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Deployment of Wi-Fi services for foreign tourists in a mountainous area of Japan

Wi-Fi et tourisme international dans une région montagneuse du Japon
Yasukazu Satake


Les voyageurs souhaitent accéder à l’Internet via leurs smartphones pendant leur séjour au Japon. Cependant, le haut débit et le Wi-Fi, qui permettent la connectivité Internet, n’ont pas été déployés dans tout le Japon. Cet article s’intéresse au processus de déploiement du Wi-Fi dans la ville de Kamikawa (région de Sounkyo, Hokkaido), site touristique international situé dans une région montagneuse.

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1Recent years have seen a remarkable progress of inbound tourism in Japan. After the 2003 Japan government campaign to expand the number of foreign visitors to Japan to 10 million by 2010, the tourist intake has continued to increase year by year. Although 5.2 million foreign visits to Japan have been recorded in 2003, the total number of tourists reached 28.7 million people in 2017. In response to this sudden transformation, tourism companies, local governments, and other authorities are promoting the dissemination of information pertaining to tourism and are accepting policies to accept foreigners who are interested in visiting Japan. These policies plan to attract tourism in rural areas (Japan National Tourism Organization 2016).

2Usage of information and communication technologies (ICT) are an important topic in the tourism industry. Utilizing the digital divide framework outlined by Van Dijk (2006), Minghetti and Buhalis (2010) focus on the use of ICT by accommodation providers. Accommodations and travelers that can use ICT at high levels will be linked by new technologies such as online booking (Minghetti and Buhalis 2010). In Japan, ICT is increasingly being utilized for information dissemination. According to Arai (2007), who investigated the trends in the use of websites by local governments in Japan, outbound information, such as tourist information, was observed from the beginning of the spread of the Internet. Since ICTs such as websites can be introduced at low cost, even local governments with small population sizes are actively disseminating information through websites. In the accommodation facilities provided in hot spring areas, they have successfully attracted new customers by proactively transmitting information through websites, from the viewpoint of the corporate strategies (Fukui 2015 ; Shimizu and Soda 2005).

3In recent years, traveler reviews posted through the social networking service (SNS), as well as information disseminated by guesthouses and municipalities, have significantly influenced the popularity of tourist spots among foreign travelers (Litvin et al. 2008). Xiang and Gretzel (2010), who analyzed the trend of using search engines in developing travel plans, showed that search engines are more likely to guide travelers to social media sites. These studies suggest an increase in the importance of social media use in the tourism sector.

4The global mobile broadband spread influences also the contents of the activities undertaken by individuals. Kellerman (2010) noticed that regional information can easily be obtained by utilizing GPS, Google Map, and other such platforms and that the subsequent change in the roundtrip behavior of cities is linked with these technologies. With the introduction of mobile communication, mobility has evolved since it became possible to devise the next plan for waiting time such as in shopping rows and cars in a traffic jam (Kwan 2007).

5To use these technologies and social media, they must be connected to the information infrastructures (Gretzel et al. 2015). In the age of mobile broadband, information aggregation, ubiquitous connectedness, and real-time synchronization are basis on smart tourism (Neuhofer et al. 2015). In other words, tourists need to connect their ICT devices to the information infrastructure such as mobile broadband in the destinations to enhance their tourism experiences. However, foreign tourists who have not entered into a contract with a Japanese telecommunications carrier have only limited opportunities to access the information infrastructures in Japan. Therefore, the concept of free Wi-Fi is being developed to provide an opportunity for foreign travelers to access the Internet in Japan (Hosono 2010). It is noted that the availability of free Wi-Fi attracts people to specific places and enables them to retrieve different types of information (Hosono 2010 ; Minghetti and Buhalis 2010).

6In order to install Wi-Fi in a particular area, broadband as its backbone is required. Since almost all broadband providers have chosen to dedicate their services exclusively to the densest markets such as urban areas, a need for the creation of new policies is suggested to solve the geographical gaps between urban and rural, in terms of broadband accessibility (Grubesic 2010 ; Nunes 2006). However, Generic policies in this field neglect specific local needs (Salemink et al. 2017).

