Japan hopes medical tourists immune to China row

Updated 28 October 2012
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Japan hopes medical tourists immune to China row

As relations between Tokyo and Beijing appear increasingly in need of major surgery, officials in the far north of Japan are hoping the nascent industry of medical tourism can thrive unscathed.
They are quietly confident that a spat over disputed islands will not seriously impact the growing number of relatively wealthy Chinese visiting Japan for its high quality treatment, therefore keeping the lifeblood pumping in an industry that analysts say could one day be worth $7.0 billion a year.
And for a tourism industry that was battered by the tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster of last year — visitor numbers were down by around a quarter — that might be just what the doctor ordered.
“I came here because Japanese medicine has a very good reputation in China,” 30-year-old Zhang Lan said, two translators in tow, as staff welcomed her to a well-equipped hospital in Asahikawa in Hokkaido.
Treatments there range from head-to-toe check-ups, with a focus on cancer screening and neurological diseases, to anti-ageing and cosmetic surgery, including breast enhancements and liposuction.
Getting a clean bill of health was at the top of Zhang’s agenda, but she also liked the idea of breathing fresh air in a region known for skiing and nature tourism — a big change from her hometown of Shenyang, an industrial city in northeastern China.
“I’m here this time for a follow-up to the last check-up as the doctor said I needed careful observation of my stomach,” she said of her $2,400 trip, which took place before the current tensions erupted.
“But I really liked the hot springs, the food and the sea the last time I visited. I’m not interested in big cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, because China has many big cities.
“Hokkaido is placid and pastoral. The air is fresh and you can relax here,” she added.
Of the several hundred thousands of foreign tourists who visit Hokkaido annually, the lion’s share are from East Asia, with many keen to see the dramatic mountains, extensive pastures and rich woodlands.
That image is a key selling point for Zhang’s tour operator, Medical Tourism Japan, which last year brought about 270 Chinese customers to northern Japan, a number it hopes will grow.
Most clients chose Hokkaido because it “has the image of being an ‘Asian Switzerland’ to the Chinese,” said company president Katsuya Sakagami.
“I was originally selling medical equipment and came to realize the potential of medical tourism for Chinese people,” he said.
A long-running dispute over the sovereignty of Tokyo-administered islands in the East China Sea, known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyus in China, is a worry for the industry, said Kayo Uemura, researcher at the Development Bank of Japan.
Sometimes violent anti-Japanese protests shook a number of Chinese cities in September after Tokyo nationalized the islands, and airlines linking the two countries reported a fall-off in demand.
Japanese exports to China, its biggest trading partner, tumbled 14.1 percent that month as a result of the row and the impact of a broader slowdown.
“The territorial row could last longer than most Japanese had expected, so we have to watch how many Chinese tourists will come back to Japan, say, by the start of next year,” said Uemura.
Cho Shosho, a senior official and a medical translator at Medical Tourism Japan, said the company had noticed some impact from the spat, including cancelations during the long Chinese holiday at the start of October.
“But we think it is a temporary phenomenon,” she said.
“Wealthy Chinese are not very hostile to Japan and I think our customers want to come to Japan but are staying away because anti-Japanese sentiment is rising at the moment.
“We are still receiving inquiries from Chinese customers and I think they will come back later, probably after the Chinese leadership change (in mid-November).
“It will be like the temporary drop in tourism in Japan after the quake and tsunami disaster last year,” said Cho.
Japan’s medical tourism sector is a sliver of the wider industry with just 10,000 visitors annually, said Uemura.
She said the potential demand could see those figures soar to more than 400,000 with Russians and Americans among those visiting in a market that could be worth 550 billion yen ($7.0 billion).

“But to realize the potential demand, Japan needs a new category for visas for medical tourism and needs to hire people for medical translation and other things necessary to support the industry,” as well as mending ties with neighbors, she said.
Health offerings are just part of the picture, with the industry stoking the real estate business.

One Chinese man who was visiting the historic port city of Otaru near Sapporo, the region’s biggest city, slapped down 30 million yen on the spot for a house while on a medical tour, tourism operator Sakagami said.
“If we provide opportunities for them to enjoy both tourism and a medical check-up, or tourism and investment in Japan, the demand is there,” he added.
Zhang reckons that it is just a matter of time before Hokkaido is flooded with like-minded medical tourists.
“More and more Chinese people are aware of the importance of maintaining their health,” she said.


Cannes Diary: The world’s glitziest film festival through the eyes of an industry insider

Updated 22 May 2019
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Cannes Diary: The world’s glitziest film festival through the eyes of an industry insider

  • The director says Cannes is more than just a movie festival
  • Attendees wear color-coded badges, which specify their title and occupation

Film director Hadi Ghandour takes us behind the scenes at the Cannes Film Festival with his revealing diary entries.

