Japan has about a $30 billion trade deficit when it came to tourism. Often three to four times as many Japanese travel abroad as foreign visitors travel to Japan. In the case of the United States, the ratio is 7 to 1. In 2002, there were 5.2 million foreign tourists to Japan and 16.5 million Japanese visitors traveling abroad. About 640,000 Japanese visited France while only about 96,000 French visited Japan.

Japan is the world’s second largest hotel market. Many new hotels and tourism development projects were built in the bubble years in the 1980s. When the bubble burst on the 1990s, business fell off dramatically yet few hotels closed due to money-losing bad loans from banks.

JTB is Japan’s largest travel company. HIS is Japan’s second largest travel company. It is owned by Hideo Sawada who also owns Skymark airlines and a bank in Mongolia.

The Japan Tourism Agency was created in 2008 by the Japanese government to pull together Japan’s diverse tourism organizations within the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and attract more foreign tourists — particularly those from other Asian countries.

JATA (the Japan Association of Travel Agents) holds Asia’s biggest tourism exhibition. It attracted had exhibitions from 140 countries and regions and welcomed 120,000 visitors in October 2010.

Japan ranks 23 out of 130 countries in World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness ranking. Spending by tourists in fiscal 2006 was estimated at ¥ 23.54 trillion, with ¥1.36 trillion coming from foreign tourists.

The international tourism industry was one of the few businesses helped by the strengthening of the yen during the economic crisis in 2008 and 2009. Japanese tourist could get more for their money with the strong yen but still many balked on traveling overseas, nervous about blowing money on travel at a time when they could lose their jobs.

The Mandarin Oriental Tokyo offers one of the most expensive single night deals available. The entire hotel — including all 178 guest rooms, nine restaurants and all the spaces — can be rented for ¥55 million ($671,800) a night. When the hotel began offering the deal in October 2010 it was hoping someone would take them up on the offer so they could be recognized by the Guinness Bok of World Records. [Source: Reuters Life!]

In 2010, Japan Insurance Co began offering so-called weather insurance, which reimburses travelers the full value of their trips if it rains or snows more than certain amounts at the customer’s destination.

Good Websites and Sources: Good Photos at Japan-Photo Archive ; Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism ; Japan Tourism Marketing Co. ; Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO) JNTO or Japan Travel ; Visit Japan Campaign: Visit Japan Campaign ; Other Websites: Japan-Guide.Com Japan-Guide.Com; Web Japan Web Japan or Web JapanTraveler bulletin board: Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree ; and Travellerspoint Travellerspoint Links in this Website: PLACES (click the Map) ; TRAVEL INFORMATION

Foreign Tourists in Japan

Foreign visitors reached a record high of about 8.61 million in 2010, due mainly to Haneda Airport's return to full-fledged international service and the government making it easier for Chinese individuals to obtain sightseeing visas, the Japan National Tourist Organization said. The figure was up 26.8 per cent from a year earlier, but fell short of the target of 10 million set by the Japan Tourism Agency. Likely reasons the figures weren’t higher include a diplomatic row with China and the yen's prolonged appreciation, which has made Japan a more expensive destination for foreign travelers. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, January 27, 2011]

By nationality, South Korean visitors made the largest group of foreign visitors at about 2.44 million, up 53.8 per cent from the year before. The number of Chinese visitors increased by 40.5 per cent to about 1.41 million, surpassing Taiwan visitors for second place. Taiwanese were third. About 1.27 million of them visited Japan, up 23.8 per cent from a year earlier. In forth and fifth were the United States and Hong Kong.

The foreign tourist industry is valued at $16 billion a year In another reckoning the total number of foreign visitors in 2010 was 9,443,671, up 24.6 percent from the previous year. By nationality they included 2.69 million South Koreans, 1.66 million Chinese, 1.31 million Taiwanese and 760,000 Americans.

Foreign visitors to Japan declined by 20.6 percent in 2009 to 6,119,394 as a result of the global economic slowdown. Japan welcomed 8.34 million foreigners in 2007, with 5.95 million of them tourists, an 18.3 percent increase from the previous year. Of these 2.08 million were from South Korea, 1.25 million were from Taiwan, 492,000 were from the United States, 407,000 were from China, 400,000 were from Hong Kong and 170,000 were from Australia.

In 2007, Japan ranked 28th in the world as an overseas destinations, far behind France at the top which welcomed 81.8 million visitors. More foreign visitors visited South Korea, Poland, Croatia and Macao than Japan. <It welcomed 9.15 million in 2008, 8.1 million in 2006, 7.45 million in 2005, 5.24 million in 2002; 4.77 million in 2001.

In the 1960s, Japan was regarded as a cheap foreign travel destination. The number of foreign tourists to Japan rose from 1.2 million in 1980 to 2.3 million in 1985 to 3.2 million in 1990 to 3.2 million in 1995 to 4.7 million in 2000

Number of Foreign Tourists in Japan Falls Record 28 percent in 2011

In January 2012, Jiji Press reported: “The estimated number of foreign tourists in Japan plunged 27.8 percent from a year earlier to 6,219,300 in 2011, the Japan National Tourism Organization said. The fall was the biggest since the survey began in 1964. The previous record was the 22.7 percent drop in 1971, the year after the World Exposition was held in Osaka Prefecture, western Japan. Foreigners turned reluctant to visit Japan in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami as well as the subsequent accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station of Tokyo Electric Power Co., officials of the government tourist bureau said. [Source: Jiji Press, January 20, 2012]

“In April alone, the foreign tourist number showed a record monthly drop of 62.5 percent. Although tourists have been gradually returning to Japan, they were still 11.7 percent fewer in December, the officials noted.

