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Japanese Surpass British as New York’s No. 1 Overseas Visitor

September 7, 1987

NEW YORK (AP) _ With a new black miniskirt from Bloomingdale’s and a tie-dyed T-shirt from SoHo, Minami Aruku didn’t look like a statistic.

The young tourist had just finished a week’s trip to New York - trendy clubs and restaurants, flea markets and the Empire State Building.

″This city is sooooo crazy,″ enthused Ms. Aruku. ″I’m exhausted and there’s no money. But I’m coming back again.″

Ms. Aruku, 20, is one of more than 300,000 Japanese expected to come to New York this year, a record. Last year, 282,000 ventured across the Pacific, replacing the British for the first time as New York’s No. 1 overseas guest.

Spending an average of $700 per stay, Japanese tourists and business people pumped about $210 million into the local economy, said Charles Gillett, president of the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau.

″They’re good spenders and we like that,″ he said, adding that most come from May through October.

In all, 1.7 million Japanese came to the United States last year and spent about $1.6 billion, giving the nation a $1 billion surplus with Japan in travel and tourism, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

″When you think of it in terms of the deficit, the travel industry is the only industry where the Japanese are in the red,″ said Mary Testa, spokeswoman for the Japan National Tourist Organization.

The most popular locations were Guam and Hawaii, the West Coast and then Washington, D.C., and New York.

″They’re here for the Big Apple. And what the Big Apple says is that New York is a good time. The city’s got zip and that’s what the Japanese like,″ Gillett said.

At the New York Hilton, manager John F. Power hails Japanese tourists as that hotel’s ″most important international guest.″

″Do they buy? You betcha,″ said Miraed Smith, a spokeswoman at Bloomingdale’s department store.

Furniture and art objects top the list of purchases, at Bloomingdale’s, said Joan Cuomo, who runs the international shopping service there. ″They zero in on items they can’t find in Japan.″

At 47th Street Photo electronics store, manager Tzvi Sternberg said Japanese tourists are always looking for a deal because their electronic products are generally cheaper here than in Japan.

″Their currency is strong so it goes farther here,″ he said. ″Also, American stores have better sales. They compete less over there.″

The money the Japanese bring with them has caused merchants here to study them to increase their profits.

″We’ve focused on little things,″ said Annmarie Moelders, spokeswoman for the Waldorf-Astoria. ″They like pastels in their rooms and double beds. We have a Japanese restaurant and many of our staff members speak their language.″

Lunching in Chinatown, an elderly Japanese gentleman pointed to his watch and smiled.

″Name brands only, watches and leather goods,″ said Yukimichi Ketsuki, of Nagasaki. ″That’s why I came here, to shop.″

According to a recent Commerce Department study, the average Japanese tourist does not fit the stereotype of a camera-clicking, bespectacled traveler with a penchant for Mickey Mouse.

The tourist is generally under 35, college educated and well off. And he or she prefers sightseeing in cities, shopping and dining out to taking pictures, amusement parks and frolicking on the beach.

″You’re talking about a very up-scale type of person,″ said Ron Erdmann, a market research analyst at the department. ″These people know a lot about America and know what they want to see.″

So much so than when they come to New York, as they have in droves since the 1960s, their knowledge has caused local travel guides some embarrassment.

″They get new information about new discos and new restaurants faster than anyone,″ said Shinji Nakazone, assistant general manager of Japan Travel Bureau International.

With their money and expensive tastes, many Japanese tourists worry about crime in New York, which last year ranked second nationwide in robbery per capita although 13th in overall violent crime.

″Everywhere in Japan, you can read that New York is scary and dangerous,″ said Mrs. Katsuki. ″Coming here, we were a little afraid. But still we’re very interested.″

Still, most Japanese say they’re glad they don’t live here.

As he sat on a bench in Rockefeller Center, tourist Junichi Oda summed it up: ″I love New York, but I love Tokyo more.″