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Seattle likely to lose millions as 'Ichiro Effect' moves to NY

Ichiro is one of the main reasons Seattle is the top destination in the world for Japanese tourists. Will that tourism disappear with Ichiro's departure? (AP Photo/Kevin P. Casey)

Ichiro is one of the main reasons Seattle is the top destination in the world for Japanese tourists. During his best days as a Mariner, which were a few years ago, more than 80,000 Japanese visited the city each year.

That number fell to 64,000 in 2011, but that's still more than double the tourists from China, Seattle's second- highest tourist country.

Tom Norwalk, the president the Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau, says the Ichiro Effect is considerable.

"The word I'd use is gigantic," Norwalk said. "His impact on Seattle and our region, from a standpoint of Japanese tourism business, has just been phenomenal."

Restaurants, hotels, and retail shops all recognized the Ichiro Effect and they catered to it. But Ichiro didn't just impact the service industry. His popularity in Japan also meant investment dollars in our region and the rest of the U.S.

Japanese companies started investing in the Mariners and then Major League Baseball after Ichiro proved he could make it in American baseball. With his success, other Japanese players followed. There are now about two dozen playing in the Big Leagues and you can see ads for Japanese companies in ballparks across the country.

Dale Watanabe, the Executive Director of the Japan America Society in Washington, wonders if all those dollars will disappear with Ichiro now in a Yankee uniform.

"I think it's going to be interesting to see what happens," he said. "Does that carry on or does New York get some of those tourists because of that or do people in Japan still choose to come here?"

The Mariners still have two good Japanese players on the team, but Hisashi Iwakuma and Munenori Kawasaki are not Ichiro. They will have a hard time generating the same interest in Japan.

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