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Toward the Spread and Expansion of Sports Culture Tourism

By Hirokazu Nishikawa


While there are various forms of tourism around the world, there is a movement to promote and expand "sports culture tourism" in Japan as well. Sports culture tourism refers to the establishment and dissemination of new regional and Japanese brands by linking local sporting events with cultural and artistic resources, with the aim of increasing the number of foreign visitors to Japan, revitalizing domestic tourism, and revitalizing the Japanese and regional economies. The "Comprehensive Collaborative Agreement among the Japan Sports Agency, Agency for Cultural Affairs, and Japan Tourism Agency" was signed in March 2016 between the three government agencies listed, and they have been holding the "Sports Culture Tourism Awards" every year since then.

The Sports Culture Tourism Awards publicly solicits, selects, and presents awards to initiatives and events that contribute to the promotion of sports culture tourism. For the 8th award, Sports Culture Tourism Award 2023, seven award-winning organizations were selected from among 29 initiatives and events that were submitted from August to September 2023 (announced in the press on January 11, 2024).

In this issue, I would like to introduce the initiatives of these award-winning organizations.


Main Awards

<Sports and Cultural Tourism Award>

(Applicant Organization) Imabari City, Ehime Prefecture

“Sports Culture Tourism Centered on Imabari Castle, the Strongest Castle in Japan - The History of the Seto Inland Sea Central Region's Domination Leads to the Present Day”


Outline of the Project

The “Imabari Castle” in Imabari City, Ehime Prefecture, is the center of a series of events held in the Seto Inland Sea in Japanese fiscal year (※) 2022. The cultural event Takatora Summit in Imabari was held, and sports events such as Setouchi Shimanami Kaido Three-Day March, Imabari Criterium (a mass-start road-cycle race), Cycling Shimanami 2022, and Imabari City Marathon took place, attracting many people from Japan and abroad. In addition, Setouchi Minato Marché, a food and specialty event, was organized to encourage event visitors and tourists to stay in the city.

(※) Japanese fiscal year runs from April to March

(Image Source : Japan Tourism Agency



  • The Marché event has done a good job of involving the local community through the use of citizen volunteers, etc.

  • Each event is attractive, and cultural and natural resources such as Imabari Castle, Murakami Suigun, and the Shimanami Sea Route are utilized to hold cultural and sporting events that appeal to a wide range of people.

  • Various efforts are being made to disseminate information overseas through PR on airline flights, production of TV dramas, and cooperation with bicycle manufacturers.



<Sports Tourism Award>

(Applicant Organization) Echigo Matsudai Trail Running Executive Committee

“[We plan to] revitalize old paths scattered throughout the satoyama (mountainous regions within village-vicinities) and to make them available as new regional resources! “Echigo Matsudai Spring Festival Trail Running Race" "



Outline of the project

A trail running event held in Matsudai, Tokamachi City, Niigata Prefecture. Old roads that are no longer used and in disrepair were re-excavated and prepared for the course, which included a course through a satoyama village. The event was created to allow participants to experience the original landscape of Japan. By linking the event with the Echigo-Tsumari Art Field, it will have the unique feature of "combining art and trail running," and its objectives are to revitalize local communities, preserve the satoyama environment, and advocate climate change action for athletes.

(Image Source : Japan Tourism Agency



  • The potential tourism resource of old roads in satoyama is well utilized.

  • The project involves the local community and attracts inbound visitors.

  • This is a very effective opportunity to highlight permanent artwork.



<Cultural Tourism Award>

(Applicant Organization) Annaka City Tourism Organization, General Incorporated Association

 A Railway’s Dead End, Dead No Longer: Revitalization efforts for the benefit of future generations

Outline of Initiatives

Since 2018, a walking tour has operated using an abandoned railway line in Annaka City, Gunma Prefecture, utilizing the Yokogawa-Karuizawa section of the Shinetsu Main Line (commonly known as the Usui Line), which was last operated in 1997. The event is an 11-km guided walk along the normally off-limits section of the line to experience its historical value and the difficulty of crossing the mountain pass. More than 90% of the participants are from outside of the prefecture, making this event a draw that will encourage other local travel and spending.


(Image Source : Japan Tourism Agency



  •  The use of a disused railroad line makes it feel special, and the fact that it has a solid historical background and a story to tell is highly valuable.

  •  The fact that the target audience is not only people who like traveling and hiking, but also people who like railroads and civil engineering structures is new. The fact that the majority of participants are from outside of the prefecture is also very tourism-oriented.

  • By becoming a model case for the utilization of abandoned railway lines, of which there are likely to be many throughout Japan, it is hoped that other derivative models can be created.



