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Overtourism in Japan and What It Means for Visitors

Tourism has brought many benefits to Japan, but the recent influx of tourists has caused the government and local authorities to introduce new measures to address overtourism.

By 6 min read

Japan is renowned for its captivating culture, warm hospitality and delectable cuisine, making it a magnet for tourists worldwide. However, this popularity has raised concerns about overtourism in certain areas. Even implementing new rules and regulations, such as those for climbing Mount Fuji due to unbearable crowds and garbage.

Japan is tackling this issue by implementing various measures, including setting visitor quotas, raising fares during peak hours and developing infrastructure to disperse tourist traffic. There is a push to promote visits to less-crowded but equally beautiful prefectures nationwide. However, like in the case of the famous view of Mount Fuji behind a Lawson convenience store, officials simply take the experience away.

These initiatives aim to preserve Japan’s cultural integrity while fostering a more sustainable tourism model. It’s also a great way to avoid Japan’s worst tourist traps. Let’s look at some changes that are coming to quell overtourism in Japan.

1. Stop Bothering Geisha

The streets are too crowded!

What symbolizes Japan more than a geisha (traditional Japanese female performing artist) elegantly moving through Kyoto’s narrow streets? It’s the quintessential shot everyone wants. However, many tourists overlook that geisha aren’t seeking fame but are working women who prefer not to be bothered. Recently, a council of Gion residents expressed concerns about harassment, from touching expensive kimonos to taking intrusive photos.

In response to these concerns, new regulations have been implemented in the geisha districts of Gion in Kyoto. Visitors are now prohibited from accessing private streets, and photography is strictly forbidden in these areas. They are strongly advised to confine their movements to public streets to avoid a potential ¥10,000 fine. However, the enforcement of this rule is uncertain as the fines are imposed by private landowners who lack legal authority, making the collection process unlikely, especially for short-term visitors.

Some alleys are now completely off-limits to visitors. According to The Guardian, a council member for Gion residents said, “We don’t want to resort to this, but we’re left with no choice.” Signs will be installed to inform visitors about the new restrictions. However, Gion’s primary Hanamikoji Street, which is public, will continue to welcome tourists.

2. New Fees for Incoming Tourists

Expect to pay a small fee upon entering the country.

While tourism helps the economy, building and maintaining attractions is expensive. To offset the costs of managing tourism infrastructure and mitigate its impact on local communities, Japan is considering introducing new fees for incoming tourists, who will likely arrive in 2024-2025. This will be in addition to the existing accommodation tax and airport tax. Although the charges remain to be worked out, they are predicted to be ¥500-¥1,000.

3. Promoting Travel Without Luggage

Save yourself the hassle of traveling with bulky suitcases.

With visitors increasingly taking a lot of souvenirs and medicine back to their countries, Japan faces huge suitcases taking up space in already overstretched transport facilities.

As a result, Japan is expanding luggage storage facilities at major transit hubs and promoting travel without luggage through innovative services such as luggage forwarding from Kansai and Narita (Tokyo) airports, coin lockers at Kyoto station and a carriage service as part of the Hands-free Kyoto campaign. These initiatives aim to reduce congestion and improve mobility by encouraging visitors to travel light.

4. Smart Lanes at airports

Scan your luggage at these baggage “counters”

With so many tourists departing on the same day, airports in Japan are struggling to process departures on time. As a result, passengers are encouraged to use smart lanes, where visitors scan their luggage by themselves to speed up the process.

This will include the four major airports of Narita and Haneda in Tokyo, Kansai and Chubu in Nagoya. The airports have published a detailed guide to help visitors prepare to use the lanes.

5. Creation of ‘Model’ Destinations

Care to see the dragon eye at Mount Hachimantai?

To distribute tourist traffic more evenly across the country, Japan is promoting the development of new “model” destinations to take tourists to lesser-known regions and attractions. The proposed plan also benefits tourists, as it promises to open up difficult-to-access sites and offer unique experiences.

