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.