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Yen’s Surge Discourages Tourists in Japan

August 16, 1993

TOKYO (AP) _ Japanese exporters and government officials aren’t the only people bemoaning the seemingly endless advance in the yen’s value. Tourists are complaining that the land of the rising yen has gone from expensive to unaffordable.

″Everything is so expensive here,″ Patricia Marsden, a Toronto resident, lamented after visiting several of Tokyo’s department stores on Friday.

One dollar now buys about 102 yen, almost 20 percent less than in early February, when the yen started its latest surge to historic highs. That makes Japan almost 20 percent more expensive for an American tourist.

But visitors from other countries are not immune. With turmoil in European currency markets, more investors are buying yen, pushing up its value against most currencies.

One of those feeling the pinch was Don Charlesworth, a New Zealander visiting Japan for the first time. He was floored by the price of a set of golf clubs in the upscale Ginza shopping district.

The same 11-iron club set from U.S. maker Ping Zing that sells for about $1,000 back home was fetching 324,000 yen, the equivalent of $3,200, he said.

″People in Japan may be able to afford it, but it’s too expensive for me,″ Charlesworth said.

For years, Japan has been an expensive place to visit, with an inefficient distribution system making consumer prices among the highest in the world. But the higher yen makes it even worse for travelers.

The number of foreign visitors to Japan grew by just 1 percent last year after rising 14 percent and 9 percent, respectively, in the two previous years, according to the Ministry of Transport.

Businesses that cater to tourists are also getting antsy. Haruyuki Tajiri, reception manager at the moderately priced Ginza Tokyu Hotel, said he was worried the higher yen would send budget-minded customers to cheaper accomodations. An average room at his hotel costs about $250 per night.

Junko Igarashi, spokeswoman for the Japan Travel Bureau, Japan’s largest travel agency, said the soaring yen is likely to encourage people travelling to Asia to skip Japan for cheaper destinations like Hong Kong and Thailand.

But if the yen is keeping foreign tourists away from Japan, it’s having the opposite effect on the Japanese, who find everything increasingly cheaper abroad.

Last year, a record 11.8 million Japanese traveled abroad and spent a record $35.4 billion, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

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