Japanese cities set on path to become more walkable

Tokyo's Marunouchi district

Japan Tourism Facilities Association has called on cities in Japan to become more walkable to attract business events.

Vice-president of the association Shirou Wakui said improving urban environments by introducing greening, art, cycling and walking paths and mobility as a service would draw more business events.

Tokyo’s Marunouchi district has been pedestrianised, allowing for al fresco dining

Wakui cited Nice in France, Vienna in Austria, and Portland in the US as examples of cities that have been rejuvenated by improving their walkability, attracting residents, tourists and business groups.

“Improving walkability is especially important to support gastronomy tourism,” he said, pointing out the uptake of food and drink walking tours depends largely on the walking environment.

He introduced the acronym WEDO (walkable, eye-level, diversity, open), the premise that urban areas should be appealing, accessible to all and cater for people, (not vehicles). Japan, Wakui said, is starting to adopt WEDO.

One example is Tokyo’s business and high-end shopping district of Otemachi and Marunouchi. It features street art, benches, greening, al fresco dining and infrastructure such as cooling mist in the summer. At lunchtime, food stands are set up and the area is pedestrianised, with seating and tables put out. The area also hosts pop-up events, such as music recitals and markets, and was a hub for activities during Rugby World Cup 2019.

The result is a thriving environment that attracts incentive groups for shopping, dining, entertainment and free time.

Wakui also relayed the example of Kumamoto City’s Sakura Machi which has also attracted corporate groups by boosting walkability. Opened in September 2019, the facility replaced a declining shopping arcade with an easily accessible and green environment that is home to a bus centre, luxury hotels, restaurants, a shopping centre and an event hall.

Other cities aim to follow suit. Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture is undertaking an extensive greening programme while a new bridge is planned for Yokohama’s waterfront to improve pedestrian routes.

Hiromi Murayama, manager of sales and marketing at Pacifico Yokohama, told TTGmice that walkability is an increasingly important consideration for business events planners when booking the convention centre as many delegates want to jog or walk outside during their downtime.

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