Why Japan's vacationers flock to Guam
If you’re stationed on Guam, there may be times when you wonder if you’re actually in Japan due to all the Japanese tourists.
If you’re stationed in Japan, you can hop to an island paradise three hours away to escape the chill of winter without really leaving behind the host country you’ve come to know and love.
Turns out, “Where America’s day begins” is also where Japan’s vacation never ends.
“They are easily recognized on beach,” said Toshio Akigami, a Japanese tour guide who has lived on Guam for the past 40 years.
“When it begins raining, only the Japanese tourists leave the beach. You can’t miss them,” Akigami said, explaining that locals know that rain showers come and go quickly on Guam.
POOR MAN’S HAWAII’
So why is Guam a Japanese tourist target? Simply stated, it’s cheap and easy to get to. You can find multiple online travel agencies offering two-night tour packages to Guam for less than $400. The three and a half hour flight from Japan alleviates the typical jetlag and added travel stress for children and senior citizens that accompanies the eight-hour flight to Hawaii.
“Frankly speaking, I wish I could go to Hawaii,” said Yusuke Sato, a Stars and Stripes employee who has been to Guam many times. “But, I have neither the time nor money for a Hawaii tour. So, I substitute Guam for Hawaii.”
“I use ‘Aloha’ instead of ‘Hafa Adai’ for any greeting on Guam,” Sato said with a chuckle. “That makes me feel like I’m in Hawaii.”
“I really like the nostalgic taste of Japan on Guam,” he said, explaining there are a lot of Japanese chefs working on the island. “While a lot of Western restaurants in Japan have been too Westernized and have lost their Japanese flavor, there are still many restaurants in Guam that offer a taste of Japan.”
According to Junko Kitagami of the Guam Visitors Bureau in Japan, there are plenty of other reasons for Japanese to visit the island referred to by some as “the poor man’s Hawaii.”
“It is an unincorporated territory of the Unites States, so there is no state tax on purchases,” she said. “So, Japanese office ladies can enjoy buying various name-brand items cheaper than if they were in Hawaii or in the continental United States.”
The island also features some top-notch golf courses that attract Japanese, especially during the winter, when courses in Japan’s northern regions are closed due to snow and ice.
LET’S GET HITCHED
If you see a young Japanese couple holding hands and smiling uncontrollably at one of another, it’s most likely that they just got married on Guam. According to the visitors bureau, Guam is the second most popular overseas wedding destination for Japanese, with more than 9,500 couples married each year. The destination with the most? Hawaii.
June and November are the most popular months for weddings on Guam, according to Akigami. The short flight and cheap rates affords couples the opportunity to bring friends and relatives to their wedding, which can be coordinated as a part of typical package tour to Guam.
“Even hardworking Japanese businessman can participate in the ceremony by taking just a few days off. It is very convenient,” Akigami said.
As for honeymooners, Guam is only the eleventh top destination, as a lot of Japanese newlyweds travel to European countries or Hawaii . Decades ago, Guam used to be the most popular destination for honeymooners.
“At that time, Japanese couples who had different family names sometimes were questioned at hotels when they checked in,” Akigami said, reminiscing about the days when he first came to Guam 40 years ago. “You know, after their wedding ceremony in Japan, they immediately visited Guam before updating their passport with their new, consolidated family name. Guam is strongly influenced by Catholic Christianity and it was intolerant of unmarried couples to check into the same room.”
TOUR TO TUMON
Most Japanese tourists stay in the Tumon area for two to three nights. Tumon, like Waikiki in Hawaii, is very accommodating to the Japanese.
The Guam Visitors Bureau and the Japan Travel Bureau have worked together for years. They introduced the red shuttle bus that carries tourists around the Tumon area, and invited new high-end hotels to open shop and modernized old facilities.
“These efforts made the area more attractive and convenient for Japanese to stay in the area,” Akigami said.
For those who want to take a day trip, hotels set up tours to renowned sightseeing spots such as Two Lover’s Point, Plaza de Espana of Hatgania, Fort Apugan, Latte Stone Park and Dulce Nombre de Maria Basilica.
“Guam is basically a safe, convenient and pleasant place for Japanese visitors, regardless of their length of stay,” Akigami said. “I hope they keep visiting here and enjoy this tropical paradise with (Guam’s) warmhearted people, beautiful landscape and warm climate.”
How Japanese tourists spend their time on Guam
Toshio Akigami, a local tourist guide, describes a typical four-day package tour for a Japanese family trip to Guam:
Day 2: The Family goes sightseeing, enjoys water sports at the Alupang Beach Club, enjoys the beach or heads to a golf course. Senior Japanese go to the southern part of island with their grandchildren. They try out Zip Lining before going to a dinner show.
Day 3: Mother takes lead to go shopping with the family at Micronesia Mall, K-Mart, GPO, ABC store, DFS and Tumon Suns Plaza. They have their dinner at Tony Romas, TGI Friday, Beach and Shrimp or any yakiniku restaurant.
Day 4: The family has a Japanese-style lunch at their hotel and checks out in the afternoon.
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