7Does free Wi-Fi deployment for the tourist destinations that depend on foreign visitors become local needs that realize the smart tourism ? This paper aims to clarify the process of free Wi-Fi deployment, a pivotal means of local information dissemination and acquisition in the progress of inbound tourism, from the viewpoint of supplying the information infrastructures for foreign tourists. As a region where the deployment of broadband is difficult, the Sounkyo area of Kamikawa town Hokkaido in Japan, an international tourist destination in a mountainous area, is used to establish a case study.

8In 1914, the first hot spring facility was established in Sounkyo. Since 1923, mountain trails and huts have been constructed in Daisetsuzan National Park, and the number of climbers visiting Sounkyo has increased. Of the remaining facilities, the oldest one was founded in 1922. Additionally, several facilities that opened in the 1950s and 1960s continue to exist till date. Over the years, Sounkyo has developed and become a popular spot for tourists and company outings. However, since the bursting of the Bubble Economy in Japan, tourism has stagnated and the number of tourists has decreased. To make up for the decline, Sounkyo aimed to attract foreign tourists visiting Japan. Thus, Sounkyo is now an internationally known mountain tourism destination that depends on the patronage of foreign tourists for its survival. Kamikawa town houses 4,532 inhabitants of the Ishikari River basin in the central part of Hokkaido. Approximately 90 % of the population of the area is collected in the flatlands that form the center of the town, and the remaining 10 % live in the mountainous Sounkyo area about 20 km away from the city center. As this region forms the gateway to Daisetsuzan National Park, tourism is thriving here. Kamikawa town incorporates sightseeing spots called the Sounkyo, and the ratio of this tertiary industry in comparison to the number of industrial workers is 74.8 %, which is larger than the Hokkaido average of 71.3 %. In particular, the age structure of this region differs greatly from the Sounkyo area.

9Many foreign guests staying in the Sounkyo area in 2012 came from East and Southeast Asia, and the proportion of foreign tourists was classified as Taiwan 65 %, Singapore 10 %, China 7 %, and Korea 1 %. According to the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO), of foreign tourists visiting Japan in 2012, 24 % were from Korea, 18 % were from Taiwan, and 17 % were from China. These three nationalities account for 60 % of all foreign tourists. In Hokkaido, as a whole, of all the visiting foreign tourists, 42 % were from Taiwan and 11 % were from China and Korea. As you can see, Hokkaido tends to have a large number of tourists from Taiwan.

10In the following chapters, this study will examine the internet demands of foreign tourists visiting Japan on the basis of government statistics. It will also summarize the current state of Wi-Fi development while identifying future problem areas. To analyze tourist trends, data from the Japan Tourism Agency and the Japan Tourism Board were used. Further, data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications were used to examine Wi-Fi development ; the data comprises the results of a nationwide statistical survey that reflects changes over time and sheds light on the trends in the spread of Wi-Fi in Japan.

11Taking the case of Kamikawa Town as an example, we will clarify the current state of Wi-Fi introduction by accommodation providers and the deployment of broadband by local governments. We visited Kamikawa Town in 2012 and 2018 and conducted direct interviews with the Kamikawa Town Office, the Sounkyo Tourism Association, and various tourism accommodation facilities. We asked the Kamikawa Town Office about the status of efforts to improve the information and communication infrastructure of sightseeing spots, mainly concerning broadband deployment. As for the Sounkyo Tourism Association, we surveyed recent tourism trends in Sounkyo, changes in the number of foreign tourists, and the efforts of the Tourism Association to attract foreign visitors to Japan. Finally, we conducted interview surveys at eight tourist accommodations in Sounkyo, one of the main destinations of foreign visitors to Japan. Additionally, telephone interviews were conducted with four accommodations that could not be interviewed directly. Other than this, we checked the owner’s website ownership by directly browsing the website.