“In 2011, the number of South Korean tourists stood at 1,658,100, the largest share but 32.0 percent smaller than the previous year's figure. The plunge was attributed to the won's drop against the yen, besides the disaster. A report by the tourism organization said Hong Kong travelers to Japan in November increased 22.8 percent from a year before to 33,700 for the second straight monthly rise. In contrast, the number of visitors from Thailand fell 39.1 percent to 11,500.

“In December 2012, Kyodo reported: “The number of Chinese travelers to Japan jumped 35 percent in November from a year earlier to 92,300, the first rise since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and a record number for the month, the government said. However, the total number of visitors to Japan in November fell 13.1 percent to 551,900, the ninth straight month of decline since the disaster, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. [Source: Kyodo, December 19, 2011]

Japan is aiming for 9 million foreign tourists in 2012. A record 8,611,000 foreign tourist visited in 2010.

In 2012 Foreign Tourists Almost Back to Pre Tsunami Level

In April 2012, Jiji Press reported: “The number of foreign tourists visiting Japan almost recovered in March to the level before last year's earthquake and tsunami, a Japan National Tourism Organization report showed. In the month, the estimated number of travelers from overseas was up 92.4 percent from a year before to 678,500, standing 4.4 percent below the March 2010 total of 709,684, the JNTO said. This year's figure soared due to a tumble in March 2011 after the natural disaster and ensuing nuclear crisis. [Source: Jiji Press, April 21, 2012]

“The figure almost recovered to predisaster levels, an official of the organization said. Fears of radiation exposure in the wake of the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant appear to have subsided. "The pace of recovery has been quick," commissioner of the Japan Tourism Agency Norifumi Ide, said at a press conference. But he added that the recovery in the number of foreign tourists in the Tohoku region was still weak.

Asian Tourists in Japan

As prices in Japan have become more reasonable and incomes in other Asian nations have risen, Japan has become a popular destination with tourists from these other Asian nations. The number visitors from South Korea, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong reached 5.36 million in 2007, double the figure five years earlier.

About 1 million Chinese visited Japan in 2008, compared to 800,000 in 2006. Japan expects 2.8 million Chinese tourists a year by 2020.

Visa restrictions for many Asians have been eased. In 2003, visa requirements were waved for South Koreans and Taiwanese. In July 2009, visas were given to individual Chinese travelers for the first time. The only catch was the travelers had to show they had an income of $35,000 a year or more as a precaution against illegal overstays.

In 2006, 72 percent of the foreign visitors to Japan were from China, South Korea and other Asian countries. Koreans took advantage of easing of visa restrictions and the strengthening of the South Korea currency. The number of visitors from South Korea, China and Taiwan doubled between 2002 and 2008.

Many of them came to Japan to shop, sample restaurants, ski, sight see and hang out at onsens. Chinese tourists in Japan are often interested most in seeing porn shops and ¥100 stores. Taiwanese often want see to places linked with their favorite Japanese dramas, pop stars and manga and anime characters. South Koreans like to go shopping. Many Koreans go to Kyushu to play golf and enjoy the hot springs there. At some hot spring, 80 percent of the customers are Koreans.

Many Asians say they like to come to Japan to shop and they like shopping in Japan because it has the latest stuff and the prices are lower than back home. They also like to come to Japan because it is close, safe and clean and they admire its technology, fashion and popular culture. [Source: New York Times]

Chinese Tourists

The number of Chinese tourists and business travelers to Japan rose significantly between 2009 and 2010. A total of 481,696 Chinese tourists came to Japan in 2009. About 1.41 million came in 2010. “In December 2012, Kyodo reported: “The number of Chinese travelers to Japan jumped 35 percent in November from a year earlier to 92,300, the first rise since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and a record number for the month, the government said. However, the total number of visitors to Japan in November fell 13.1 percent to 551,900, the ninth straight month of decline since the disaster, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. [Source: Kyodo, December 19, 2011]

“The jump in Chinese travelers to Japan was mainly attributable to Japan's easing in September of requirements for issuing individual sightseeing visas for Chinese. In November last year, the number of Chinese travelers to Japan plunged in the wake of collisions two months earlier between a Chinese trawler and Japan Coast Guard patrol boats near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, triggering a diplomatic row between the two countries. The islands are administered by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan. [

In September 2011, occupational requirements for the issuance of individual visas were removed for Chinese visitors coming to Japan. Initially, the individual sightseeing visa was only issued to high-income earners, such as top government officials and company executives. In July 2010, the Japanese government began allowing middle-class Chinese to get tourists visas to visit Japan. The only requirement is having a gold card issued by a credit card company. To get such a card Chinese residents generally have to have an income of $9,000 a year. The first Chinese tourist with multiple-entry visas began arriving in July 2011. According to the terms of the visa visa-holders are required to visit Okinawa on their first visit but after that can go anywhere they like in Japan. As part of a plan to accomodate wealthy Chinese visitors with single-entry visas beginning at time were allowed to stay 90 days rather than the previous 15 days.

