Tourism in Japan

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Mount Fuji, as seen from Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Chuurei-tou Fujiyoshida 17025277650 c59733d6ba o.jpg
Mount Fuji, as seen from Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi
Crowds of tourists at a bamboo forest in Kyoto Tourists at the bamboo forest in Kyoto 2.jpg
Crowds of tourists at a bamboo forest in Kyoto

Tourism in Japan is a major industry and contributor to the Japanese economy. Foreigners visit Japan to see natural wonders, cities, historic landmarks, and entertainment venues. Japanese people seek similar attractions, as well as recreation and vacation areas. In 2019, Japan attracted 31.88 million international tourists. [1] Japan welcomed 2.78 million visitor arrivals in February 2024, surpassing 2019 levels. [2]


Japan has 21 World Heritage Sites, including Himeji Castle, Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto and Nara. Popular attractions for foreigners include Tokyo and Osaka, Mount Fuji, ski resorts such as Niseko in Hokkaido, Okinawa, riding the Shinkansen and taking advantage of Japan's 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, cultural resources and business travel. [3] In the 2021 edition of the report, now called Travel and Tourism Development Index, Japan reached the 1st place. [4]


Himeji Castle in Himeji (WHS) Himeji castle in may 2015.jpg
Himeji Castle in Himeji (WHS)

The origins of early traditions of visits to picturesque sites are unclear, but an early sight-seeing excursion was Matsuo Bashō's 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 Hirobumi's 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. [5]

For much of post-war period, Japan has been an exceptionally unattractive tourist destination for its population and GDP size. According to the IMF, WTO, and OECD, from 1995 to 2014, it was by far the least visited country. [6] As of 2013, Japan was one of the least visited countries in the OECD on a per capita basis. [7] Within six years however, the number of international visitors has more than tripled, reaching a peak of 31.9 million visitors in 2019. [8]

Current status

Domestic tourism remains a vital part of Japanese economy and Japanese culture. Across the nation, Japanese children in many middle schools see the highlight of their years as a visit to Tokyo Tower, Yomiuriland, Tokyo Disneyland, Sensō-ji, and/or Tokyo Skytree, 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 Japan's GDP, while the corresponding figure was 1.3% for the United States and 2.3% for France. In 2019, the value was up to 1.0% of GDP, driven by an increase in international tourism, while the country's GDP has remained stable. [9] [10]

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. [11]

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. [12]

From 2016 to 2020, Japanese government hoped to receive 40 million foreign tourists every year by 2020. [13] 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, mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. [14]

Japanese film, TV, video game, and manga/anime industries, who lead a role in driving tourism to Japan. In surveys held by Statista between 2019 and 2020, 24.2% of tourists from the United States, said they were motivated to visit Japan because of Japanese popular culture. [15]

Contribution to the national crises

Following the triple meltdown of Fukushima nuclear reactors in Fukushima Prefecture caused by the earthquake and tsunami, the number of foreign visitors to Japan declined for the first time since 2009. In September 2011, some 539,000 foreign tourisms visited Japan, 25 percent down compared with the same month in 2010. This decline was largely attributed to the natural disasters including Fukushima nuclear accident; also the stronger yen made a visit to Japan more expensive.

In October 2011, the Japan Tourism Agency announced a plan to give 10,000 round-trip air tickets to Japan to encourage visitors to come and to boost tourism. However, on December 26, 2011, the Agency reported on their site that the "Fly to Japan! Project", which would have given out 10,000 round-trip tickets to Japan, had not been approved by the government for fiscal year 2012. [16]

By 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 triple disaster and how interest in tourism in Japan could be renewed. About US$15 million would be spent on this program. [17] [18] International tourism inflows in Japan had recovered to pre-2011 levels. [19]

In early 2020, Japan received only 4.1 million foreign tourists, as many countries tightened travel restrictions due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. This was the first time visitor statistics had fallen since the Great Recession in 2008. [20] In January and September 2021, tourism in Japan had also further dipped to 245,862 foreign visitors, which was a 88% decrease as compared to 2020.[ citation needed ] In October 2021, as the country lifted the fourth state of emergency up and ahead[ clarification needed ] of the endemic phase, the Japanese government announced that many domestic visitors would be only resumed[ clarification needed ] and waived from the pandemic, in a move to reopen domestic travel with the introduction of vaccinated travel lanes.[ citation needed ]

In late November 2021, amid the spread of a highly transmissible COVID-19 Omicron variant, many countries including Japan tightened travel restrictions, with some governments banning travel completely to curb transmission.[ citation needed ]

In September 2022, the Japanese government announced that visa requirements from some countries would be waived from October 2022, in a move to reopen international travel after the pandemic border restrictions. [21] [22] Prior to the pandemic, Japan did not require tourist visas for 68 countries and regions.

Tourism statistics

Foreign tourists to Japan Foreign tourist visited Japan.svg
Foreign tourists to Japan

These are the top 35 nationalities that visited Japan from 2017 to 2023. [23]

Flag of South Korea.svg  South Korea 1,675,5006,958,4941,012,75118,947694,4765,584,5977,538,9527,140,200
Flag of the Republic of China.svg  Taiwan 994,5004,202,434331,0975,016487,9394,890,6024,757,2584,564,100
Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg  China Mainland875,3002,425,157189,12542,2391,069,2569,594,3948,380,0347,355,800
Flag of Hong Kong.svg  Hong Kong 392,2002,114,402269,2851,252346,0202,290,7922,207,8042,231,500
Flag of the United States.svg  United States 280,5002,045,854323,51320,026219,3071,723,8611,526,4071,375,000
Flag of Thailand.svg  Thailand 192,000995,558198,0372,758219,8301,318,9771,132,160987,100
Flag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia 170,100613,06288,6483,265143,508621,771552,440496,100
Flag of the Philippines.svg  Philippines 122,000622,293126,8425,625109,110613,114503,976424,200
Flag of Vietnam.svg  Vietnam 104,700573,916284,11326,586152,559495,051389,004308,900
Flag of Malaysia.svg  Malaysia 92,300415,71274,0951,83176,573501,592468,360439,500
Flag of Indonesia.svg  Indonesia 79,500429,382119,7235,20977,724412,779396,852352,200
Flag of Singapore.svg  Singapore 71,000591,267131,96985755,273492,252437,280404,100
Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg  Canada 65,600425,87455,8773,53653,365375,262330,600305,591
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom 45,700321,48257,4967,29451,024424,279333,979310,499
Flag of France.svg  France 36,700277,43652,7827,02443,102336,333304,896268,605
Flag of Germany.svg  Germany 25,300233,41045,7485,19729,785236,544215,336195,606
Flag of India.svg  India 22,600166,39454,3148,83126,931175,896154,029134,371
Flag of Italy.svg  Italy 14,500152,30523,6833,52713,691162,769150,060125,864
Flag of Mexico.svg  Mexico 14,50094,6849,1521,1249,52871,74568,44863,440
Flag of Spain.svg  Spain 11,100115,87315,9263,05311,741130,243118,90199,814
Flag of Russia.svg  Russia 6,10041,96510,3243,72322,260120,04394,81077,251
Flag of Nepal.svg    Nepal 83,30275,20011,64817,19151,57744,29739,950
Flag of New Zealand.svg  New Zealand 78,97812,1071,40416,07094,11573,20864,873
Flag of the Netherlands.svg  Netherlands 74,48612,0641,8608,48179,47972,06963,041
Flag of Macau.svg  Macau 74,2521,3595412,234121,197108,694115,304
Flag of Switzerland (Pantone).svg   Switzerland 53,3958,9171,3876,03653,90852,09947,154
Flag of Brazil.svg  Brazil 50,5709,4362,7316,88847,57544,20142,207
Flag of Myanmar.svg  Myanmar 45,81522,7631,53110,88430,97724,41822,915
Flag of Israel.svg  Israel 45,1437,6736192,31544,21439,19332,758
Flag of Poland.svg  Poland 40,6345,7451,3503,99638,53434,70628,727
Flag of Mongolia.svg  Mongolia 39,91619,2671,6857,11831,51327,64723,365
Flag of Sweden.svg  Sweden 39,2457,9001,1127,62253,83653,82250,805
Flag of Sri Lanka.svg  Sri Lanka 36,74221,5363,1278,91828,38027,78927,904
Flag of Belgium (civil).svg  Belgium 34,3526,6111,1224,07439,24534,38732,054
Flag of Turkey.svg  Turkey 31,1987,1291,1612,88622,72419,76219,123
Flag of Denmark.svg  Denmark 30,7805,4037944,78032,89329,16325,235
Flag of Portugal.svg  Portugal 27,8123,1767283,17932,34926,50623,442
Flag of Cambodia.svg  Cambodia 27,06713,6187847,42028,49221,69617,857
Flag of Austria.svg  Austria 26,3605,0258883,60527,53024,18721,035
Flag of Ireland.svg  Ireland 22,9854,4588203,27039,38720,31918,591
Flag of Norway.svg  Norway 21,5413,7365573,62024,83822,56920,786
Flag of Finland.svg  Finland 21,4044,6087364,85929,43727,11625,310
Flag of Pakistan.svg  Pakistan 21,13211,4234,2846,14517,20815,80213,729
Flag of Bangladesh.svg  Bangladesh 19,55911,9811,7894,44415,17413,97112,878
Flag of Romania.svg  Romania 15,3162,3765521,40914,83712,25010,390
Flag of the Czech Republic.svg  Czech Republic 13,9582,4877531,67914,35612,25511,114
Flag of Chile.svg  Chile 13,8081,9022763,38113,37014,08911,027
Flag of Argentina.svg  Argentina 13,1772,1987984,22023,80523,69218,610
Flag of Saudi Arabia.svg  Saudi Arabia 12,3802,4031,03911,1527,4037,5547,587
Flag of Hungary.svg  Hungary 11,3162,5111,0341,30212,69610,4409,148
Flag of the United Arab Emirates.svg  United Arab Emirates 10,2702,7052037708,8917,7827,106
Flag of Greece.svg  Greece 9,9691,8697441,0919,4947,9686,703
Total (all countries)5,476,10025,066,3503,832,110245,8624,115,82831,882,04931,191,85628,690,900

