The number of visitors to Japan in October reached 2,516,500. It exceeded by 0.8% the level of October 2019, the month before the COVID-19 epidemic began. This is the first time that the number of visitors to Japan in a given month has exceeded the peak before the arrival of the devastating virus.
In October 2022, the government eased its border control measures. It lifted the 50,000 daily cap on the number of people entering the country and nixed the ban on individual travel by foreigners. Consequently, the number of tourists visiting Japan has been steadily recovering.
It is also partly due to the cheap yen.
Finding a Balance Between Benefits and Harm
The amount spent by visitors to Japan during the July-September period was also 17.7% higher than the same period in 2019. Measured quarterly, inbound spending reached a record high.
It is good to see tourist destinations bustling once again. However, the problem of overtourism, or tourism pollution, is becoming more serious. In some areas, the acute crowding caused by tourists visiting from home and abroad and the bad manners of some outsiders are disrupting the lives of local residents. Effective measures must be taken on an urgent basis.
In Kyoto, even increasing the number of city buses has not been enough to handle the surging volume of visitors. It has gotten to the point of interfering with smooth operations. In some cases, locals are unable to ride the bus.
Biei-cho, Hokkaido, is an area renowned for its beautiful landscape. Its different crops of different colors are interlaced like a patchwork. However, there have been frequent cases of tourists entering farmland that is privately owned.
Addressing the Problem
In October, the government took steps to respond to this situation. It put together a package of measures to deal with overtourism.
The program includes introducing a system that allows higher rail fares, especially during congested periods or on days and times of the week when there are more tourists, as well as during the holiday season. National support will also be provided for the installation of security cameras.
However, raising fares during times of greatest congestion, for example, could also increase the burden on residents. And a significant fare increase would likely be necessary to encourage travelers to change their itineraries. Therefore, issues remain in terms of effectiveness.
Spreading Out the Tourists
Over 70% of visitors to Japan stay in the three major metropolitan areas: Greater Tokyo, Greater Osaka (including Kyoto), and Greater Nagoya. Meanwhile, the government's countermeasures package calls for "more vigorous promotion to attract visitors to rural areas."
Efforts are now needed to prepare local tourist destinations to receive visitors and then widely promote their attractions to overseas markets.
The number of visitors to Japan is expected to increase further. Nevertheless, if dissatisfaction among local residents increases, the government may well be unable to attain its goal of becoming a "tourism-oriented country."
As of now, no decisive measures to combat overtourism are under consideration. Efforts should be tailored to the realities of each tourist destination. That includes protecting the daily ways of life of local residents.
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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)
Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun