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.


West End theater turns migrant camp to get London audience talking

Updated 20 June 2018
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West End theater turns migrant camp to get London audience talking

  • The Playhouse Theatre in London’s West End aims to immerse the audience in the squalid camp in the northern French port city of Calais that inspired “The Jungle.”
  • The immersive play offers a glimpse into life in the camp, telling the story of asylum-seekers, people smugglers and charity workers who used to populate it.

LONDON: London theatergoers used to spectating in comfort are in for a rude awakening after the authors of a play swapped the traditional plush velvet seating for wooden benches and covered the floor with soil to simulate the feel of a migrant camp.
The Playhouse Theatre in London’s West End aims to immerse the audience in the squalid camp in the northern French port city of Calais that inspired “The Jungle,” whose authors hope their play will stoke debate about migration.
“People often hold strong opinions about this subject because it doesn’t seem to have any immediate answer,” said Joe Murphy, 27, who co-wrote the play.
“Discussion is the only think that is going to get us forward ... and hopefully this play can provide some of that space for debate,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
Co-author Joe Robertson said the pair had “tried to depict both the terrible conditions that existed in the Jungle camp, but also the hope that existed in that place.”
Up to 10,000 people seeking ways to reach Britain used to live in the giant slum before it was cleared by authorities in late 2016.
Immigration remains a major political issue across Europe, as well as in the United States, where the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant families at the Mexican border has caused an international outcry.
Several European leaders including those of France, Germany, Italy and Austria are to hold talks on Sunday to explore how to stop people from moving around the European Union after claiming asylum in one of the Mediterranean states of arrival.
Murphy and Robertson, 28, based the script on their experience as volunteers in Calais, where they ran a temporary theater within the camp.
The immersive play offers a glimpse into life in the camp, telling the story of asylum-seekers, people smugglers and charity workers who used to populate it.
“There were 25 different nationalities of people all forced to live side by side often on top of each other and the phenomenal story about that place was people did make an effort to come together,” said Robertson.
Theatre-goers are invited to seat at the tables of the camp’s makeshift Afghan café, where the action unfolds.
“The closer you are to the audience the better the message is delivered,” said actor Ammar Hajj Ahmad, who plays one of the leading characters.
Ahmad, from Syria, is one of many actors from a refugee background featured in the play. Several asylum-seekers the authors met in Calais are also part of the cast.
“I am proud of this, I love telling stories ... about the many people who lived in Calais,” said cast-member Mohamed Sarrar, a musician from Sudan who arrived in Britain two years ago.
The play, which premiered at another London theater The Young Vic, last year, runs from July 5 to November.