Many Chinese tourists spend about ¥80,000 for a Golden Route Tour, which includes meals and accommodation, and starts in Tokyo and ends in Osaka, with stops along the way at Tokyo Disneyland, Mt. Fuji and Kyoto. A ¥130,000 tour of places in Hokkaido associated with a popular Chinese film is also popular.

Chinese tourists have been a boon for the southern island of Kyushu, which is not as industrialized as other parts of Japan and has been welcoming an increasing number of large cruise ship filled with Chinese tourists, who spend a lot of money is shops and department stores is cities such as Fukuoka and Nagasaki, where the ships dock. Chinese tourists spend about ¥3 billion a year in the region. Five-day cruises from Shanghai that stop in South Korea and Kyushu are popular.

Japan is most the popular destination among Chinese from Shanghai. Many of the big spenders in Ginza these days are Chinese, who snap up designer-label goods by the dozen and drop hundreds of thousands of dollars in single shopping spree. There are so many of them in fact that stores have begun hiring Chinese-speaking staff. Hotel chains are also boosting their number of Chinese-speaking staff and offering Chinese television broadcasts.

Chinese Shoppers in Japan

“According to the Japan Tourism Agency, Chinese tourists in Japan spent 48.4 billion yen from January to March in 2011 while the tourism industry in Japan slumped as a result of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Chinese shoppers are known for loading up on high-end rice cookers, jewelry, cosmetics and electronic goods, A representative from a Japanese electronic store told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Some Chinese customers buy four or five rice cookers. A representative at a department store said, “Some Chinese customers buy several hundreds of thousands of yen worth of cosmetics.” A Chinese shopper with Seiko watched in his hand said, “We are here for the shopping, not the tourist activities...We want to buy Japanese products because they are known for very good quality.”

In Hokkaido there are Chinese-owned shops in which Chinese tourists buy 60 to 70 percent of the products. The stores are not adverse to opening before their usual 10:00am opening time to accommodate tourist groups. Chinese are also buying up vacation homes and even ski slopes in Hokkaido.

Efforts by Japanese Stores to Attract Chinese

Tomoko Hatakeyama wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “A visitor to the VenusFort shopping mall in Tokyo's Odaiba district over the weekend could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled into Chinatown. Posters in Chinese celebrating the Lunar New Year have been prominently displayed around the mall. Red--a color Chinese consider auspicious at this time of year--dominates window displays, and seven Chinese-speaking staffers will be stationed at the mall to help customers shop. [Source: Tomoko Hatakeyama, Yomiuri Shimbun, January 23, 2011]

“VenusFort is not the only commercial entity that has launched an intensive sales campaign targeting Chinese tourists during the Chinese New Year holidays, which run from Jan. 22 to 28 this year. The number of Chinese tourists to Japan has rebounded following a sharp drop after the Great East Japan Earthquake and the accident at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, and department stores and retailers in Japan are eager to cash in.

“During the holiday period, Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd. gives customers registered at its stores in China and Taiwan a card that entitles them to a 5 percent discount when they pay with cash at its department stores in Japan. On Jan. 12, the Isetan Shinjuku head store became the first department store in Japan to install automatic exchange machines that can switch Chinese yuan to yen. Takashimaya Co.'s Tokyo store has set corners displaying souvenirs that are popular among foreign tourists, such as tenugui towels and tabi socks. "We're seeing a growing number of shoppers who are making large purchases," a Takashimaya spokesman said, adding that it is not unknown for some customers to spend millions of yen on luxury brand goods.

“FamilyMart Co. started accepting UnionPay credit cards, which many Chinese use when shopping abroad, at 200 convenience stores across Japan. These companies want to tempt Chinese customers because tourists from that country have been increasingly opening their wallets at shops in Japan. According to China UnionPay's Tokyo office, payments settled with UnionPay cards in Japan will reach 48 billion yen this fiscal year--a 12-fold jump from four years ago.

Retailers, Restaurants Lower Prices to Lure Middle-Class Chinese Visitors

Kazumichi Shono and Tomoko Hatakeyama wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Clothing stores, electronics retailers and izakaya pub chains in Tokyo are stepping up efforts to attract middle-class Chinese tourists, offering products and menus at reasonable prices. Previously, these business operators focused on meeting the demands of wealthy Chinese visitors. They are now targeting the Chinese middle class, however, as an increasing number of Chinese began visiting this country after the Japanese government relaxed visa requirements for individual Chinese tourists in September. [Source: Kazumichi Shono and Tomoko Hatakeyama, Yomiuri Shimbun, May 14, 2012]

“The Yurakucho branch of electronics chain Bic Camera Inc. increased the number of low-priced products at an outlet located next to the main store in mid-February. Chinese tourists usually come to the store after visiting Ginza. Previously, high-priced products such as big-screen TVs sold well among Chinese customers. Recently, however, lower-priced items, such as beauty products for women and electronic toothbrushes, have increased in popularity, store officials said.