Diffusion and Demand of Free Wi-Fi in Japan

Economic benefits of Free Wi-Fi

12Several economic benefits are expected from the institution of free public Wi-Fi. For example, by establishing a Wi-Fi environment nationwide, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications increased 1.46 million foreigners visiting Japan and 210.2 billion yen in consumption. A further investment effect of 53.9 billion yen is anticipated (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications 2015). According to the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications (2015), the rationale for the estimation includes the following : (1) An improved public Wi-Fi framework will allow foreign visitors to Japan to easily access the Internet and will enable them to share content with regard to sightseeing spots with their overseas compatriots and friends through SNS and other means (Washio and Sinozaki 2018). As opportunities increase, the awareness of tourism destinations in Japan will also be augmented, and tourists and tourism based consumption will also be amplified for Japan ; (2) As opportunities to introduce local tourist attractions via SNS and other digital means are improved, foreign visitors will be encouraged to tour rural destinations as well as urban areas ; (3) Investment in information and telecommunications industry is executed through the nationwide improvement of free Wi-Fi, and a ripple effect of this investment is expected Of the three reasons, (1) and (2) share a common grounding : that foreign visitors to Japan are responsible for disseminating information on sightseeing spots.

Smartphone and Internet use in sightseeing

13The demand of foreign visitors for Wi-Fi during their stay in Japan is summarized from research materials of Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) and JNTO pertaining to the actual Internet use circumstances of foreigners who have visited Japan. First, the use of the Internet via smartphones during visits to Japan has greatly increased as is demonstrated from the results of the JTA Survey on Foreigners’ Trends which is conducted annually by the JTA since 2010. The smartphone evinced the highest value as a travel information source in 2013 and it continues to grow in use during foreigners’ visits to Japan after that year, registering a value of 71 % in 2017 (Table 1). Also, according to the 2012 edition of the Actual Condition of Tourism Survey of Foreign Travelers conducted by the JNTO, 413 (90 %) of the 433 subjects used the Internet during their stay in Japan, and approximately 370 respondents brought internet connection terminals. Many of the foreign tourists used free Wi-Fi when connecting to the Internet, and 88.9 % of travelers indicated accommodation destinations as places where they would like to use the Internet.

14As mentioned above, the information communication trend of foreigners visiting Japan proves that the rate of overseas tourists carrying smartphones is rising annually and that free Wi-Fi that is able to connect with these devices and Wi-Fi at accommodation facilities are deemed to be requirements in terms of survival of the accommodation (Falk and Hagsten 2018).

15Therefore, I will investigate the deployment situation and will assess the demand for free public Wi-Fi that can serve as the information dissemination base for foreign visitors to Japan based on data obtained from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (2015) Examining the Wi-Fi installation rate by tourist base point, the airports demonstrated the highest connectivity. Stations, which are alternative transport bases, show 32 % lower connectivity, and buses only exhibit 4 % in terms of Wi-Fi facility. Convenience stores, World Heritage sites, tourist information centers, and allied organizations also evinced high installation rates. The installation rate was low at 29 % even at accommodation facilities, which are expected to report the most substantial demand for Wi-Fi. Connectivity was a low 9 % in eating and drinking establishments (Table 2). These data thus evidence that the prevailing offering of Wi-Fi is not sufficient at accommodation facilities to satisfy the tourist demands for this service.

16However, the data also reveal that the deployment of free public Wi-Fi is proceeding in varied places such as airports, stations, and coffee shops. The increase in foreign tourists visiting Japan has also driven recent attempts by local governments to improve free public Wi-Fi connectivity in the entire region.

Table 1. Travel information sources useful during the stay in Japan

Table 1. Travel information sources useful during the stay in Japan

Note : It is the value for the April-June period.

Data source : Japan Tourism Agency, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, 2010-2017 (​kankocho/​en/​siryou/​toukei/​syouhityousa.html).