Currently, 11 model destinations have been created:

  • Mount Hachimantai in Iwate
  • Nature activities at Nasu in Tochigi
  • Samurai culture of Hokuriku
  • The Alps of Nagano/Gifu
  • Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine and surrounding areas in Tottori
  • Cycling routes in Setouchi
  • The national parks of Eastern Hokkaido,
  • Ise Shrine in Mie
  • The pilgrimage routes in Nara
  • Volcanoes in Kagoshima
  • The unique Ryukyu culture of Okinawa.

6. Creation of New ‘Experiences’

Spend an afternoon at a calligraphy workshop hosted by a local artisan.

Developing these model destinations involves innovating new ‘experiences’ tailored to the changing preferences of modern travelers. Japan prioritizes the creation of distinctive and immersive experiences beyond typical tourist spots.

These initiatives will (hopefully) foster deeper connections between visitors and the communities they explore, promoting cultural exchange and sustainable tourism practices.

Here are just a few examples:

7. Island Taxes

Small tax increase…for now.

One of Japan’s most iconic locations is Hatsukaichi, home to the iconic Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island. To manage overcrowding, the island is introducing a tourist tax. Each visitor to Miyajima, the island access point for the famous Itsukushima Shrine, will pay ¥100 as a tourist tax. Revenue generated from the tax will be reinvested into conservation projects and infrastructure upgrades.

In addition to Hatsukaichi, other popular island destinations such as Taketomi, Izena and Sado are implementing similar measures to address overtourism and ensure the long-term sustainability of their communities. By imposing a levy on tourists, these islands aim to balance visitor numbers and environmental conservation, allowing future generations to continue enjoying their natural beauty and cultural heritage.

8. Japan Rail Pass Price Hike

JR Passes are now almost double the price.

To manage visitor numbers and maintain the quality of its transportation services, Japan is implementing a price hike for the popular Japan Rail Pass. While this may deter some budget-conscious travelers, it reflects the true cost of providing world-class rail infrastructure.

The passes have increased as follows:

7-day pass:

  • Regular seats: Increased from ¥29,650 to ¥50,000
  • Green car seats: Increased from ¥39,600 to ¥70,000

14-day pass:

  • Regular seats: Increased from ¥47,250 to ¥80,000
  • Green car seats: Increased from ¥64,120 to ¥111,000

9. More Buses and Taxis

Most taxis will have translation services to minimize miscommunication.

Japan is expanding its public transportation infrastructure to address congestion and pollution caused by mass tourism. These measures seek to minimize the environmental impact of tourism while improving the overall visitor experience.

These are currently being implemented, notably in Kyoto. They include more direct routes from train stations to major tourist sites, promotion of subway passes and more taxis at peak tourism times, and special foreign-language-speaking taxis (mostly Chinese and English).

10. End of One-Day Bus Passes in Kyoto

The new one-day pass will cover both train and bus to ease congestion on the road.

Kyoto stands out as a top tourist destination for good reasons. Its ancient cityscape boasts numerous temples and breathtaking spots that capture the city’s essence. However, fully exploring Kyoto’s offerings may require taking multiple bus rides.

This has led to overcrowding and congestion in key areas, making it challenging for locals to use buses. As a result, the convenient one-day pass that allowed unlimited bus rides is being phased out. It will be a one-day pass that covers the subway and buses to encourage visitors to use both to ease congestion.

Kyoto’s mayor (at the time of the decision), Daisaku Kadokawa, says the goal is to reduce crowding on city-operated buses to“improve the level of comfort in both residents and sightseeing.”

Japan’s approach to addressing overtourism reflects the need to balance preserving its cultural heritage and sustainability. While stricter regulations and new fees will stretch wallets, the new charges will hopefully go to preserving the Japan that people love so much rather than changing it.

Which of these changes will impact you most? Are you excited by the new experiences and attractions or concerned by the charges? Let us know in the comments.

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