“Izakaya pub chains are also heavily targeting Chinese customers. In November, the Yoronotaki chain created a booklet called the "izakaya rule book," which explains a variety of terms used in an izakaya pub, such as "otoshi" and "ippon-jime," alongside Chinese-language menus. Otoshi is an small appetizer served as soon as a customer sits down in a Japanese pub, while ippon-jime is when everyone claps their hands at a gathering. The booklet was distributed to five Yoronotaki outlets in Ikebukuro and other areas where a large number of Chinese tourists stay overnight. "We believe Chinese visitors will definitely come to visit reasonably priced izakaya pubs," said a Yoronotaki official, explaining the company's reason for targeting Chinese tourists.

“Unlike wealthy tourists, who use credit cards issued under corporate names, middle-class visitors pay their own bills, so they won't order extremely expensive dishes," a Colowide official said. Restaurant operators and others are continuing to search for ways to offer satisfactory services at reasonable prices to Chinese visitors.

Chinese Investors Investing in Hot Spring Resort Industry

A Chinese businessman has opened a Japanese-style ryokan inn called Miwa in the Isawa hot spring resort area in Fuefuki, Yamanashi Prefecture, aiming to attract Chinese tourists with its proximity to Mt Fuji, Kyodo reported. He is one of a growing number of foreign investors making forays into Japan’s hot spring business, according to industry sources. While some are worried that the entry of foreign operators could lead to a collapse in the rates charged by inns, which are already suffering from a decline in visitor numbers, many others are welcoming the move, saying that it will help to revitalize the local economy. [Source: Kyodo, May 7, 2011]

Zhong Juying, a 24-year-old Chinese visitor from Zhejiang Province told Kyodo. “This is my first trip to Japan and I’m happy I was able to visit Mt Fuji, which is a special place for me.” The overnight stay at Miwa was part of a five-night, six-day tour priced at 56,000 yen, which includes visits to Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo Disneyland.

Miwa offers board and two meals for 6,500 yen per person, compared to more than 10,000 yen charged by the majority of inns in the Isawa hot spring resort area. Miwa has managed to set such a low price by serving deep-fried chicken and vegetables instead of sashimi as the main dish. Alcohol beverages also cost extra.

The inn’s 43-year-old Chinese owner from Fujian Province, who uses the Japanese name Ryunosuke Hayashi, was captivated by Mt Fuji and the grapes grown in the area when he visited a friend five years ago in Yamanashi Prefecture.He bought a three-story inn that had gone bankrupt for approximately 80 million yen, refurbished it at a cost of around 40 million yen and opened it last December. Hayashi targets 1,000 guests on group tours from mainland China and Taiwan per month. “The number of guests is increasing despite the negative aftereffects of the Chinese fishing boat’s ramming of two Japan Coast Guard vessels. I’m confident of demand for my inn, as some facilities in Isawa do not accept foreign guests on group tours,” he said.

Hirokazu Nunoyama, secretary general of the Japan Spa Association, says that foreign-owned businesses operate in scores of hot spring resort areas across Japan, including those run by Japanese operators on a commission basis. Foreign investors are attracted to facilities offered at a low price, as some hot spring resorts are on the decline.

Foreign operators sometimes face difficulties and opposition. Another hotel that opened in the Isawa hot spring area last year, which Hayashi helps to manage, was forced to temporarily suspend business as its operator was unaware of the requirements of the Building Standards Law. An official of Isawa Onsen Spa Cooperative said that some inn operators have voiced concern that Miwa’s low prices could result in poor service.

However, the majority of local people welcomed the opening of Miwa. Cooperative director Yasuhiro Yamashita hopes that the move will lead to the revitalization of the local economy, saying that attracting tourists from around the world will help to open up the town.

Attractions for Foreign Tourists in Japan

A fascination with Japanese food, manga, anime, robots and culture has not necessarily translated into more foreign visitors traveling to Japan. Most Americans that come to Japan are businessmen.

A survey in 2007 found that 71 percent of foreign tourists to Japan are attracted by Japanese food, 49 percent were interested in traditional Japanese architecture; 36 percent were interested in Japanese gardens, 36 percent were enticed by hot springs; and 29 percent wanted to visit a traditional ryokan inn.

In another survey in 2007, 35 percent of the respondents said that shopping was their primary reason for visiting Japan compared to 32 percent who said they came for traditional culture, historical attractions and ht springs. A tourism official said, “Tourists from Asia are becoming wealthier and the yen has weakened, plus there are more quality shopping facilities here.

In 2010 survey by JNTO, foreign tourist said their favorite activity while visiting Japan was “eating,” beating out “shopping,” the No. 1 pick in previous three years. Sushi, at 42,1 percent, topped the list of favorite foods, followed by ramen at 20.8 percent and sashimi at 19.8 percent.

Researchers Xinran You, Joseph O’Leary and Alistar Morrison Hong found that the five main reasons for traveling among Japanese was: 1) going places not visited before; 2) having fun, being entertained; 3) getting a change from a busy job; 4) just relaxing; and 5) increasing knowledge. A large number said they were attracted to destination with “historical or archeological building and places — but few interested in seeing “people from a number of ethnic backgrounds — whereas the reverse was true with British travelers.

