Asia: Tourism, Busan, Concrete & Grass

Boosting Tourism

Japan’s tourism agency is concerned that while the number of foreign visitors to Japan continues to increase, the amount of money spent has remained flat. Last year, tourists spent about 149,000 yen per person, down 20 percent from 2015’s peak.

The agency conducted a survey and found that one of the things foreign tourists find lacking in Japan is night life, according to the Asahi Shimbun.

In particular, they want to enjoy traditional Japanese entertainment events at night. Consequently, several travel-related companies have been putting together theater events that take place at night and specifically target foreign visitors.

Starting next month, for instance, a company called Aryu will start presenting “kabuki dinner shows” at two banquet halls in Tokyo.

For 19,000 yen ($173) a guest can enjoy a full meal and a performance by noted kabuki actors who will also explain in English the traditions of the storied theatrical art form.

Aryu is also planning to provide the same kind of entertainment in Mandarin for Chinese tourists. Then, starting in late October, the wadaiko group Drum Tao will start a 60-show residency at a theater in Tokyo at night especially for tourists. Wadaiko is the traditional form of Japanese drumming. The group is already doing a similar type of residency at a department store in Osaka. The shows will offer narration in both English and Mandarin.

And in Okinawa, the southernmost islands in the Japanese archipelago, which has its own regional entertainment traditions, the local tourism and convention bureau started sponsoring performances of traditional music and theater arts at night in two cities, again in both English and Mandarin.

In related news, China’s biggest e-commerce site, Alibaba Group Holding, is teaming up with Japanese convenience store juggernaut Lawson to sell tickets in China to Japanese museums and events through Lawson HMV Entertainment, Lawson’s ticket-vending unit.

The unit will work with Alibaba’s travel booking site Fliggy starting in the middle of September.

As of last year, Fliggy had around 200 million members, according to the Nikkei Asian Review.

All Nippon Airways, Japan’s biggest carrier in terms of passengers, sells air tickets via Fliggy, but until now no Japanese leisure facilities sold tickets in China.

Tickets for museums, aquariums and theaters will be available for purchase through Fliggy and when the buyer arrives in Japan he or she can pick them up at any of Lawson’s 13,000 convenience stores.

Korea’s Second-Biggest City

AP Photo / Joshua Paul
– Apink
MTV World Stage Live, Pataling Jaya, Malaysia

More details have emerged about the Busan One Asia Festival 2017, a K-pop music event that will take place during the last week of October in South Korea’s southern port city of Busan.

The 10-day festival kicks off Oct. 22 with an opening ceremony on a 360-degree stage — Asia’s first – at the Asiad Main Stadium.

It ends with an award ceremony at the Busan Cinema Center outdoor stage Oct. 31.

The purpose of the awards, according to the announcement, is to honor “artists globally raising the profile of Korea and Busan.”

Among the major acts announced so far at Blackpink, Wanna One, Sechskies, Gfriend, Apink, BAP and Kim Tae-woo. During the festival, new music and traditional Korean music will share stages at various venues in the Haeundae beach resort area of the city.

In addition, there will be many events where the public can meet K-pop stars face-to-face.

Beyond music, there will be events offering traditional Korean cuisine and featuring famous chefs, beauty seminars featuring celebrities giving makeup tips and even a showcase of Korean medical services.

The overall purpose is to promote Busan as South Korea’s second-biggest city and a cultural capital in its own right.

The city is already the country’s movie center and, because of the influence of the Busan International Film Festival, which takes place just prior to Busan One Asia Festival, the center of cinema in Asia as a whole. Now, the city government wants to do the same for music.

Foreign visitors are encouraged to attend.

Concrete & Grass A Labor Of Love

China continues to be a magnet for internationally themed music festivals, with the EDM powerhouse Ultra making its mainland debut this season and Japan’s Summer Sonic offering a Shanghai version at the end of August.

But maybe the most interesting festival is one that’s homegrown. Concrete & Grass, which is offering up its third installment Sept. 16-17 at the Shanghai Rugby Football Club, is a highly eclectic mix of rock, hip-hop, electronica and pop “randomness,” as the South China Morning Post puts it. Organized by the Shanghai-and-Beijing- based music promoter Split Works, Concrete & Grass is as much a labor of determination as it is a labor of love.

As SCMP says, “It’s quite an achievement that the festival is being held at all.”

A previous festival organized by Split Works was canceled in 2012 because of political sensitivities, but then they came back with a 2015 event featuring such luminaries as Gerard Way, Kelis and Black Star without Yasiin Bey, who pulled out at the last minute.

Last year’s festival was threatened when a rival company ordered Split Works to change the name of the event, which the other company claimed to own, and Split Works redubbed it Concrete & Grass.

Then, during the festival itself, a typhoon moved through the area “curtailing” some of the events. This year’s festival hasn’t been immune from problems either.

The full lineup wasn’t released until Aug. 29 due to what the SCMP called “a slower-than-usual permit approval process” and hesitation on the parts of the some of the artists who planned to come.

Split Works managing director, Archie Hamilton, told the newspaper, “Just when you think it’s going OK, the weirdest things come out and smash you over the head.” Apparently some of the bigger acts that he had hoped to bring to Concrete & Grass couldn’t come due to “a combination of the Ministry of Culture and last-minute fee changes.”

What Hamilton eventually wants to accomplish is a festival that focuses on “the overall experience,” something like the vibe encompassed by the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan, whose appeal is more about the festival than the acts. One music professional told SCMP that Concrete & Grass’s atmosphere attracts a different sort of audience.

“It’s something of a haven for individuality and independent youth,” she said. Presales have been relatively good (280 yuan or $43 for each day; 460 yuan for two-days).

The roster includes The Thurston Moore GroupDiiv, Toy, Princess NokiaJai WolfMumdanceRadwimps and more.