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Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2008

Strong yen takes a toll on visitors

Foreigners in Japan find their travel budgets squeezed by unfavorable exchange rates


By NATSUKO FUKUE, ALEX MARTIN and SETSUKO KAMIYA
Staff writers

The yen's recent surge is hitting many foreigners hard in the wallet.

For those on holiday in Japan, there is little to be done but try to stretch their fast-dwindling travel budgets as far as possible.

On a street near JR Ueno Station in Taito Ward, Tokyo, Tracee Blythe and Laura Carside of Australia said they feel as if prices have doubled due to the yen's appreciation.

"Everything is very expensive," said Blythe, who wanted to experience Japanese culture.

The pair, who have been in Japan since last week, said they have been sightseeing but intended to go shopping in Shibuya as well.

Also in Ueno, Tania Muehlhams, a traveler from Berlin, said the strong yen is hitting her hard. An economics ministry employee in Germany, Muehlhams arrived Oct. 15 to attend meetings, after which she took a week off to tour Tokyo.

When Muehlhams changed money before coming to Japan she got about ¥41,000 for 300 euro. But a week later when she changed 150 euro in Japan, she got only ¥16,000.

"Of course I hesitate to shop. I've lost 25 percent of the money because of the strong yen," she said. "I have to think a little about what to buy."

Another German couple, Anna Chwola and Claude Petitjean from Munich, who arrived in Tokyo on Sunday and were heading to Asakusa in the afternoon, said that because they changed their euro to yen in Germany, they got a better rate.

Still, they said hotel costs were higher than what they would have liked.

In Yurakucho, Chiyoda Ward, Israelis Shalom Turgeman and his daughter Dana said they bought enough yen in Israel a few weeks ago to see them through so far.

But the father and daughter, who have been traveling around the country, said they are concerned about the stronger yen.

"It may hit us if we have to exchange money here," said Turgeman, who was coming out of the huge Bic Camera near Yurakucho Station. He and his daughter said they did not buy anything.

The exchange rate is not only affecting tourists, but foreigners who stay here for a longer period.

American Danny Garwood, who lives in Urawa, Saitama Prefecture, saved up by teaching English for some time in South Korea before coming to Japan on Sept. 1.

Although Garwood teaches English in partial payment of his rent at the guesthouse where he's staying, he mainly lives on his savings.

He said he's watching his spending, noting the yen has risen 20 percent since he arrived nearly two months ago.

"From how I see it, the exchange rate is fluctuating," Garwood said. "I'll wait it out for a week or two and I think it'll hopefully be back the way it was before."

Meanwhile, cancellations due to the strong yen have hit famous resort towns.

The head of a large hotel in Kutchan, Hokkaido, which is part of the Niseko ski resort popular with skiers from Australia, said some 15 percent of reservations from abroad have been canceled. In winter, half the hotel's guests are foreigners. In all, the resort was anticipating more than 20,000 foreign visitors this winter.

"We hope the government will swiftly take effective measures to deal with the high yen," a local tourism official said.

The Beppu spa resort in Oita Prefecture, popular with tourists from South Korea, has also been hit by cancellations.

There are up to 20 percent fewer South Korean tourists this year than last year partly because of the economic slump at home in addition to the weak won against the yen.

Kei Matsuo, a 25-year-old employee of Kamenoi Hotel, where South Koreans account for up to 30 percent of customers, said, "I wonder if reservations from now on may be further affected."

Information from Kyodo added



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