Tours aimed at high-end American travelers includes the “experience geisha culture tour,” “Niigata sake selection,” and “a ukiyo-e painting demonstration of kabuki scenes. A $15,000 a head tour organized by Ambercrombie & Kent included breakfast with sumo wrestlers, a private audience with a famous kabuki actor, meeting atomic bomb survivors and practicing kendo martial arts.

Problems Faced by Foreign Travelers to Japan

capsule hotel
Foreign travelers are mainly put off by how expensive Japan is. A brief trip to Mt. Fuji from Tokyo can coast as much as $400 and simple lunch at a restaurant over $30. But Japan is much less expensive than it used to be. Many foreign tourists also find Japan to be too complicated to figure out. Many are also intimidated by the language barrier and fears about etiquette faux pax.

Some traditional Japanese inns, public baths and places are not very welcoming to foreign visitors. This is not necessarily because they are prejudice against foreigners but more often because they worry that foreigner will not follow the proper etiquette and they might argue over the bill because they are not familiar with the Japanese pricing system.

And then Japan can be just plain confusing. “Commenting on how difficult it is to get around Tokyo, Sam Anderson wrote in the New York Times, “Japan — real, actual, visitable Japan — turned out to be intensely, inflexibly, unapologetically Japanese. This lesson hit me, appropriately, underground. On my first morning in Tokyo...I descended into the subway with total confidence, wearing a freshly ironed shirt — and then immediately became terribly lost and could find no English speakers to help me, and eventually (having missed trains and bought lavishly expensive wrong tickets and gestured furiously at terrified commuters) I ended up surfacing somewhere in the middle of the city, already extremely late for my interview, and then proceeded to wander aimlessly, desperately, in every wrong direction at once (there are few street signs, it turns out, in Tokyo) until finally Murakami’s assistant Yuki had to come and find me, sitting on a bench in front of a honeycombed-glass pyramid that looked, in my time of despair, like the sinister temple of some death-cult of total efficiency. [Source: Sam Anderson, New York Times, October 21, 2011]

Many foreign visitors to Japan come from Asian countries, where visas are required and they can take considerable time and money to get. Chinese face challenges getting a visa and often have to dish out more money to travel in Japan than people from other countries even though China as a whole is still quite poor. It used to be that only residents of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong are allowed to obtain visas and they are required to join tours which they are forbidden to leave except to go to the bathroom or hospital (there are worries they will ski out and try to live and work illegally in Japan). In recent years visa restrictions on Chinese have been eased (See Below).

In many ways Japan doesn’t want tourists from the less developed countries in Asia because it is worried about attracting illegal foreign workers.

Attracting Foreign Travelers to Japan

inside a capsule
In the past Japanese were not too concerned that foreign visitors didn’t come to Japan. Tourism was regarded as an industry poor countries developed to earn money. But now that the economy is not as robust as it once was and people need jobs and tourism is seen as a way too bring in money and generate jobs.

In 2003, the Japanese government launched a $17 million Visit Japan Campaign aimed at doubling the number of foreign visitors to 10 million by 2010. The campaign included building new websites, dreaming up promotions, and coming with campaigns aimed at convincing travelers that Japan was affordable and pointing out it was safe and free of terrorists. Also in 2003, the Japanese government launched the “Outline of a Policy for a Beautiful Country — which was aimed at restoring Japan’s traditional beauty.

The film “Lost in Translation” helped attract American and European visitors to Japan. Some tour companies in the United States and Europe even offered “Lost in Translation” tours.

A great effort has been to attract tourists from China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia. Visas have been waved for Taiwanese and South Koreans and made easier to get for Chinese. In 2003, Japan lifted the ban on tourist visas for Chinese. In 2005, Chinese from all over the country rather than its three main cities were allowed to apply for group tourist visas. Japan doesn’t want to liberalize visa issuing for Chinese too much out of concern of Chinese coming to Japan to work illegally.

Japan Not Living Up to Potential as a Tourism Destination

Hiroko Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times, “Despite choice destinations like ancient Kyoto and modern, bustling Tokyo, as well as beach and ski resorts, Japan attracted just 8.4 million foreign visitors in 2008 — a small fraction of France’s 79 million, the United States’ 58 million or China’s 53 million, according to the World Tourism Organization. In 2009, the number of foreign visitors to Japan dropped an additional 18.7 percent, to 6.79 million, amid the global recession, according to Japan’s government. Japan earned just $10.8 billion from foreign tourism in 2008, a tenth of the $110 billion the United States earned from overseas tourists that year. Ukraine and Macau each attract more foreign tourists a year than Japan. [Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, May 7, 2010]

“Japan has the potential to be a tourism superpower,” said Hiroshi Mizohata, who took over as commissioner of the Japan Tourism Agency in January. Mr. Mizohata, former president of a popular local soccer team, has set an ambitious goal of increasing the number of foreign visitors to Japan to more than 10 million in two years and to 20 million by 2016. “With new ideas and initiatives, I believe we can meet these targets,” he said.

