tourists and facilitates travel planning.

Director the Ryugin Research Institute, speaking about the potential for an economic ripple effect, says that people come to Okinawa every year to study with karate masters and compete in tournaments. In many cases families accompany these visitors. With the increase expected due to the Olympic event, and if karate lovers and their families stay one or two weeks at a time, he thinks the ripple effect could indeed be considerable.

(English translation by T&CT and Erin Jones)

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