Jibanyan, a catlike spirit from the popular Japanese anime Yo-Kai Watch, has some fun in the sun as part of Hawai‘i's tourism campaign to attract more Japanese visitors. Image: Hawai‘i Tourism Japan.

Hawai‘i Utilizing Pop Culture to Attract Japanese Visitors


From Hello Kitty to Pokémon, Japan is well known for producing cute characters that appear on TV shows and all kinds of products, from clothes to lunchboxes to the paintjobs on airplanes and everything in between. The popularity of one such show, Yo-Kai Watch, which chronicles the adventures of a young boy as he makes friends and battles with supernatural beings, triggered a bidding war for the rights to use its characters’ images. Hawai‘i emerged victorious, beating out South Korea, Taiwan, and Malaysia to exclusively use Yo-Kai Watch in its tourism promotions that specifically target Japan. There is hope that this campaign will not only reach adults but more of Japan’s younger generation as well, as they represent the chief demographic of the TV show and games.

Partnering with Japan to feature well-known characters in tourism advertisements is not a new concept in Hawai‘i. In 2014, Hawai‘i gained the rights to use Japanese superhero Ultraman in ad campaigns encouraging Japanese citizens to vacation in the Aloha State. Running from March 6 to September 30, 2014, the “Ultra Hawai‘i” campaign featured 24 videos of Ultraman, along with his family, friends, and archenemies, enjoying all that Hawai‘i had to offer, from surfing to a beachside wedding. The state has also designed its own mascot to be used in promotional materials directed at Japan in the form of Shaka-chan, a characterized hand in the“shaka” gesture, which is used to signal that something is cool or to “hang loose.”

Japan, which continues to be Hawaii’s largest international market for visitors, represented 18% of all arrivals in 2014. But even mature tourism markets need innovation. A combination of the strengthening of the US dollar and the instability of the Japanese economy last year led to a 3% decrease in visitor spending and that trend is expected to continue in 2015. Furthermore, the discontinuation of Hawaiian Airlines flights to Fukuoka in June 2014 decreased air travel capacity between Japan and Hawai‘i by 7% in 2015’s first quarter. The new ad campaign, paired with a planned doubling of flights from Narita, Japan, to Honolulu starting in July 2015, are expected to reverse the downward slide.

Sarah Batiuk is the Event Coordinator and a Program Assistant at the East-West Center in Washington.