Major tourist destinations

Goko Five Lakes in Shiretoko (WHS) 140829 Ichiko of Shiretoko Goko Lakes Hokkaido Japan01s5.jpg
Goko Five Lakes in Shiretoko (WHS)
Shirakami-Sanchi (WHS) Sirakami santi.JPG
Shirakami-Sanchi (WHS)
Shinjuku in Tokyo, and Mount Fuji Skyscrapers of Shinjuku 2009 January.jpg
Shinjuku in Tokyo, and Mount Fuji
Shirakawa-go (WHS) Ogi Shirakawa-go, Gifu, Japan.jpg
Shirakawa-gō (WHS)
Japanese Alps from Kamikochi Dakesawa.jpg
Japanese Alps from Kamikōchi
Todai-ji Daibutsu in Nara (WHS) Daibutsu of Todaiji 2.jpg
Tōdai-ji Daibutsu in Nara (WHS)
Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine (WHS) 180504 Shimizudani Refinery Ruins of Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine Oda Shimane pref Japan03s.jpg
Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine (WHS)
Shikoku Pilgrimage (Zentsu-ji) Zentsu-ji in Zentsu-ji City Kagawa pref16s5s4020.jpg
Shikoku Pilgrimage (Zentsū-ji)
Kumamoto Castle, Kumamoto Small tenshu & Uto turret & Large tenshu in Kumamoto-Csl.jpg
Kumamoto Castle, Kumamoto
Ishigaki Island, Okinawa Kabira Bay Ishigaki Island41s3s4500.jpg
Ishigaki Island, Okinawa


Tōhoku region

Kantō region

Chūbu region

Kansai region

Chūgoku region


Kyushu and Okinawa

See also

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Further reading