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.


Pakistani tailor adds former US president to star-studded list of clients

Updated 15 February 2019
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Pakistani tailor adds former US president to star-studded list of clients

  • The 36-year-old outfitter has built a customer list of famous names from the sporting, show business and political worlds
  • His family enterprise was established more than 100 years ago and operated from large shop premises in Kolkata, India

KARACHI: It is probably safe to say that tailor to the stars Sarfraz Akbar has the market for celebrity clients all sewn up.

The 36-year-old outfitter has built a customer list of famous names from the sporting, show business and political worlds through his reputation for making high-quality garments.

And now Akbar, who works for his family business at shops in an affluent neighborhood of Pakistan’s port city of Karachi, can add a former American president to his star-studded client base.

During a trip to the US in July last year, he was invited by an American-Pakistani friend to meet with George W. Bush.

“I was super-excited when along with my wife and daughters we boarded my friend’s private jet and flew from Houston to Dallas,” Akbar told Arab News.

After taking measurements of the former US president, he returned to Pakistan and made several suits for him, before dispatching them to Dallas in December 2018.

“My happiness doubled when I got a call from the US informing me that the former president had appreciated my work after wearing the suits,” Akbar said.

Akbar’s father Mohammed said his son had built up a distinguished list of Pakistani personalities he has worked for. 

“By earning praise from George W. Bush, my son has not only made me proud but it’s also a matter of pride for all Pakistanis.”

The youngest of three brothers, Akbar has brought fame to the family name and business, his father added.

The family enterprise was established more than 100 years ago and operated from large shop premises in Kolkata. The family moved from the Indian city after the inception of Pakistan.

The business now has two shops under the “Ambassador” brand name in the Zamzama district of Karachi. 

“We could have opened dozens of outlets, but we believe in quality. The materials we use are imported and we focus on precision,” said Akbar. 

“It’s handmade, customized work. We don’t sell readymade stuff.

“However, we’re now getting people coming to us from other cities wanting to have their wardrobes from the tailor of George W. Bush. Some clients even ask to have their photos taken with me.”

Akbar said he has always had big ambitions. Following matriculation in 1999, he continued his studies but opted at the same time to focus on the family business with a view to taking it to new heights after his graduation.

When the Indian cricket team toured Pakistan during 2005-2006, Akbar made clothes for all the Indian players. 

“Almost all the Pakistani players including Wasim Akram, Misbah-ul-Haq, Sarfraz Ahmed and Shahid Afridi — the latter being a regular customer – have worn our wardrobes too,” Akbar said.

He also designed kurta shalwar clothing for West Indian player and Peshawar Zalmi skipper, Darren Sammy, during the last season of the Pakistan Super League.

Akbar also has a long list of political clients including Pakistan’s former leader Pervez Musharraf, incumbent President Dr. Arif Alvi, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, and Sindh Gov. Imran Ismail. “I made a waistcoat for Imran Khan after he was sworn in as the premier of Pakistan,” he said.

Summing up his achievements to date, Akbar said: “You can be proud of yourself and your family, but you just need to focus on your work and work hard.”