Hypothesis: New York, once a playground for the Japanese, especially art and culture tourists, has seen a heavy disinvestment by Japanese visitors in recent years.
Speculation: If they're not coming any more, why not? Is it fear of terrorism? Is it because the city just isn't what it once was? Has the (now ending) recession in Japan kept Japanese tourists closer to home? Are Asian destinations now trendier than American ones? Are fewer travel articles about New York appearing in Japanese magazines?
Statistics: The New York Times reports in 2004 "a 30 percent drop in overseas visitors to the United States since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001... Fear of terrorism contributed to a 12.6 percent decline in Japanese tourism to the United States." The ITA Office of Travel, reporting in 2003, noted declines in Japanese tourists to the US of 7% per month, although found that rate slowing.
Observations: I've been walking around Manhattan checking out Japanese haunts. Had dinner at Saka Gura on 43rd Street with Karl Haley on Sunday night. Takashi Murakami came up and congratulated me on being in the Whitney. Well, he's still here, anyway! Stuyvesant Street still has its little cluster of Japanese businesses: Panya, Hoshi Coupe and Sunrise Mart. And Sunrise Mart now has a new branch on Broome Street. It's doing very well... but whereas most of the visitors to their St Marks branch seem to be Japanese, most of the customers here are well-heeled Caucasian SoHo shoppers popping in for a snack.
Advice for travellers: Apparently Japanese tourists in the US are easily ripped off because of their "trusting nature". Innocents abroad details why. "Con games ("shinyosagi" in Japanese), in general, appeal to the weaknesses of people to separate them from their money," this page tells us. "Con artists lean on Japanese trust, innocence, desire to help, or greed." It's strange to hear trust, innocence and desire to help being described as "weaknesses", ne?
Home truths from abroad: In a Japan Today vox pop about how Japan can be a more friendly place for visitors from overseas, an old man called Endo says: "Nobody is going to visit a country that is cold and selfish. When I traveled to the U.S. and South Korea, the people were really kind and helpful. It almost brought me to tears when I had to leave and say farewell to the people whom I met during my short stay. People will come, regardless of government policy, if a nation possesses an 'affectionate heart.'"
Conclusion: Further research needed -- must check out the art schools, and the Armory Show, which opens tomorrow. Look, there's Popeye turning Japanese on the poster!