Case study of Sounkyo in Kamikawa town

Accommodations for foreign visitors to Japan

17As of 2013, 15 accommodation companies are located in the Sounkyo area, of which five companies operate more than 100 facilities. The Sounkyo Tourism Association treats six of the 15 companies as large-scale business entities and allocates an average of 96 rooms to five enterprises. This paper will also designate the six companies as large-scale businesses and the remaining nine companies will be treated as small enterprises. The difference between large and small hospitality businesses is that the former corresponds to mass tourism which centers on the acceptance of group customers, while the latter can often only accept individual guests.

18The figure 2 shows the transition of the number of customers in the Sounkyo area since 1983. According to this account, the number of guests in the region exceeded 1.1 million in the peak period of 1991, but the tally decreased annually with the decline of mass tourism after the collapse of the bubble economy. Tourist footfall to the area has decreased steadily since 2007 and in 2012, only 620,000 visitors came to this area. A consequent decline in the structure that depends on group customers from outside Hokkaido can also be seen.

19To break this declining trend, the Sounkyo Tourism Association, in cooperation with Asahikawa city and other bodies, is making efforts to attract new tourists in the form of foreign visitors to Japan. The Asahikawa Tourism Promotion Council comprising Asahikawa city and its surrounding municipalities campaigns for foreign tourists, encouraging travel agents in each visitor country. These efforts in the Sounkyo area resulted in the increase of the number of international guests from 1998 to the middle of the 2000s. In addition, scheduled flights to and from South Korea in 2006, regular services with Taiwan in 2013, international flights connecting to local flights were also advanced at Asahikawa Airport to augment opportunities for tourists to visit Sounkyo district.

20As a majority of foreigners visiting Sounkyo belong to Taiwan, the Asahikawa Tourism Promotion Council and the Sounkyo Tourist Association invited Taiwanese bloggers to Sounkyo and initiated efforts to promote the dissemination of information about Sounkyo. The invited Taiwanese bloggers averaged about 45,000 daily visits from their readers, and the Sounkyo Tourist Association hoped that their information dissemination capabilities would boost tourism in the area. Foreigners visiting Japan are thus expected to augment Japan’s endeavors to amplify its tourist sector.

21Given the above efforts, Sounkyo recorded the highest number of foreign guests in 2017. The tourism industry’s dependence on foreign tourists is rising with the decrease of domestic customers. However, since about 90 % of foreign guests use large-scale enterprises as of 2017, these large-scale business operators are actively responding to the internationalization of the Sounkyo area.

Table 2. Diffusion of Wi-Fi spot by facility

Table 2. Diffusion of Wi-Fi spot by facility

Data source : Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (2015).

Figure 1. Map of Sounkyo, Kamikawa town

Figure 1. Map of Sounkyo, Kamikawa town

Figure 2. Changes in the number of guests staying in Sounkyo

Figure 2. Changes in the number of guests staying in Sounkyo

Data source : Sounkyo Tourist Association.

Providing Wi-Fi service by accommodation

22For a hotel to offer Wi-Fi services, it first has to contract with the Internet provider. Therefore, this section will elucidate the position of Wi-Fi services for guests based on the contract conditions pertaining to the Internet line, the presence or absence of a hotel’s own website, and the availability of multilingual correspondence for foreigners (Table 3).

23Excluding the unknown accommodation agencies, 11 of 13 facilities used fixed wireless access (FWA), one employed a 3G line, the remaining utilized ISDN to connect to the Internet in 2013. In particular all the six large-scale business houses designated above used FWA.

24Next, with regard to the ownership of a company’s website, many facilities are seen on the homepages of websites. However, multilingual correspondence is often limited to the large-scale businesses. In addition to their websites, these large enterprises also handle reservations from Internet agents and travel agencies. For the large-scale enterprises, the proportion of online reservations to all guests is low, and since many reservations are for groups accepted through travel agencies, reception of the latter’s data is the main Internet usage content.