Government officials blame the lack of budget-travel options in Japan, as well as its high costs, for the country’s unpopularity as a tourist destination. But critics point out that until now, the tourism market has been geared almost exclusively to domestic travelers, which means that much of Japan’s tourist infrastructure does not meet the expectations of foreign tourists. Japan’s tourism strategy has also been driven by investment in engineering projects and theme parks rather than the protection of the country’s natural and cultural riches, an oversight that some experts say has cost the country dearly in tourism dollars.

Efforts to Boost Preservation and Tourism in Kyoto

Nowhere is Japan’s weakness in tourism more evident than in Kyoto, Alex Kerr told the New York Times. Kerr is a longtime resident and founder of Iori, a company that since 2004 has restored 10 old townhouses, or machiya, in the city to rent out to visitors. In the postwar period, Kyoto has shown little concern for preserving the traditional neighborhoods that would most appeal to foreign tourists, he said. The pace of destruction gathered speed in the 1990s; more than 40,000 old wooden homes disappeared from central Kyoto that decade, according to the International Society to Save Kyoto. [Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, May 7, 2010]

Hiroko Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times, “Though ancient temples and gardens remain in the city, they are overwhelmed by the sprawling mass of gray buildings and neon signs that dominate the skyscape — the product of ineffective zoning policies in the city, Mr. Kerr said. Visitors to Kyoto are greeted by the peculiar, needle-shaped, red-and-white Kyoto Tower, as well as the Kyoto Hotel Okura, a 16-floor granite building in the heart of the city that had to seek a waiver from local height restrictions when it was rebuilt in 1994. Three years later, Kyoto Station — a structure nearly half a mile long, with a glaring glass facade in its latest incarnation — opened in the city center.

Local politicians are pushing for more big projects in Kyoto’s city center, including a new 323,000-square-foot Railroad Museum built by the West Japan Railway Company, slated to open in 2014. The deals are expected to bring the city lucrative rent income.All the modern construction can obscure the city’s charms, especially for foreign visitors. “This all looks the same as Tokyo,” said Delaina Hutchinson, a tourist from Australia, after a hike up the Kyoto Tower in February. She and her husband and two young daughters planned to spend just a day in Kyoto before returning to their Tokyo hotel that evening. “I wish we could get away to somewhere quieter,” she said.

According to Mr. Kerr, the government has long neglected investment in tourism, which it sees as an industry that supports only menial, low-paid jobs. Officials overlook the economic activity generated by architects, landscape architects and similar professions, he said.”Making things has been a Japanese obsession, something that advanced economies do, while tourism was for poor countries,” Mr. Kerr said. “Now the importance has flipped: in today’s economy, it’s software over hardware. But they have been asleep in Tokyo.”

Kyoto officials say that tourism can coexist with modern development. “Of course, we care about Kyoto’s scenery and will work to preserve it,” Keiji Yamada, governor of Kyoto Prefecture, told a group of visiting foreign reporters earlier this year. “But we must also compete with the world.”

New Kyoto Aquarium

There are plans to build a mammoth aquarium complex, with a dolphin pool, a penguin park and a giant wave pool in central Kyoto, in leafy Umekoji Park at the center of the city. A brainchild of the Orix Real Estate Corporation, the project could breathe new life into Kyoto’s tourism industry by attracting more than two million visitors a year, developers say. But many people oppose the plan. “Kyoto should not be building concrete boxes,” said Shinsho Kajita, head priest at the Honen-in Buddhist temple in Kyoto and leader of a local protest movement against plans to build the 19,000-square-foot aquarium. [Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, May 7, 2010]

Hiroko Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times, “Local officials say that the aquarium will be especially good in attracting tourists from China, more of whom have come in recent years. The Chinese have many ancient temples of their own, Miyako Murozaki, a tourism official at Kyoto’s chamber of commerce, noted. “They like new things,” she said. Orix says the aquarium will be an “interactive and educational space” that will showcase both local and exotic marine life. “We have been holding many meetings with local residents, and we intend to consider their views,” said Tetsuya Nagai, a company spokesman.

But to opponents, the proposed aquarium, set to open in 2012, is a misguided enterprise that threatens to destroy Kyoto’s historic ambience. Adding to the disgrace, they say, is Orix’s plan to showcase dolphins in a 19,000-square-foot pool at a time when the nation is under fire for hunting thousands of dolphins and porpoises each year. Anger ran high among local residents at a recent protest meeting. “I want them to leave Umekoji Park as it is,” said Yasuko Hirano, a 60-year-old homemaker. “As a little child, I remember playing in the garden of a local temple, but now it’s turned into a car park,” she said. “What’s being destroyed and what’s being built — they are both tragedies.”

Major Cruise Ship Operator to Enter Japanese Market in 2013

In March 2012, Kyodo reported: “Princess Cruise Lines Ltd., a major cruise ship operator under the British-American firm Carnival Corp. & plc, said it will enter the Japanese market in April 2013 by bringing its luxury liner to Japan. Princess Cruise Lines said it will operate tours from both Yokohama and Kobe, taking an estimated 18,000 passengers aboard its 77,000-ton Sun Princess to destinations across Japan with festivals, hot springs and other attractions through July that year. Some itineraries include visits to foreign ports, including those in South Korea and Taiwan, it said. [Source: Kyodo, March 28, 2012]

“Each of the cruises will last from nine to 12 days, with pricing starting at 124,000 yen per person for a nine-day sailing, the company said. ''Our new Japan deployment is three times larger than that of any competitive international cruise program, with superior itineraries specifically designed for the Japanese market,'' said Alan Buckelew, Princess Cruises president and chief executive officer, in a statement. The company said it operates a fleet of 16 cruise ships with wide array of choices in dining, entertainment and amenities, carrying 1.3 million passengers a year to destinations around the globe.

