일본 군마현의 미나카미 마을이 '아웃도어 천국'이 된 이유는?

간토(관동) 관광 군마여행 2019.08.12
'스포츠 투어리즘' 명소로 거듭난 日군마현 미나카미 마을
도쿄에서 신칸센으로 1시간, 도네가와(利根川) 강의 상류에 위치하는 군마현(群馬県)미나카미 마을(みなかみ町)은 '아웃도어 천국'이란 별칭을 가지고 있다. '스포츠 투어리즘'이란 단어가 주목을 받기 전부터 트래킹, 캐니어링, 카누, 카약, 패러글라이딩, 샤워클라이밍 등 다양한 아웃도어 스포츠를 일찌기 관광 산업으로 키워온 곳이다. 유명한 관광명소도 없을 뿐더러 테마파크 하나 없는 미나카미 마을이 아웃도어 천국으로 거듭난 까닭은 무엇일까?
  • 테마파크 등 인공적인 놀이터가 아니라, 도네가와 강을 둘러싼 풍요로운 자연환경을 살린 아웃도어 스포츠가 관광객들로부터 큰 인기를 끌고 있다. 관광객들이 도네가와강에서 래프팅을 즐기고 있다. (사진=미나카미 마을 홈페이지)
이렇다할 관광명소나 내세울만한 특산물조차 변변치 않던 미나카미 마을은 거품경제 붕괴와 함께 극심한 재정난에 휩싸이며 파산위기로 내몰렸던 적이있다. 일본에서 두번째로 긴 강인 도네가와 강과 도네가와 강을 둘러싼 다니가와(谷川)산맥 등 천혜의 관광 자원을 갖추고 있었지만 마을사람들 조차 그저 흔한 강과 산으로 여길 뿐, 관광자원으로의 활용은 염두도 내지 못했다. 미나카미 마을이 위치한 군마현은 후지산(富士山)으로 유명한 야마나시현(山梨県), 동계  올림픽이 열린 나가노현(長野県), 세계 유산으로 지정된 도쇼궁(東照宮)이 자리한 도치기현(栃木県)등에 둘러싸여 관광 경쟁력이 떨어진다는 인식 때문이었다.
  • 미나카미 마을은 자신들을 '아웃도어의 성지'라고 소개하고 있다. 산과 바다, 강으로 둘러싸인 일본은 풍요로운 자연환경을 가지고 있지만 미나카미 마을처럼 자연 환경을 살려 관광지로 성공한 곳은 많지 않다. 미나카미 마을에는 스와협곡과 스루가쿄에 두곳의 번지 점프대가 있다. (사진=미나카미 마을 홈페이지)
이런 미나카미 마을에 나타난 구세주는 뉴질랜드에서 미나카미로 이주한 마이크 해리스씨 였다. 마이크 해리스 씨는 일본에 유학하다가 우연히 찾아간 미나카미 마을의 자연에 매료되어 23년 전에 이주했다. 전문적인 아웃도어 회사 '캐니언즈'를 차린 그는 외국인 관광객을 대상으로 카누, 카약, 캐니어링(도구 없이 맨몸으로 급류를 타고 내려가는 레포츠) 등을 즐길 수 있는 장소로 미나카미 마을을 소개했고, 어느새 미나카미 마을은 일본인들에게보다 외국인들에게 더 알려진 관광지로 등극했다. 여전히 미나카미 마을은 일본인들에겐 이름도 생소한 장소지만, 외국인 관광객들에겐 도쿄, 쿄토, 오사카 등 대도시와 맞먹는 인기를 누리고 있다. 한편 영화 '테루마에 로마에'의 촬영지로도 유명세를 타고 있다.

마이크 해리스 씨는 "처음엔 외국인 관광객이 도네가와 강에서 캐니어링을 즐기는 것을 보고 돌을 던지는 낚시꾼도 있었다. 캐니어링이 어떤 스포츠인지도 몰랐고, 외국인을 보는 일도 거의 없었기 때문이다. 도네가와 강의 환경은 뉴질랜드 퀸즈랜드와 닮아있다. 잘 살리면, 반드시 엄청난 관광지가 될 것이란 믿음이 있었다"며 아웃도어 스포츠란 개념조차 없던 시절을 뒤돌아 본다. 지역 주민조차 인정하지 않던 그의 활동은 현재 일본 정부가 '스포츠 투어리즘'의 모범 케이스로 선정했으며, 미나카미 마을에는 아웃도어 스포츠 관련 여행사들이 10곳이나 생겼다.
  • 관광객들이 나무와 나무사이를 걷는 '트리트래킹'을 즐기고 있다. (사진=미나카미 마을 홈페이지)
스포츠 투어리즘의 성공으로 인해 미나카미 마을을 다녀간 외국인 관광객은 2014년 1만 2000명에서 3배로 늘어난 3만명에 달했다. 스포츠청에 따르면, 스포츠 목적으로 일본을 찾는 외국인 관광객은 2015년 현재 138만명으로, 2020년에는 250만명을 목표로 삼았다. 관광자원이 아예 없거나, 충분한 환경이 조성되어 있지만 활용하지 못하는 지자체가 많은 가운데 미나카미 마을의 사례가 지자체 활성화의 열쇠가 되고 있다. 

와세다 대학교 스포츠과학학술원 하라다 무네히코(原田宗彦)교수는 "스포츠 투어리즘은 지방도시의 교류인구가 증가하고, 경제적인 효과를 최대한으로 누릴 수 있는 발판을 마련할 수 있다"며 "이주촉진, 관광촉진, 소비유도 효과까지 더해져 지방도시의 세수 및 고용증대에 기여할 것"이라고 내다봤다.


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