25In terms of guest services with regard to the provision of an Internet connection environment via Wi-Fi as of 2013, nine accommodation companies were observed to be improving the Wi-Fi environment. The result of interview survey for accommodations, the Wi-Fi accessibility was generally limited to the lobby and guests could not use Wi-Fi in their rooms. According to vendor numbers 1 to 4 who held many rooms, Wi-Fi was installed to correspond to the demands of foreign customers who visited them. Most people who used internet connection equipment such as smartphones and tablets in the lobby were foreigners. However, since the accommodation providers do not keep track of the quantum of Wi-Fi that was utilized, the actual usage trend remains unknown.

26Provider number 9 used ISDN, which is narrowband employed only in the Sounkyo area and thus, Wi-Fi is not installed at this accommodation. Around 40 % of the individual guests of this hotel during high season are foreign customers, and there are also inquiries about the use of Wi-Fi. However, contractor number 9, was not noted to actively acting to acquire foreign customers, as its website does not support multiple languages (table 3). Even without putting in the effort to acquire foreign visitors to Japan, the proportion of foreigners occupying this property is large because of the international recognition accrued by Sounkyo and the increase in the demand for lodging by individual customers. The large-scale enterprises, on the other hand, are focused on attracting foreign visitors to Japan in order to respond to the decline of mass tourism by domestic customers upon whom their businesses have so far depended. However, Individual tourists originally occupy most of the rooms for smaller lodgings. According to accommodation number 9, he thought that the management of such smaller operations is possible without as much dependency on foreign visitors as the large-scale businesses. Hence, these smaller hospitality providers may not be as aggressive in introducing Broadband or Wi-Fi as the large-scale companies.

27Since vendor number 13 is a youth hostel, the demand of such accommodation for foreigners who originally visited Japan is high, and in such small businesses the multilingual correspondence of websites is advancing, and Wi-Fi is also being introduced.

28As of 2018, there are facilities where Wi-Fi service is available not only around the lobby but also in guest rooms. According to provider number 1, locations where its Wi-Fi services are accessible increased because the Internet line was altered to optical cable. The provider’s main reason for changing to the optical line was the expansion of its Wi-Fi service. Conversely, some large-scale businesses do not use optical lines, and their Wi-Fi services has not expanded. This business operator dares not install Wi-Fi in each room because when Wi-Fi is installed in each room, the Japanese guests also take time to use the Internet, and the hospitality companies are concerned that participation in shared events in the lobby and other common areas will decrease. This business considers the acceptance of foreign tourists as a make-up for decreasing domestic tourists, and prioritizes traditional services that have been provided to domestic tourists. There is a difference of approaches to foreign tourists, which also affects the choice of broadband lines.

Table 3. Internet usage of the accommodation companies in Sounkyo

Table 3. Internet usage of the accommodation companies in Sounkyo

Note : EN, KR, TW, and CN means English, Korean, Traditional Chinese, and simplified Chinese character.

Data source : Websites of each accommodation and interview survey.

Deployment of Wi-Fi by Kamikawa town

29In Kamikawa town, three Wi-Fi spots in the town area and four in Sounkyo area, were prepared in 2017. Three of the Wi-Fi spots in town areas are buildings that house the station and the tourist association, and it is thus assumed that the tourist use is expected. Besides, in Sounkyo, Wi-Fi is set up in all public buildings. Notably, Ginga no Taki (Galaxy Fall), one of the tourist spots is located in an area where even mobile phones cannot be used. Here Wi-Fi is the only means of communication except for stationary phones installed at shops (Figure 3).

30Subsidies from the public wireless LAN environment improvement support project by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications are used for this Wi-Fi deployment, and digital signage was also set up for this project apart from Wi-Fi. This environment was established in two places on the urban side and two places in the Sounkyo area. The installation aimed to transmit administrative and tourism-related information in peacetime and to display evacuation-related information in case of disasters. The content of the digital signage is created at the town hall, and image information is sent to each digital signage from the town hall via communication equipment. In this way, a mechanism was created to transmit information in multiple languages quickly through digital signage in the event of a disaster.

31In addition, a common Wi-Fi spot is installed at the Sounkyo Gorge Visitor Center established by the Ministry of the Environment in various national parks.