Special Awards


<Budo Tourism Award>

*Two applicable cases

① (Applicant Organization) Nara City General Foundation, General Incorporated Foundation

“Enjoy authentic Japanese archery for foreign tourists - Experience the spirit of the samurai in Nara, the ancient capital of Japan

Outline of the Project

This is a project to allow foreign tourists to experience authentic Japanese archery derived from the tradition of Bushido in Nara, the hometown of the samurai. They will learn the basics of Kyudo and how to behave under the gentle and strict one-on-one guidance of a high-ranked instructor, and finally shoot an arrow by themselves. The goal is to promote the image of "Budo" = "Nara" and "Budo" = "Nara's new brand" internationally, which will lead to budo tourism from overseas.

(Image Source : Japan Tourism Agency



  • The value of this event will be enhanced for the local community with its history and background.

  •  The opportunity to experience authentic martial arts by wearing hakama in a real dojo is a good opportunity for visitors to understand the beauty and dignity of the Japanese people.

  • It is a good opportunity for visitors to learn more about Nara by learning about cultural elements.


② (Applicant Organization) Fukushima Town Tourism Association

“Fukushima Town, Hokkaido: "Sumo Tournament for Women Only" - the only town in Japan to have two yokozuna (sumo grand champions)”


Outline of the Project

The "Sumo Tournament for Women Only" has been held in Fukushima-cho, Hokkaido since 1991. It began as a project to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Kawasuso Shrine's founding and to dedicate the "women-only festival procession,"  and has been held every year on the second Sunday of May (Mother's Day), with the 29th held in 2023. By holding sumo, which is recognized as a national sport, as an event targeting women, they aim to broaden its base and provide a good opportunity for the children who support it to think about "women's activities" and "gender equality.”

(Image Source : Japan Tourism Agency



  • This event is attended by people from overseas and outside the region.

  • This event has been carried out for about 30 years, and it is highly valued as a part of the local sumo culture.

  • The program has been carried out continuously with a cultural and historical background, while also taking into account the viewpoint of women's activities.


<Japan Heritage Tourism Award>

(Applicant Organization) Tourism Promotion Bureau of Shimosuwa Town Regional Development Corporation,  General Incorporated Association

“National Historic Site and Japanese Heritage: The Jomon World of the Starry Central Highlands: Making the "Hoshigatou Obsidian Origin Site" a Tourism Resource”

Outline of the Project

The Hoshigatoh Obsidian Site in Shimosuwa Town, Nagano Prefecture, was recognized as a National Historic Site in 2015 and a Japan Heritage Site in 2018. The Hoshigatoh Ruins, which are normally off-limits to visitors, will be offered as a special tour with commentary by the discoverer/excavator. In addition, they are taking a multifaceted approach by collaborating with cultural resources and museum facilities scattered in the surrounding area. By actively utilizing cultural assets while properly managing them, the project aims to create a virtuous cycle of culture, tourism, and regional revitalization.

(Image Source : Japan Tourism Agency


  • The content is a combination of Japanese heritage sites and surrounding culture, and the presence of a variety of guides adds value.

  •  The program is designed to involve local businesses, is also designed to encourage participants to become repeat visitors, and to create fans of the local community.

  •  The project is contributing to the expansion of recognition of Japanese heritage sites themselves.



<Tourism Award for Food Culture>

(Applicant Organization) Office of the Tan-Tetsu-ko Promotion Council

“"Tan-Tetsu-Ko Meshi (Tan-Tetsu-ko Meal) Project," a culinary tour of a Japanese heritage site

Outline of the Project

The story of the coal and other industrial revolutions "Coal, Iron, and Port (Tan-tetsu-ko)" in Sorachi, Hokkaido, which supported Japan's growth and recovery from the Meiji era through the prewar, wartime, and postwar periods, has been recognized as a Japan Heritage site. This initiative named the food that took root in the lives of people who worked in coal mines, steel mills, ports, and railway-related facilities "Tan-tetsu-ko Meshi (Coal, Iron, and Port Meal)”, and in FY2021, commercialized the food at a major convenience store chain and installed panels at tourist information centers. In FY2022, they produced a guidebook listing the restaurants where Tan-tetsu-ko meshi was actually available and conducted an online stamp rally.

(Image Source : Japan Tourism Agency


  • The program focuses on food that can be tasted in the region and makes full use of the Japanese heritage story.

  • The collaboration with a major convenience store chain is interesting because of its novelty.

  • The program is collaborating with a number of businesses in the region, and is working on a wide-area partnership within a 100-kilometer radius.



These award-winning organizations were honored at a related event, the 7th Sports Culture Tourism Symposium, held in Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo on February 2, 2024.

The Japanese government is committed to regional revitalization, which aims to correct the concentration of people in Tokyo, halt the population decline in rural areas, and increase the vitality of Japan as a whole. I believe that the revitalization of these regions through tourism will have a significant effect as a first step toward this goal.



「スポーツ文化ツーリズムアワード2023」の受賞団体を発表します ~スポーツ文化ツーリズムの普及、拡大に向けて~ | 2024 | 報道発表 | 報道・会見 | 観光庁 (

March 2024

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