ⓘ Tourism in Japan

Tourism in Japan

ⓘ Tourism in Japan

Japan attracted 31.19 million international tourists in 2018. Japan has 21 World Heritage Sites, including Himeji Castle, Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto and Nara. Popular foreigner attractions include Tokyo and Hiroshima, Mount Fuji, ski resorts such as Niseko in Hokkaido, Okinawa, riding the shinkansen and taking advantage of Japans hotel and hotspring network.

The 2017 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report ranked Japan 4th out of 141 countries overall, which was the highest in Asia. Japan gained relatively high scores in almost all of the featured aspects, such as health and hygiene, safety and security, and cultural resources and business travel. According to Google’s Year in Search 2019, Japan was the second highest search term of the travel category, behind the Maldives.


1. History

The origins of early traditions of visits to picturesque sites are unclear, but an early sight-seeing excursion was Matsuo Bashōs 1689 trip to the then "far north" of Japan, which occurred not long after Hayashi Razan categorized the Three Views of Japan in 1643. During the Edo era of Japan, from around 1600 to the Meiji Restoration in 1867, travel was regulated within the country through the use of shukuba or post stations, towns where travelers had to present appropriate documentation. Despite these restrictions, porter stations and horse stables, as well as places for lodging and food were available on well-traveled routes. During this time, Japan was a closed country to foreigners, so no foreign tourism existed in Japan.

Following the Meiji Restoration and the building of a national railroad network, tourism became more of an affordable prospect for domestic citizens and visitors from foreign countries could enter Japan legally. As early as 1887, government officials recognized the need for an organized system of attracting foreign tourists; the Kihinkai 貴賓会, which aimed to coordinate the players in tourism, was established that year with Prime Minister Itō Hirobumis blessing. Its early leaders included Shibusawa Eiichi and Ekida Takashi. Another major milestone in the development of the tourism industry in Japan was the 1907 passage of the Hotel Development Law, as a result of which the Railways Ministry began to construct publicly owned hotels throughout Japan.

For much of post-World War II history, Japan has been an exceptionally unattractive tourist destination for its population and GDP size; from 1995 to 2014, it was by far the least visited country in the G7 despite being the second largest country in the group, and as of 2013 was one of the least visited countries in the OECD on a per capita basis.


2. Tourism today

Domestic tourism remains a vital part of the Japanese economy and Japanese culture. Children in many middle schools see the highlight of their years as a visit to Tokyo Disneyland or perhaps Tokyo Tower, and many high school students often visit Okinawa or Hokkaido. The extensive rail network together with domestic flights sometimes in planes with modifications to favor the relatively short distances involved in intra-Japan travel allows efficient and speedy transport. International tourism plays a smaller role in the Japanese economy compared to other developed countries; in 2013, international tourist receipts was 0.3% of Japans GDP, while the corresponding figure was 1.3% for the United States and 2.3% for France.

In inbound tourism, Japan was ranked 28th in the world in 2007 when the country had the 2nd largest GDP. In 2009, the Yomiuri Shimbun published a modern list of famous sights under the name Heisei Hyakkei the Hundred Views of the Heisei period.

Tourists from South Korea have made up the largest number of inbound tourists several times in the past. In 2010, their 2.4 million arrivals made up 27% of the tourists visiting Japan.

Travelers from China have been the highest spenders in Japan by country, spending an estimated 196.4 billion yen US$2.4 billion in 2011, or almost a quarter of total expenditure by foreign visitors, according to data from the Japan Tourism Agency.

According to the Japan National Tourism Organization in 2017, 3 out of 4 foreign tourists came from other parts of East Asia, namely South Korea, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

The Japanese government hopes to receive 40 million foreign tourists every year by 2020.


2.1. Tourism today Hokkaido

  • Otaru
  • Daisetsuzan Volcanic Group
  • Shiretoko Peninsula WHS
  • Hakodate
  • Niseko Ski Resort
  • Tōya Caldera and Mount Usu Geopark
  • Teshikaga – Lake Mashū, Lake Kussharo

2.2. Tourism today Kantō region

  • Tokyo Disney Resort
  • Kusatsu Onsen
  • Kinugawa Onsen – Edo Wonderland Nikko Edomura, Tobu World Square
  • Hakone Onsen
  • Utsunomiya – Oya stone museum, Utsunomiya Futarayama Shrine
  • Tomioka Silk Mill WHS
  • Ashikaga, Tochigi – Ashikaga Gakkō, Ashikaga Flower Park
  • Kamakura – Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū, Kōtoku-in, Kenchō-ji, Engaku-ji, Meigetsu-in, Hase-dera
  • Nikkō – Shrines and Temples of Nikkō WHS, Kegon Falls, Lake Chūzenji, Cedar Avenue of Nikko
  • Tokyo – Imperial Palace, Asakusa, Akihabara, Ginza, Harajuku/Omotesandō, Nakano Broadway, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Tsukiji Fish Market, Ueno Park

2.3. Tourism today Chūbu region

  • Matsumoto – Matsumoto Castle, Mount Hotaka, Kamikōchi
  • Kanazawa – Kenroku-en Garden, Kanazawa Castle, Higashi Geisha District, Nagamachi Samurai District
  • Mount Fuji
  • Sakai – Tōjinbō, Maruoka Castle
  • Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama WHS
  • Takayama – Sanmachi Traditional Street, Ōshinmachi Traditional Street, Higashiyama Temple Area
  • Nagoya – Nagoya Castle, Atsuta Shrine, Sakae, Nagoya Station Meieki, Ōsu Kannon temple
  • Japanese Alps – Tateyama Kurobe Alpine RouteMount Tate, Hida Mountains, Kiso Mountains, Akaishi Mountains
  • Shiga Kōgen
  • Kurobe Gorge Railway