Figure 3. Wi-Fi spot of souvenir shop in Ginga no Taki area

Figure 3. Wi-Fi spot of souvenir shop in Ginga no Taki area

Data source : Author photography.

Deployment of broadband for accommodation companies

32Because Sounkyo district is away from the switching office located in the urban area, ADSL cannot be used in this region, and before the broadband deployment, connectivity to the Internet was limited to ISDN or 3G mobile lines. As a result, there is a high demand for broadband deployment by accommodations, and Kamikawa town proceeded with a broadband deployment project in a manner that used the subsidy system of the country.

33To accomplish this project, Kamikawa town adopted a method of connecting from the subscriber’s home to the base station of Sounkyo by Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), connecting the base stations to the town office through the optical cable and connecting from the office to the Internet (Figure 4). Regarding the trunk line that requires deployment of about 20 km, it was possible to secure a transmission line by borrowing it since the optical fiber for road management was maintained in the national highway between the government office and the Sounkyo area. Meanwhile, FWA was adopted since there was no infrastructure available on the subscriber line. The optical line was extended to Kurodake-no-yu in the Sounkyo area, a base station was established at Choyo-Tei of the former Sounkyo Elementary School and accommodation facility, and it was wirelessly connected with Kurodake-no-yu. Subsequently, a subscriber sets up an antenna at home or office and communicates with one of the base stations (Figure 5). Since FWA is composed of wireless networks between antennas as described above, its deployment cost is lower than that of the optical fiber. So why was FWA adopted as a subscriber line in the Sounkyo area ? The survey on the intention of broadband use conducted by Kamikawa town before deployment revealed that 50 % of the respondents affirmed the intention of using the Internet for the household and business purposes, but only 10 % of the total number of households in the entire district actually wanted a connection and thus the demand was small. In this area, 3G mobile lines can be used separately from ISDN and FWA. Government officials assume that many households use 3G. Most of the residents in this area are employed at tourist accommodation facilities, and there are several young single-person households. Therefore, although the demand for broadband is high, the mobile internet service provided to locals is considered adequate because often only one individual per household is accessing the internet. Since it is difficult to maintain a wired communication infrastructure with only 10 % user burden, FWA was adopted not only for the initial cost required for deployment but also to suppressing the future operating expenses.

34For the maintenance of the connections, Kamikawa town lent the line to a corporation located in Betsukai town based on an indefeasible rights of use agreement. The corporation operates a provider business in Hokkaido, thus realizing an Internet connection environment with a nominal speed of about 10 to 30 Mbps.

35As mentioned above, the advancement of broadband deployment was advanced in Kamikawa town in the Sounkyo area. Unlike urban areas where ADSL is available, only narrowband or 3G could be used in this location and the accommodation industry relied on their business to spread through the Internet from early on. According to the town office, in the Sounkyo area, the broadband environment was set up with the aim of assisting the sales of the accommodation industry such as online booking, by accessing easily the online.

Figure 4. Outline of FWA deployment in Kamikawa town

Figure 4. Outline of FWA deployment in Kamikawa town

Data source : Interview survey to Kamikawa town by the author.

Figure 5. Antenna installed at accommodation facility (left picture) and base station of FWA at former Sounkyo Elementary School (right picture)

Figure 5. Antenna installed at accommodation facility (left picture) and base station of FWA at former Sounkyo Elementary School (right picture)

Data source : Author photography.

Relationship between deployment of broadband and Wi-Fi services

36This section will examine the relationship between the deployment of the broadband network and Wi-Fi deployment. Kamikawa town developed FWA in 2011 to subsidize the business of hospitality companies. Its purpose was not to provide services to foreigners visiting Japan, but to improve the communication environment of the lodgers who could thus far only use the ISDN narrowband, and to support the daily work of the accommodation providers such as online reservation processing. However, in reality, I consider that the FWA has largely been changed not to ease the daily work but to enable the hospitality industry to provide free Wi-Fi services for their guests. As mentioned above, in most cases Wi-Fi use was limited to the lobby area and cannot be accessed from each room before the optical line deployment. Also, in the case of large-scale businesses, FWA was not enough as backbone of free Wi-Fi because it is considered that many guests use the Internet through the Wi-Fi. In 2017, optical lines were developed in response to requests from accommodation companies, and some vendors expanded their Wi-Fi connection environments to their guestrooms.