Japanese Tourists

Japanese tourists often travel groups in which everyone wears identical tour caps, carries matching tour bags and luggage and follows a guide carrying a flag. Many Europeans and American like to poke fun at Japanese tourists who fall into this stereotype.

Japanese tourists prefer to travel in tour groups rather than as individuals. They like to be free of travel worries, get nervous about speaking foreign languages, like to have things taken care of them and enjoy being with a group. The travel industry caters to their every need. Some travel agencies even have photos of the food offered by different airlines.

More than 100 million Japanese visit rural hot spring onsens annually (2000). These onsens often offer bathing in pleasant surroundings, inns and gourmet food. Onsens became popular tourist destinations after World War II and have fallen on hard times since in the 90s as people have come up with other ways to amuse themselves. For more on Onsens, See Recreation Under Sports

Places like Parque Espana near Nagoya and Huis Ten Bosch — a reproduction of a 17th century Dutch town in Nagasaki — have been built for people who want to sample foreign cultures but don’t have the time and money to travel abroad.

Visitors to a particular tourist site are expected to bring back presents — often edible ones — particular to the place for their relatives and friends. Gift shops in train stations near the tourist sites usually sell these presents.

It is becoming increasingly common for elderly travelers to spend the night in their cars rather than dishing out the money to stay in a hotel or inn.

Japanese Tourist Abroad

Number of Japanese visitors traveling abroad was 17.29 million in 2007, 17.4 million in 2005, 16.52 million in 2002 and 16.22 million in 2001. The number of Japanese traveler abroad fell 19.2 percent in 2003 to 13.35 due to the SARS scare and the Iraq war.

Until 1964, Japanese were not allowed to travel abroad except for business. The number of Japanese traveling tripled between 1985 and 1995 to 13 million.

Japanese traveling abroad spend $30 billion. People on the tourism business love Japanese tourist because the spend a lot of money and don't try to bargain down the price. Many Japanese tours include stops at shopping malls, where the travelers can buy designers goods for half the price they can back in Japan. In Guam, Japanese bargain hunters are taken by the busload to the K-Mart there.

Many Japanese travel in July and August. In 2001, about 1.7 million Japanese departed for international trips from Narita airport alone in the summer season. Golden Week in late April and early May is another popular traveling time. In 2005, a record 602,000 Japanese traveled abroad during Golden Week.

International travel is popular in part because domestic travel is so expensive and domestic destinations are crowded and overdeveloped. When one Japanese traveler was asked why he didn't like Rome he said, "Too many Japanese tourists."

The number of Japanese travelers abroad is influenced greatly by the yen exchange rate and reports of terrorism and crime. When the yen is strong, Japanese travel abroad in large number. After September 11 their numbers declined sharply.

Japanese travelers are sometimes targets for crime because they are thought of a naive and full of cash. Sometimes they do do dumb, naive thing. In the 1990s, one Japanese girl fell to her death in the Grand Canyon after being told to step back for a picture.

Drop in Japanese Tourists Abroad

The number of Japanese tourists traveling abroad peaked in 2000 at 17.8 million and has declined percent since then. The drop has been particularly high among Japanese in their 20s. This group took 2.8 million trips abroad in 2007, down 40 percent from 1997. Japanese women in their 20s, who used to roam the world in pursuit of the latest clothes and trendy restaurants and hotels, are most noticeably absent.

In 1997 there were 9.4 million Japanese women in their 20s and 30.1 percent of them traveled abroad. In 2007, there were 7.3 million Japanese women in their 20s and 23.4 percent of them travel abroad.

Belt-tightening, worries and a lack of funds are the primary reasons for the decline. A 22-year-old woman told the Washington Post, “Going overseas is not something we do casually anymore. I don’t have the courage to go alone, and its really hard to organize trips with my friends. With all this terrorism, our parents are worried about us.”

Many people in their 20s are part time workers who earn considerably less than full time workers and have less money to travel.

One travel agent told the Washington Post, “I don’t think {young people] have a hungry spirit for travel anymore. They are conservative and not adventurous, with a lot of fear of terrorism and disease. They have all the consumer products they want here in Japan, Big-screen LCD televisions give them clear images of distant places, so they feel they don’t have to go see them...Rather than go see a different culture, their main objective is to spend quality time with their friends. They feel very comfortable at home They feel like they don’t need to look for comfort outside the home.”

Japanese Travel Destinations Abroad

Young Japanese backpackers often travel on a well-worn path. If you travel in Thailand, Peru or Italy you can find guesthouses that patronize almost exclusively to young Japanese travelers

In August 2005, JCB in conjunction with Space Adventures began offering trips to the moon, For $100 million clients could join the Russian Soyuz mission around the moon and spend a week on the international space station. The business also offer short trips planes that simulate zero gravity for around $3,500.

