Tokyo in drive to win back radiation-wary German tourists

FRANKFURT Fri Jan 25, 2013 5:42pm GMT

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FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Two years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan is making a big push to win back German tourists, who are still avoiding the country because of concerns over radiation.

Visitor numbers from Germany, the world's biggest spenders on foreign holidays in 2011, fell 35 percent between 2010 and 2011, and in 2012 did not recover as much as other markets, Tokyo tourism officials said in Frankfurt this week.

"After the earthquake, business travelers came back fairly quickly, because business will not wait. But tourists are still cautious," said Hiromi Waldenberger, a tourism representative for Tokyo based in Germany.

Germans are especially sensitive to nuclear issues and reacted strongly to the Fukushima disaster, with Chancellor Angela Merkel taking the decision to exit nuclear power as a result.

Even at the dentist, Germans are often skeptical about the effects of x-rays and require reassurance over radiation levels.

A delegation of officials and exhibitors from the Japanese capital are therefore spending almost a week in Berlin and Frankfurt, to extol Tokyo's restaurants, culture, fashion and architecture.

More importantly in their attempt to boost tourism numbers from Germany, they have called in a German radiation expert, Rolf Michel from the University of Hanover, to help allay those radiation fears.

"In fact, the level of radiation occurring naturally in Japan is much lower than that of Germany," said Michel, who also highlighted data showing levels found in food were now negligible.

He said that outside of Fukushima prefecture, the levels of naturally occurring radiation plus the radiation as a result of the accident are still within the range considered average for Germany.

"So it doesn't matter whether I travel to Germany or Japan," he concluded.

Shinichi Sogou, head of the tourism department for Tokyo, said people's concerns were not helped by the way the government handled the disaster, especially when it came to providing reliable information.

"It was a PR disaster. But now, people in Tokyo aren't really worried. Life has returned to normal," Sogou said.

Michel admits one of the biggest problems was lack of information available at the time.

"Information spreads much more quickly these days than in 1986," he said, referring to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. "But people still felt poorly informed."

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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