2.4. Tourism today Kansai region

  • Osaka – Osaka Castle, Umeda, Namba, Dōtonbori, Shinsekai, Shitennō-ji, Universal Studios Japan, Rinku Town
  • Shingū – Kumano Hayatama Taisha and Kumano River WHS
  • Himeji – Engyō-ji, Koko-en Garden, and Himeji Castle WHS
  • Nara – Tōdai-ji, Tōshōdai-ji, Kōfuku-ji, Yakushi-ji, Heijō Palace, Kasuga-taisha and Nara Park, etc. They are parts of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara WHS.
  • Nachikatsuura – Nachi Falls, Kumano Kodō, etc., they are parts of Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range WHS
  • Ōmihachiman – Traditional Riverside District
  • Yoshino Mount Yoshino – Kimpusen-ji, Yoshimizu Shrine, Yoshino Mikumari Shrine, etc. They are parts of the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range WHS.
  • Uji – Byōdō-in and Ujigami Shrine WHS, Relation of The Tale of Genji
  • Ikaruga – Hōryū-ji and Hōki-ji are Buddhist Monuments in the Hōryū-ji Area WHS.
  • Mount Kōya – Kongōbu-ji WHS
  • Kobe – Port of Kobe, Rokkō Mountains, Kitano-chō, Arima Onsen, Kobe Luminarie
  • Sanin Kaigan Geopark – Toyooka, Izushi, Kinosaki Onsen, Yumura Onsen
  • Kyoto – Kinkaku-ji, Ginkaku-ji, Kiyomizu-dera, Ryōan-ji, Sanjūsangen-dō, etc., they are parts of Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto WHS
  • Ōtsu – Lake Biwa, Hiyoshi Taisha, Sakamoto Temple District, Mount Hiei, Enryaku-ji WHS


2.5. Tourism today Chūgoku region

  • Hiroshima Prefecture – Atomic Bomb Dome WHS, Itsukushima Shrine WHS, Onomichi, Tomonoura
  • Okayama Prefecture – Kurashiki, Kōrakuen Garden, Okayama Castle
  • Tottori Prefecture – Tottori Sand Dunes, Mount Daisen, Mount Hyōno, Sanin Kaigan Geopark
  • Yamaguchi Prefecture – Hagi
  • Shimane Prefecture – Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine WHS, Izumo-taisha, Matsue Castle, Oki Islands, Tsuwano

2.6. Tourism today Shikoku

  • Ehime Prefecture – Dōgo Onsen, Matsuyama Castle
  • Shikoku Pilgrimage
  • Tokushima Prefecture – Naruto whirlpools, Awa Dance Festival in Tokushima
  • Kōchi Prefecture – Kōchi Castle, Cape Muroto Geopark, Cape Ashizuri
  • Kagawa Prefecture – Kotohira-gū Shrine, Ritsurin Garden, Shōdo Island, Naoshima Island

2.7. Tourism today Kyushu and Okinawa

  • Kumamoto Prefecture – Kumamoto Castle, Mount Aso
  • Nagasaki Prefecture – Ōura Church, Higashi-Yamate, Minami-Yamate, Huis Ten Bosch theme park, Hidden Christian Sites WHS
  • Kagoshima Prefecture – Yakushima WHS, Sakurajima, Amami Ōshima
  • Fukuoka Prefecture – Mojiko Retro Town, Kokura Castle, Dazaifu Tenman-gū, Remains of Dazaifu government
  • Ōita Prefecture – Many types of hot springs in Beppu, Ōita or Yufuin, Ōita, Usa jingū, stone bridges, small stonehenge on the top of Komekamiyama mountain, Hello Kitty Harmonyland
  • Saga Prefecture – Pre-400 BC Yayoi archaeological site in Yoshinogari site
  • Miyazaki Prefecture – Kirishima-Yaku National Park, Takachiho, Old Exculibur on the top of Takachiho-kyo mountain, Nichinan, Miyazaki, Chambered barrows of Saitobaru kofungun, Heiwadai Park
  • Okinawa Prefecture – Shuri Castle, Nakagusuku Castle, Nakijin Castle etc. They are parts of the Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu. WHS, Ishigaki Island, Miyako Island, Iriomote Island, Traditional Ryukyuan Houses in Taketomi Island


2.8. Tourism today Tourism after the Fukushima disaster

After the triple melt-down of the nuclear reactors in Fukushima, the number of foreign visitors declined for months. In September 2011 some 539.000 foreign people visited Japan, this was 25 percent down compared with the same month in 2010. This decline was largely attributed to the Fukushima nuclear accident and the stronger yen made a visit to Japan more expensive.

To boost tourism the Japanese Tourism Agency announced in October 2011 a plan to give 10.000 round-trip air tickets to Japan to encourage visitors to come. In 2012 free tickets would be offered if the winners would write online about their experiences in Japan. They also would need to answer some questions about how they felt while visiting Japan after the earthquake and how the interest in tourism in Japan could be renewed. About US$15 million would be spent on this program. On December 26, 2011, The Japan Tourism Agency reported on their site that the "Fly to Japan! Project", which would have given out 10.000 round-trip tickets to Japan, was not approved by the government for fiscal year 2012.