37Wi-Fi services were gradually developed in this manner because the subscriber line in the Sounkyo area changed first from ISDN to FWA, and then again to optical line. It is very inconvenient for a trader to use ISDN at present when content on the Internet has become large, since only a maximum speed of 512 Kbps can be obtained. FWA can upload and download data at speeds up to 30 Mbps, but because the accommodations and residents in the Sounkyo share this band, a company would find it difficult to provide an Internet connection environment to an unspecified majority of its guests. Meanwhile, since the speed of 1Gbps can be used for each optical line, the communication environment is obviously enhanced, and a free Wi-Fi environment may be offered to an unspecified number of guests.

38The free Wi-Fi environment in the Sounkyo area has thus been arranged, but on the other hand, some challenges remain in terms of the evolution of the local needs with ICT development. These needs have increased not only ICT use such as processing online booking by accommodation companies but also deployment of free Wi-Fi for their guests with the rise of smart tourism. The deployment of free Wi-Fi would not be realized without the Broadband deployment policy of Kamikawa town. 4G, which is mobile broadband, is provided by private telecommunications carriers, but since communication restrictions are imposed in Japan, it is difficult to open this form of data connectivity to an unspecified number of people. Therefore, the broadband deployment policy of the national government and the cooperation of municipalities is necessary to construct the backbone that can provide free W-Fi to a large number of users.

39If a free Wi-Fi environment is provided, users would not need to pay the contract fee of the internet line. However, the cost of hundreds of millions of yen is required for deployment of the broadband backbone of connectivity, and a single business operator cannot deal with the immense expense.

40According to Kameyama (2016), dissemination of information by tourism agents such as accommodation industry and food and drink industry is a kind of market failure ; hence, information dissemination by public institutions such as municipalities is the rational way of promoting tourist destinations. The deployment of broadband as a policy leads broadcasting tourist information indirectly through the electronic word-of-mouth by foreign tourists, from the viewpoint of smart tourism. This may be positioned as a means that the local administration responds these local needs.

41Tourists use smartphones to realize smart tourism experiences such as information aggregation, ubiquitous connectedness, and real-time synchronization (Neuhofer et al. 2015). The smart tourists use smartphones to tap into information infrastructures provided at the destination, and they not only consume but also create, annotate or otherwise enhance data that constitutes the basis of the experience (Gretzel et al. 2015). As smartphones become widespread, information about sightseeing destinations is often spread by tourists themselves, as well as by related actors such as local governments and local tourism-related businesses. The employment of a Wi-Fi framework is mandated for such dissemination tools to be effective. A provider can offer Wi-Fi as part of its service only as long as a Wi-Fi backbone exists. In other words, a broadband network is necessary if tourists are expected to provide information or reviews via Wi-Fi or to make calls to friends outside Japan. In the case of accommodation facilities, for example, Wi-Fi was offered as a service to satisfy the demands of the guests ; as a result, however, a mechanism for allowing the accommodation facilities to freeride on the effects of guest reviews was also accomplished (Zhou 2012). In this manner, a broadband deployment policy taken by Kamikawa town could be effective not only for companies that offer accommodation but also for services that facilitate the reservation of accommodation. More, such a policy would aid in tourism-related information dissemination as well as in the promotion of regional tourism.

42Due to poor profitability (Arai et al. 2012 ; Nunes 2006), the deployment and maintenance costs become problematic when developing broadband in a disadvantaged area like Sounkyo. In case of Sounkyo, for instance, FWA was chosen at the outset rather than an optical line to suppress these costs. However, if it is believed that improving broadband at sightseeing spots would not merely improve convenience but would also lead to information dissemination, the deployment of optical lines by municipalities is a reasonable choice even if it is unprofitable.


