Okinawa sends out the call for Karate practitioners worldwide as part of a new focus on martial arts tourism that has many expecting positive economic results

Okinawa sends out the call for Karate practitioners worldwide as part of a new focus on martial arts tourism that has many expecting positive economic results

Karate-ka from all over the world amassing at the 1st Okinawa International Karate Tournament. August 7, 2018 Okinawa Karate Kaikan in Tomigusuku


August 28, 2018 Ryukyu Shimpo

By Taichi Hirayasu


“Martial Arts Tourism,” the new tourism initiative in Okinawa that hopes to attract Karate-ka from all over the world for things such as training, has been garnering a lot of attention.

There are reportedly upwards of 130 million Karate practitioners and fans globally, and Okinawa is hoping their call to the homeland of Karate will yield great economic results.

The prefecture has been pouring its energy into attracting Karate-ka with things such as establishing travel companies that specialize in Karate in a flurry of activity that is being referred to as martial arts tourism.


At the 1st Okinawa International Karate Tournament held August 1-7 this year, approximately 1,100 entrants from 40 countries and regions participated.

Between athletes, staff, and fans, the event hosted as many as 26,000 people at the tournament in total.

The tournament welcomed people from not only major western markets such as the United States, Germany, and France, but also countries such as Argentina, China, and South Africa.

A representative from the Okinawa Karate Promotion Office explained, “We saw some cases of parties of as many as 10 or 20 people that included not only the competing athlete, but also friends from their dojo and family. The Okinawa Prefectural government plans to continue promoting policies that continue to draw Karate-ka to Okinawa from abroad.


The Global Market

It has also become clear that Karate-ka who visit Okinawa for training stay longer than a regular tourist visit. In survey conducted by Okinawa in 2016, Karate-ka who come to Okinawa for training stay an average of nine days.

This is much longer than the average stay of someone visiting Okinawa for sightseeing, which averages 3.71 days.

On August 21, when welcoming representatives from Nepalese Karate as part of a goodwill tour, Takao Kadekaru, head of Okinawa’s Department of Culture, Tourism, and Sports expressed his view, saying, “In order to improve the economic benefits from tourism, increasing stay time is essential. By adding Karate-ka to the existing tourism visitors, the economic results can only improve.” He also stressed the potential of martial arts tourism, saying, “There is a global market [for it].”

However, many issues still remain. In the “Okinawa Karate Promotion Vision,” developed by Okinawa Prefecture earlier this year, the level of awareness of Okinawa as the birthplace of Karate is still low, and the economic value of Karate has yet to be firmly established.


Getting the word out about dojos

Tsuneo Kinjo, vice president of the Okinawa Karate and Kobudo Alliance, who has experience teaching overseas feels that, “It is well known abroad that Okinawa has many fantastic Karate instructors.” Previously, there were many foreigners who imagined Tokyo when they thought of Karate, but, “The internet has helped spread awareness for Okinawa as the birthplace of Karate.”

Ageshio Japan (Naha, Okinawa; Kenjiro Ueda, CEO), a travel company that specializes in Karate, has recently began operations, and has started accepting foreign clients looking to train in Okinawa.

People have begun contacting the company about training from all over the world including Europe, the Americas, Africa, and the Middle East, and CEO Kenjiro “Kenny” Ueda feels that, “Martial arts tourism in Okinawa can only grow from here.”

However, Ueda also says, “Not enough is being done to get the word out about the diverse, attractive, and unique Okinawan dojos,” stating his opinion that there is room for improvement in the current martial arts tourism movement.

There are reportedly many cases of foreign Karate-ka inquiring about lessons in the styles of Karate taught at Okinawan dojos.

Ueda indicated, “It is necessary to also make an effort to make it easy for people to see the appeal of Okinawan dojos, and learn more about the techniques taught by the masters who inhabit them.

Since Okinawa is the mecca of Karate, I personally believe that it is possible to increase the number of Karate-ka visiting from the tens of thousands to the millions.”


(English translation by T&CT and Sam Grieb)


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