Small is great!
Words Enrico Bona
The Japan’s tourist offer is almost unparalled for its uniqueness and variety as well as for its high-quality and endless suggestions such as temples, magnificent gardens, spas, natural and landscape beauties, peculiar food and traditions, fine art and architecture, whether they are traditional or representative of the latest avant-garde, the huge range of technology and often bizarre products suitable for any budget, the boundless urban concentrations attract many tourists from all over the world, who consider the warm Japan invitation as an opportunity to live four tourist seasons a year among culture, leisure and curiosities and to have a unique experience. Efficient road networks and futuristic transport systems allow tourists to comfortably tour the country while the proverbial Japanese hospitality, warmth and sympathy welcome and immediately enchant the visitors. In practical and economic terms, the Japanese Government has included tourism in the priority list aimed at the country’s future growth opportunities. The immediate, tangible result consists in approximately 20 million tourists who have literally invaded the Land of the Rising Sun in 2015, a trend that Japan has forecast for 2020: the achievement of the aforementioned result 5 years earlier than planned allows for an expectations relaunch. Today Japan declares to aim at 40 millions of tourists in 2020 and even 60 millions in 2030. The competitive Yen will not be the only driving force for this plan in the tourist industry, as we have to consider also the significant investments in promotional activities, the unquestionable uniqueness of the tourist offer itself and, last but not least, the great safety that Japan ensures to its foreign guests. This general scenario certainly outlines a very interesting proposal, even for those who love traveling tourism and the industries both directly and indirectly involved in the tourist industry.
The RV market in Japan
Economically and productively speaking, the Japanese RV market seems to follow the positive national trends also related to the domestic car market, which in the recent years has enjoyed economic stability and growth. The sales data, specifically related to the industry, suggest a prevailing preference toward vehicles in which the compactness is imperative along with the technological equipment and the demand is mainly oriented toward optimized layouts tailored to the customer’s needs. The Japanese camper longs for comfort and performance, cutting-edge, eco-friendly energy solutions, ease of use and general autonomy in consumptions relating both to fuel and electric batteries. A strong and significant introduction of new technologies has created a major impact on the Japanese automotive industry with positive effects also in the RV sector: for example, hybrid propulsion already features considerable sales percentages for the chassis based camper-car Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV – Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle), which has a competitive price of 42,000 Euros. The alternative propulsion now is something real and will exponentially grow in the upcoming years. As early as 2016, certain types of PHEV AND FCV engine (Fuel Cell Vehicle, hydrogen or oxygen technologies that do not generate combustion) will represent, always for Toyota, 50 % of domestic sales. The Electric Charging Network currently provides 40000 charging stations throughout the Country, whose number is continuosly growing supported by strong government incentives.
The legendary “Made in JPN” miniaturization debuts in the outdoor vacation sector
In the Japanese RV market we identify a very special and peculiar Japanese case: in line with the large sales percentages development occurred in the Kei-car (micro car) market niche, Japan has developed a peculiar RV production sector: the Kei-camper. Traditionally, the Japanese houses are very small compared to the Western standard and miniaturization has always distinguished any type of Japanese industrial production. Thus, also the micro camper fits naturally in the country’s culture and productive attitude. On average, Kei-camper appeals low-budget customers and offers a suitable accommodation for couples. However, in Japan this type of recreational vehicle is extremely popular and is called “Kei-Jidosha”, which literally means “small car”. Besides the obvious economic benefits, its characteristic compactness fits perfectly with the typical Japanese road traffic requirements: the Kei-camper is energy efficient and pays lower motorway tolls compared to normal sized cars. Besides, its technological equipment aimed at especially demanding customers make it an all-seasons camper. Last but not least, any micro japanese campers measuring less than 5 meters in length is considered as an ordinary car and can be parked in any parking area.
Who is the Japanese camper?
If we try to outline the Japanes camper’s profile, we will see that the available data indicate that 65% of the RV vehicles owners belongs to 60+ age group and the remaining 35% to 30-40 age group. Senior group members use the vehicle for periods of 5 – 7 days, and spend their holidays predominantly at thermal resorts and mountain areas during summer or winter months, when they enjoy skiing as well. Conversely, the 30-40 age group members are more focused on short holidays, due to the typical japanese very short holiday tradition. The younger and more socially work-addicted group makes use of the camper mainly at weekends with average stays of 3 days/2 nights, but shows more or less the same preferences in relation to places of destination for their total freedom holiday compared to the older one. Most part of the recreational vehicles owners in Japan, however, are on average 40 – 70 years old. This “Senior Market” – related data are quite similar to the data related to any country featuring a well-developed market for recreational vehicles. On average, the potential customers that most frequently visit the Japanese dealers are between 40 – 60 years of age, they look for custom layouts and schedule the implementation of their vehicle with a view to their retirement. At technological level, they opt for the installation of compressor refrigerators, while the air conditioning is a rather uncommon optional, although demand for it is growing. Solar panels are commonly requested. The microwave is certainly preferred to traditional oven and electric generators are 900W-1.6kW compact type. The diesel heating is currently the most widespread, also considering the space that inevitably remains limited due to the LPG system.
Outdoor tourism in Japan: impacts involved
In Japan we find a dense and organized network of roadside stations and Service Parking Areas, but, similarly, the number of the campers-aimed infrastructures is rising as well. The current development of the structures implemented by JRVA (Japan Recreational Vehicle Association) is targeted to meet the customers’ complex needs and are a key element in the Association’s future strategies. The economic benefits of these overall increases in the sector can be seen in the growth of domestic tourism and in the resulting boost to local economies. The majority of the population lives in large urban areas and the widespread use of recreational vehicles is more concentrated in these areas. For the city dwellers, the camper is becoming the perfect means to explore the most rural part of the country, but the most popular destination and the most loved vacation for 60% of the japanese campers is a hot spring destination.