Day 1

I am on a train from Paris to Cannes. A middle-aged woman maneuvers her way around my legs and sits beside me. She is on her phone, making sure to loudly telegraph to the entire train that she is attending the festival. “I hope Xavier Dolan doesn’t disappoint me like last time! And can you believe that Alain Delon is being honored? What a travesty!” We are all supposed to be impressed. My festival experience begins before I get there, it is a preview of things to come. I am forced to endure her pontification for the next five hours.

The train arrives on an overcast afternoon. The first thing I do is pick up my badge. Without it you are considered a third-class citizen. I inch past the security blocks that barricade the Croisette like a fortress and make my way to the Grand Palais.

What makes this place so distinctive and often daunting is the sheer amount of stuff going on. It is not only a film festival, but a massive market, an annual industry meet-up, a sprawling seminar, a paparazzi hunting ground, an awards ceremony, and an everlasting party.

Cafes, restaurants and hotel lobbies turn into networking hubs and industry meeting grounds. TV screens that usually broadcast football matches or music videos air live feeds of press conferences and red carpets. Beachfront apartments are transformed into movie company offices, with their logos hanging from the balconies and the harbor morphs into international pavilions for global cinema.

I often find that the most interesting films play at the Director’s Fortnight. It is late in the evening. My friend has snatched up a couple of priority invitations to Robert Eggers’ latest picture “The Lighthouse.”

Envious eyes watch us zip through the interminable line that wraps around the JW Marriott.

I sink into my chair but, within moments, a sense of dread washes over me when I hear the shrill voice from earlier today. It’s the woman from the train. The festival may be larger than life, but it is still a very small place.

“The Lighthouse” is hypnotic, terrifying and has remarkable performances from Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe. It is guaranteed to give me nightmares later.

Willem Dafoe stars in The Lighthouse. (AFP)

Day 2

I am having a breakfast meeting by the shore. A seagull swoops in and boldly pilfers a piece of bread from the basket. Even the seagulls here are fierce and determined.

 A 50-something gentleman interrupts our conversation and humbly introduces himself as a filmmaker from Saskatchewan who has been in the business for years.

He slides over a heap of DVDs. Films he has written, directed, produced, edited, shot, acted in and composed. He points at one of them, which is enveloped in a half-ripped cover. “This one here is my masterpiece,” he tells me.

Everyone has something to pitch. The whole town is like a never-ending speed date. Shifty eyes dart around mid-conversation. First, they land on your color-coded badge to decipher your title and worth, then swiftly onto the next person.

Ideas float around with the heft of low-hanging clouds over people’s heads. You can almost see them. The movies in competition may be front and center, but the energy is already directed at the future.

I swing by the Marche Du Film, the festival’s film market. Located in the Palais basement, it is a maze of industry booths where deals are negotiated and struck. It is not only the least glamorous part of the festival, but the least glamorous place you could ever visit.

The market begins to suffocate me so I decide to watch a movie, “Lilian” by Andreas Horvath. Waiting in line at this festival is a rite. You must always add an hour and a half to a movie’s running time to gauge your overall time investment.

The sun is setting and the sea is iridescent. A nighttime chill begins to emerge. One of my favorite things to do at the festival is to watch a film on the beach. There is something wonderfully primal and peaceful about it. A bunch of strangers gathered on a sandy shore beneath the moonlight, watching and listening to a story unfold.  A documentary is playing, “Haut Les Filles” by Francois Armanet. Everyone has sunk into their chairs and are wrapped up in blankets to protect them from the gusts of wind. They look so peaceful and vulnerable, a poignant end to the vicissitudes of their day.

A woman checks her phone in the Marche Du Film. (AFP)

Day 3

It is 7:30 a.m. and I make my way to a film screening — “Frankie” by Ira Sachs. On my way there I spot a group of people, one of them is in a wrinkled tuxedo that has lost its respectability. Last night hasn't yet ended for them. 

The film dips me in and out of a light and pleasant sleep, but I somehow suspect this could be its intended effect.

I walk out of the Grand Theatre Lumiere. The glare assaults my eyes and brings me back to the real world, which suddenly looks more mundane.

I begin to exit the Grand Palais when I am approached by a festival attendant. She randomly offers me a seat at the press conference for “Young Ahmed,” the latest movie by the Dardennes brothers. Perhaps she liked my countenance, but most likely she needed to fill a few empty seats. 

Things are in overdrive today. It’s the Tarantino film premier and everyone seems to be seeking access to the screening. I overhear a woman pleading for that golden ticket. “My son is diabetic!” she says. What in the world does that have to do with getting a movie ticket?

After lunch, I glance at my watch and realize I’m about to miss my train. I run to the station and just barely make it. 

Three days in Cannes feel like a week. It is a cycle that ebbs and flows between the mad rush of the movie business and the peace and refuge of movie watching. It can be overwhelming and exhausting. But it’s all about the movies, so who can really complain?

Quentin Tarantino premiered ‘Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood’ in Cannes. (AFP)