Motor Sports

Japan F1 host hopes calendar shift, weak yen will boost foreign fans

SUZUKA: The host of this week's Japanese Grand Prix is hoping a calendar shift to one of the country's peak tourist seasons and a cheap currency may bring in more international visitors to an event that traditionally has attracted a mainly domestic audience.

The Formula One race has been moved from its usual autumn slot, during the typhoon season when heavy rains have marred the spectacle in the past, to April 5-7, coinciding with the peak of Japan's world-renowned cherry blossom, or 'sakura', bloom.

Japan's weak yen, currently at multi-decade lows against the US dollar, is also driving a rebound in tourists following strict travel curbs imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The race at the Suzuka track, a favourite among drivers due to its technical twists and high-speed straights, drew its biggest crowd in nearly two decades last year, driven partly by a bounce in overseas visitors.

"With the further depreciation of the yen and the cherry blossom season, we hope the number of international fans will be at the same level or even higher than last year," said Eijiro Oda, general manager of Suzuka Circuit, run by Honda Mobilityland.

An estimated 40,000 tickets were sold to international visitors last year, a four-fold jump since the years immediately before the pandemic, according to Honda Mobilityland.

In order to promote the race internationally, the circuit has for the first time began posting English language content on social media: offering tips for travel and sightseeing.

Masumi Watabi, 49, who runs a restaurant selling Japanese fish cake stew in front of the Shiroko station, from where F1 fans usually take shuttle buses to the circuit, said he also hopes the growth in foreign fans can continue.

"Last year, we had an explosive growth in customers from abroad in my restaurant. This year ... we hope that many overseas visitors will come in the spring, when Japan is at its most beautiful," he said.

On Sunday's race day last year, 80 per cent of customers were foreigners, he added.

Russian Aleksandr Kriukov, 42, is one such overseas F1 fan heading to Suzuka this year.

"I want to see sakura (cherry blossoms) ... and I want to see Suzuka. It's a very good time for me. Spring is the best time," he said at a F1 fan festival event in Tokyo. - REUTERS

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