43This study examined the problem of providing Wi-Fi service to foreign visitors to Japan’s mountain areas and posited a case study of the Sounkyo area of Kamikawa town. The results of the investigation revealed that broadband deployment has not been fully implemented in the mountainous areas, and that it is difficult to provide Wi-Fi service without adequate policy support from the national government and local administration. The Wi-Fi service is likely to be low cost if only it is introduced, but enhancing communication lines will incur huge costs. The cost of installing communication lines was paid for by the local government. In the case of Sounkyo, because it is located in a mountainous area, the deployment of an optical line capable of high-capacity communication was delayed. However, the optical line was improved because of the support provided by the local government. Local government and local tourism associations promote Sounkyo in order to attract foreign tourists. Subsequently, the government office and local accommodations set up a free Wi-Fi spot in Sounkyo. An optical line was established to satisfy the demands of tourists, and tourist accommodation facilities expanded Wi-Fi services using the line. It is expected that information dissemination from foreign visitors to Japan through word-of-mouth by using the free Wi-Fi. Therefore, broadband deployment by local governments is important for tourist spots to secure a competitive advantage in the age of smart tourism.

44The promotion of pertinent information by municipalities and business operators to foreigners who speak different languages and belong to disparate cultures is difficult only through conventional means of dissemination. The construction of a system through which foreign tourists can themselves send out sightseeing information to their home countries can immensely aid Japan’s tourism efforts as the desired information can be transmitted more effectively by the overseas guests.

45Japan is advancing its inbound tourism objectives with the Tokyo Olympic Games and is planning to reap the gains from the ripple effects of expanding the tourism destinations from Tokyo to the rural areas. However, the deployment of Wi-Fi, which is now a necessary service for tourists, is difficult in non-urban sightseeing spots such as regional natural scenic sites and spa areas. From a global viewpoint, Japan is one of the world’s early movers in developing optical lines to condition-disadvantaged locations, and even these deprived areas have the potential to respond to the demands of international tourism in the near future.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Table 1. Travel information sources useful during the stay in Japan
Légende Note : It is the value for the April-June period.
Crédits Data source : Japan Tourism Agency, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, 2010-2017 (​kankocho/​en/​siryou/​toukei/​syouhityousa.html).
Fichier image/jpeg, 81k
Titre Table 2. Diffusion of Wi-Fi spot by facility
Crédits Data source : Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (2015).
Fichier image/jpeg, 94k
Titre Figure 1. Map of Sounkyo, Kamikawa town
Fichier image/jpeg, 282k
Titre Figure 2. Changes in the number of guests staying in Sounkyo
Crédits Data source : Sounkyo Tourist Association.
Fichier image/jpeg, 96k
Titre Table 3. Internet usage of the accommodation companies in Sounkyo
Légende Note : EN, KR, TW, and CN means English, Korean, Traditional Chinese, and simplified Chinese character.
Crédits Data source : Websites of each accommodation and interview survey.
Fichier image/jpeg, 85k
Titre Figure 3. Wi-Fi spot of souvenir shop in Ginga no Taki area
Crédits Data source : Author photography.
Fichier image/jpeg, 187k
Titre Figure 4. Outline of FWA deployment in Kamikawa town
Crédits Data source : Interview survey to Kamikawa town by the author.
Fichier image/jpeg, 178k
Titre Figure 5. Antenna installed at accommodation facility (left picture) and base station of FWA at former Sounkyo Elementary School (right picture)
Crédits Data source : Author photography.
Fichier image/jpeg, 117k
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Yasukazu Satake, « Deployment of Wi-Fi services for foreign tourists in a mountainous area of Japan »Netcom [En ligne], 33-3/4 | 2019, mis en ligne le 06 février 2020, consulté le 04 décembre 2020. URL :; DOI:

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Yasukazu Satake

Yasukazu Satake, Faculty of Education, Kochi University, 2-5-1 Akebonocho, Kochi city, 780-8520, Japan,

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