The United States, particularly Hawaii and Guam, have traditionally been the No. 1 travel destinations for Japanese, followed by South Korea. Japanese tourists spend $12.7 billion in the United States in 2006 according to the U.S. Commerce Department. The number of Japanese tourist going to Hawaii has fallen off in recent years. In January 2007, Hawaii announced an $8 advertising campaign to lure them back.

Fewer Japanese tourists are going to Australia, which was also once a prime destination for Japanese, and is trying to lure them back as well.

New Japanese UNESCO World Heritage Sites Named in 2011

As of 2007, there were 14 World Heritage Sites in Japan.

In June 2011 the historic Hiraizumi area in Iwate Prefecture in northern Honshu and the Ogasawara Islands, 1,000 kilometers south of Tokyo, were named UNESCO World Heritage sites. They were formally listed when the World Heritage Committee of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) met in Paris. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 26, 27, 28 2011]

The registration of Hiraizumi as the 12th cultural heritage site in Japan and the first in the country’s northeastern Tohoku region, if realized is expected to boost tourism in region hit by the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 . Hiraizumi, which includes Chusonji, a Buddhist temple known for its Golden Hall, suffered no major damage in the disaster. It was first recommended to UNESCO in 2006 on the grounds that its architecture and gardens are artistic masterpieces, but was turned down in 2008.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee designated five structures and artifacts--Chusonji temple, known for its Konjikido golden hall; Motsuji temple; the former garden of Kanjizaio-in temple; and the ruins of Muryoko-in temple and Kinkeisan hill--as components of a new World Heritage cultural site. he five structures and artifacts are believed to represent Jodo (the pure land of Buddha) in this world. The components of the site are believed to represent the idea that the pure land of Buddha can be reached through prayer. The UNESCO panel had earlier insisted that the Hiraizumi area exclude the ruins of the official residence of the Oshu Fujiwara warrior family that ruled the Tohoku region from the 11th to the 12th centuries as a condition for registration.

The Ogasawara Islands in the Pacific are Japan’s fourth World Natural Heritage site and the first to be listed in six years since the Shiretoko area of Hokkaido in 2005. The Ogasawara chain of about 30 islands is home to 57 species listed as rare by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a UNESCO advisory body. These include an endangered bat species known as the Bonin flying fox and the black-footed albatross.

The Ogasawara island chain, which has never been connected with a continent, has been dubbed the "Galapagos of the Orient" because animals and plants there have undergone unique evolutionary processes--similar to wildlife on the Galapagos Islands. In particular, 100 of the 106 species of land snails found on the islands are indigenous. The islands, which include Chichijima and Hahajima islands, are regarded as the only place in the world where geological features visible from the ground show how an archipelago is formed when oceanic plates bump against each other.

In January 2010, the government recommended the Ogasawara Islands as World Heritage sites to UNESCO's World Heritage Committee. The IUCN inspected the islands in July that year and submitted in May an evaluation to UNESCO that said the islands deserved to be registered. The islands were occupied by the United States after World War II and returned to Japan in 1968. About 2,500 people live on the islands, which can be reached by a 25-1/2-hour ferry ride from Tokyo. The three other UNESCO-registered World Natural Heritage sites in Japan are the Shirakami Sanchi mountains in Aomori and Akita prefectures, Yakushima island in Kagoshima Prefecture and Shiretoko in Hokkaido.

The UNESCO panel deferred an announcement on whether to recommend including on the list the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo designed by French architect Le Corbusier and other buildings he designed in five other countries including France.

Nine Tourists Dead After River Boat Capsizes

In August 2011, five people are killed, including a two-year-old boy, after a tour boat with 24 passengers on board capsized in Tenryu River near Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture. The dead, including two children, were among some 10 passengers thrown overboard in the accident. Three women and a man were rescued, but two of the women are unconscious, according to the authorities.

The boat overturned at a rocky section of the rapidly flowing river at around 2:15 p.m., according to its operator, after the boat, together with two other vessels, left for a six-kilometer cruise down the river at around 1:30 p.m.. While the boat was equipped with life jackets many passengers were not wearing them. Only one of the children aboard was wearing a life jacket, even though it was mandatory to do so, the operator of the boat said. The boat operator even advises people not wear the jackets because it was too hot to wear them.

The boat got trapped in whirlpool. Officials with Tenryu Hamanako RailRoad Co., the boat operator, said that during the six-kilometer cruise down the river it was common for crew to steer their boats into a whirlpool to provide their passengers with a thrill. The boat that capsized apparently lost control after it entered a whirlpool located about three kilometers from departure. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, August 18, 2010]

One of the boat’s crew member said, "We started up the engine and headed into the whirlpool. After drifting in tandem with the whirlpool [in a clockwise direction], we tried to escape it by making a sharp turn leftward. But the boat could not escape the whirlpool and for some reason lurched to the right. Mr. Kitahashi [who was steering at stern] likely panicked then...The boat crashed onto some rocks...and water flooded the stern, causing the boat to overturn." The crew member reportedly said he did not know why the boat became trapped in the whirlpool, nor why the boat had lurched in the wrong direction.

Image Sources: 1) 3) JNTO 2) xorsyst blog 4) 5) Strange and Funny Japan 6) Ray Kinnane

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2011

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