The Direction of Japan as a Tourism Hotspot—Terroir and SBNR through VISON

BuzzFeed Japan Corporation
Masumi Sakikawa

The French word terroir, frequently used in the wine industry, comes from another French word, terre, meaning “land.” Terroir refers to a combination of natural factors that give products their unique, locally rooted characteristics, including geography, terrain, and climate.
At BuzzFeed, which is one of the largest digital media outlets in the US and Japan, we feature various articles from a diverse range of fields. During the pandemic, however, when there were restrictions on returning home and other forms of travel, there was a particular rise in interest in news about locally rooted food. In FY2021, we released 34 articles tagged #deliciouslocalfood, which were shared more than 25,000 times on social media, accumulating more than 1.25 million views. In this article, I would like to consider how to apply current reader interest to post-COVID-19 tourism.
VISON, one of Japan’s largest commercial resorts, opened in July 2021 in Mie Prefecture based on the concept “Alongside Our Region.” Mainly through markets offering fresh fish from the nearby Kumano-nada sea and fresh local vegetables, as well as restaurants and hotels, VISON aims to provide experiences based on “healing, food, and knowledge,” combining tradition and innovation to revitalize and create new regional economies. At the same time, VISON also plays a key role in solving regional issues that are common throughout rural areas in Japan, including population decline, ageing communities, and worker shortages in agriculture and forestry. The core concept of this resort is terroir, or in other words, local production for local consumption.
By providing this terroir and attracting people from outside the region—who typically spend more than local customers—, the region can acquire foreign currency. In turn, this can help maintain high wages and ensure high-quality local employment. Using cuisine to communicate the appeals of the region’s ingredients, culture and worldviews to visitors from outside the region can ultimately help to solve the issues that the region faces.
To solve local issues through the new employment of 1,000 people, VISON is aiming to attract around eight million visitors a year, which is around the same number as one of Mie’s most popular tourist destination, Ise Jingu Shrine.
Meanwhile, interest in “spiritual but not religious (SBNR)” activities, such as mindfulness, meditation, and yoga, is growing on a global scale. According to the Pew Research Center in the US, approximately a quarter (27%) of American adults consider themselves to be SBNR. The prolonged pandemic is presumed to have strengthened this trend, and the SBNR mindset will no doubt become an increasingly important part of our lives.
In this post-COVID-19 era, destination development around Japan using a new framework like the above—combining food culture and spirituality—can become the centerpiece of a tourism policy to drive the achievement of the SDGs and economic growth.
The combination of regional food culture and spiritual spots like this is the same as to the pilgrimage route to San Sebastian and Santiago de Compostela in Spain. From the pilgrimage route in Shikoku to Eihei-ji Temple and Chuson-ji Temple in Hiraizumi, Japan has an abundance of its unique tourist destinations that fuse regional food culture with spiritual elements. As such, this has the potential to be an incredibly effective tourism policy.
However, when communicating information like this that requires a certain level of education and knowledge, it is not enough to simply target individuals based on attributes such as age and gender on platforms such as YouTube and Instagram. For those unfamiliar with the ideas and concepts behind local production for local consumption and regional social issues, even the terminology can be a challenge. As such, communicating via highly reliable, high-context media is paramount.
For terroir, spiritual cultures, and other unique Japanese tourism resources that are difficult to put into words, it will be important to showcase their appeal and strengths in visible formats. The future role of global media will be to bring about social reform through the media by (1) making readers in Japan and around the world aware and arousing interest; (2) promoting understanding; and (3) encouraging them to consider.

BuzzFeed Japan Corporation CRO
Masumi Sakikawa